Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Farm Fresh

I originally sat down to write this post on December 9. I typed two sentences, thought about a recipe, got up to get a cup of tea, and immediately got distracted by the gigantic epic that was to be my month of December. Whoops.

Long story short, I spent this last month orchestrating the big move back to The South, capital S. There was packing and selling and more packing and driving to be done—and then all of a sudden it was Christmas and I was in North Carolina with my entire extended family and tomorrow is the last day of 2009.

Excuses, excuses.

But now I am back on the couch in my parents’ house, new dog in tow, beginning Job Search 2.0, reminiscing about this

Earlier this month I made a quick trip to Palmetto, GA, for an interview/work day at Serenbe Farms. I dug up sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), plucked radishes and got super muddy. It was exhilarating spending all day outside, touching and digging and sniffing out delicious food in its most primitive form.

The farm is part of a unique little community being built about an hour south of Atlanta. It’s planned and suburban, yes, but it’s also 100% focused on sustainability, organic farming and alternative ways of interacting with our environment. All of the homes are built to maximize energy retention and minimize carbon footprints. The streets curve in such a way that it takes longer to drive than to walk. The farm and the two restaurants have this amazing exchange program—the farm sells the restaurant excess produce and the restaurants give back their waste in the form of compost—it’s a complete cycle. Most of the residents participate in the CSA program, and the town farmer’s market brings organic foodies from all over each week. The farm even does educational programs with elementary schools in the area, and as far as I’m concerned, the more kids who want to dig in the dirt, the better. The residents have a bit more money than most, but I honestly think that all of this is a good thing. If all of us with the resources to contribute to improving the food system were as conscious about it as those in Serenbe, change would come much faster.

Perhaps one of the best parts of this little jaunt was the schwag I brought home from the interview, like these little guys

Mix together these babies with some spinach (or more seasonal salad greens, preferably dug up from your garden), kohlrabi and a citrusy dressing and you’ve got a salad that’ll brighten up even the snowiest of December days (I’m talking to you, Portland).

Also on my plate is that vegetable tart made with pureed sunchokes, sautéed Swiss chard and onions, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. The onions, olive oil, flour and cheese were from the regular grocery, but almost everything else came from my cold and muddy hands.

Talk about local.

Radish and Kohlrabi Salad with Citrusy Dressing

1 head kohlrabi, cut into a thin julienne using a mandoline or very sharp knife

6-8 French radishes, thinly sliced into transparent rounds
Seasonal salad greens, enough for four people

¼ teaspoon each of grapefruit, lime, lemon and orange zest

about ¼ cup mixed citrus juice (I used lemon, lime and orange)

pinch of brown sugar

olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

Assemble radishes and kohlrabi on top of greens. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the zests with the juice and sugar. Slowly whisk in the oil to taste (I like about a 50-50 ratio, but most people find that a bit too acidic). Add salt and pepper. Lightly dress the salad right before serving.

Sunchoke and Chard Tart

Olive Oil Tart Crust (I used Clotilde’s, from Chocolate and Zucchini, with a 50-25-25 mix of all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour and cornmeal)

olive oil
1 pound (I think … Just fill up a cookie sheet…) sunchokes, peeled and cut into 2-inch long chunks
3 cloves garlic, peeled

¼-½ cup stock of your choice

2 bunches Swiss, red, or rainbow chard, stems and leaves separated

2 sweet onions
¼ cup dry white wine

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the tart crust and chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Place the peeled sunchokes on a baking sheet with the garlic cloves. Season with salt and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil (just enough to keep them moist and to prevent sticking). Roast until fork tender (I honestly can’t remember how long I cooked them, but I think it was probably 20-30 minutes). Take out of the oven and let cool until you’re able to touch them without screaming in pain.

Meanwhile, prick the crust all over with a fork, line with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans. Cook for about 7-10 minutes, remove the foil and beans, and cook 7-10 minutes more until ever so golden brown. Let cool until you’re done with everything else.

While the sunchokes are cooling and the crust is baking, chop up the chard stems into 1-inch long pieces and the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Slice the onion into a thin julienne. Heat about one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-ish heat in your biggest and best saucepan. Once it shimmers, add the onion and the chard stems. Saute until they soften and then add the wine. Cook until most of the wine evaporates. Season with salt, and add the chard leaves. Saute until the greens soften and then remove from the heat.

At this point, your sunchokes should be cool enough to handle. Place them and the garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Drizzle in a bit more olive oil and ¼ cup of stock. Puree until smooth, adding more stock and/or oil until smooth. Add about 2/3 of the cheese, pulse to combine and taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary.

Pour the sunchoke puree into the tart crust. Spread with a spatula so that it evenly covers the tart. Carefully spread the chard and onion mixture on top, again trying to make sure that it is even. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and bake (still at 400 degrees) for about 15 minutes or so, or until everything is hot and bubbly and the cheese is melted and browned.
Let cool for 10-15 minutes so that it doesn’t explode everywhere. Serve with the radish and kohlrabi salad to all of your locavorious foodie friends.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Read this

I'll be back in a day or so with some fresh-from-the-farm yumminess, but for now, I advise you to take a look at this:

Serious Eats intern Chici Wang got a chance to listen to Frank Bruni and Jonathan Safran Foer duke it out over meat-eating ethics. She's got a nice synopsis of the event, and I'm totally jealous that she got to take Foer head on.

