Friday, May 29, 2009

Improvisation / New Discoveries

The other day I was sitting around the house, doing close to nothing when Matt called – Wanna go to Beaverton? Umm… Not exactly my destination of choice, but I had nothing better to do and I hadn’t left the house yet that day, so I decided to tag along. Our mission? Travel agent. Matt is leaving for Russia in about a month to do some work for a professor, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, Reed employs this company’s services even though it is a solid 45 minutes from campus.

Anyhow, the travel thing – not so important here.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I gasped and broke out into a big smile. There it was – a giant Asian grocery store. Called Uwajimaya, this store totally kicks Fubon’s ass. Not only is it actually organized, but it is cleaner, stocks a more succinctly navigatable selection of products, and it has an awesome produce section – shiny even.

I wandered the aisles for a bit before picking up some rice stick, wonton wrappers, and four cute Indian eggplants, thinking all the while about that night’s dinner. Eggplant dumplings? Rice noodle soup with the chicken stock I had sitting on the stove back home? Stir-fry? Ideas, ideas.

On the way back home, we decided to stop at Otto’s for some sausage (they sell a couple varieties in bulk – no casings – that are cheap and tasty). I grabbed ½ pound of the plain pork and headed to the kitchen.

When I base meals around spontaneously purchased ingredients, I usually improvise as I go. Sometimes it works out, sometimes … not so much. Tonight, I had dumplings on the brain. I hadn’t made dumplings since my short stint at the Oregon Country Fair a couple summers back, but I have a pretty good memory, so I went with it. I threw the eggplants in the oven to roast, browned the sausage to render the fat, and then fried a bit of shallots, garlic, and ginger. At the same time, I boiled some water for the rice stick and cut up my giant head of broccoli into slivers. These got a quick stir fry in soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and siracha. In went the noodles.

Matt came in to help with the dumplings. I get a real sense of joy when faced with such tactile tasks as filling and folding dumplings. It’s the gummy sensation on your hands as you smear water onto the wrappers, the oozing of the filling between your fingers as you mold it into a ball, and the sense of creative accomplishment when you manage to stretch the dough correctly to form a solid seal. The filled dumplings then feel heavy and plump, filled almost to bursting capacity in the palms of your hands when you move them from the counter to the steamer. Not to mention the anticipation that forms in your belly throughout the process.

After a quick steam, I served the dumplings alongside the broccoli-noodle stir-fry, with extra fish sauce for me and siracha for Matt.

Oh yum.

Improvised Eggplant and Sausage Dumplings

(serves two)

4 Indian eggplants, or two Japanese eggplants, or, if you must, one small American eggplant (vastly inferior if you ask me)
¼ pound pork sausage
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
about 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
a tablespoon or so chopped fresh basil
Wonton wrappers

Prick the eggplants with a toothpick and roast them in a 375°-400°-ish oven until they are cooked through and the skins are beginning to blacken.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a skillet over medium heat until browned and some of the fat has rendered. Set aside in a paper-towel lined bowl to drain. Reserve some of the fat (however much you want, I suppose. I used a nonstick skillet, so I didn’t need much). Cook the shallot in the same pan with a pinch of salt, again over medium heat (5 minutes or so), until translucent, and then add the garlic and ginger until fragrant (about a minute). Remove from heat until the eggplants are done cooking.

Once the eggplants are fully roasted, remove the skins (carefully – they’re hot!) and chop up the flesh. Add this back into the skillet along with the sausage and cook for about a minute, until the flavors have melded. Season to taste. Remove from heat and add the basil.

To assemble the dumplings, clean off a counter (this is an issue at my house, but it might not be at yours) and fill a small bowl with water. Place one wrapper on the counter, dip your fingertips in the water, and lightly wet the edges. Mound about a tablespoon of filling in the center of the wrapper (the more ball shaped you can make this, the easier the wonton will seal). Fold two opposite corners together and pinch all the edges together. You can get fancy here and attempt pleats or pointy folds, but the most important part is a solid seal on the edges.

Place a steamer basket in a pot filled with about an inch of water (just make sure that the water doesn’t come up to the level of the basket) and bring it to a simmer. Add as many dumplings as fit, but make sure that they don’t touch. Cover the pot and steam for 3-5 minutes, or until the wrapper is no longer gummy.

Serve with your sauce of choice and noodles, stir-fry, or some other improvised dish.

And if you have any left over sausage, as I did, mix it in with leftover noodles and more siracha for the Matt Special:

(I think my bowl is more appealing...)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Meat Project

It started with Nicky’s USA.

