Friday, December 30, 2016

Meyer Lemon Season? Make Preserved Lemons!

There's something about the color yellow tinged with a hint of orange that I find intoxicating. It's that golden-hour hue that comes just before sunset as the sun is sinking toward the horizon, slanting at just the right angle—some sources say between four and five degrees—to brush everything it touches with a yellow-orange glow. If you've seen the work of Van Gogh, you've certainly seen it. Or the movie Days of Heaven, which was shot by the legendary cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler during the hours just after dawn and before sunset, suffusing the film with a dreamy, fairy tale-like atmosphere.

Meyer lemons, a hybrid of lemons and tangerines, are the fruit of the golden hour, carrying a warmer hue and a milder flavor than regular lemons. When they're in season—hint: now—I can't get enough of them. So this year I decided that I was going to stretch out the pleasure of these golden jewels by preserving them in salt and lemon juice, perhaps one of the simplest methods ever devised and one that is virtually impossible to get wrong.

And the possibilities for them is endless. I've written about using them in risotto, lemoncello, a crab risotto (again, make this now), a cocktail, pasta, a salad…the list goes on and on. So run, don't walk, to your favorite produce department, get some of these gorgeous orbs and start squeezing them…need I say…now.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

12-14 Meyer lemons
Kosher salt
Wide-mouth quart jar with screw-on lid (either a metal ring and lid or a plastic lid)

Lightly rinse the lemons to remove any surface dust or dirt and dry them with a towel. Cover the bottom of the jar with a 1/8" layer of salt. Take six of the lemons and slice them vertically in quarters to within 1/2" of the base. Holding one upright in your palm over a small bowl, fill it with salt and place it in the jar. Do the same with the other five lemons and pack them tightly into the jar. Use more lemons if required to fill the jar within 3/4" of the top (you can slice the lemons into quarters to fit in the nooks and crannies). Pour the salt from the bowl into the jar. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemons to fill the jar within 1/2" of the top (you can also use regular lemons if you need to). Screw on the lid and place in the refrigerator. Every day or so, shake the jar to distribute the salt and juice, and after three or four weeks you're good to go.

This recipe will work with regular lemons as well. You can also add herbs like bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Christmas Story in Fourteen Pounds

I knew we were in trouble when I mentioned to Ben Meyer that we were planning to smoke a bone-in ham leg for Christmas dinner in a week's time. The owner of Old Salt Marketplace got a concerned look on his face and said, "So how long have you had it brining?"

"Um…you mean I should have taken it out of the freezer already?" I responded.

The meat injector. Scary, huh?

He went on to say—to his great credit there was no eye-rolling, at least that I noticed—that in order to have it ready by Christmas we would need to inject it with brine. There was no way that the brine for a ham that large, about 14 pounds or so, would have time to penetrate all the way through the meat. (I found out later that it can take as long as a month for that to happen. Heh.)

A classic on all fronts.

Fortunately he happened to have a spare injector that he could loan us, and brought out a tool that looked as if it was used in medieval dentistry or some other torture. The main chamber is pumped full of brine, then the needle—in this case, one with holes on the sides instead of the end—is inserted perpendicular to the bone, spraying the brine into the meat. For the brine itself, he suggested using Paul Bertolli's recipe from Cooking By Hand, a groundbreaking collection of recipes for making everything from bread to charcuterie.

Brining the ham.

I came home and ran to take the ham out of the freezer, leaving it on the counter to thaw. Two days later Dave made the brine, a beautiful and fragrant blend of vegetables, herbs, salts and water, and injected it every inch-and-a-half or so all the way around the leg. Then into the fridge it went, submerged in the brine to soak for six days.

Going in the smoker.

Dave pulled it out on Sunday morning, noting the hammy, dark pink tinge the meat had taken on from the curing process. He rinsed off the ham, then started the smoker with charcoal briquets, as well as soaking chunks of apple wood to add their unique notes to the smoked meat. He'd read various accounts of how long it might take to smoke a leg of pork that large, which ranged from six to 12 hours to reach his target of 140 degrees. He planned to keep his smoker in the 200 to 250-degree range, hoping for an overall time of eight hours.

When the smoker was ready, he put on what we hoped was going to be a perfect ham. After diligently tending the fire, six hours and two or three beers later it reached the desired temperature. Since the ham needed to rest anyway, we just wrapped it in foil, planning to serving it at room temperature. But first, of course, a few samples were sliced off to make sure it was company-worthy.

Six hours later…

I have to mention here that, lest you think that this project was a no-muss, no-fuss affair that we just dashed off casually, the night before I'd laid awake worrying about how salty the ham might be, running through the coulda-woulda-shoulda factors of whether we should have soaked it in water the night before to desalinate the ham and what to do if we had 14 pounds of puckeringly salty meat to somehow find a use for. And what would we be having for Christmas dinner? The Chinese restaurant scene from the movie A Christmas Story briefly flashed through my mind.

Fortunately I didn't turn over and shake Dave awake to relate my awful fears, I just turned over and forced myself to go back to sleep, probably one of the reasons we've managed to stay married for this long.

Oh, and those first slices? Heavenly, probably some of the best ham I've had in my entire life. Which was confirmed by our happy guests, who demolished a good third of the monster along with the creamy scalloped potatoes infused with bacon, caramelized onions and mushrooms, as well as the roasted vegetables and the apple pie for dessert.

A Christmas story with a happy ending? I'd say so. And the epilogue is that, after dinner, Dave was already saying he wanted to do it again. Soon.

Christmas Ham

Brine and preparation of leg from Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli, republished with his permission.

For the brine:
3 gallons water
454 grams salt
300 grams sugar
10 grams allspice berries
20 grams black peppercorns
5 grams whole cloves
10 grams whole juniper berries
2 onions (1 lb.), sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
Small bunch of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Small bunch of fresh thyme
8 bay leaves
57 grams Instacure No. 1 [pink curing salt]

For the ham:
1 fresh leg of pork, 13-15 lbs. (can also be thawed from a frozen leg)

To prepare the brine solution, put the water in a large pot. Add the salt and sugar. Crack the whole spices coarsely in a mortar and add them to the brine along with the sliced vegetables and herbs. Warm the brine to 160° (F) to release the spice and vegetable aromas and to dissolve the salt and sugar. Chill the brine to 34°, stir in the curing salt, and dissolve it thoroughly.