I'm reading Eating Animals right now and I have quite a few thoughts on it (leaning towards the Frank Bruni/Chici Wang side of the whole argument), but I definitely recommend checking it out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I am still stuffed

We learned some important lessons this Thanksgiving.

Number one: French press coffee makers do indeed whip heavy cream into glorious submission:

Number two: Homemade appetizers still don't get eaten unless they are a) decor for bloody marys (celery, cheese, olive, sausage, surprisingly appropriate) or b) macarons (espresso and salted caramel, explosively delicious):

Number three: Turkeys cooked in a roasting rack do sometimes look like torpedos:

Number four: Eight Thanksgiving servings are always smaller than eight regular servings. We would all have to eat like this:

(and then some) to eat all of this:

(I still don't know where Ted's sausage-walnut-sage stuffing went. It was delicious, I promise).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the first time in three years, I will not be cooking a turkey or manning a kitchen on this, the best of Thursdays. Instead, I am whipping up some winter squash soup, cranberry sauce and a pecan pie, traveling across southeast to eat with a smaller group of friends. Relaxing and somewhat strange, I'm sure that it will still be a deliciously gluttonous evening.

Whatever your plans today, travel safe, eat well, and laugh. A lot.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Late fall in Portland begs for soup. It pleads for steaming bowls, big spoons and a leisurely dinner spent slurping. It commands us to spend extra time and care in front of a hot stove, stirring, smelling, tasting until we achieve, night after night, the perfect blend of warmth and silky satisfaction.

It’s the wet and the cold and the drafty windows that do it. The chill brings bone-numbing shivers, demanding that we pull out the raincoats and the rain boots and the umbrellas (for the non-natives). It makes us run inside to bars, coffee shops, movie theaters and creative combinations of the three. It causes us to complain, but it also makes us stronger.

Lest we forget, it’s the long months of rain that bring us the red and the yellow of carrots and squash and apples demanding to be transformed into comfort. It’s the long months of rain that bring us rows upon rows of hearty winter greens, the mysterious stalks of Brussels sprouts and the fractal beauty of romanesco.

If we can brave the soaked markets and the puddle-filled parking lots, it is with pleasure that we should take a few more minutes to roast that squash, caramelize that onion and stew those greens, melding all of these wonderful autumnal flavors to create a bowl of goodness more special than even the sum of its parts.

Take first, for example, warm cabbage salad (for which I am eternally indebted to Heidi Swanson):

Bitter, raw, crunchy vegetables take a warm dip in oil, vinegar, raisins and spices to emerge just ever so wilted, ever so sweetened, ever so royal.

Or next, pile warm stewed kale on top of a thick slab of homemade toast and drench with the runny yolk of a just-cooked over easy egg (oh, Orangette, you are so very wise):

Yet my favorite this November has been the bowls upon bowls of winter squash soup. I’ve made it with whatever orb strikes my fancy–pumpkin, butternut, acorn, delicata–stewed with everything from apples to sage to shallots, sometimes with water, sometimes with chicken stock, sometimes with leftover bean cooking liquid. I’ve found that the best soups come from a roasted squash, a single fresh herb profile, a bit of apple and a splash of acidity. The flavor lingers, complex but not overwhelming, and matches perfectly with all of the above.

Roasted Winter Squash Soup
Very loosely adapted from Serious Eats
Serves about 4, depending on sides

1 medium or a couple smaller winter squashes (I like the combination of acorn and delicata), cut in half with the seeds scraped out (save to roast for a snack!)
Olive oil
½ sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
about ¼ cup dry white wine
2 apples, on the tart side, cored and chopped
about a 1-inch segment of fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a kitchen knife
1 clove, stuck into the segment of ginger
about 6 cups chicken (or veggie) stock
pinch red chili flakes or cayenne pepper
juice of half a lemon
kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously salt the halves of squash, rubbing the salt into the flesh. Place on a baking sheet, cut side up, and roast for about 20-30 minutes (depending on size), until the tines of a fork can pierce the flesh easily.

Meanwhile, heat a good glug (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil over medium heat in a good soup pot (I use my Le Cruset). Add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, or until you can smell it. Add the wine and let it reduce until almost evaporated.

At this point, if the squash isn’t done, remove the pot from the heat. Once the squash is cooked, let it cool just until you can handle it without burning yourself (this has never happened to me…). Gently peel the skin away from flesh, trying not to smash up the soft squash all over the counter (again, never happened…). Cube the squash and add it to the soup pot along with the apples, ginger, clove and stock (I usually just add enough to cover all of the other ingredients. You can always add more back in at the end if the soup is too thick). Gently bring up to a simmer, cover, turn down the heat to low-ish and simmer until the apples are cooked all the way through.

Once everything is cooked to your liking, remove the pot from the heat and (carefully, in batches!) puree in a blender or food processor. (Make sure to only fill up your blender/processor about 1/3 of the way and make sure to blend slowly. You do not want a soup-covered kitchen–trust me. It helps to have another bowl or handy for your pureed soup. If you are lucky enough to have an immersion blender, use it!) After pureeing the last batch, return the soup to low heat. Add chili flakes/cayenne to taste, lemon juice and extra stock if the soup is too thick. Taste for seasoning and add salt if it needs it.

Serve with wilted salad, stewed greens or a grilled cheese sandwich.

