Friday, August 31, 2007

Farm Bulletin: Yellow Jackets, Wasps and Hornets, Oh My!

The Bard of Ayers Creek, Anthony Boutard, sends another bulletin from the real world. To subscribe to his missives, simply e-mail him and ask to be added to the list. Or visit him and Carol in person at the Hillsdale Farmers Market on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm.

"We always have two or three bald faced hornet nests on the property. These are very valuable insect predators. The only time we remove the nests is when they are built in the berry field. Over the last few years, they have been located high in the oaks, bothering nobody. Unlike their close cousins, the yellow jackets, they tend to be pretty calm, and we have been spared their sting. Yellow jackets are almost as valuable. However, tending toward omnivory, yellow jackets are more inclined to damage fruit and tend to be wired with a hair trigger when you are near the nest.

"When you stumble across a nest, it is impossible to outrun them, though a hasty departure is required. We have found the trick is to stand absolutely still against the trunk of the biggest tree nearby, and the wasps will circle in an upwards spiral around the tree looking for your head. Soon, they depart. The most likable of the group are the paper wasps who build small, open nests under the eves of buildings. They build nests on our heavy truck, and seem unfazed by the trip to Salem and back two or three times a week. They watch us keenly, but leave us alone as we work around them. The wasps, as a group, use their stinger as a tool to paralyze their prey, and they inflict a more painful and longer lasting injection than honey bees.

"Last week, we found a bald faced hornet nest in a drooping branch of a mirabelle plum tree but a foot above the ground. When we mentioned this to our crew, they noted the locations of a couple of other nests likewise close to the ground. New Englanders have always regarded low wasp nests as a harbinger of a harsh winter, the 'seventh winter' in a cycle. We had a sense of this earlier, and we have planted our sensitive crops in more sheltered locations than in the past, and are hedging with larger plantings of the more hardy greens. Consequently, it was interesting to hear meteorologists predict a colder winter this year for Oregon."

Gaga Over Lolo

I have to admit it was one of those ambivalent moments, kind of like arriving at the the Hundred Steps in Mt. Tabor Park and hearing Kristin say, "OK, ladies, let's go up!" I know it's going to be hard, but when I get to the top it'll feel so good. So when I heard that the tony Pearl district restaurant Giorgio's was opening a tapas bar, called Lolo, on Alberta, I felt a mixture of excitement ("Oboy! The food could be really great!") and dread ("Oh no! There goes the neighborhood.").

But I'm here to tell you that everything's copacetic. The low-key vibe of Alberta has not been disturbed by excessively flashy decor or Hummers prowling the avenue for parking. If anything, the large windows of the turn-of-the-century brick facade and the simple tables and chairs cohabit perfectly with the über-funky-but-hip DIY crowd that claims the street as theirs.

The menu follows through on this understated approach with three sections to choose from. Tapas ($3-8) are small plates that a party of four can share, allowing you to sample several of these appetizers without breaking the bank. The Raciones, or larger plates ($8-16), like the tapas, can also be shared depending on your group's inclinations, or ordered as entrées. Then there are the Postres, or desserts ($7), small bits of sweetness to end the meal.

We chose to go the shared route so we could taste a wider variety of what Lolo had to offer and, to avoid fights, we followed the classic rule requiring that the one who divides the food gets last choice. With that agreement in place, we proceeded to mow our way through our choices, beginning with the cod cakes in a pool of bottarga mayo (left). You can see that I barely had time to snap a picture before it was decimated. These little croquettes were so fresh and full of the taste of salt cod that they caused the salt cod fritters at Toro Bravo, which I'd raved, to pale in comparison.

The spot prawns with white beans in a paprika sauce (right) were mind-bogglingly tender and spicy and every last drop of the sauce was sopped up before we let the server remove the bowl. And their grilled summer squash salad with wild lobster mushrooms on a splash of romesco (left, below) was another flavor romp, with the smoky vegetables playing off the fresh greens and deep tomato of the romesco.

We also tried the braised chicken with saffron, spinach, pine nuts and currants, and found it just so-so. But the meal ended on a happy note with an unctuous caramel flan with fresh figs that had the parties' eyes rolling back in their heads. There were cocktails from the bar in the corner, and a wine list that was well-selected and priced. We went through two bottles of a Spanish wine made from the tinto de toro grape, a 2005 Liberalia Castilla y Leon, priced at $26 and a fantastic match with the food.

The service was attentive and friendly, our waitress chatting in Spanish with two of our party who are fluent speakers, and even when the place got busy (did I mention it was Last Thursday?) she was right there refilling glasses and replacing plates and silverware as the food rolled out. The only fly in this lovely ointment was the sound level, which was high when the restaurant was only half full and reached deafening by the time we left. I don't mean to be a fuddy-duddy who needs her hearing aids turned up, but even our 20-something waitress offered an unsolicited apology and said it was a problem that they were working on.

And I'll cut them lots of slack considering they've only been open a week thus far. This kind of food and service coming out of a place this early on only bodes well for the future. Needless to say, we'll be back.

Details: Lolo, 2940 NE Alberta. Phone 503-288-3400.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Ladies Who Lunch

Say you've got an elderly aunt coming to town and she wants to take you out to lunch. In the old days you'd head straight downtown to the Georgian Room on the 10th floor of Meier and Frank. Its large open room full of immaculately ironed tablecloths, pale green draperies and heavy silverware would shout (or, rather, murmur) respectability. If the food didn't venture far beyond old standbys like Roasted Turkey Surprise and corn chowder, well, that was fine. The air of propriety was undisturbed and it was felt that if it was good enough for grandmother, it was certainly good enough for the rest of us.