A couple weeks ago, Isaac suggested that we go check out this butcher near Burnside that supplies meat products to nearby restaurants. Of course I couldn’t pass up such an experience, and, assuming that he knew what he was talking about, I enthusiastically agreed. It wasn’t until last week, once our families left, that we actually began to plan the trip.

We decided to go last Wednesday, and the night before got together to look for ideas. Isaac left a post on my Facebook wall: let's look through my A16 cookbook tonight if you have time. A16 is Isaac’s favorite (perhaps the only book he uses?). It is beautiful, and holds many recipes for many types of meat. But I had just bought A Platter of Figs and was eager to look through it as well. In fact, I had been eying one particular spring recipe involving lamb that I wanted to try out. So I grabbed a pile of my books and headed over to his house. We sat down and thumbed through a few pages. Our conversation went something like this:

Let’s make lamb Isaac. It’s my favorite meat to eat once it gets warm. Tastes like summer.

I hate lamb.

Come on. It’s delicious.

I’ve been wanting to try this goat recipe [points at a recipe from A16]. What about that?

It’s braised. It’s too warm for braising.

I love braising.

I suggested a couple of other things, including the lamb from Platter of Figs, but Isaac kept coming back to the goat. Not really wanting to pick a fight, I conceded, and we moved to the Nicky’s website to check on prices.

Goat is too expensive. Don’t know why, but for the cut we wanted, it was going to come to something like 50 dollars. Neither of us wanted to pay that much. Isaac sighed.

Lamb was cheaper. And a good substitute for goat in the recipe. Yes! I thought. Just what I wanted! We agreed to go the next afternoon, leaving enough time for a proper salt of the meat before the party on Saturday. It seemed like a great plan.

Isaac and Matt picked me up the next afternoon and we drove into the bowels of the Southeast industrial district, passing warehouse after warehouse. When we finally located Nicky’s, we saw that there was no storefront, no real entrance save for the loading docks. We drove around the block and parked. Isaac pulled out his iPhone to call them, but first looked more carefully at the website: No walk-in orders. $125 minimum. Whoops. So much for Nicky’s USA.

Next resort: New Seasons. Their meat is still very good, usually local, and butchered in the store. After two checks in the back of the store and a conversation with the butcher, we finally got what we wanted – 5 and half pounds of on-the-bone lamb shoulder.

We lugged it back to my house, cut into the fat, and salted the hell out of it:

On Saturday I went to the Eastmoreland Market for San Marzanos (they are one of the few places that sell the good ones) and other goodies, and then we trekked up to the Portland Farmer’s Market for last minute vegetables – asparagus and chard:

I don’t know how I feel about the PFM – there are certainly lots of things to see and eat, but it’s a bit overwhelming. I tend to prefer the smaller markets, like Moreland or Milwaukie, where you can remember which stand had the freshest strawberries and the greenest greens. The food we bought was delicious, but I’m sure I could have gotten just as good produce from somewhere less stressful.

Anyway, we spent the next few hours cooking and cleaning – I got the lamb in the oven and worked on four different pizza appetizers:

Red Potato Pizza with Leeks, Manchego, and Arugula

Basil-Walnut Pesto Pizza with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Garlic, and Parmesan

Gorgonzola Pizza with Cremini Mushrooms and Cherry Tomatoes

Asparagus Pizza with Parmesan, Basil, and Garlic

Isaac went on a beer mission and then cooked the chard with a tomato-anchovy sofrito to serve with the lamb. Some of the guests generously brought other things to eat as well, like Robin’s killer cardamom caramel brownies:

Everything tasted awesome. The lamb especially. Cooked slowly for four hours in a mixture of its own rendered fat, tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, and cinnamon, we probably couldn’t have gone wrong. We couldn’t move it out of the pot without the roast completely falling apart. It even converted a few non-lamb eaters, Isaac included, and disappeared in a matter of minutes.

(chard dish in the foreground, lamb in the background)

Lamb Shoulder with Tomatoes, White Wine, and Rosemary
(adapted from A16)

5 ½ pounds on-the-bone lamb shoulder
about 2 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ cups olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife
2 sprigs rosemary
2 cups dry white wine (we forgot to buy this, so we used a left-over pino gris, which worked alright)
28-oz San Marzano tomatoes
½ teaspoon cinnamon

The night before cooking, make a series of cuts in the shoulder, especially in the top layer of fat, and rub the kosher salt all over the lamb. Wrap the lamb in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge.