Drink a hot toddy. Cuddle.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Meat Beat

I don’t know if you follow foodie news sources with the same obsession…er…rigor… as myself, but if you do, this whole sustainable meat business probably caught your eye. It started a few weeks ago (well, it really started much longer ago, with the likes of Michael Pollan et al, but, ugh, I don’t want to go there) when Nicolette Niman (yes, that Niman) published an editorial in the New York Times arguing, basically, that vegetarianism doesn’t do all that much to help with global warming. She argues that meat can be farmed and butchered sustainably, and, in these cases, the act of producing meat does not contribute much to carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Obviously, she acknowledged the harm that industrial meat farming has on the environment and health and … the list goes on; however, the gist of the article is that you can be a meat eater and a tree-hugger, too.

Not surprisingly, the editorial proffered a flurry of debate in the food press–prestigious and otherwise. Many derided Niman’s claims of meat’s inner innocence and I am sure there are many vegetarian/vegans kicking and squirming at the very thought of responsible carnivores. There is still a lively debate going on over at the Atlantic’s food site, and I recommend that you check it out before tossing in your two cents.

But–what does this have to do with me?

I recently got to write up a short piece for WW on a couple of up-and-coming butchers in the Portland area. Both are making their names for themselves with a badge of sustainability, and both have given me a lot of food (heh) for thought surrounding this issue.

The younger of the two, Berlin Reed, came back out to Portland at the end of the summer after spending a stint working in the Brooklyn (NY) food scene. Most recently, he held the post of butcher at Greene Grape Provisions, a store that seems to be doing a lot right. He basically taught himself how to cut up animals, how to cure bacon (including lamb! bacon! yes!) and how to source the most ethical meat possible. Best part about Berlin, though, is that he used to be a vegan. Militantly. He was so vegan that he wouldn’t even sit next to, let alone have a legitimate conversation with, meat eaters. For him, it had always been an ethics issue. He knew about the horrors of industrial meat production and wanted nothing to do with it.

Once he found good meat, though, his veganism was gonners. His first bite of flesh in 14 years was rib-eye, and he hasn’t looked back. In the last year, he has penned himself The Ethical Butcher, writing a blog, networking with farmers, making insane bacon* and being an advocate for sustainable omnivorism. But all of this is in my story. You should read it.

The part of his story that got left out of editing, and what really got me thinking, was his derision of pescatarians. I know a lot of pescatarians. In fact, most of my vegetarian friends eat fish regularly. I’ve always been a bit confused by that choice, but I never understood why I couldn’t accept it as reasonable. After Berlin and I got to talking, I remembered some images I had seen of shrimp farms in god-knows-where Asia and thought, those look just like the shots of Tyson chicken farms that made me so ill. And then Berlin brought up migration patterns and worldwide oceanic ecosystems and dwindling populations and shipping and … oh yeah, fish and other seafood are just as unsustainable as meat. There just aren’t evil corporations like Tyson for us to shake our fists at. Sure, there is sustainable seafood out there. Programs like the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch do a great job listing safe products, and even give you a really easy color-coded system to check on tomorrow’s future dinner.

Yes, it’s tricky to keep up with fish sustainability. Today’s green light will be tomorrow’s red flag, but really, if you think about it, it’s not that much harder than remembering peaches are not seasonal in December or that there are no winter squash in July. Some seafood (farmed shrimp) will never be sustainable to eat, just like New Zealand kiwis will never lose their giant carbon footprint. So pay attention. If you do choose to eat only fish, do it with the same responsibility you attribute to avoiding meat. Think local. Think seasonal.

Speaking of local seasonality, let’s talk giant Oregon animals. Let’s talk grass-fed beef and heritage-breed pigs.

It turns out, there are way more Oregon ranchers raising these awesome animals than it seems when I walk into New Seasons and look for my bi-weekly meat purchase. Many of these ranchers, it turns out, don’t show up in New Seasons because it is way more lucrative to send their animals clear across the country than it is to wrangle the financial hardships of selling to small local shops. Since USDA regulations require that all meat products sold retail in the United States be slaughtered and processed in USDA-certified facilities, and since these certified slaughterhouses are gigantic and inhumane and few and far between, it is hard for local ranchers to maintain the level of sustainability required to pass muster financially and ethically in Portland’s picky foodie market.

But there’s a loophole. If you sell a live animal to a person for personal use, you the farmer are allowed to slaughter the animal however you choose. This loophole has allowed the formation of what are called meat CSAs–consumers can contact a farmer and request a whole or half animal, which is then slaughtered and processed on site to insure humanity and sustainability. Most of the time, this huge hunk of flesh will get divided among friends and stuck in meat freezers all over town. The problem is, most people don’t know the first thing about getting involved in a CSA like this. And, most farmers don’t have the time to meet potential customers.

Camas Davis is trying to fix this. Since returning from a summer spent learning the craft of pig butchery on a small family farm in France (um, so jealous), she has been working to form the Portland Meat Collective (PMC). By becoming a member in the collective, you will enter into an organized and streamlined version of the meat CSA system. Camas will act as liaison between farmer and shopper, enabling many more people to be involved in the process. In addition, and this is the most awesome part, PMC members will get to take butchery classes with Portland butcher-chefs, learning the best way to break down and eat their animal. This is my idea of a Saturday afternoon.


My take on all of this sustainable meat dialogue is a bit mixed. I am obviously not a vegetarian. I take great care in selecting the meat and fish I do eat, and I feel like I am very aware of the way in which my purchases affect my place in the whole global warming/good health/ethical eating system.