But now that landmark has passed into history, and you've still got your aunt coming. The weather's good for a month or so yet, but sidewalk dining isn't really her thing and the funky patio scene on Alberta won't really do, either. Lucky for you there's the outdoor patio at Meriwether's on NW Vaughn. Secluded behind the restaurant under a large arbor, and with a fountain bubbling away in the middle, this green oasis will be hip enough to appeal to her adventurous side while the westside ladies gathered for lunch in their summer dresses will dispel any feelings of angst.

Again, the food isn't anything to get excited about, but it's perfectly decent and well-prepared and Aunt Lucy (that's her name, right?) will be able to find something she'll like that won't be too extravagant. And you can order her a nice glass of white wine (that's what she drinks, of course) and you can have your G&T. Or kamikaze. Or whatever will get you through the meal. Just know that your place in her heart will remain secure.

Details: Meriwether's Restaurant, 2601 NW Vaughn. Phone 503-228-1250.

Photos: Patio, top left; Chick pea fritters with eggplant caponata, right; Egg salad sandwich with bacon and blue cheese, bottom left (Note the cellophane toothpicks. Classic!).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Quarter

You are currently reading the 250th post on GoodStuffNW, 15 months of posting about the food, people, places and events in and around the Pacific Northwest. There were side jaunts to California, Vermont and other locales we found ourselves in, because, after all, why should you be deprived of sharing in the fun?

In the future you'll not only see reports from yours truly, but there'll be reports from around the region from guest bloggers, as well as food recommendations and recipes from some great cooks we know and love. And you'll be getting travel recommendations straight from the horse's (or traveler's) mouth, not some paid-to-say-nice-things blather that turns out to be less than advertised.

If you have suggestions for features you'd like to see or places you've heard about here in the NW that you'd like us to check out, leave a comment below. And thanks for reading!

Peachy!

Last weekend was unusual for us in that we had commitments every evening, something we normally try to avoid since we're more in the "homebody" category than the "party animal" section of the social library. But it was all good, from hanging with Armandino Batali of Seattle's Salumi at Foster & Dobbs on Friday to dinner with good friends on Saturday to a knock-out dinner with the bro' and w- on Sunday.

And, since a couple of desserts were going to be needed and I was covering the Hillsboro Farmers Market for next week's column in the Oregonian, I picked up ten pounds of ripe, juicy peaches from VanDyke Farms. With those luscious peaches perfuming the car, it was all I could do not to grab one and slurp it on the drive home, but stickiness is not one of my favorite things, so the box made it back to the house unscathed.

The first dessert was a variation on the cobbler recipe I posted earlier, substituting peaches for berries. The second was a peach and blueberry crostata that absolutely rocked, and is one I'll be repeating with all kinds of fruits as the season goes on.

Peach and Blueberry Crostata
adapted from Bon Appetit's Outdoor Entertaining

Crust
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. hazelnuts, toasted
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. plus 3 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter
1/4 c. ice water (approx.)

Filling
5 large, ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 c. blueberries
3/4 c. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Blend first five ingredients in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter in chunks, pulsing until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in enough water to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 1 hr.

For filling, place peaches and blueberries in large mixing bowl and gently combine with sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon.

Roll out dough on floured work surface into 15-inch round. Transfer to prepared baking sheet, centering it atop a nonstick tart pan bottom. Brush dough with egg white, then mound peach filling in center, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border. Fold dough border over filling, pleating loosely and pinching any cracks to seal. Sprinkle crust with sugar.

Bake crostata until crust is brown and filling bubbles, about 55 minutes. Cool tart 15 minutes on rack, then slide metal spatula under edges of crostata to loosen. Transfer to platter.

Livin' in the Blurbs

A bit of blurbage to vary the pace a bit:

Randy Montgomery, the former cheese wizard of Provvista Specialty Foods, and his immensely talented wife, the artist Amy Ruppel, are set to open their European-style tavern, Cava, in about three weeks. They've had a couple of benefits and are in the shake-down phase, developing what I've heard is a killer menu of upscale, high-quality pub food, something that's been puzzlingly missing on the Portland scene. Follow their progress on the Cava blog. Randy says he'll be keeping us updated on specifics about opening times and dates, so stay tuned!

* * *

The Oregonian, where, in the interest of full disclosure, I write the Market Watch column in FoodDay, is starting up new print project. It's a food magazine called MIX that will be distributed free to certain A-list people and available by subscription to the rest of us. But, whatever nits I have to pick about that strategy, it looks like a high-end, glossy homage to the food that makes this region great and should be a nice plus to the city's mag scene. And, just because it's there, you can download a sample here.

* * *

And in other eastside restaurant news, Portland Food and Drink reported that "a new restaurant is opening...called Toast at SE 52nd and Steele. This is the previous location of Angie’s Bad Ass Video, so this should be an improvement. Brunch and dinner Wednesday-Saturday. It is owned by industry veteran Donald Kotler of Southpark, Vindalho and Giorgios." Let me know what you think if you get there before me!

The Taste of Paste

Like my brother and myself, my friend, Loo, and her sib, Hank, are both bloggers. Hank writes about politics for The Record, a paper in San Joaquin County, California, a place hot enough that you can make tomato paste in your driveway. Yes, I was as startled as you when Loo mentioned it, but it gets so warm there that he can actually make paste from his tomatoes in his driveway.