The next day, take the lamb out to come to room temperature as you prepare the rest of the braise.

Preheat the oven to 275°. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 5-qt (or larger) Dutch oven. Add the garlic and cook for 5-10 minutes, until soft and browned. Add the rosemary and the wine. Bring to a simmer and reduce the wine almost completely (this can take quite a while – be patient). Walk by the stove several times and smell. It’s awesome.

Once the wine is reduced, add the tomatoes and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Squeeze the lamb into the pot and spoon some of the mixture over the top. Cover with the lid and stick in the oven. Let the meat braise for 3½ to 4 hours, or until the meat is super tender and falling off the bone. Again, I recommend checking on it every hour or so, just to pull off the lid and smell.

Once the meat is done cooking, move the pot to the stove. Take the lamb out the best you can and remove the meat from the bones and return it to the pot. Stir everything together and serve to a group of hungry post-college students.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day!

Enjoy the sun.
Eat food.
Be happy!

I'll be back tomorrow ... with lamb!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Food + Drinks / Paley's Place

Last Monday at a graduation barbeque, some of my friends and I were reminiscing on the last time we finished school, 18 years old, ready to leave home for the giant adventure that was college. This feels kind of like that, we thought. Except with more drinking.

Indeed, drinking was the constant throughout the weekend – the one cure-all for those awkward moments when you realize that you just introduced your grandmother to that guy you “know” from that party three years ago. Yes, Grandma, this is my … friend… Yeah… Somehow everything seems just a bit calmer, or more funny even, with a glass of wine in your hand.

Of course, we had to do something to soak up all the extra booze.

My parents and grandmother arrived last Friday evening, starving from a day of flying. Originally we were going to cook dinner that night, but they were so hungry that we jumped off to Por Que No? for tacos and margaritas. Por Que No? is a pseudo cantina-type restaurant that opened up a second location near my house about a year ago. They mostly serve tacos, although there are a couple of salad type options and they have tamale specials as well. And strong margaritas. I tried these for the first time a couple weeks ago with Katie and Sarah to celebrate the end of our theses. I ordered a large, and drank it with one of the aforementioned salads. It wasn’t until I was firing off arbitrary Facebook wall posts two hours later that I realized how much tequila was actually in those drinks.

Anyway, this time I came prepared (except for my camera – whoops!) and ordered a small to go with my pescado taco and veggie taco. My mom and dad had the carne asada and the carnitas, and my grandmother ordered Bryan’s bowl, a massive container of beans and rice, meat, salsa, and cheese. We also had the guac and chips (not free). My tacos were good – I love the way they crust their fish in a cornmeal batter and serve it with mango salsa on the pescado. I tried my mom’s carne asada, tasty as well, with just the right amount of spice. Really, though, the best part of Por Que No? is the guac and chips. They fry their own tortilla chips in house and their quac is mostly just avocado – with none of that extra stuff to cover up the creamy subtly of the fruit. I could probably eat just that for dinner.

The next day Ben and Arthur arrived and we ate our official celebratory meal at Paley’s Place in Northwest. I had wanted to try the restaurant for years (readers of the New York Times dining section will no doubt recognize the name, as the restaurant was praised as one of the top in the country a couple years ago), but it’s a bit out my poor student budget to eat there properly. It’s perfect for visiting parents.

We had an early (6:30) reservation to better accommodate my grandmother, and then even showed up 20 minutes early. They went ahead and seated us at the table and we all enjoyed cocktails (I had a gin gimlet with local Aviation – crisp and refreshing after a long hot day), bread, and an amuse bouche of caprese salad:

The flavors were all spot-on – the best of tomatoes, basil, goat cheese, and balsamic, but the mouthfeel lacked contrast; it was a little too consistently mushy.

Arthur wanted to pick out the wine (surprise, surprise), but when he looked at the menu realized that he needed his glasses (I left them at home dear, style is more important than sight). Our waiter needed little more than to see his discomfort to bring over a box of glasses collected from forgetful guests. Arthur picked out a pair speckled with rhinestones. Stylish.

Anyhow, my mother can’t drink red wines, so we started with a bottle of white Burgundy (can’t remember the name!) – not too sweet, but with enough body to hold up to our varied dishes. This bottle lasted us through appetizers and part way through our entrees, and then we ordered a cleaner, crisper Cassis from Provence (Clos Ste. Magdeleine). This embodied my favorite type of wine – very dry and citrusy – and I probably drank more than my fair share, as you will see later.