While the brine cooks, prepare the pork leg. Cut away the tailbone [if it hasn't been removed already] and trim away any skin, fat and glands that may remain on the flank side. Remove any excess fat around the skinless area of the aitch-bone.

Place the ham inside a deep pan with the shank end facing you. First, inject brine directly through the base three or four times, adjusting the position of the needle so that the entire shank section receives the brine. Next, turn the leg aitch-bone up so that the shank end is facing away from you. Beginning at one edge, plunge the needle deep into the heavy muscle of the lower leg, directing the needle toward the bone. Continue injecting brine at 1 1/2-inch intervals across the leg. You will notice the various muscles of the leg swelling as  you pump the brine [some will leak out, which is fine]. Once you have reached the edge of the leg, return to the starting point and make a second row of injections 1 1/2 inches behind the first. Continue altering the angle of the needle around the bone until you have injected the entire leg. In all it should take 15 to 16 injections.

Place the leg into a bucket—we used a 12-quart Cambro container that fits in our fridge—and pour in the brine until the leg is submerged. Place the lid on the container and refrigerate for at least six days. After six days, remove the ham from the brine and rinse off. Discard the remaining brine.

Prepare the fire in the smoker, adding whatever well-soaked wood chunks you prefer. Put the ham in the smoker and maintain the internal temperature of the smoker between 200 and 250 degrees, adding more briquets as needed. When the internal temperature of the ham reaches 140°, remove from the smoker and rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Great Gifting: Gifts of the Last Minute

It's Christmas Eve and I still have one gift to figure out, so I'm assuming that some of you might be in the same awkward spot. I won't suggest that you take the route of one friend of mine whose aunt was a vociferous supporter of the current president-elect, so is giving a donation in her name to Planned Parenthood as her Christmas present, for which she will receive a thank-you note. [Side note: as of early December, more than 82,000 donations have been made to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence's name. That's alotta thank-yous.]

So I'll make a short suggestion list below in a few categories for your delectation. Do with them what you will. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below. And happy holidays!

  • Friends of Family Farmers Great folks working to bring together farmers and citizens to shape and support socially and environmentally responsible family-scale agriculture in Oregon.
  • Organic Seed Alliance Helping farmers, plant researchers and seed advocates work together to ensure that our organic food supply is healthy, resilient, and adaptable.
  • The Portland Kitchen Changing the lives of underserved youth through food and cooking, helping them create healthy lifestyles, get meaningful employment and become great citizens of our community.
  • The Pongo Fund Providing quality food and vital veterinary care for the family pets of anyone in honest need, keeping them safe, healthy and out of the shelters.
  • Zenger Farm A working urban farm that models, promotes and educates the community about sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, community development and access to good food for all.
Good Stuff
  • Providore Gift certificates from this store will be the bomb. Choose from Rubinette Produce, The Meat Monger, Flying Fish or Pastaworks. All delicious, all the time.
  • Old Salt Marketplace* Meat lovers will celebrate with a gift certificate for anything in their butcher case and the foodies will love their lunch, brunch and dinner offerings. Plus they've got charcuterie packs for stocking stuffers and classes galore!
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery* More gift certificate goodness. Beer, pizza, lotsa merch, with three locations (helloooo Vancouver!)—and it's all organic and BCorp certified. Good guys.
  • Portland's Culinary Workshop Cooking classes for all ages, all skill levels, all cuisines. Just browsing their class offerings is inspiring. Gift certificates for any amount, never expire!
  • Turnip the Heat Cooking School Kids will love Joanna Sooper (an elementary school teacher is her regular gig) who's committed to helping kids learn about—and love—fresh, delicious food. I know from personal experience! Gift certs available.
* Old Salt Marketplace and Hopworks are sponsors of Good Stuff NW. And fantastic, local, ethical businesses, at that.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Travels with Chili: Overnight in Astoria (with Mushrooms)

Mention the word foraging. I dare you.

Chances are if I'm within earshot, I'll "lean in." And I don't mean that in a groovy,  women-in-corporate-boardrooms, outta-my-way-mister sort of way. I mean I'll literally walk over, shove my nose into the conversation and say, "Did I hear something about foraging? For what? Where? And can I come?"

Ranger Sam shows off an Amanita muscaria.

So by the time I got to the end of the sentence "I’m writing to see if you’d like to visit Astoria for a guided mushroom foraging trip…" I was already typing "yes" in reply to the e-mail from my friend Vicky Hastings, whose agency works with the Astoria-Warrenton tourism bureau.

You see, not only do I love hunting for mushrooms, I also adore Astoria. We've been there several times over the years and have watched it turn from a working port city on the Columbia into a great destination for day trips, overnight visits and vacations, all just a 90-minute scenic drive from Portland. Its dining scene has evolved from a few scattered cafés to one with several very good restaurants featuring local seafood, produce, breads, cheese and beer. And a new brewery seems to be popping up every few months to join ranks with the big kahuna that is Fort George Brewery.

The afternoon's haul.

Our first stop was at Fort Stevens State Park to meet Ranger Sam Gibson, a strapping young fellow with a big smile who was leading us on our foraging tour that day. Our group was small, just another couple and us, so we opted for the "off-road" tour that would give us more foraging time and less walking on trails to get to the more accessible—meaning more well-known and thus potentially picked-over—spots.

As we walked to a spot where Ranger Sam had found mushrooms in previous seasons, he gave us some historical background on the park, as well as pointing out some of the different varieties of mushrooms that we would be seeing during the afternoon. He said that the park staff had started offering foraging trips as a way to encourage people to discover its natural beauty during the winter months. (Contact the park office to arrange a tour, and check this guide for other foraging opportunities.)

Commodore Hotel lobby in Astoria.