Informed of this intriguing fact, I, of course, insisted on getting the recipe as proof of his claim. Plus I knew it would be a great post for the blog. I mean, just saying it is cool enough. "Tomato paste in the driveway." Pffffft! It's a natural!

So for those whose curiosity has been piqued, here's the recipe. Plus an option for those of us not exactly in sizzling central California.

Estratto

Cut up your bushel of tomatoes into large dice and sauté over your highest heat in a large stock pot, with olive oil and salt, until they start to soften. This could be 5 minutes, it could be 10. Don't cook more than 15 minutes.

In a food mill using the middle strainer (best choice, but a strainer works too), press the tomatoes through to remove seeds and skins.

Take the resulting very liquidy tomatoes and pour onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Place the sheet in your driveway or on some other extremely hot place in the direct sun. Bugs don’t seem to bother mine, but if they do yours, then fashion a net over the top. You can use cheesecloth or very fine wire mesh. In a few hours, using a spatula, scoop the tomatoes around and re-spread. At the end of the day, take the lot in and leave on a counter. Repeat this process for several days. At the end, it should be reduced by a 3/4 and be a thick, delicious tomato-y paste. Look for a brick-red color and an almost clay-like consistency

If you live in less sunny climes without the industrial-strength sun we have in Sacramento, then you can do this in the oven. Start at 300 degrees for about 3 hours, then stir and drop the temperature to 200 degrees until you get the proper consistency.

Place in a clean glass jar, top with olive oil and it should keep for a year. Ideally it should be in a cool (sub-70 degree) place, so that might mean the door of your fridge.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Tour de Crêpes

Y'know, I start thinking I've almost caught up on new places to eat in this town, then someone says, "Hey, let's meet for lunch." My answer, of course, is always, "Sure! Where?" Then they say, "At Tour de Crêpes on Alberta." That's when my world starts to tremble ever so slightly. A place in my own neighborhood that I've never been to, much less heard of? Egad. The shame is almost too much to bear.

But I bravely soldier my way up the hill and find the cutest little dining shed with cheery red umbrellas out front. My friend, of course, the Queen of Cheese, is waiting for me...she's known about this place and has eaten here several times, but graciously doesn't hold it against me. So we look over the menu and then we go out behind the cute little shed to the...gasp!...trailer where the crêpes are prepared.

And I'm not talking about one of those food service vehicles that serve various tacos or falafel or whatever on a street corner. I'm talking about a real, honest-to-goodness corrugated-metal-painted-a-cheery-yellow-and-white camping trailer like the one we had when I was a kid. Since it sat in our driveway most of the time, I would play in it for hours making clothes and houses for my troll dolls and locking my pesky brothers out till they told on me and my mom made me unlock the door. But I digress.

After ordering from the menu that was divided between Sweet, Savory and Dessert crêpes (with several choices per category) as well as soup and salads plus beverages that include wine and beer, we went out front to sit under an umbrella and watch the world of Alberta stroll by. Our crepes arrived, both from the savory category, and they looked like little brown envelopes decorated for a party in their buckwheat wrappings.

These are deceptively filling, and both the spinach-ricotta crêpe I ordered and the Q'o'C's prosciutto, gruyere and caramelized onion version were very flavorful and filling, though the gruyere would have benefited from some extra heat since it hadn't had a chance to melt properly. But now I'm determined to get back for some of the sweet and dessert offerings, especially on a warm September evening with the sun setting in the distance, sipping a glass of champagne. How civilized!

Details: Tour de Crêpes, 2921 NE Alberta St. Phone 503-473-8657.

Guest Post: Tomato-Rama!

Listening to my friend Susana wax poetic about her tomatoes, I said, "Write that down and I'll post it on the blog." So she did, along with a few of her favorite recipes. Her musings follow:

Yes, it’s that time of year, kids; when the tomatoes are so abundant that, instead of bothering yourself with coring, you just cut the tops off to be thrown in the compost. Or when a couple fall to the ground, instead of jumping to the rescue, you just pick the other 12 you see still on the vine! Ah, behold the glorious tomato.

It is, in fact, my favorite time of year, as the late summer sun is at that gorgeous golden hue and the tomatoes are bursting with flavor. There is nothing like the taste of a ripe, homegrown tomato. It's sweet yet tart and juicy to the point where you have to assume the "tomato stance"…feet apart and bent at the waist as you bite into your favorite variety like an apple, juice dripping down your chin and onto your tanned little toes. So here we are in the last few weeks of summer with our counters, tables, chairs and card tables full of tomatoes.

What on earth to do with the abundant harvest? As much as I love tomatoes, after awhile things do get monotonous around my house. I have the standby, which I actually served last night (again). It’s a favorite around my house, but does get old. "Pasta ala I Have Too Many Tomatoes!" is just cooked pasta with olive oil, garlic, parmigiano reggiano cheese, fresh tomatoes and balsamic vinegar tossed in a bowl.

At a loss for ideas? How about these:

Bread and Tomato Soup
In a large pot combine 1 med. loaf of cubed, day old bread (something dense that isn’t sold sliced, like como); 1 head (yes head) of garlic; as many fresh tomatoes as you like. I generally dice up about 6 or 7 and about two quarts of chicken stock. First, sauté the garlic in about 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil, then add the cubed bread. Toss in the tomatoes, give a few stirs and add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, take off the heat and enjoy! This is a very quick soup and should be eaten immediately, as the bread will soak up too much of the stock if left for any longer than an hour or so.