As far as food goes, we started with salads and charcuterie:

(starting from top, going clockwise) Roasted Beets with horseradish cream, George’s Gathered Greens with lemon and olive oil, Wine-cured Prosciutto, Coppa, and Testarossa. Everything on this plate was awesome, especially the Testarossa. We ordered it before asking what it was – turns out its pickled meat from the pig’s head. Very fatty but very flavorful. My mother asked the waiter for an explanation of its flavor profile and he offered, There are so many ingredients, it would be hard to name them all. He did actually say that he has requested the ingredients from the chef and could do it again, but we didn’t push it.

We all ordered different entrees (half-orders, so we could eat more desserts!) and shared. I had heard great things about the Sweetbreads, which came fried with bacon-braised black lentils, wilted greens, and house ham:

I had never had sweetbreads before, and these certainly didn’t disappoint. They reminded all of us of pork belly, in that they were very fatty and kind of chewy, but they also had an almost footy flavor, like a good mushroom or a complex cheese. The lentils and greens were delicious as well, especially in a bite with the meat.

Ben had a Pork Roast with apples:

Quite good, if a bit obvious, and the only entrée that didn’t come in half-portions.

My grandmother had the Risotto with spring peas, carrots, Parmesan, and mint butter, which I didn’t get to try or photograph because, well, she’s my grandmother and it would have been awkward.

Arthur had the Rabbit Ravioli with snow morels, fava beans, and bacon:

I love love love rabbit and pasta combinations (maybe for the same reason I think croquettes are the perfect vehicle for oxtail – they prevent the meat from being simply a stringy blob), and I can’t say no to fresh beans of any sort, so I of course enjoyed this quite a bit.

My father had the Heirloom Bean and vegetable cassoulet:

The best part about this dish (it tasted good, but was a little boring) was that it came in its own miniature Le Cruset Dutch oven, and we know how appreciative I am of well-used miniature restaurant dishes.

My mother ordered the fish special, Halibut with fennel and greens of some kind (didn't write it down and it's not online!):

At this point in the evening I was … a bit tipsy and pretty food-drunk, and I thought that it made sense to try to cut a bite from her plate while it was balanced on the edge of the table. Right. No sooner had I sliced my knife into her food that the plate tipped and crashed onto the floor:

Clatter and laughter ensued. My face turned crimson, and when the waiter came over to see what the ruckus was, my parents joked about how I had had so much wine because I was about to graduate. I didn’t hear them, so I told him the same thing five minutes later. Whoops. Embarrassing.

Luckily, my mom got a new piece of fish, which was apparently better than the first, and all was right with the world.

Earlier in the evening, when we walked into the restaurant, we had admired the cheese cart, and so, well into our second bottle of wine, we decided to order cheese as well as four desserts:

Sticking with the French theme, we had (from top, going clockwise) Fourme d’Ambert, a Paley’s Bar, Tomme Brulee, and Valençay Cendre. I don’t know too much about cheese, as I am lactose intolerant and so only eat it when in situations like this one. I, did, however thoroughly enjoy all of these, especially the Fourme d’Ambert. Thinking back on it now, even though I am a huge lover of sweets, I think the meal might have been better if we ended with the cheese course. Not that the desserts were bad in any way. They were just okay. Completely outshone by the rest of the meal. But here they are anyway, for your viewing pleasure:

Coconut Cake with macerated Strawberries and Panna Cotta

Warm Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts and Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream

Almond Torte with Rhubarb Compote and Mascarpone Ice Cream

Crème Brulée, with a candle for me

Oh, and as if the night wasn't excessive enough at this point, we all ordered some type of digestif. I shared Clear Creek Pear Brandy with Ben.


Paley's Place on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Miniature Pepper Grinders / Toro Bravo

Most of my eating in the last few days has centered on graduation and was funded in large part by my family (Thanks mom and dad!). Before they arrived, though, my house (plus Dave, minus Stephen, who so rudely opted to have dinner with his chemistry lab instead of us) went out to Toro Bravo to celebrate the end of finals.

Toro Bravo is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in Portland. It’s a tapas restaurant, famed not only for its food, but its no-reservation policy, popularity (Mark Bittman wrote about it!), and thus long waits. Luckily they also have an excellent wine list (mostly Spanish, focusing on the Basque region) and inventive cocktails. There’s also an awesome bar upstairs (more on that in a minute) that’ll let you know when your table is ready. I love the place not only because (almost) everything that I have eaten there has been outstanding, but also because I believe that tapas-style is the best way to eat. I love to share food, and I love to have food shared with me. There’s something so comforting about a communal table; not only do you get to taste so much more food, but you can talk about it.