However. The problem I have with the argument that, “yes, meat is okay because there is sustainable meat out there” is that, yes, there may be sustainable meat out there, but it’s not everywhere, and it’s certainly not affordable for much of the country. I can afford to buy expensive meat because I only do it so often and I am only feeding myself. I am also lucky to be surrounded by so much good meat here in Portland. Laurelhurst Market. Tails and Trotters. The Eastmoreland Market. New Seasons. To consumers in, say, Vidalia, Georgia, this is not the case.

I think that we live in an exciting time foodwise. There are so many young people out there who are devoted to Slow Food and organics and locavorism that we really do have a shot at changing the food system in this country. It is starting to change, and I think the poor economy actually helps (of course it’s cheaper–and better!–to eat food grown in your own backyard), but we’re going to need more people out there growing beautiful produce and raising happy animals.

The only way we can get better food more accessible to more people is if we have more people out there growing it. We need more farmers.

With any luck, I’ll be out there doing my part in the next couple of months. Keep your fingers crossed.

*If you have a couple extra bucks, you really should contribute to Berlin’s quest to get his bacon in the Portland farmer’s markets. He’s currently part of a funding program called Kickstarter, which helps young and creative entrepreneurs get dollar bills for their projects. Participants get a certain amount of time to get a set amount of money in pledges. If they meet their goal in the allotted time, they get the money. If not, no dice. In Berlin’s case, if you pledge $20 or more, you’ll get a tee shirt. If you shell out the big guns ($50 or more), you can get the opportunity to design your own bacon flavor and get it named after you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Curry Paste and Dried Fish

Andrew has an awesome Thai cookbook. He stole it from his mother’s house over summer, brought it back to Portland, and our house hasn’t been the same.

This particular cookbook makes the Slow Food movement look like MacDonald’s. The author–David Thompson–having found himself in Thailand by accident some years ago, decided that its cuisine was … maybe the best thing ever. He did some serious reconnaissance, found a bunch of ancient recipes, and went from there. Thai Food is as fat as a dictionary and contains a recipe and Julia-esque length explanations for everything from fermented fish paste to coconut ash pudding.

Andrew’s been experimenting with many of its curry recipes (and they have all been absolutely fantastic) since August, but it wasn’t until this weekend that he, Rosie and I put together a full-fledged (and painfully authentic) feast. Rather than sit here and describe each dish for you, here’s the meal in images:

The night before, Andrew fried up a shallot relish in left-over duck fat. Seriously, this was probably one of the best things I have ever eaten. We recommend using long beans as relish-consuming vehicles:

Rosie (along with a bit of pounding help from Stephen) painstakingly shredded a green papaya for a salad–funky, fishy, and totally addictive:

I cracked open a young coconut (hopefully there will be pictures of this to come–Andrew took them and we can’t find his camera cable) and cooked it up with freshly picked wild chanterelles, chicken, game hen stock, deep fried garlic and thai basil. Not the most photogenic, but still yummy:

I also made the requisite coconut rice:

The highlight of the meal was certainly the Andrew’s steamed fish curry. I’m not totally sure what all went into the curry paste, but it was green, lemon-limey, and super-tasty. The best part of the curry, though, was the way that the fish (we used cod because it had the green light from Monterey Bay) melted into the sauce. It wasn’t fish in curry sauce at all–it was curry-fish with an almost pudding-like consistency. So. Good:

You’ll notice the well-constructed banana-leaf bowl in which the curry steamed:

This was Stephen’s major contribution to the feast. He just wanted me to tell you that.

No feast is complete without dessert:

Okay, pulut hitam (black rice pudding) is not exactly Thai, but it’s one of my favorite desserts and has coconut and palm sugar in it just like everything else we ate.

So full. So satisfied. I should eat real Thai more often.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is there magic in this?

(For more background, please check out my first (!) published (!) story here)

As many of you already know, I published by first real story last week, covering what is probably one of the coolest places I have found in Portland–Salt, Fire & Time. It’s a community supported kitchen, or CSK (the name is a play on the ever-popular CSAs, but, besides the connection to local and sustainable farms, the connection is pretty thin). I first read about Salt, Fire & Time on Serious Eats and was instantly curious what it would be like to join in. Luckily, my editor agreed.

I spent a day in the kitchen hanging out, cooking and shopping with owner Tressa Yellig, two other volunteers, and Yellig’s kitchen companion, a woman named Abby who cooks vegan/raw/gluten-free healthy stuff. It was actually totally hilarious to witness the combination of the two cusines in one kitchen–on one side of the kitchen, Tressa was cooking down 30 pounds of pork to make rillettes, and on the other side, Abby was prepping a raw kale salad. Both of them said that they really liked the balance. They’ve got all the food groups covered.

Anyhow, because I volunteered on a Wednesday, the day before orders are distributed, most of the work involved packaging and labeling already prepared food. Even though it was a bit tedious, I got the opportunity to see a lot of different things that come out of the kitchen.

See and taste, that is. Tressa loves to share. It’s a good thing, too, because I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about her cooking style when I first came in. Tressa trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute, which is a super hippy-dippy, mostly vegan/macrobiotic cooking school. One of their most famous graduates is Morgan Spurlock’s wife (remember Super Size Me?). They teach natural food remedies, emphasizing the healing powers of things like garlic and naturally fermented beverages. Called a traditional whole foods diet, it calls for a return to “traditional” eating practices, whatever they may be. As a former biology major and someone who lives in a house full of scientists, I generally scoff at such things.