Fresh Tomato "Lasagna"

"Lasagna" because this fabulous dish does contain layers of yummies, but untraditional in the true sense of what most of us think of as lasagna. I’m addicted to my pasta roller and have made a lot of fresh pasta this summer. So, if you like making your own fresh pasta sheets, go for it, or buy them at Pastaworks. I find that fresh pasta is much more delicate and works very well in this dish, but you can use dried lasagna noodles as well. As when building a lasagna, simply layer pasta, olive oil, lots of sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper and some caramelized onions or chopped olives in any size baking dish you like. The beauty of this dish is that you can add all sorts of your favorite goodies: capers, artichoke hearts, whatever! The juice from the fresh tomatoes will be enough liquid for the pasta whether it’s fresh or dried.

Some other great ideas or classics you’ve forgotten in your tomato-induced high:
  • Salsa: Are you still buying salsa? Shame on you!
  • Oven-dry slices and layer them with olive oil and herbs in mason jars.
  • I tried that chutney from Chef Dan Brophy on some grilled salmon and I about fell out of my chair!
  • Classic tomato soup
  • BLT’s: extra "T," of course!
  • Panzanella salad (I like just tomatoes, bread, garlic, red onions, fresh mozzarella and basil)
There are, of course, a myriad of ideas, this being only the tip of the tomato iceberg. Bite in, wipe your chin and relish in the pomodoro because, before you know it, all you’ll get are those red-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside yuckaroos in December.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Blowing It Big-Time

Last weekend our new neighbors invited us to a farm in Washington County for a glass-blowing demonstration and sale. We arrived and found a funky, hand-built art studio and barn and were introduced to David Johnson, its builder and resident glassblower (note the weather vane). There was music, food and Roots Brewing beer, as well as glass pieces for sale that were blown by David and his cousin, Sara, a student and an accomplished glassblower in her own right.

We wandered around, watched some of the demonstrations in the barn and admired the amazing platters by David and the luminescent colors Sara achieved in her vases and bowls. But then there was a crackle of anticipation as everyone started heading to the barn. David had announced he was going to blow a platter, the biggest he'd ever attempted.

As he dipped his blow pipe again and again into the kiln containing the molten glass, the ball on the end of the pipe grew larger and larger. He rolled the red-hot blob in little bits of colored glass called frit, and as the layers slowly built up, he and Sara took turns blowing on the pipe to create a bubble on the interior.

In the video you can see him moving from the furnace and nearly dropping the 20-lb. blob, then letting the excess molten glass run off into a large pot of water. It was amazing to watch the several gallons of cold water start boiling almost instantly as the glass curled into it. He then attached a punty to the other end of the blob and detached it from the blow pipe, creating an opening where the blow pipe had been. This, then, was put back in the glory hole (or reheating furnace). When it was back to a red-hot temperature, he pulled it out and, with the punty steadied on a stand, started twirling the piece so that the lip of the bowl-shaped piece opened up, created a platter-shaped disk.

This last video shows that final step, with Mick and the Stones providing the background accompaniment, a fantasic coda to what had started out as a quiet afternoon in the country.

Videos courtesy Susana Holloway.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I Came, I Saw, Ikea.

So I did it. I got off the pot, took the bull by the horns, saddled up, felt the heat from the Swedish meatballs and stayed in the kitchen anyway. Even on a midweek morning, the parking lot was packed and folks were faithfully following the arrows, pushing their carts or lugging the big yellow Ikea bags through the maze of oh-so-Svensky-Norsky showrooms. If you've never been to one, and my friend KM hadn't, expect to be whelmed over and strangely impressed.

As KM reports: "A virgin Ikea experience? Hmmm...I really like the way their products are displayed in place, all the different offices, living rooms, etc. Especially, as a realtor, the 560 sq. ft., 2 bedroom home/condo. The comforter display (by warmth) was one of those 'duh' moments. Why doesn’t everyone do it that way? It’s also really striking that everything is made for them, including all the appliances, as opposed to a Target [where product lines are sourced from manufacturers]. Which, I suppose, brings us to the prices...perfect for those on a budget, a guest room, kids and teens. For those with more money, some careful editing can buy great design, super cheap, to fill those gaps in the house!"

After an hour-and-a-half we finally made it through the living room, dining room, kitchen, office, bedroom and kids displays to the café (where they have those meatballs) and realized we'd only covered one of the two floors. So we sat down, guzzled water and a couple of sodas for the sugar and watched people walk by with trays laden with, yes, those ubiquitous meatballs and plates of macaroni and cheese that looked surprisingly lifelike. There were also healthy choices like salads and sandwiches, but it looked like most of the action was happening on the high-fat, high-carb side. And, don't worry, at the end of your odyssey they have a Swedish food market where you can buy a package of 10 meatballs with cream sauce and lingonberry jam to take home for dinner.

Then it was on to the first floor through lighting, cooking, rugs, textiles, home organization and wall decoration. After that is where you hit the real nerve center of Ikea, the huge Costco-like warehouse where you get out the list you've made on your Ikea tablet with your Ikea pencil and wander up and down the aisles, pulling out assemble-it-yourself lamps, tables, desks or whatever has caught your fancy. But be forewarned. You'll find yourself standing in the checkout line with packs of paper napkins, colanders and plastic silverware, wondering how they got into your cart. So be prepared to do some judicious editing then and there. It's all part of the Ikea experience.