They also have cute miniature Peugeot pepper grinders (note the picture at the top) on the table to go with the little mise bowls of kosher salt. The attention to small details such as this one is another reason why I love this restaurant. Not only can you season your food properly at the table (no need for a server’s assistance), the aesthetics of the condiments made the meal even more pleasant. Catherine was particularly enamored with the size. She even talked about borrowing one – permanently.

Anyway, I think that the best way to eat at Toro Bravo is to bring all of your friends. I did that for my birthday and we were able to eat our way through almost the entire menu. This time our group was smaller, so unfortunately I didn’t get to try as much of the new menu items (they change daily/seasonally) as I would have liked.

We started with drinks while we waited – I had the Sage Seville (kind of a gin and tonic with sage and mint added, strange but very good), Catherine and Dave shared a lemoncello and cherry concoction, and Andrew had water (He had been up all night finishing finals. Later he ended up with their version of a margarita). Once we sat down, we were greeted with roasted chickpeas. I change my opinion about these snacks every time I go there. Sometimes I eat a couple, realize that I hate how hard they are, and stop. Other times, like last Thursday, they are the perfect salty accompaniment to my drink.

After contemplating the menu for a while, we settled on the pickled vegetables and olives to start and the following:*

Duck Liver Mousse Terrine with house-made mustard and pickles

This was awesome. Andrew and I ate most of it because it made Catherine squeamish and it was far away from Dave on the table. The liver mouse was airy enough to not be overwhelming, but still decadently rich (it was wrapped in bacon – not on the menu!). The spicy mustard alongside helped to balance the fattiness of the mousse and the pickles lent a nice sour touch at the end.

Grilled Radicchio Salad with green olive toast and Manchego vinaigrette

I rarely eat radicchio on its own, mostly because I don’t think about it, but now maybe I will, as long as it’s with Manchego. I’ve already talked about my love for this cheese, and this salad was another place in which it shined. It mellowed out the radicchio in a way that didn’t hide the bitter flavor, but instead brought it into harmony with the subtle sharpness of the cheese. The olive toast didn’t do much for me – it tasted good, but seemed a little out of place on the plate.

Sautéed Spinach with pine nuts and raisins

Sweet, buttery, green – a solid side that added much needed color to the meal.

Moroccan Tuna with dried cherry couscous

Catherine’s favorite. I thought the couscous outshone the tuna (this tuna was cooked through, and I prefer mine raw or rare), but I always love fruity grain pilafs.

Oxtail Croquettes with spice roasted chili mayonnaise

I am obsessed with this dish. The croquette, I think is the perfect vehicle for such a strange meat. They pop in your mouth – the cornmeal crust gives way to just the right amount of batter surrounding the shredded, braised meat. The mayonnaise on top cools the bite down a bit (you still have to be careful though: Catherine burned her tongue), and then later mixes in with the excess juices to provide a savory vehicle for extra bread eating. We had to shoo the waitresses each time they tried to clear the dish away.

For dessert, we shared the Churros and Chocolate: Spanish donuts, coated in cinnamon, served with an espresso cup filled with melted, just ever so slightly sweetened chocolate. Decadent, but yummy. When I came here for my birthday, they stuck a candle in one of the donuts. It was comical.

It was early when we finished dinner, so we decided to go upstairs to the Secret Society for another drink. Apparently the bar was the home of several secret societies in the past; now they specialize in old-school cocktails, each with a date of conception on the menu. The atmosphere is upscale without being intimidating – I feel more mature in there, but definitely not out of place.

It was crowded so we sat at the bar. As it turns out, it was a great decision. We struck up conversation with the bartender and he gave us lots of samples. One we tried – the Green Flash – I'll have to go back again and order. It's main ingredient is a white rum, which I don't normally enjoy, but mixed with Chartreuse (hence the name), it had an intriguing floral flavor that wasn't too sweet.

Catherine and Dave split another drink – an Irish coffee, which was beautiful but took a long time to concoct.

Andrew and I both ordered the Corpse Reviver #2 – my new favorite drink. It consists of a delicate balance of Aviation gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lemon juice, and Trillium absinthe – a strong yet not overpowering anise flavor from the gin and absinthe shone through the distinctive tartness of the lemon and Cointreau. We’re going to try to recreate it, as soon as we can get our hands on some Lillet (harder to find than you think – anyone know a store that carries it?).