I scoff no more. Tressa’s food is awesome and totally not what I, or anyone, would call hippy. While volunteering that day, I tried citrus beef jerky (amazing, and I usually hate jerky), orange-clove lacto-fermented soda (alive and effervescent), coconut truffles (I crave these every day now), a couple kinds of sauerkraut, and a left-over pork and beet greens dish from a dinner party. More than sated, I remained full for the rest of the day, but it wasn’t one of those gross, stomach-achy kinds of full. It was a satisfied, energetic kind of full.

That’s the whole idea.

Not only is this food sustainable on an environmental level (Tressa sources only from local and organic sources), but it is sustainable on a personal level as well. Her foods are nutrient-dense–with every preparation, Tressa works to preserve and promote as much of the good stuff in food as possible. Her food is rich and fatty, but your body consumes it slower, so you burn sugar slower and stay fuller longer (kind of like the low-glycemic index trend). She advocates frequent use of fermentations in order to balance out your body’s digestive system (scoff if you like, but those of us who are lactose intolerant and still eat yogurt have already bought into this theory). As Tressa told me, though, it’s difficult to convince most people to buy into her food until they’ve tried it. So she holds weekly dinners with famous foodies from around town in order to draw in wider customer base. I’m lucky enough to be able to attend one such dinner next week. I’m totally pumped.

In fact, I’m planning on spending as much time as I can at Salt, Fire & Time. Despite the fact that I am not a natural foods person or that I have no plans to begin brewing my own kombucha, I feel very much at home there. The community aspect was readily apparent to me the first moment I stepped inside. The space buzzes with energy, enthusiasm and encouragement. I felt a part of something game-changing.

During my interview with Tressa, she talked a lot about her problems with the restaurant business, frequently bemoaning her time spent as the “invisible back end slave” not able to have any relationship with her customers. This thought crosses my mind frequently, as friends and relatives ask me when I’m going to go cooking school on a regular basis. I too do not want to be the invisible slave. I want to be able to cook for people, but I want to see them, to know them, and to be able to give them the best of me and of my ingredients.

Community supported kitchens seem like a great way to do just this, whatever their particular cuisine. They require strong relationships with eaters, cooks and food suppliers in a way that most restaurants just don’t. Like I said before, they bring sustainability to a whole new level.

As Tressa says, is there magic in this?

No, but there’s love, and without that, this new food revolution is going nowhere.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Last gasps of summer, first winds of fall

Today is one of those rare fall days in Portland where the sun is shining, the leaves are brown, and the nippy wind brings not rain but pleasant, subtle shivers. Wearing a jacket isn’t so bad today–it doesn’t need to be waterproof or have a hood. It’s almost real fall. But, as the weathermen keep reminding us, it will probably start raining tomorrow, so pull out your rainboots and umbrellas now.

Harrumph. I like real fall, one filled with dry piles of leaves, warm sunshine piercing through the chilly winds, and wool pea coats–a fall when you can still spend time outside without catching hypothermia or water-logging your cell phone. But there are bonuses to our never ending rain. There are coffee shops and bookstores, fireplaces and hot chocolate.
Oh, and a great excuse to spend all day in the kitchen. I love all of the seriously slow food that comes with the cooler weather–rich braises, roast chickens, apple pie, and, above all, soups, soups, soups. I’ve worked up a batch of chicken stock already waiting in the freezer for the first rain-soaked day. I’ve armed my pantry with dried beans and grains, and I’ve bought boat-loads of garlic. I’m totally ready.

But first, in one last homage to the crisp salad days of summer, here is what I like to call a transition salad: Filled with the early-fall bounty of my final CSA shipment, this salad blends the best of both seasons with sweet, raw Zephyr squash and musky, rich mushrooms. I added shaved fennel for crunch and served it up with a local aged gouda, crusty bread, and thin slices of a yellow Bartlett pear. It may match the yellow leaves outside, but each crisp bite was almost enough to trick me into believing it was still September.

Transition Salad

Serves one

5-10 Cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
1 small zephyr squash (or any other fresh summery squash), sliced thinly, on a bias

½ bulb fennel, shaved thinly

1 scallion, white and light green part only, sliced thinly
olive oil
sesame oil

about ½ lemon
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine the veggies in a serving bowl. Drizzle a small amount of both oils (you just want enough to thinly coat each component). Toss. Squeeze as much lemon juice as you need to brighten the flavor (the only way to know for sure is to taste). I used the juice of half of a not-very-juicy lemon. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite cheese, bread, and a thinly sliced pear (or apple). I recommend building a bite with all of the components together.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

All Work and No Play?

Hey guys.

Life seems to be running on fast forward these days. What with restaurants and writing and schmoozing and new-job hunting, this blog is the last thing I think of on my long list of to-dos. I know that I’m lucky to have all of these great opportunities right now, and I am working hard to take advantage of my many activities. But I miss this blog.

I want to be able to continue to post as regularly as possible, but I don’t want to have to compromise its integrity by throwing up videos and links to other stories when I don’t have time to write them myself. So I can no longer promise regularity right now.