Tramping up and down hillsides and gradually filling our bags with the large porcini mushrooms that were springing up out of the wet, moss and fern-covered forest floor, I was surprised when Ranger Sam mentioned that these densely forested hills were once barren sand dunes that had been planted with trees in the first half of the 1900s. Which is interesting, since Fort Stevens was originally constructed during the Civil War to protect the mouth of the Columbia River. Featuring eight gun batteries scattered across its more than 4,000 acres, those same trees have now grown to obscure the view of the Columbia from the batteries.

Lovell Taproom at Ft. George Brewery.

Saying goodbye to Ranger Sam back at the parking lot, we made the short drive into Astoria and our room for the night at the Commodore Hotel downtown. A restored 1925-era hotel that seeks to maintain its historic roots, it caters to modern guests with hipster amenities like beer on tap and an Ace Hotel-style lobby for communing. Rooms are updated with modern furniture and tiled bathrooms, but we were tipped off to a noise problem when we found packets of earplugs in the bedside table drawers—windows overlooking the street let in lots of light, but also lots of traffic noise, and the original wooden doors do nothing to keep out noise from the hallway.

IPA at Buoy Beer on the waterfront.

That said, Astoria's downtown district is bustling with activity and the hotel is within a few blocks of some terrific restaurants. We chose to go to Albatross & Co. across the street, chef Eric Bechard's intimate local watering hole-cum-oyster bar that has recently expanded its offerings to include a full dinner menu. Other dinner options nearby include the eclectically themed T. Paul's Urban Café, and Clemente's Cafe and Public House on the waterfront.

More casual dining can be had at any of the many brewpubs, including the aforementioned Fort George Brewery, as well as at Buoy Beer and Wet Dog Café, the taproom for Astoria Brewing Company. But a hidden gem we found this trip is the Lovell Taproom in the building next door to Fort George. An intimate pocket bar with a blazing fireplace, it often has special small-batch beers not found in the main brewpub next door.

Ordering at Street 14 Café.

The next morning we took the most direct route and checked out Street 14 Café, located on the first floor of the hotel. A comfortable cross between an espresso bar and an old-fashioned diner, the coffee is hot and strong and the food is affordable and delicious. If they could only get those well-seasoned waitresses with a coffee pot in one hand and a cigarette dangling from their lips, it would be the perfect throwback.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Green Tips for Holiday Recycling

My friends Christine and Mike at Green Dog Pet Supply, purveyors of environmentally friendly pet supplies and gifts in the Beaumont neighborhood of Northeast Portland, recently shared the following information on their blog. Some of it was news to me, so I'm hoping you'll be able to make use of these handy holiday tips, too!

Portland allows us to recycle a lot of things at curbside, including plastic plant nursery pots, empty spray oil cans, motor oil (next to bins in a clear milk jug) and food waste. In fact, in five years of curbside composting, the city has been able to turn food waste into over 400,000 tons of finished compost, which is enough compost to cover 2,400 acres of farmland, about 4 square miles. That alone is a lot of volume kept out of our landfills!

Unfortunately, it’s easy to contaminate our curbside recycling bins with well-intentioned attempts to recycle things we wish they would take, or with little things that we don’t realize can ruin the ability to recycle the rest of the material.

For example, lids are almost always made of a different plastic than the bottle or tub they’re sold with. It’s too work-intensive for workers to remove them—recyclers have too few people, too much recycling to pick through quickly, and everything still needs to get washed and processed or packed up to be processed elsewhere. Since the plastic in the lid is a very different plastic, with a higher melting point than bottles, they need to be processed an entirely different way.

Plastic bags and caps can also jam machinery when they get into the mix accidentally, which can cause damage and increases the likelihood that recyclers will toss “contaminated” recycling instead of sorting through it. A light bulb might be made of glass, but their different melting points and chemical compositions will ruin new glass bottles. If a buyer of glass sees a light bulb at the top of a load, the entire load could be rejected for recycling. This can mean that all of our good intentions are foiled, so when in doubt, leave it out!

Here’s a list of some common things that are mistakenly added to recycling, but could in fact be recycled elsewhere:
  • Soft plastic bags can’t go into your curbside recycling bin, but can be recycled at both Whole Foods and New Seasons (just not hard and crinkly bags like chip bags—those need go in the trash).
  • Plastic “clamshell” containers like spinach or to-go boxes can’t be recycled curbside, but can be recycled at both New Seasons and Whole Foods, as well as plastic things like yogurt/deli lids and coffee lids. (The coffee cups need to go in the garbage, because they contain waterproofing additives).
  • Any paper made to contain frozen foods or takeout containers must go in the garbage. It also contains additives to make them waterproof and these additives make it non-recyclable.
  • Any paper with decorative foil has to go in the garbage (though all other wrapping paper, tissue paper, cards and envelopes can go in, minus the ribbons). When it's time to unwrap gifts, you can set up two collection bags ahead of time, one for wrapping paper, tissue and cards, and the other for ribbons and foil. It can be fun for kids to be in charge of things, so have one little elf in charge of bringing presents to people to unwrap, and another little elf in charge of grabbing that wrapping paper and getting it into the right bag. You’ll be amazed at how much tidier the living room looks after present opening! And don’t forget: Those foil-covered papers and ribbons are great for kids’ craft projects.
  • Packaging peanuts and styrofoam cannot go in your curbside bin, but check for places will reuse them. The UPS and Fedex stores are often happy to take your clean, bagged styrofoam peanuts—call your local store and ask. Excess cardboard boxes and packing peanuts can be posted on Craigslist or Next Door. People who are moving might appreciate them, or small businesses in the neighborhood might be able to use them for shipping and might even come take them off your hands!
  • Styrofoam blocks are a challenge at the time of this writing. Check out this link for your options.
  • When you take a toy out of a formed plastic insert, take it to Whole Foods. They have a bin labeled “non-curbside plastic” which is good for caps, lids and other misc hard plastics.
  • Corks can’t go in curbside, but Whole Foods has a natural cork recycling bin inside the store. Just make sure it's natural cork, not a plastic cork.
More information on interesting things from your holiday dinners that you can include in the compost bin, plus resource links and helpful suggestions to reduce the amount of waste your household produces.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Gleaning Cocktail Ingredients

Portland can be a funny place, and I'm not saying that with a "Keep Portland Weird" smirk. Stroll through any neighborhood in town from late summer to early fall and you'll see fallen prunes, plums and apples smearing sidewalks. This time of year persimmons glow like orange lanterns from trees planted decades ago.