Buzzed, full, and happy, I returned home to clean the house and get ready for the weekend.

*You’ll have to forgive the inconsistent photo quality here. It’s the first time I tried to take food pictures in a restaurant and wasn’t sure about the flash, etc. Squinting helps.

Toro Bravo on Urbanspoon

Epic Eating

I did it. Graduated. An overwhelming experience in itself, the ceremony ended up taking a backseat to all of the other parties and planning and family interacting over the weekend. Of course, we also ate. A lot. It was epic.

I’m still pretty full from all of it, in fact, and have retreated to light salad territory probably for the rest of the week (good thing the Moreland farmer’s market is today!). For the next couple days, I’ll recount the ups and downs of the weekend – you won’t want to read it all in one post anyway.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Loose Ends

Yesterday I realized that the end of college is actually a long string of endings – finishing classes finishing the thesis, burning the thesis, passing orals, finishing finals –leading up to the big one – graduation, which for Reed is this Monday. I’ve spent the last few days tying up loose ends – binding my thesis, clearing off my library desk, paying my printing fees and overdue fines, selling back all the books I thought I’d want but now I’d rather trade in for money.

My parents arrive tomorrow, and a lot of great eating will ensue (stay posted!). For now, though, here are some loose ends from the week:

- I found not-too-expensive early raspberries at Trader Joe’s the other day. I cannot resist raspberries – ever. I ate half the container when I got home. The next morning I baked the rest into muffins with walnuts and gifted them to Matt and my hungry finals-ing housemates.

- I went to Café Castagna for dinner the other night with Matt. I had heard nothing but raves about it, and so I was very excited to eat there. We had a pork liver pâté appetizer, and then he had a burger and I had a white bean and rapini stew with chorizo. The pâté was tasty, but my entrée was way too salty. Matt’s burger was slightly over cooked, and he said the last time he was there his fries were way too salty too. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed when we left. Not only was my stomach full from such a heavy meal, but that salt – uh. I love salt, but never so much that you can taste it.

- The Moreland Farmer’s market opened yesterday! It was too rainy and cold to mill around too much, but I bought some delicious honey Greek yogurt, leeks, pea shoots, and this:

I made some green soup a la Orangette and served it with a bit of Manchego on top and roasted carrots on the side. It fed all of my housemates with no leftovers.

- Leftover salmon makes a lovely substitute for steak in my improvised Thai salad:

I mixed together baby greens, extra spinach, and a chiffonade of basil (however much looks right). Into that goes red onion or shallot sliced into very thin moons, diced cucumber, and the salmon (if I had had red pepper and/or left-over blanched veggies, that would have gone in as well). If you aren’t allergic to peanuts like I am, I imagine that a small handful of chopped toasted peanuts would be good on this as well. To make the dressing, I whisked together rice vinegar, lime juice, siracha, salt, and pepper, and then drizzled in a bit of sesame oil followed by olive oil. Dress the salad lightly and eat immediately.

On salad dressings: I always make my dressings to taste and on the fly, so they are always different. If you’re making your own, start with your acidic base and then add oil until it tastes right to you. If you want your dressing to be fully emulsified (most of the time I don’t really care), try making it in a small screw-top jar. You just dump everything in and shake vigorously until combined. It’s much easier and less messy than using a whisk. Also, it is already in a storage container if you make more than you need.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

praline leftovers

Praline crumbs are not chocolate chips. They don’t look like chocolate chips, taste like chocolate chips, and most certainly don’t behave like chocolate chips when mixed into cookie dough and baked.

Praline crumbs melt and ooze and become a sticky, burnt, delicious mess.

When I made pralines for my orals board, I didn’t buy enough pecans, so I ended up with a large vat of nut-free praline candy. Not one to waste, I spread it out on a baking dish, let it cool, and then broke it into bite-sized chunks. Trying it later that day, I realized why pralines contain pecans. So sweet! Catherine said that she had to spit it out. But, after all the effort of making the candy, I couldn’t throw it away, so packed it up in a cookie tin. I’d would find a use for it at some point.

On Saturday, when I was brainstorming ideas for a treat to take to an end-of-the-year Dance Troupe party, it hit me – whole wheat oatmeal cookies. Not too sweet in themselves, they seemed the perfect vehicle for my sugar chunks. I’d just break up the pieces, stir them in, and bake as normal. Right.

