Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Market Watch: Fairview Farmers' Market


These are the eggs that got me started on my fresh egg quest, and they're featured in today's Market Watch column on the Fairview Farmers' Market.

Details: Fairview Farmers' Market. 4-8 pm, Thursdays. 1300 Village St., next to Fairview City Hall.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ssssssssssmokin'!


You know how just last month I was raving in a post about a Cuban pork dish that we made after seeing it in Mark Bittman's NYT column? You can completely flush that one, because we've done old Marky-Mark one better.

Here's the deal: You take a large, and I mean around 10 lbs., bone-in pork shoulder. You make the pernil sauce and rub it all over that shoulder. Then get out the Cook'n Ca'jun, crank up the fire and lay that hunk of pig on the grill. Then about, oh, say, eight hours later, after you've had a beer (or so), kept the fire stoked with coals and hardwood, filled the water bowl a couple of times and turned the meat once or twice, you check it.

And there, right before your very eyes, is the smokiest, loveliest chunk of roasted pork you've ever seen. Caramelized and black on the outside, juicy and tender inside with the legendary "smoke ring" that barbecuers live for.

This is truly a "best and highest use" of the holy pig we've ever had the pleasure to prepare, not to mention consume, and bodes well for summer dining. If, like me, you live to see your guests' eyes roll back in their heads and have them fall off their chairs moaning like they're possessed, you've got to try this.

Treasure on 28th


You know how it is. I didn't want to get my hopes up because I'd been disappointed before. I'd read a few things, heard a little more and even had friends say it was worth a shot.

Crab tacos.

So when the opportunity arose last Friday to meet friends for dinner, the chosen rendezvous point was Fonda Rosa, a new Mexican place on NE 28th. Owned by Teresa Brooks-Hernandez and her husband, Hugo Hernandez, it supersedes Teresa's resale clothing shop that was a placeholder until they could save enough to open their restaurant.

Spinach and goat cheese cakes.

And their persistence has definitely paid off. From the appetizer of a startlingly fresh and tasty ceviche to the freshly made tortillas to the entrees, this place has it going on. Originally from Colima, Hugo grew up around his family's restaurant where everything was made from scratch. The menu reflects the cuisine of Mexico's left coast, and he shows a deft touch with seafood.

Crab enchiladas.

We started with their great house margaritas made just the way Dave does here at home with lots of lime juice and no stinkin' mixes. Those came with an appetizer of the aforementioned ceviche (top) and crab tacos in crispy tortillas with pico de gallo and a wonderfully savory chile sauce that didn't overwhelm the delicate flavor of the plentiful chunks of crab.

Fish tacos.

For my entree I had to have the crab enchiladas, two corn tortillas filled with big chunks of crab and topped with a salsa verde, pico de gallo and a squiggle of crema. These were totally amazing, a creamy, lovely ode to my favorite crustacean. I have to say the rice that came with it was underwhelming with little flavor and a clumpy texture, an anomaly compared to the rest of the offerings.

And the fish tacos, as I said before, show Hernandez's knowing hand with seafood. Perfectly cooked chunks of white fish, still tender and sprinkled with the merest amount of pico de gallo, red cabbage and lime, were served with the traditional accompaniment of guacamole, salsa and beans. The flavors and preparations are so right and, having just come back from Mexico, were just what we needed to feel like we never left.

Details: Fonda Rosa, 108 NE 28th Ave. at the corner of Couch. Phone 503-235-3828.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

WARNING: Cuteness Alert!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
IF YOU ARE SUSCEPTIBLE TO ATTACKS OF PUPPY-ITIS WHEN CONFRONTED WITH EXTREME CUTENESS, PLEASE AVERT YOUR EYES.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

See? I tried to warn you. But did you listen? No.

One-month-old Corgi puppies have been known to overwhelm the most hard-hearted, cranky and nettlesome of old poops. One of these babies in your hands at the gates of heaven and even if you've lived the most heinous of lives, St. Peter's eyes would get all gooey and he'd shoo you right in. If Dorothy had one of these instead of that yappy Toto, the witch would have thrown water on herself just to get out of its presence.