Persimmons in vodka.

Some of those fruit trees were left when the east side of the river, much of it consisting of farms and orchard land, was developed for housing in the early part of the 1900s. Other fruit trees, like cherries, prunes, quince and plums, were planted as street trees back when families had large gardens and preserved the fruit and vegetables they grew to use in the lean days of winter.

With the emergence of large supermarkets that stock fresh greens and fruit year round—not to mention women needing to get full-time jobs to support their families—big gardens gave way to landscaping, and the pantries stocked with row upon row of fruit, vegetables, tomatoes and preserves were torn out. Sadly, this meant that the skills to do all that preserving were also lost in many families like mine, though they're now being rediscovered through books, classes and online videos.

Quince in vodka.

Another way of preserving fruit, aside from submerging it in sugar syrup and "putting up" jars in the pantry, was to make liqueurs and infusions. I've now done that with quince, green walnuts, black currants and persimmons, and it's always fun to pull out a few of these colorful containers to share with friends as an after-dinner digestif. They also make great gifts decanted into small bottles available in most kitchen supply stores.

But aside from sippers and hostess gifts, they're also great mixers in cocktails. The persimmon-infused vodka I made from foraged fruit last year pairs particularly well with brown liquors like bourbon and rye. This is a cocktail that Dave created the other night, and I hope that one winter's day you'll consider making your own infused liqueur when you see those glowing orange orbs dangling from a tree.

Good Fuyu #2

2 oz. rye
1 oz. persimmon-infused vodka
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill cocktail mixing glass half full of ice. Add ingredients and stir 30 seconds until well-chilled. Strain into cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with amarena cherry.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Great Gifting: Booking It for the Holidays

Several years ago, so long ago, in fact, that the internet was in its infancy—if the browser names Mosaic and Netscape Navigator ring any bells, you're in the right era—where carrying a powerful computer around in your hip pocket, one that could answer virtually any question within seconds, was a concept left to science fiction fantasists, and people at dinner parties had to scour actual books to settle arguments about the name of the guy who was in that movie or else argue for hours over the name of the dog that was sent into orbit by the Russians (Laika, for those who care).

A well-loved (and well-marked) book.

Our house was pretty handy for situations requiring reference material, so much so that one visitor dubbed it "the house of books" for the piles that were—and still are—a major part of our living room decor. So when the holidays roll around it's no surprise that books will fill many slots on our gift lists, both for receiving and giving. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite food-centric tomes ideal for the bookish on your list. And feel free to add your own pick by clicking on the comments link below!

Buck Buck Moose by Hank Shaw. The third book by this self-described "hunter, angler, gardener, cook"—who is a superb writer on those topics as well as a good friend of mine—is a thorough compendium of hunting, cooking and eating "antlered things." Perfect for hunters, it's also a thoughtful treatise on how these animals are deeply intertwined with our history as a species. Carnivorous cooks will appreciate it, too, since his meticulously tested recipes are great even if you can't easily obtain venison—simply substitute beef, lamb or pork.

Life Without a Recipe by Diana Abu Jaber. Memoirs are slippery beasts, the good ones treading the fine lines between tell-all and tight-lipped, between my-life-is-so-fabulous and Blanche Dubois, cringe-inducing drama. Abu Jaber, a professor of writing and literature who splits her time between Portland and Florida, writes with skill about growing up the daughter of an American mother, a Jordanian father and a powerhouse of a German grandmother. In this, her second, memoir, she continues the journey she began in The Language Of Baklava, weaving "a book of love, death and cake."

Better from Scratch and Crackers & Dips by Ivy Manning. Prolific writer and author of cookbooks on subjects ranging from how to cook for a mixed-diet family to fixing easy weeknight vegetarian meals to one of the best farmers' market cookbooks around, these two slim volumes are packed with recipes so good they're already as well-thumbed as my grandmother's Joy of Cooking. Better from Scratch will stun you with how easy it is to make things you usually buy from the store—often for a premium price—like granola, beef jerky, graham crackers and kimchi. Ditto for Crackers and Dips, where you'll have fun, spend less and enjoy crunchy, sweet and savory treats made from whole grains, real butter, cheese, fresh spices and no preservatives.

Oysters and Crab by Cynthia Nims. Seattle writer and cookbook author Nims is passionate about the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, especially the creatures pulled from the depths of the waters off our own West Coast. In Oysters she describes in detail the biology of these amazing shellfish and how they help purify the waters they live in. She then moves on to suggest the best methods of buying, cooking (or not!) and eating them, with more than 30 recipes. Our West Coast Dungeness is the star of Crab, but she also covers its Atlantic and Gulf Coast cousins, delving into the history and importance of the commercial fishing industry, then quickly moving on to how to buy, clean and—with more than 50 recipes—how to cook these beauties.

My Beer Year by Lucy Burningham. This book by Portland beer writer Burningham has a long but delightful descriptor: "Adventures with hop farmers, craft brewers, chefs, beer sommeliers, and fanatical drinkers as a Beer Master in training." With wit (as well as Wit), it describes how this young writer and mom fell in love with beer to the point where she decided to become a Certified Ciccerone, going through the rigorous and arcane training and testing regimen to become a beer expert. (And you just thought knowing an IPA from a Porter made you that, right?) Full of character and plenty of characters, its a great book for the beer fanatic in your life.