Details: Ikea, 10280 NE Cascades Parkway. Phone 503-282-4532.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Festival of the Red Orb

Okay, some information I just don't want to know. There are things I don't care about, like Tom Cruise's latest film debacle or which celebrity's boob job just imploded. Then there's the stuff that makes me want to cover my ears and chant, "I can't hear you!" over and over.

In the latter category, I got an e-mail from Linda Shively at Farmington Gardens today saying that, earlier this season, they had 140 varieties of tomatoes for sale. That's right, one...four...zero. (If that doesn't bring out the OCD tremors in you gardeners, I don't know what will.) And they'll be offering more than 70 of them to taste at their 5th Annual Tomato Festival on Sept. 1. In addition, there's a Tomato Talk so you can get the latest on humiliating the neighbors with your superior tomato-growing skillez, samples of tomato dishes cooked up by Chef Dan Brophy and lunch prepared by grillers from Gaston High School.

And, as a magnanimous gesture to readers of GoodStuffNW, Chef Dan is sharing one of his recipes with us:

Tomato Ginger Chutney

3 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, peeled, diced and drained
2 lbs. apples, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp. ginger, grated
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt

In a large nonreactive saucepan, combine the tomatoes, apples, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until almost dry, about 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar, vinegar, cilantro, cumin and salt. Simmer until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Details: 5th Annual Tomato Festival at Farmington Gardens. Sat., Sept. 1; 11 am- 3 pm; free (lunch is extra). Farmington Gardens, 21815 SW Farmington Road, Beaverton. Phone 503-649-4568.

Rain in August? Make Stock!

We will often get a couple of days in February or March where the temperature heads up into the seventies and the sky turns from dark grey to sparkling blue. People will haul out their shorts and sandals from under the parkas and fleece in their closets and take to their gardens with gusto, only to be foiled by the inevitable inundation that is early spring here in the Willamette Valley.

This month has been similarly disorienting, with cool, rainy days that are nothing if not autumnal. I actually made a casserole and, last night, I even roasted a chicken...in the oven! If that's not a depressing thing to do in the middle of August, then I don't know what is. But looking past the need to wear a jacket and...gasp...jeans when I walk the dog, I can do something positive. And that, to me, means taking the chicken carcass from the carved-up bird, combining it with the vegetables and wine from the bottom of the roasting pan and water and making a big pot of chicken stock. After all, come October and the return of the rain, a freezer-full of stock will come in handy for that nice pot au feu or risotto or...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Cheese for the Cheeseless

It was a very bad day. One of those days that forever changes you. A day that delineates a definite "Before" and "After." The life-altering occurrence? My husband found out he was lactose intolerant. And, no, not just the "take a Lactaid pill and have some cheesecake anyway" kind of lactose intolerant, but the kind where it's inadvisable to partake of butter, fresh cheeses or any product containing milk without risking...ahem...shall we say "explosive repercussions."

In my usual state of denial, I suggested trying different cheeses and dairy products to see which, if any, his system could tolerate. But, considering the discomfort involved, he declined to let me use his digestive system as a science lab for my experiments (sheesh!). So we adjusted, switching to a more Mediterranean diet, using margarine instead of butter in desserts and becoming vigilant label-readers at the grocery store. A friend even dubbed certain foods "Dave-safe" to give us a heads-up about what was okay to eat.

After doing some reading and consulting with other families making this adjustment, we found that aged cheeses like extra sharp cheddar and parmesan or romano were acceptable, as were great substitute products like Tofutti cream cheese and sour cream. So when he was craving a creamy-cheesy fix, I figured out a recipe for macaroni and cheese that came close to replicating the super-rich pasta dish that had been removed from our table on that fateful day. And for those of you who may have a use for something like this, here's the recipe:

Dave-Safe Mac'n'Cheese

1 lb. dried pasta
4 Tbsp. stick margarine
4 Tbsp. flour
2 c. Lactaid milk3/4 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. Tofutti cream cheese
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil large pot of water. While water is heating, melt margarine in medium-sized saucepan. Remove from burner and add flour, stirring to combine. Place back on burner and cook on low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and stir until it thickened, then add cheese in handfuls until melted. Add cream cheese and stir until sauce is thick and creamy, then add hot sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook till al dente. Drain and put in casserole dish, pour cheese sauce over top and stir gently to combine. Bake in 350 degree oven 30 minutes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bookin' to the Arleta Cafe

Back in the day, SE Foster Road was the home of Tom ("Free is a very good price!") Peterson and various dive bars and chop shops with a few all-night groceries thrown in for good measure. But now, in the tradition of SE Hawthorne or, more recently, NE Alberta and N Mississippi, Foster and its environs are becoming a hot spot for development, with little cafes and new restaurants springing up everywhere, house prices shooting up and port-a-potties on every corner signaling much remodeling is afoot.

One little outpost that is ringing the changes coming to the neighborhood is the Arleta Library Bakery & Cafe, a teeny storefront right across the street from Mt. Scott Park and the Mt. Scott Community Center on SE 72nd Ave. This bitsy place seats maybe 20 people, and from what I've heard it packs 'em in for weekend breakfasts with a line down the street, with most of the crowds there for their biscuits and gravy, said to be among the very best in town. The rest of the brunch menu looks equally impressive for such a small place, and they also have house-made breads and baked goods available for takeout for very modest prices.