I have been meeting some really really awesome people and attending some really really awesome events in the past month or so while working at the Willamette Week. And, lucky for you, I don’t have the space/expertise/bargaining power/what have you to get to publish all of my experience. So here’s what I’m going to do–all these missed opportunities for the Willy Week will become stories here. I want to be able to tell the rest of Tressa Yellig’s story, I want to bitch about the food quality at the Indulge event, I want to share with you Chris Kimball’s dirty little secrets (hopefully he has some, and hopefully I’ll find out about them next week!). So I will.

So stay tuned for Secrets of an Arts and Culture Intern … beginning very soon.

Today, however, I want to talk about my CSA. Well, my soon-to-be-former CSA.

I was totally pumped about joining a farm share program and signed up with Hood River Organics as soon as I moved back into my house. The first couple of weeks were pretty sweet–so much local, organic, fresh (great buzzwords, all) produce delivered once a week, straight to my front door. But I have quickly realized that this is going to be a long mushroom season and that I can only do so many things with the gigantic purple radishes that keep showing up. I like to eat a huge variety of foods, and it simply isn’t cost effective for me, as a single buyer, to order what amounts to bulk quantities of a few types of vegetables. So I’ve cancelled my subscription and after this week, will return to New Seasons for my weekly grocery run.

The one great thing about CSA monotony, however, was that it forced me to be more creative in the kitchen. I made mushroom tarts, kale quiches, and a totally insane beet and coconut chocolate cake. My most successful venture, which I share with you below, has been radish bread. Going through the fridge, I found six or seven baseball-sized radishes on the verge of mushy. Not wanting to waste, but oh so tired of radish salads and sandwiches, I thought that they might work as a substitute for carrot or zucchini in a quick bread. I looked up my favorite carrot cake recipe, changed it around a bit (reduced the sugar and fat, making it more bread and less cake), and threw in grated, drained radish. The consistency seemed right and the bread smelled awesome in the oven (albeit strangely like bacon-banana bread).

The verdict–a slightly tangier version of zucchini bread–was totally delicious and surprising. (Apparently radishes turn from purple to green in the oven. Any food scientist (Sally) out there know why?) I imagine any unfortunate root vegetable hanging out in your crisper (turnips, parsnips, celery root) would work similarly. So much more exciting than salad.

Radish Bread
(Very loosely adapted from Slow Like Honey)

The original recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, but I found that this doesn’t need it. It’s moist and sweet enough on it’s own. But should your sweet tooth call for extra decadence, mix a softened block of cream cheese with a softened stick of butter, a couple of cups of powdered sugar and some lemon juice and call it done.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
2-3 cups grated, salted, and drained radishes (I do this in a food processor, toss them with a generous pinch of kosher salt, and let them drain, under the weight of several bowls in a colander, for about 30 minutes)
½-1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup unsweetened coconut
½ cup raisins
scant ¾ cup sugar
scant ½ cup canola oil
½ cup pear or applesauce
1 tablespoon molasses
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a bread pan.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, stir together the radishes, walnuts, coconut and raisins. In a third bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the pear/applesauce and molasses until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Make sure to mix only until the dry ingredients are combined–don’t overwork the gluten in the flours! Fold in the radish mixture, making sure that all of the components are well distributed.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 50 minutes. I put foil over the top about halfway through because the top had already reached a great color of brown. Insert a toothpick in the center to make sure it’s cooked through–you want it to come out clean, but just barely. Dry bread is no one’s friend.

Let it cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes, and then carefully remove the cake and cool to room temperature (ha!) before eating.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Unleash the Beast

I had very high expectations. In fact, right before the waiter brought us our first glass of wine, I turned to Andrew – I am quivering in anticipation right now.

You see, Beast is one of the most talked-about Portland restaurants these days. Helmed by Naomi Pomeroy, a Food and Wine Best New Chef this year, the restaurant boasts an exclusively small dining room, with an equally exclusive menu – six meat-centric courses, substitutions politely declined. Everyone dines at a long table during one of two seatings each night. Spots are cherished. I had tried to eat there back at graduation but by the time I called, the place was booked all week. Somehow, this week Andrew had more luck, and at 6:00 Friday, Andrew, his sister, his mother and I finally took our seats.

I was lucky enough to nab a prime spot, facing the open kitchen, where I could watch Pomeroy and her überhip assistants plate our dishes. Speaking of dishes – the six course meal was a fairly traditional progression (minus the fish): soup, charcuterie, an entree, salad, cheese and dessert. Andrew, his mother and I chose the wine pairing option, which while a bit more than I would drink normally, was certainly educational and much more fun than a single bottle.

Our soup was a chilled cream of watercress with a nasturtium chiffonade. Totally refreshing and summery, it seemed a richer version of the spinach soups with which I've been experimenting recently. It's like slurping the best flavors of summer greens. The first wine, a dry and bubbly Bott-Geyl Cremant D'Alsace NV Brut was fine but it seemed chosen more because it was a safe sparkling wine and less that it paired well with the soup.