Pure Beef by Lynne Curry. The current dietary advice, as Michael Pollan famously said, is to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." But if we are going to eat protein, its important to eat animals raised humanely, with their feet on the earth and the sun on their backs. In other words, pasture-raised animals rather than those raised in crowded, confined conditions requiring daily doses of antibiotics to survive. To that end, I heartily recommend Joseph, Oregon, writer Lynne Curry's book on buying, cooking and eating grass-fed beef, an incredibly well-researched and thoroughly recipe-tested primer on how to get the most delicious results possible from these tasty beasts.

Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Dividing her time between a home on the coast of Maine and an olive farm in Tuscany, Jenkins shares her contagious passion for the flavors of the Mediterranean, a diet she is convinced is one of the most healthful and flavorful on the planet. I've tried several recipes from this book, and I can't argue with that premise.

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. If you have a bread baker in your life, or someone who's interested in learning to make bread, I can't recommend this book highly enough. My husband worked for two years to make what he considered the perfect artisan loaf, and was frustrated with what he felt were mediocre results until friends got him this book. It was a game-changer, and it apparently has some pretty good recipes for other good things to eat, though those pages remain remarkably unthumbed around here.

James Beard: A Biography by Robert Clark. As a fifth-generation Oregonian, I thought I knew plenty about native son James Beard. That is, until I read this biography of this world-famous cook, eater and bon vivant. A truly fascinating character in his own right, it follows Beard's upbringing in Portland in the late 1800s, his escape from his controlling-yet-supportive mother to New York and Europe and his lifelong love affair with the flavors and ingredients of the Northwest. In addition, it follows the evolution of the American palate with discussions that add depth and nuance to Beard's at times tragic yet joyful journey.

Monday, November 28, 2016

One (Big) Squash + Two Pie Recipes = Yum!

It just so happened that Thanksgiving this year coincided with the cooking of a giant—I am not exaggerating, it was a more-than-twenty-pounder prior to slaughter—Musquée de Provence squash. Though I fully intended to bake it at some point, it provided a lovely front porch decoration during Halloween with its bronzed, almost metallic-looking sheen, dramatic striated ribs and sculptured stem.

I'm a huge fan of buying whole squash, whether Hubbard or Sibley or the Northwest's own Lower Salmon River variety. And size is no deterrent (see above). All I needed was a sharp chef's knife and a sturdy cutting board—remember, these monsters are hollow inside, so you can insert the knife at the stem, push it all the way through the bottom, then with steady pressure push the knife down. I generally slice them into halves to clean them, then section them for roasting. (In a 400-degree oven the slices soften like butter, usually within an hour.)

The unroasted flesh of Cucurbita moschata (the Latin name of this squash; also called "Potiron Bronze de Montlhery"…ooh la la!) is quite sweet, and it has a lighter texture than its cousins the acorn and butternut squashes, but with a more intense flavor than either of those, and a gorgeous, red-orange color. Roasted, it maintains its sweetness and its color, which works well with a lime-inflected soup and is perfectly suited for desserts like pie or cheesecake.

I used about a quarter of the roasted squash for a soup, then froze the rest in three zip-lock freezer bags, knowing I'd pull out two of them for pies at Thanksgiving. I'd cobbled together a recipe from researching squash pies in books and online, but found that most squash pie recipes call for puréed pumpkin or butternut. The Musquée's flesh is much more moist, so I knew I needed to cut back on any added liquid.

The second recipe I tried was from a friend who is a professional baker here in Portland, a squash pie that came from a French chef she'd worked with who hated American food. "Hilariously enough," she said, "it's a variation on the recipe from the Libby's can!"

The recipes were almost identical, with only a couple of minor variations, and for the Musquée squash I think the recipe below works well. I can't wait to try it on other kinds of squash—helloooo Lower Salmon River, I'm talkin' to you—and taste the differences between them. And I'm pretty darn sure my family won't mind me using them as testers in the process.

Squash (Pumpkin) Pie

For the crust:
1 unbaked pie crust in a 9" pie pan (recipe here)
Egg white

For the filling:
3 c. roasted Musquée de Provence squash
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. heavy cream or whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Purée squash in food processor until smooth. Pour into large mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Brush the bottom of the crust with a thin layer of egg white (I use my hands for this so I can feel if there are dry spots.) Pour squash mixture into the crust. Bake 1 hour. Test for doneness by inserting a sharp knife. If it doesn't come out clean, reduce heat to 300° and continue baking until set.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Future of Our Food: New York Times Looks West

The New York Times panel described below was held on October 5, 2016, a month before the recent election, but brought out some key insights that I hope to explore in future posts in this series. Installments over the next few months will include interviews with farmers, food activists, plant breeders and policy wonks to try to get a handle on the seismic shift in our local food landscape due to the change of administrations in Washington.

The New York Times has been fascinated with Portland for years now, featuring it as a travel destination, for sure, but mostly focused on watching its food and restaurant scene evolve from a backwater of middle class meh to a powerhouse of groundbreaking local, seasonal, chef-driven cuisine. In its own transition from a national newspaper to a national media corporation, the Times has been expanding its New York-centric, issues-based series called Times Talks to a more national platform.

Recently it brought this form of live journalism to Portland, sending out Times national food correspondent Kim Severson to moderate a panel titled "The Future of Food in Portland.” The panel featured local food notables Piper Davis of Grand Central Bakery; Kanth Gopalpur of the Business Oregon Commission; chef Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s and Tusk; and Amanda Oborne, Vice President of Food and Farms at Ecotrust.

In an interview before the event I asked Severson why the Times chose to come to Portland.

"I’m just fascinated with where Portland is going to go now," she said. "Because [the city] got really cute and we all fell in love with it. Portland was like a really attractive 20-year-old college sophomore with a great life. But now what?"

Echoing that question after introducing her panelists, she opened the discussion asking if it wasn't time for Portland to mature a little bit.

"It all goes back to Colin the chicken," Piper Davis answered, referring to a much-joked-about sketch on the TV series "Portlandia" where two foodies pester their server with questions about their entrée. "Those of us who care where our food comes from can no longer ask that question." Instead, she said, the concern has shifted in her mind: Did this food leave the soil in better condition than it started?