I happened in for lunch, which on this summer day meant that we had our pick of tables and which featured a special of a Philly cheesesteak sandwich with the option of provolone or cheddar. I've heard that these sandwiches can be really great or really bad, but never having had one and wanting to see what they could do, I ordered it. Out came a nicely wrapped homemade bun stuffed with tender, flavorful roast beef, caramelized onions and a lovely veil of provolone.

Friend Kristin had the Godfather, a sandwich of house-roasted natural beef, roasted red peppers, cheddar, lettuce, and tomato on their Paesano bread, kicked up a notch with a garlic horseradish sauce spread. This treatment of what could be a nice but pedestrian sandwich is typical of what this cafe does well, which is to add a bit of thoughtful execution to classic cafe favorites.

And if these guys are typical of the new businesses looking to open up in this neglected corner of the city, and I've heard they are, then we are only a year or two away from seeing a seismic shift happening along another eastside corridor. Now to come up with a cutesy abbreviation ala NoPo or LoBu...LoFo? Send in your suggestions, people!

Details: Artleta Library Bakery & Cafe, 5513 SE 72nd Ave. Phone 503-774-4470.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Keeping That Cheesey Goodness

How often have you spent a fair amount of money of a nice piece of cheese and had it dry out or get moldy in the fridge? Or bought some from the supermarket, brought it home and it has that distinct je ne sais quoi of the plastic it was wrapped in? In doing research for my article for Culinate.com on buying cheese, I learned some interesting tidbits about storing cheese and keeping it in peak condition once you get it home.

I mean, if you're spending $8 to $20 a lb. for cheese, you want it to taste like the place it came from, with the fragrance and flavor of fresh milk, grass or the sea. So, assuming you've bought your cheese from a reputable cheese-monger or supermarket cheese department and it's still at the height of its flavor and perfection, what should you do? If it's wrapped in plastic, unwrap it quickly. Cheese contains living organisms that need to breath, and plastic cuts off the air supply. Plastic can also trap gases and moisture next to the surface of the cheese, causing off-tastes of ammonia and other unpleasantnesses.

If your cheese is securely wrapped in cheese paper, it's fine. This paper is made of two layers, a thin breathable layer that wicks moisture away from the surface of the cheese, and a waxy paper outer layer that keeps the moisture from escaping and drying it out. A Portland company, Formaticum, has come out with a line of French cheese paper printed with a map of the U.S. and founder Mark Goldman's favorite artisan cheeses (one of which is Twig Farm in Vermont). His packages of 15 papers are now available at Foster & Dobbs, Steve's Cheese and New Seasons markets and come with 15 handy sticky labels, all for around $7.50.

The other option for wrapping, according to the experts I spoke with, is simply wrapping it tightly in wax paper and keeping that in an airtight, Tupperware-type plastic container in the fridge. The other advice I got, which makes sense if you think about it, is to only buy as much as you need for a few days or, as Tim Daly of Steve's Cheese said, "Buy less more often." That way you're assured your cheese is as fresh as it can be and you'll be happy when you bite into it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bulletin from the Farm: Woodpeckers & the Queen of Plums

Another in a series of engaging essays from Anthony Boutard, the Bard of Ayers Creek. And if you're interested in receiving his missives directly, you can e-mail him at the farm and ask to be added to the list.

"The owners of Hyla Woods, Pam and Peter Hayes, visited us early this summer. Upon seeing the oak savannah that occupies the heart of the farm, Peter asked whether we had any acorn woodpeckers nesting here. Alas, no, and suddenly the savannah looked impoverished, somehow deficient. Years of digging up blackberries and hauling away garbage, and no acorn woodpeckers. What did we do wrong, was it our fault? A pair of spurned savannah owners, we went to www.wildbirdsthisweek.net and ordered a pair of these birds. Amazing what you can do online.

"Actually, a week later, we were greeted by a striking pair of acorn woodpeckers headlong into the business of courtship and oblivious to our presence. Negotiating sexual activity is a raucous business with woodpeckers. The whoopee ended after a week or so, and then we only caught occasional glimpses of the birds as they foraged furtively. The sporadic flash of black and white comforted us with the assurance they were lingering, maybe increasing. This week, the issue of their union departed the nest. A young bird with an adult pattern of plumage is now flying around the savannah with its two parents close at hand. Its slighter body and the reedy, begging call betrays its youth. The parents are still feeding it, but it is already trying out its bill. It does a little tap, tap, tap routine and then opens its bill, submitting for sustenance.

"The acorn woodpecker and some other members of the clan, along with the unrelated Corvids (jays, crows and nutcrackers), create caches for the winter months. With the Corvids, the building of caches is done secretively by individuals. They will often rob from one another, remembering weeks later where a competitor placed its cache. Recent studies have shown Corvids keep a very detailed mental map of their caches, and what they contain. In contrast, the acorn woodpecker forms social groups and colonies that cache cooperatively. The woodpeckers create granaries by pecking holes in dead trees or limbs and wedging the acorns into the hole. Larger granaries may exceed 60,000 acorns. They cooperatively defend these granaries against other acorn-eating birds and animals.

"We are pleased the woodpeckers managed to pry loose a nesting site from all of the other cavity dwellers that live here. We hope this is a nascent colony, and not just a brief sojourn."