The charcuterie plate arrived with much fanfare. Pomeroy's foie gras bon bons are becoming famous for much of same reason Gabe Rucker at Le Pigeon succeeds – decadence and a thwarting of Portland's "crunchy" reputation. Besides the bon bon, the plate has salami, pickled beets and carrots, steak tartare with quail egg toast, pork liver and sour cherry pate, a cornichon and mustard, chicken liver mouse with pickled shallots and a micro greens salad. The wine, a Graf Hardegg vom Schloss Riesling, was not particularly memorable other than the fact that I liked it better than most Riesling I've tried. What was memorable, however, was the peanut butter shortbread on which the foie was served. Since the online menu had made no mention of peanuts, I had forgone calling ahead to inform the restaurant of my allergies. I was so embarrassed, then, when I had to ask the server if they could remove it. After a bit of conversation, they re-plated everything and even gave me a new bon bon (not bad for a substitution of sorts). Still, I was a bit too red in the face to enjoy my meats as they should. Everyone else cleaned their plates.

Between courses, we cleansed our palates with a grapefruit-prosecco granita. Just perfect for what it was.

Our entree was a medium-rare lamb loin chop served with a tomato stuffed with veal, Tail and Trotters pork, lamb, bread crumbs and spices. We all assumed that the tomato would be boring, but it truly stole the show. Literally exploding out of the bright tomato shell, each component of the stuffing brought a new meaty layer of flavor and texture, and when eaten alongside the chop, eat bite popped, enhancing the gamey deliciousness of lamb. The wine, a Peillot Mondeuse Bugey VDQS 2006, or "bougie," was nice, but, again, not particularly memorable.

The salad of baby oak leaf lettuces, frisee, sheep's milk cheese, black mission figs and fried Marcona almonds with a sauvignon blanc vinaigrette was stellar. Late summer on a plate. And the wine, a Masson Apremont Savoie Blanc Vielles Vignes Traditionelle 2006, strange on its own, tasted outstanding alongside the almonds – the lingering taste of the nuts brought out a dryness in the otherwise caramelly wine, a depth of flavor unmatched in all other pairings. Makes me want to try pairings at more restaurants.

The cheese plate featured two raw milk cheese (one unpasteurized and hard, the other pasteurized and semi-soft) and a rockin' camembert. All three cheeses has just the right amount of footiness – kind of raunchy, but still enjoyable. They came with local honey and grapes (yum!) as well as anise and fleur de sel shortbread (totally making this at home). The wine, Peillot Altresse Roussette de Bugey (more bougie-ness!) tasted great with everything, but I experienced to revelatory new tastes.

Finally, dessert. Online it said we would have tarte tatin, but it changed by that evening to a dandy plum brown butter spice cake with vanilla ice cream. Certainly comfortable, but nothing special. The wine, Francois Pinon Vouray Cuvee Botrytis 2007 was actually very enjoyable (and I usually hate dessert wines – too sweet – bleck!), surprisingly dry in the mouth, which complemented the sugary cake well.

Final thoughts? All of the food was excellent, and held a level of rustic quasi-refinement for which, in my ideal kitchen, I strive. Yet it was not the best meal of my life, and, besides the almond-wine pairing, contained no new tastes. Not much can compare to the duck noodles at Ping or my first taste of sweetbreads at Paley's, or even the zucchini salad at Chez Panisse. What was new, however, was the family-style/relaxed fine dining approach taken by Pomeroy. While other top Portland restaurants attempt to toe the line between formality and casual hipness, Beast is the first place that actually pulls it off. By serving plated yet rustic food in a small room in which you can watch the chef (certainly not dressed in chef's whites) banter with her staff, and giving diners a chance to toast with complete strangers, Beast fills a space previously unoccupied. The fact that the food didn't totally blow my mind didn't matter so much. I went to bed that night feeling nourished, body and mind.

Beast on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 7, 2009

So there is good Chinese in Chinatown! / Ping

The other day when I was in Chinatown for reasons other than eating, I thought out loud if there was actually any reliably good Chinese food to be had in the area. Those few blocks in Portland seem overrun with pretty much everything but reliable goodness – strip clubs, “lounges,” homeless shelters, and the occasional music venue populate instead.

Upon recommendation from one of my new colleagues, however, I decided to check out Ping when my dad was in town. Andy Ricker, the chef at Pok Pok, opened Ping about 6 months ago; and I have a vague recollection of reading about it, putting it on my endless “to eat” list, and promptly forgetting about it. It’s a shame it took me so long to get there.

Focusing more on Southeast Asian street food than specifically Thai cuisine, Ping is a dream for diners of my persuasion. The menu contains 21 different types of skewers, as well as a perfectly varied collection of entrée-type dishes, organized by cooking method. Most dishes are small, and the waitstaff encourages ordering as you would in a tapas bar, a couple of dishes at a time, sharing with your friends, and stopping once full.

My dad and I started with the fried pork ears, a special for the day:

(unfortunately I forgot my camera, and so these photos are from my phone…)

Crispy, porky, and slightly chewy, these were a great drinking snack, but perhaps a bit too heavy for a starter (I prefer lighter appetizers, usually, so that my appetite is wet, not deadened).

Next came the baby octopus skewers:

Just the right amount of chew, with a very spicy chimichurri-like chili sauce over the top, which added fire but still managed to allow the subtle ocean taste to come through at the end.

For our slightly larger dishes, we had the nonya-style daikon cakes, fried with eggs and a sweet soy sauce (kecap manis):

and the kuaytiaw pet pha lo, a duck and noodle dish, which was probably one of the best dishes I have eaten in months:

The duck was falling off the bone tender, juicy, and slightly sweet, accompanied by thick rice noodles, shittakes, and pickled mustard greens. These greens infused what could have been an overly sweet broth with a sour, briny complexity that echoed on my palate long after swallowing. I could eat this bowl over and over again for days, weeks, months.