"Major problems still need to be solved," she continued, saying that the national perception is that most of the work is done, when in reality people aren't talking about the gaps in the food system when it comes to the environment, sustainability and universal access to good food regardless of income or where a person lives.

Severson then turned to Josh McFadden and asked him about the city's "cheffy culture," asking how its Olympic-level chef game will affect Portland's producer-driven reputation.

Answering that he initially moved back to Portland from stints in San Francisco, Chicago and New York because of the people more than the food scene here, he said he found that "the product is as good or better than anyplace else," and that local farmers like Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm and John Eveland and Sally Brewer of Gathering Together Farm are producing innovative crops at the highest level.

Severson herself is no stranger to the Northwest, having lived in the region and worked for newspapers in Seattle, Anchorage and right here in Portland during a short stint at the Oregonian.

In our interview I asked what differentiates the Northwest and its food from that found in the rest of the country. She paused.

"There’s just something about the mix of the ruggedness of the place and the purity of the raw ingredients here," she said. "The most memorable things I’ve eaten come from the Northwest."

She added that when she was working in Alaska she got sick of salmon, referring to it as "the zucchini of Alaska." But having been away for decades now, and with wild-caught salmon a rare thing to find on the East Coast, she had an epiphany.

"Last night [at a Portland restaurant] I had a beautiful, perfectly seared piece of wild salmon," she said. "It was like heaven to me and, especially on the East Coast, the beauty of wild salmon—I know it sounds so cliché and terrible even as I’m saying it—but it’s spectacular."

Bottom line?

"I think your baseline of deliciousness is very high here," Severson said. "Your baseline, how good food that grows around here tastes, I think that’s exceptional. Exceptional."

In the South, where Severson is now based, she said, "There’s some really great produce, but it’s so crazy hot it’s tricky to grow stuff there. But there’s something very clean about it here that other places don’t have. There’s a freshness here that makes it super special to me."

Any Portland cook can tell you that freshness also has a lot to do with the proximity of local farms to the city's core, a point that was brought up by Grand Central's Piper Davis.

"No one talks about the urban growth boundary and food, but it's critically connected," Davis said of the line drawn around the city in 1980 as a land use planning boundary to control urban expansion onto farm and forest lands.

Amanda Oborne of Ecotrust, tasked with developing The Redd, an effort in inner Southeast Portland's former produce district designed to support local food enterprises, said that Portland is a city of innovators and, as with the urban growth boundary in the '80s, is still experimenting with ideas to provide services to make food more accessible and sustainable.

"The Redd is not about the food scene, it's about the food system," she said of what is envisioned as a working hub for the regional food system.

It's an idea that Severson echoed in our interview as a distinguishing characteristic of the city.

"The ability to make things happen in this city, foodwise, the potential [that] if you have an idea you can probably make it happen, is exciting," she said, attributing it to both the city's size and its culture.

"There’s not a lot of people who say no here," Severson mused. "It’s a function of size, of culture and people who are, like, 'Huh, you wanna like have a chicken-powered ancient grain mill and coffee shop? That could be cool.'"

One thing that surprised her, in a city so well known for its food culture, is that there is no food council here to direct, support and develop food policy for Portland, Multnomah County or the metro region. [The now-defunct Portland/Multnomah Food Policy Council served as a citizen-based advisory board to the City of Portland and Multnomah County from 2002-2012 and was dissolved in 2012 due to "lacking relevancy."]

As to the future, Severson seemed of two minds about where the Northwest is headed. "You certainly saw Berkeley get very popular, [but] San Francisco and Northern California cuisine is very hidebound," she said of larger West Coast cities known for innovation in the past but hampered by stagnation and the cost of doing business there. "Maybe Portland can do it differently."

Read the first installment in this series: Post-Election Pondering.

Top photo from The New York Times: (l to r) Josh McFadden, Kanth Gopalpur, Kim Severson, Amanda Oborne, Piper Davis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stave Off Chilly Weather with Beef Stew

One of the original reasons for starting this blog was to save recipes I'd made (and liked) and to have an easy way to look them up. Well, after ten-plus years and nearly 450 recipes later, I've got quite the stash!

Still, sometimes I'll go to search for a particular favorite just to make sure I've got all the ingredients I need for dinner that night and…oops…I'll realize that I never posted it here. So then I go to my old recipe box (left) and hope against hope that at some point in the pre-digital past—you know, like when dinosaurs roamed the earth and people still argued over who was the guy in that movie—I had scribbled it on a 3" by 5" card and filed it under the correct category. Or if that doesn't reveal my prey, then it's searching online to find a recipe that'll approximate what I'm looking for, always a risky proposition.

Luckily, in the case of my favorite beef stew recipe, the card was in the box and was even filed under "Fish and Meats," just behind artichoke chicken casserole and in front of smoked salmon pasta. Originally a women's magazine recipe that my mother tore out of a Better Homes and Gardens circa 1976 (yes, that's noted on the file card, too), I'd copied it down in case I needed a big, meaty, company's-coming dish to haul out for a special occasion.

She'd made it many times for just such eventualities, whether a church supper or to impress a business associate that my father was bringing home, one of those hearty one-dish dinners that would always be a guaranteed rave-inducer. See why I wanted to find it? And now that it's here, I'm hoping you'll find it as satisfying and useful as my mother did, and I always do.

Mom's Beef Stew

4 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 1" pieces
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 c. flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme or tarragon
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 c. carrots, sliced into rounds
2 1/2 c. dry red wine
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. each thyme and basil
3 medium potatoes, sliced into 3/4" or so cubes (other root vegetables work great, too)
Salt to taste

In paper bag or gallon zip-lock plastic bag, place flour, salt, pepper and teaspoon of herbs. Shake to combine.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. While oil heats, add beef cubes, eight or so at a time, to the flour mixture in the bag and shake to coat them. When the oil shimmers, add the coated beef cubes to the pot, adding more floured cubes and browning them. Make sure you don't crowd the beef, though, or you'll end up steaming them in juice rather than browning them. As they brown, remove them from the pot to a platter, and add more floured beef cubes to the pot.