And this under Plums:

"Ah, to ken a queen. The cherries have their Dukes and Napoleon, the pears have their Doyenne du Comice and Josephine, the apples have their Duchess of Oldenburg, and then there are the plums. They have the Queen, the Reine Claude or green gage. Bestowed with a sharp sweetness and a gentle acidity, with tannins floating around pleasingly and unobtrusively, everything about a Reine Claude is sublime perfection.

"We planted our first 'gages' in 1999. We found the fruits insipid and cloying. We persisted, fueled by a dim memory of gages we had savored in the past. We planted over a half dozen gages from different nurseries. We found two real green gages. Both Bavay Gage and Cambridge Gage are ancient seedlings of the original type. The scion wood was imported from England by Washington State University. They met our expectations. The 'green gage' that is circulating among many US nurseries is, according to David Karp, the Great Maligner of Chester Blackberries (GMCB)*, probably 'Oullins Gage.' GMCB is trying to import scion wood for Reine Claude Dorée, the green gage standard bearer."

* Note: In a New York Times article, Mr. Karp referred to Mr. Boutard's favorite blackberry as having "mediocre flavor."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Row Over to the Muddy Rudder

On my occasional forays to the Sellwood neighborhood, I'd come across the bridge and there, on my right, would be a building under what seemed to be perpetual construction. What had been a little decaying rental had been pushed out and up and seemed to be preparing for a second life as some sort of storefront. But that second life had to wait a couple of years while owner Jim Sheehan, a custom woodworker and motorcycle fanatic, toiled away reworking the cabinetry, floors and woodwork. In the end he's fashioned what looks for all the world like a turn-of-the-century storefront that houses the Muddy Rudder Public House, a neighborhood pub and café.

The gorgeous wood of the handmade bar with its custom funnels for overflowing beer handles the many taps of mostly Northwest microbrews from Laurelwood, Lagunitas, Pelican and Roots, among others. The day we were there he also had Old Speckled Hen, an English bitter with a rich, dry taste, on nitro. It's currently rotating with Boddington's and is the subject of a lively debate about which one is the pub favorite. Sheehan also keeps a list of customers' suggestions for future brews and tries to get in as many as he can.

The food is excellent considering what passes for grub in most Portland pubs, with a nice range of sandwiches and salads. Their burgers are far above par, with hearty, fresh buns, seasonal tomatoes, nice greens, meat that is grilled on the barbecue on the porch (even medium rare!) and a surprising diversity of cheeses. These are served with Kettle Salt & Pepper chips (to die for) and an obligatory cherry pepper, fine but unnecessary.

The pub itself is three rooms on two levels, furnished with antique mismatched furniture and is decorated with odds and ends of collectibles and memorabilia and looks anything but new. It's a place where you feel instantly at home and where you could find yourself coming back to again and again. We definitely will!

Details: Muddy Rudder Public House, 8105 SE 7th Ave. Phone 503-233-4410.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bring on the Banh Mi

Not to go all foodie on you, but a couple of years ago there was a big discussion going on about the best Banh Mi place in Portland, whether it was Cali Sandwiches on Glisan or Maxim's on Broadway. Because I was a broadminded sort and always interested in a new taste treat, I checked out several of them. What I found were sandwiches made with a very light, 8" white bun that was split and filled with various chopped vegetables and meat and spread with an aioli dressing. Mostly I found them squishy and not very interesting, even for the $2.50 price tag.

Then our neighbors brought over the Banh Mi from Lanvin and I was knocked out by the difference. The bun, while still light, had much more body than those I'd tried before, and the fillings were way more interesting than the others, with the vegetables and dressing playing off the spicy complexity of the meat. And for the same $2.50, I was sold.

Plus someone at this outpost has some serious pastry chef chops, the case being filled with gorgeous (and appetizing) croissants, pain au noix and buns. Notice the little butter-flake swans in the upper right of the pasty counter (left). And don't be shy about trying their other savory treats like the petit chaud and Banh Bao.

As mentioned below, this place is hidden, tucked away in the parking lot behind the Pho Oregon building. Also, there are no tables, with everything sold to-go, so plan on carting your goodies home or to the nearest park for a memorable picnic. And let me know if you think this place rocks, or if you have a nominee for someplace better. Just click on the comments link below!

Details: Lanvin, 8211 NE Brazee in the parking lot behind the Pho Oregon building. Phone 503-252-0155.

Portland's Pho Palace

Within a couple of days after we met our new neighbors, they brought over bags of Vietnamese sandwiches, called Banh Mi, savory pastries (petit chaud) and a few Banh Bao or steamed buns. We, of course, were happy to provide beverages, so we sat in the back yard and talked food, drank beer, and made plans to go to their favorite Vietnamese spots, Pho Oregon, on NE 82nd across from Madison High School, and Portland's best kept banh mi hideout, Lanvin, cleverly hidden on the back side of the building.

As is usual with the best-laid plans, it took awhile for us to actually get there. When he was growing up, C's family had driven in from Camas every Sunday after church to have their lunch at Pho Oregon along with the Vietnamese families who'd flock there for sustenance after the long church service. They'd order their beef noodle soup with the meat on the side, then add it to the boiling hot broth to cook. A sprinkle of lime juice, some ngo gai (eryngium foetidum or saw-leaf herb), maybe some hot chili sauce or plum sauce, and you were good to go.

From our experience, the pho is some of the best we've had in Portland. The deep, flavorful broth takes all day to make and can include star anise, cinnamon, charred ginger and cloves and is right up there with Airborne as our favorite cure for a cold. Pho Oregon also has lots of other dishes that we're anxious to try, including grilled chicken on noodles (left). There are also several sides you can add to flavor your broth or noodles, including green onions in what tastes like chicken fat infused with star anise, and sweet onions marinated in a very light rice vinegar (right).