After such a meal, I was totally craving an ice kachang, so I asked the waitress if they made such delicacies. She laughed and said she had never heard of it, but brought us the dessert menu anyway. Turns out they make a dish somewhat similar to an ice kachang, minus the shaved ice:

I don’t remember what this was called, and Ping doesn’t post its dessert menu online, but it was basically a bowl of assorted jellied things like tapioca, lychees, and fresh coconut shavings, covered in coconut milk and ice cubes. While not exactly what I wanted, it was very refreshing and a perfect, cooling end to a delicious meal.

In other words, the answer is now, yes, there is good Chinese (and Southeast Asian) food in Chinatown. Brave the crazies. It’s totally worth it.

Ping: 102 NW 4th Ave, 503-229-7464, Monday-Friday 11-10, Saturday 4-10.

Ping on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Restauranting it


Working in a restaurant, even in a slow one, and even in a relatively stationary position, is exhausting. I just worked a closing-to-opening double and I am pooped. Haven't been cooking much either.

So, I didn't have anything for you yesterday and don't have anything for you today, but I promise to write tomorrow.

Hang tight, fellow readers, I still have much to share.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Love Affair with Capers and Cucumbers

I had this whole plan for today’s post that involved regaling you with my prowess of experimentation and improvisation (yet again) in the art of baking (yet again), but, alas, the weekend baking god granted me neither luck nor forethought enough to pull off a flourless/white sugar-less/almost butter-less chocolate cake. And, in the end, you are probably tired of reading about breads and cakes and the like (or at least you find me somewhat insane to continue cranking the oven up to 375 degrees at the end of August.

The cake wasn’t terrible, though, and looks kind of charming in that fallen, flat, brownie kind of way:

And if you happen to have the proper ingredients, you should probably try it (as I will probably attempt, again). The cake is almost certainly delicious, since it comes from the almost unfailing repertoire of Orangette, and really does contain only chocolate, sugar, eggs, and butter (okay, and a tad bit of flour). How could that possibly be bad?

But I come not to bring you cake, but capers. And cucumbers (for more cute recipes starting with the letter “c” and the rest of the alphabet, see Gourmet’s Sesame Street-esque September issue) – not combined together, but as two new starring roles in my usual roster of recipes (God. Can’t get enough alliteration. I promise to stop – now).

I first tossed capers into a batch of pesto a couple of weeks ago on a whim. I had been craving a tapenade, but having neither olives nor anchovies, yet copious amounts of backyard basil, I made what I thought was a compromise. A bit shy at first, I added only a few, careful not to disturb the careful balance of basil and olive oil. Struck, however, by the capers’ miraculous ability to blend right in to the emulsion, I added a few more and then a few more until I achieved that perfect hint of briny umami underneath the spicy and sharp overtones.

So. Good.

Yesterday I was again faced with too much basil – lemon basil this time – and again pulled out the Cuisinart. This time I skipped the garlic and the parmesan, and subbed walnuts for pinenuts, creating more of a pistou than a pesto, but once again added the requisite capers. This time the caper flavor shone through more fully without the competition of raw garlic and cheese, which, when tossed with raw baby squash, paired perfectly with frenchified white beans (I prepared them as I would have cooked puy lentils, with carrots and shallots) and a filet of Coho salmon (beautiful, wild caught, on sale, from New Seasons).

On the side I enjoyed the newest version of watermelon salad – with cucumber. I suppose I stole the idea from the aforementioned issue of Gourmet; however, they suggest serving the melon Greek-style with tzatziki sauce. The yogurt sounded weird, and a bit too filling to fit the rest of my meal, but the cucumber?

I have already spoke of my new respect for the vegetable in a certain beet and avocado salad crafted by a certain “Waters woman,” and I have since been looking for other new ways in which to use its crunch. Watermelon seemed the perfect match. Both are crisp, refreshing, subtle, and both pair perfectly with mint and lime (oh cucumber Ricky,* I love you so).

I chopped and de-seeded half of my yellow watermelon (yes, mom, it had real seeds – gotta love farmers’ markets!) and added de-seeded and thinly sliced cucumber (from about a two-inch chunk), about ¼ cup mint leaves in a chiffonade, and the juice of half a lime. Crunchy, cool, and with a bit of an acidic tang from the lime, this is the perfect fruit salad to eat every day for the rest of the summer – or at least until the melons are no longer ripe. Come to think of it, this combination would probably work with any ripe melon you can find, or even a mixture. Go wild!

*For my new favorite summer cocktail, muddle a couple slices of lime and a couple slices of cucumber with a couple mint leaves. Add ice and 1½-2 ounces of Plymouth or Aviation gin. Shake and pour into a highball glass. Top with soda. Sip. Sigh.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Tastes / Pho Oregon

Add one point to the offal team:

It may be blurry, but it definitely is what you think it is - tripe. I ate it. And I enjoyed it. A little chewy, a little meaty, a lot of texture, whichever stomach this type of tripe comes from, it's certainly delicious and I think you should try it.

I also think you should get out and eat the rest of this yummy bowl of pho (number #2, in case you're wondering, with everything except the meatballs):

It is way worth the trip up 82nd during rush hour.

Do it.

Pho Oregon. 2518 NE 82nd Avenue. Portland, OR 97220. 503-262-8816.

Pho Oregon on Urbanspoon