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.