The dough seemed promising: the pralines folded right in without breaking up too much, and if I ignored the taste of the raw dry oats, the sweetness seemed to be perfectly balanced. I thought I was being clever when I generously spaced out my first batch on my cookie sheet. I figured they would expand a little more than usual. Right.

I checked on the cookies after about 10 minutes and burst out laughing. Instead of being small, round, sugary poofs, the cookies had basically become childhood models of the planet Saturn – a misshapen glob of oatmeal mush surrounded by a huge disk of burnt sugar, oozing and bubbling all over the place. I quickly grabbed a spatula and scraped the melted sugar on top of the oatmeal globs as best as possible and let them set for a couple minutes before moving onto a cooling rack. Guys, these cookies were ugly. Not rustic, cute ugly. Ugly-ugly. Definitely not party-worthy.

Still not thinking clearly, I dumped some of the dough into four small ceramic dishes and put these in the oven. The dishes kept the sugar from oozing (I love this word ooze. It’s just so … appropriate), but there was just too much dough in there, and they collapsed in on themselves, in a kind of miserably-failed-soufflé kind of way. And, after they had cooled, they were stuck to the edges and crumbling, so by the time I got the “cookies” out of the dishes, they looked less like cookies and more like large, glorified crumbs.

But I had enough dough left for one more batch. I actually stopped to think about what I was doing. I spread the rest of the dough into a large-ish aluminum bread pan, so that it was about ½-inch thick. I put it in the oven and crossed my fingers.

Success! The pan was large enough and the cookies were thin enough that they didn’t collapse in the middle. And, since they weren’t as thick, I could move them out of the pan soon enough so that they wouldn’t stick (could’ve lined the pan with parchment, too, but that would have required a little more forethought). I cut them into small bars and put them proudly on a plate. Not only good looking, they were tasty as well. The pralines had disappeared into the oatmeal, leaving behind crevices of sugar-lined goodness, adding just enough sweetness to enrich the whole wheat nuttiness of the base.

They were all but gone in about 15 minutes at the party. Katie said that she ate 5 herself. I left the mistakes (still delicious, if hideous) at home, and they were gone by the next morning.

Oatmeal Praline Cookies
(loosely adapted from Mark Bittman)

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar, loosely packed
scant ½ cup white sugar
2 eggs (I substituted an oil, baking powder, and water mixture, but only because I was out of eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups rolled (not instant) oats
About a cup chopped up pralines (I used Martha again, but you could use left-overs from any simple cream and sugar based mixture)
Sea salt to taste (I used pink Himalayan, but you could use anything you think tastes good)

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a baking dish (brownie pan, sheet pan, bread pan, or the like) with parchment.

Using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon with a strong arm, cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl until it is well mixed, fluffy, and begins to lighten in color. This will take a couple of minutes. Be patient. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate. Mix in the vanilla.

Sift together the dry ingredients in another bowl. Gradually add to the butter mixture on low speed, just until incorporated. Fold in the chopped pralines.

Spread the dough into the baking dish to about ½-inch thick. Make multiple batches if you have more dough than will fit, but make sure that you use enough so that the dough reaches all of the edges of the pan (otherwise you’ll end up with a sugar mess!). Sprinkle sea salt over the top, as much as you like. I like a lot. Sea salt is delicious, especially on baked goods.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookie is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out semi-clean (no one likes overcooked cookies; aim for them to be a little mushy). Let the cookie cool in the pan until set, and then move carefully to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, slice into bars and take to a party with lots of hungry dancers.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

food shopping/eating in the sun

My friend Janet goes food shopping. At the food store. I used to think that she was so strange, to talk about the grocery store in such a way. The grocery stores of my childhood sell so much more than food–pharmaceuticals, shampoo, dog toys, bank accounts. You can outfit almost your whole life at these stores. And I never shopped in Wal Mart. These stores are the Krogers, the Publixes, the A&Ps, the Whole Foods–the stores for everyone. Grocery stores.

And then I moved to Portland. I learned that you could buy your vegetables from one place, your beans from another, and your meat from still another. It takes longer, and you have to walk farther, but shopping changes. It becomes a scavenger hunt, a quest for the best. It is fun.

It is food shopping.

My favorite food store is the Eastmoreland Market. A few blocks from my house, it is both my last minute, I need flour to bake this cake I already started place, and my 3 in the afternoon, wandering the aisles looking for dinner inspiration place. They stock super local produce, cure their own bacon, and make delicious sandwiches. They import delicious fancy treats from Italy and Spain to hide in my pantry for a particularly cold and rainy day. They sell the best chocolate (raw, 82%, smooth, not sweet, with just the right amount of bitterness). They are tiny, they are family owned, and they are expensive. I usually don’t mind spending the extra two dollars though, to support the owners, and to support myself. Shopping there makes me unfathomably happy.