When all the beef has been browned and has been removed to the platter, add the onions and garlic to the pot, scraping up the browned bits of flour from the bottom as the vegetables sauté. When they're tender, add the meat back to the pot along with the carrots, wine, bay leaves and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for one hour. At that point, if it seems too dry, add another half-cup or so of wine. Add cubed potatoes to the pot and continue simmering for an additional hour or more until the beef is completely tender.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Oregon's Czarnecki Family: Four Generations of Mushroom Hunters

"My best memories growing up were foraging with the whole family, making a day of it," says Chris. "For us it’s always been about more than just putting food on the table. It’s getting out in the woods, being with nature."

The video above and the story that accompanies it, by writer Kerry Newberry for Travel Oregon, celebrates one of my favorite Oregon families, the Czarneckis. Jack (left), the patriarch of the clan, introduced me to mushroom foraging years ago, and I still relish a call to head up to Mt. Hood or over to the coast range to spend the day with this tireless man who sprints up and down Oregon's steep, forested hillsides like a deer.

Read more about my foraging adventures with him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Future of Our Food: Post-Election Pondering

It seems like almost everyone, from pollsters to pundits to journalists to voters and non-voters alike, was taken by surprise by the results of this week's election. For myself, I'm still trying to get my brain to form synapses that connect a reality TV celebrity, accused sexual predator, racist and President-elect of the United States into a coherent whole. So far it eludes me.

How it's all going to shake out, well, that's the big question, isn't it?

Farmer supporting ban on GMO crops in Jackson Co.

Given that the Republican party habitually takes a hard right in the direction of industry, and with both houses of Congress and the White House in Republican hands, it stands to reason that a Trump administration will be pretty industry-heavy. Including in the food and agriculture sectors, where, according to an article in the magazine Modern Farmer, his list of 65 agriculture advisors is "a who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates, including senators, governors, state ag commissioners and agribusiness executives," going on to point out that "it’s safe to say that the Trump ag team supports feedlots over farmers' markets."

Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).

So I've decided to put together my own list of "advisors" and ask them what we can expect going forward under this new administration and what, if anything, we need to be doing about it. What are the major issues? Who should we be paying attention to? What questions should we be asking?

The series will be called, as it is above, The Future of Our Food, and it'll start with a report on a recent New York Times LookWest panel I attended before the election titled, coincidentally, "The Future of Food in Portland" moderated by New York Times staff food writer Kim Severson. Other installments over the next few months will include interviews with farmers, food activists, plant breeders and policy wonks to try to get a handle on this seismic shift in our food landscape.

Read the second installment in this series: New York Times Looks West.

Monday, November 07, 2016

A Pot of Soup Will Carry Us Through

I don't know about you, but when I get stressed I crave comfort. And believe me, this election has me more than a little freaked out. Without getting all screamy about the politics of the race or the possibility that we could have a madman in the White House with the nuclear codes…um…uh…okay, stay on track…I'm planning on being glued to the coverage on election night with a big pot of soup on the stove and lots of Dave's awesome homemade sourdough on hand for sopping.

A musquée de Provence squash is made for soup.

Hey, it beats curling up in a ball in bed with the covers over my head and pretending it's all been a bad dream, right?

Truthfully, I'm looking forward to shouting and screaming and jumping up and down when the country votes to elect our first woman president. But since we still need to eat, here's a recipe for a curried squash soup that will calm and comfort, especially if you have a big loaf of artisan bread standing by for some sopping.

Election Night Curried Squash Soup

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp.-1 Tbsp. harissa, depending on your heat tolerance, or 1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 13 1/2 oz. can coconut milk
2-4 c. water or chicken or vegetable stock (or a combination of the two)
4 c. roasted squash, cut in 1" cubes
1 kaffir lime leaf (optional)
Zest of 1/2 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime

In a large soup pot, heat oil until it shimmers. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add curry powder and sauté for 1 minute. Add harissa, coconut milk, water and/or stock, squash, lime leaf, lime zest and juice. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lime leaf and discard. Purée with immersion blender until smooth. (This can also be done in batches in a blender or food processor, but cool it slightly first or it'll explode all over the kitchen.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Farm Bulletin: The Ave Bruma Project

As a casual consumer, I go to the farmers' market or the store with my grocery list in hand, picking out the most appealing representatives to take home for my table. It doesn't occur to me that the fruits, vegetables and grains I'm packing in my basket were painstakingly developed over years, even decades, of careful breeding and maintenance. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is in the midst of such an endeavor with a variety of winter melon and, thirteen years after first planting them and three years after reviving his efforts, is just beginning to get results he's happy with.

In 2003 we planted some storage melons, variously referred to as winter, Christmas or Valencia melons. They have a hard, dark green, corrugated rind with yellow-green to pink flesh. They are true melons and not related to the Asian wax gourd, confusingly called a winter melon as well. This sort of melon is grown in Spain where they have long been an export crop, and southern Italy where they are stored hanging under the eaves. Last February, Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50 sent us a photo of these melons stylishly hanging under the eaves of a fruit stall in Naples.

Winter melon display in Naples.

It is an old and patient style of melon that has been nudged aside for no good reason. They made an early appearance in America; President Thomas Jefferson grew them in his garden. As Fearing Burr noted in The Field and Garden Vegetables of America (1865), the Green Valencia melon is "…upon the whole, if fully ripened, a more desirable melon than many summer varieties." We concur, and more welcome given the season. The flavor of the melon improves in storage just like the best of the winter squash. Akin to winter squash, think of melons as living tropical plants and refrigeration as the fastest way to kill them. Storage at room temperature with good air circulation is perfect.

We sold winter melons at the Thanksgiving market that year. At the time field area and storage space on the farm were severely constrained as we were increasing our plantings of corn and beans, so the next year we dropped them from our crop list as an unnecessary distraction. Years later, people were still asking after those melons, leaving them lingering on the maybe-to-do-sometime list.