At $4.50 for a huge (serving size) bowl of soup with noodles, we say you can't possibly go wrong. Add egg rolls or salad rolls and a Vietnamese-style iced coffee and you're still well under $10 per person, and you'll come out a happy, very well-fed camper.

Details: Pho Oregon, 2518 NE Sandy Blvd. Phone 503-262-8816.

A Friend Returns to Share

You may recall that just about a year ago in the early days of GoodStuffNW, I had a foodie moment extraordinaire when I met John Cancilla and his lovely wife, Ana, when they dropped in at Foster & Dobbs on their way to the airport just as I was walking by with Rosey. The sweetest people you could ever hope to meet, they're sales reps for the Marqués de Valdueza olive oil estate in Spain and had been here as part of a sales trip to introduce their new Merula brand of estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil.

Since that afternoon John has been my Spanish pen-pal, an avid reader of the blog and a valuable source of feedback for my attempts at making paella. And now you can meet him in person and talk about his favorite subject (aside from, but related to, food and his family) when he and Ana come into town to do a tasting of their olive oils at Foster & Dobbs. They'll explain and share the elixir of the Arbequina, Picual, Hojiblanca and Morisca olives, and pair them with Jamon Serrano, Spanish cheese and dark chocolate. If you ask, he'll even recite the full name of the Marqués himself, no small feat. At the least, you'll come away with new ideas for using olive oil and, just maybe, a new friend.

Details: Tasting of Marqués de Valdueza olive oils at Foster & Dobbs with John Cancilla. Noon-3 pm; free. Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods, 2518 NE 15th Ave. Phone 503-284-1157.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cheese Chronicles

Just a quick note to let you know that intrepid cheese-monger Luan Schooler of Foster & Dobbs is blogging from the American Cheese Society annual conference in Burlington, Vermont. You can read her very entertaining posts on their Cheese (B)Log. Look for the posts labeled Cheese Chronicles.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Oregon Cheese News: River's Edge Chevre Open House

Now that you've heard me rattling on about how great Vermont cheese is, what nice people they are, blah blah blah, I'm sure you're thinking, "Well, that's very nice, but don't we have cheese here, too?" And I'm here to tell you we do. As a matter of fact, Jeffrey Roberts' new Atlas of American Artisan Cheese lists 13 artisan cheesemakers from tiny Pholia Farm to huge Tillamook, which has a small number of flavored cheddars that are made entirely by hand.

Also listed is River's Edge Chevre in Logsden, Oregon, on the Siletz River. For two years Pat Morford and her daughters have been making chevre and bloomy rind cheeses with names unique to their region of the coast. To celebrate their second anniversary, they've decided to hold an open house on Aug. 19 at the farm and they're inviting cheese lovers to stop in and enjoy their cheeses, along with wine and local art. It would make a great cap to a weekend at the beach, or a lovely day trip if you're feeling like a drive.

Details: River's Edge Chevre Open House at Three Ring Farm. Sun., Aug. 19, 11 am-5 pm; free. Three Ring Farm, 6315 Logsden Rd., Logsden, OR. Directions on the website.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rejuvenation Sale This Weekend

Just got word from my friend Alysa at Rejuvenation that they're having a Contractor Sale at their factory (not the retail store) tomorrow and Saturday (Aug. 3-4) with great deals on lighting, hardware and some bathtubs. If you've been looking for that perfect period sconce or door knocker and your budget is more Home Depot than Homes & Gardens, this is the sale for you!

Details: Rejuvenation Contractor Sale. Fri. (8/3), 7 am-4 pm; Sat. (8/4), 9 am-1 pm; 2550 NW Nicolai.

Hama Hama Sushi Sushi

If you've ever been to Hawai'i, you've probably heard of the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a (pron. hoomoo-hoomoo-nookoo-nookoo-ah-poo-ah-ah), or reef triggerfish, the state fish of Hawai'i. It's really fun to say, and always impressive when you can work it into conversations, as in, "We were snorkeling off the Big Island and Dave just fell in love with the color of the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, so we decided to paint the living room to match."

I doubt if that particular fish is served at Hama Sushi, tucked into an unassuming storefront next to the old Trader Joe's on Sandy Blvd., but this place has some of the best, freshest and most dazzlingly prepared sushi in town. There aren't any tatami mats or intricately calligraphed murals or waitresses in kimonos gliding about the the place; if anything, it's very much like a neighborhood hangout you'd find in any town in Japan. A few tables against the walls, a whiteboard listing the day's specials and a sushi chef behind the seating at the counter (and no goofy headband or knife-twirling, thank you very much).

The food is exquisitely prepared, and because of the decor described above, the prices are much less than you'd see at most fancy dinner houses. Which means you can order as much as your heart (or stomach) desires without taking out an equity loan. We started with softshell crab (right), a fresh whole critter that had been simply fried and chopped and was, frankly, terrific. Then came tempura calamari, chunks of the tenderest squid dipped in tempura batter, perfectly fried and served with a light dipping sauce. For our sushi we chose various pieces of salmon, tuna, mackerel, roe and two smaller rolls. All were smashing, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Great for a casual dinner with friends or for that low-key special evening out, this spot is making its way onto our favorites list.

Details: Hama Sushi, 4232 NE Sandy Blvd. Phone 503-249-1021.