Earlier this week, I had to defend my senior thesis in front of four of my professors. At Reed, it is tradition that seniors “bribe” their orals board with food, drinks, and gimmicks. Since my thesis was partially about the South, I made pecan pralines (more on the fate of these later) and galettes–one with peaches, and one, just because it was in season, with rhubarb. Of course I made extra dough.

In a celebration of the completion of my thesis, I went to the Market for treats in which to fill the extra dough. Spring has finally come to Portland, and the produce section, across the back wall of the store, was overflowing with green. Spring lettuce, asparagus, and artichokes. Beautiful. I bought some of everything that tasted good (they encourage sampling!), Manchego, and a chocolate bar for later. Walking home, I crafted the galettes in my head…

I spent my afternoon working on these, rolling the dough, caramelizing the onions, standing by the oven savoring the changing smells wafting through the kitchen. Avery came over later and we ate them on my deck, in the much-needed sunshine, with a red-leaf salad.

The first galette – asparagus, blanched and then lined up in rows, sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes (dry-packed, never in oil!) and the last of my Parmigiano-Reggiano – fell a little flat. I think it needed something creamier; maybe a goat cheese would have been better. It certainly was beautiful though.

The second galette was heaven. I used the cornmeal paté brisée, and filled it with the tiniest golden fingerling potatoes, sliced thinly into rounds, the Manchego layered into the potatoes, and covered with caramelized onions (a mixture of a Walla Walla sweet, a cipollini, and a baby red). Right after it came out of the oven, I scattered on a bunch of gardencress (a newly-discovered delight; Andrew said that it tasted like mushrooms, I found it to be a developed peppery mustard) and let it wilt. I don’t know if I’ve ever made something more delicious. At one creamy and flaky, sweet and bitter, with a whiff of sharpness from the cheese, made even better when eaten outside, with your hands.

Sunshine Galette

½ recipe cornmeal paté brisée (from Martha Stewart)
About 1 ½ cups assorted onions, sliced into very thin half-moons
A large handful fingerling potatoes
About ¼ cup Manchego cheese, grated (mine was young, aged only about 3 months, so it was still somewhat soft)
About ½ to ¾ cup gardencress, or maybe arugula, or another strong-flavored green, washed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Caramelize the onions slowly over a low flame. This should take around an hour. You want them to be sweet and turning golden brown, but certainly not burnt. Stir every once in awhile to make sure they don’t burn or stick. I cooked them in olive oil, but they would certainly be delicious in butter as well. I never know the best time to salt the onions, so I gave them a generous pinch about halfway through cooking.

While the onions are cooking, wash and slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. I wish I had a mandoline, but I don’t yet (this would make a nice graduation present, hint hint), so I made do with a sharp knife. Salt generously and set aside.

Wash the gardencress, and discard any wilted or brown leaves.

Flour a clean countertop and roll out the crust dough (this should have been sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours chilling, if you’re making it the day-of, but you can make it ahead up to a couple days, as long as its well-wrapped). Since the galette is free-form, the crust can be any shape you want, but make sure that it is nice and thin, somewhere between 1/8- and ¼-inch. Carefully move to a parchment lined baking sheet. Depending on the fragility of the dough, I either fold it in half (if it is nice and strong), and pick it up gently to move it, or I roll it up on the rolling pin, and then unroll it onto the pan (this works better than folding if the dough is especially delicate). Cover the crust and refrigerate until the ingredients are ready.

Heat the oven to about 375°.

Once the onions are cooked, pat the potatoes dry with paper towels, and season them with pepper. Arrange the potatoes on the crust, leaving about an inch of crust on all sides. I did this in two layers, alternating with the cheese, but you should arrange them in whatever way makes you the most excited. Top the potatoes with the onions. I made enough for a generous mound. Gently fold the crust edges up over the potatoes and onions, folding and pressing with your fingers to seal when necessary. This is supposed to look rustic, so don’t worry about uniformity.

Bake the galette for about 20-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and all of the insides are bubbling and golden. The onions on top will get crispy, but this is a good thing. Once it is done, move the pan to a cooling rack and immediately top with the gardencress. Let cool to room temperature before cutting into four pieces. Eat with your hands while sitting outside.