The new harvest shed gave us the storage space needed and we decided to try the melons again in 2013. As we looked at the maturing melons and later as we tasted them, it was clear that over the decade the seed quality had dropped precipitously. There were many smooth or light green off types, a large number of fruits split in the field, the flavor and texture was all over the map, some verging towards a mediocre cucumber in flavor or grainy in texture, and most of the fruits rotted before Thanksgiving. Basically a stinking disaster, which is what happens when seed companies forget the crop is a living organism that needs care and maintenance of its traits; just because a fruit makes seeds does not mean they are worth planting. Fortunately a handful of fruits were as we remembered so happily.

The approved melon seeds.

Using seeds from those fruits, we planted the melons again in 2014 and resolved to fix the problems. Our design brief for the project was simple. We wanted dense, mostly round and very dark green fruits with a hard wrinkled skin. The fruits should store in good condition for at least three months, ideally beyond the Winter Solstice, our brumal target, and have substantial flavor. That autumn, Sam Smith and the staff of Ava Gene's visited the farm and they tasted a sample of a really good specimen. Sam wanted the melon in the restaurant and made inquiries with impressive persistence. Thinking about it, we decided that sitting down and sampling 70 or so melons that didn't rot and then composting the remains seemed a bit of a tall task and a waste to boot. As the solstice approached and the first part of the rigorous selection protocol was finished, I emailed Sam:

"Here is my proposition. I will deliver all of the melons I have to you gratis. I would like you and your staff to separate out the seed of the melons you would want to buy next year, each fruit's seed in a separate bag. I am focusing on flavor and texture, and they don't all have to be the same, just really good. All you have to do is rinse the seeds, pat dry and put in the refrigerator; Carol and I will finish the drying here. Some of the melons may be fine, but not great enough to want to buy next year, and those seeds can be tossed. Use the flesh for a melon granita or cocktail, but leave nothing for posterity. This would be a great help and add to the story of what we end up with. If you are interested, I will drop them off next week."

Sam and his staff embraced the idea of this partnership. After Christmas, we collected the seed they selected, along with tasting notes. Just six melons, less than 10% of those we delivered, met the threshold in terms of flavor. Three more lots were from the fruits we set aside for our own consumption, so we had seed from nine fruits in all after starting with 150.

The children's melon.

In the spring of 2015, we started melons using an equal number of seeds from each fruit, assuring the population in the field included progeny from all of the selected fruits, no morsel of deliciousness overlooked or underrepresented. There was a dramatic improvement in storage life, but still a bit too much noise in the flavor profile. We reprised the Ava Gene's grand giveaway last winter, with 22 fruits deemed good, and six noted as exceptional. On a snowy January 4th with two grandchildren underfoot because of a cancelled flight, we opened one of the last fruits as a diversionary treat and it was still perfect. It went into the grex as the "children's melon." This year, Sam, now at Tusk, will have to buy his melons. However, we are very grateful for the assistance the staff at Ava Gene's provided.

As we noted, seed producers need to select for good traits, and against undesirable mutations or reversions to the wild type. For example, wild members of the family split open at maturity to shed their seeds, and their flesh is fibrous, bitter and often toxic. Like other cultivated plants, the melon is selected from plants where these traits are unexpressed, but they remain in the genome. We call our breeding efforts "projects" to remind us that the work is ongoing, and roguing out poor quality fruits is essential to the seed production endeavor.

As you taste the fruits bear in mind this is a work in progress. It will probably take another four years before we have all the traits close to where we want them. We could wait until we are certain of perfection, however we need to generate some cash flow in order to justify continuing the effort. If you buy a less than sublime fruit, we hope you will think of it as help in funding a worthy project. Oh yes, the project's name Ave Bruma is Latin for "behold the winter solstice," the brumal target we set.

Photo of winter melons in Naples by Sarah Minnick of Lovely's Fifty Fifty. Other photos by Anthony Boutard.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Grate Your Winter Squash!

Being a winter squash fan myself, I can't get enough of these thick-skinned beauties when they begin appearing in the farmers' markets. The ubiquitous Hubbard and acorn squashes are okay, I guess, but I like to wait for the giant Sibley to turn from blue to peach as it cures, or admire the sculptural bronze beauty of a Musquée de Provence. Even a warty Marina di Chioggia, with its bumpy blue-green skin, makes a stunning centerpiece until its time to serve it. This week Jim Dixon of Real Good Food gives some suggestions for doing just that.

Grating winter squash is such a good way to take advantage of the abundance of squashes available in stores and at the farmers' markets right now. While smaller, thin-skinned squash like Delicatas can be cleaned, sliced and cooked without peeling, the bigger, pumpkin-y squashes require a bit more processing. These Cucurbita maxima (usually, but not always, the big ones; Delicatas and similar are C. pepo) need to be split with a big knife, cleaned of the seeds (save for roasting) and cut into manageable pieces. Even a smallish, three-to-four-pound squash gives you enough for a couple of meals.

So after you roast a few slices and make something like winter squash caponata, you'll probably have raw squash left over. Time to grate. While you can use a box grater, a food processor works much better. Besides being fast, the grating disk gives nice, uniform shreds. Try cooking a handful in hot olive oil until they get a little brown and eating with just good salt. I use it raw to make a celery root and squash remoulade; mixed with potatoes (or by itself), grated winter squash makes a great latke. And there's always fritters. You can freeze the grated raw squash, too.

Winter Squash and Cabbage with Walnuts

I've made this using cubes of winter squash (cut about 1/2 inch, cook in oil until brown and slightly tender), but I like it better like this. To get started toast a handful of walnuts, chop coarsely, and set aside.

Cook a couple of cups of grated winter squash and a good pinch of salt in fairly hot olive oil until it starts to brown. Add a sliced red onion and a couple cloves of chopped garlic, cook until it softens, then add about a quarter head of chopped green cabbage. Sage and squash are a classic combination, so add 6-8 fresh sage leaves that you've chopped. When the vegetables are tender, remove the pan from the heat and stir in a tablespoon or two of Katz Trio red wine vinegar, the walnuts, and about 3 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Grind some black pepper over it, too.

You can eat this as a vegetable side or toss it with some shaped pasta.