I myself have been innoculated from their evil spell because I have one of my own. Kind of like having a magic shield or a ring that prevents the toxic rays from reaching me. Not that I can resist spending time with them whenever I'm invited to the puppy pen at Kim's (and picking them up, and petting them and letting them lick my face). Ack...the horror!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meet the Good Fairy


Ever since the tooth fairy...heck, even since Santa Claus, I've wanted to meet one of these Good Fairies in person. And then, yesterday evening, just as the sun was setting, one of them showed up at my front door. No chimney, no puff of smoke, no sparkly effervescence, just a ring of the doorbell and there she was.

And she was bearing a container of homemade, warm-from-the-steamer potstickers as good as any you'd find in your favorite dim sum palace, with a little container of sweet, spicy and knee-bucklingly delicious dipping sauce she'd apparently drawn from whatever source of all-that-is-irresistible that fairies have access to.

Needless to say, we scarfed those down with aplomb and when she bade (as they all do) her man-servant to fetch more, we practically tore them out of his hands and downed those, too. Some nights I pray to whatever dinner gods there are to deliver us from cooking, and once in a great while that dream comes true. And if this particular sprite ever shares her magical recipe with we mere mortals, you can be sure I'll post it here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Do Good and Eat Well

These Taste of the Nation folks have got it figured out, don't they? Especially here in Portland, where food is practically a way of life among a certain crowd. And linking the fight against hunger with a blowout evening of the best food in the city is brilliant, if somewhat ironic, appealing both to our sense of responsibility and gluttony at the same time.

So if you want to stuff yourself with terrific food from 70 of Oregon's best chefs (think Bluehour, Higgins, Lauro, Paley's Place, Simpatica, Toro Bravo, etc.) and drink from our best wineries and microbreweries (Andrew Rich, Willakenzie, Evesham, Full Sail, Lagunitas, Rogue, Widmer, etc.), circle Monday, April 28, on your calendar, then buy a ticket online or at any New Seasons Market. And be prepared to be full of good food as well as good feelings.

Details: Taste of the Nation benefiting Share Our Strength. Mon., Apr. 28, 6:30 pm; $75 per person. Event at Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Phone 503-222-4644.

Market Watch: Hillsdale Farmers' Market


My Market Watch column in this week's FoodDay visits the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, one of my very favorites for its vendors, its friendly atmosphere and its size (not too big, not too small).

This Sunday they go to a weekly schedule from their twice-monthly winter schedule, so look for them to start bursting at the seams with produce and goodies. And you can check market manager Eamon "Shoehorn" Molloy's blog for the who and the what of each week's market.

Details: Hillsdale Farmers' Market, in the Wilson High-Rieke Elementary Parking Lot at the intersection of SW Sunset Blvd. and SW Capitol Hwy.

Calling It Like She Sees It

I've always found anger (or, to put it more nicely, extreme annoyance) to be a great motivator. This blog wouldn't exist if I hadn't read a certain icky-girly, badly written local e-mail newsletter and become peeved that adult women would be writing (much less reading) such immature trash. And I figured I couldn't do worse.

My editor at FoodDay, Martha Holmberg, seems to have had one of those moments when she listened to an interview on NPR's Day to Day with Christiane Jory about her book titled "The 99¢ Only Stores Cookbook." After listening to the author (and host Alex Cohen) wax poetic about how delicious all this food tasted that was made from stuff that comes from cans and boxes, and how cheap it was, Martha got busy.

She wrote "there are plenty of bogus cooking ideas out there; I should be inured to that. My problem is that while Jory contends there's great and inexpensive food to be had at the ultra-discount stores, and that the book is infused with some sense of fun and irony, she's sending a really dangerous message. Leaving aside the whole debate over what the true cost of cheap food is, the implication is that if you don't have much money, you have to eat inferior, unhealthful, unsavory, uncelebratory, uncool and downright icky food. And that is so not true."

Her solution was to devise her own recipes from decent ingredients from real stores that actually cost less per serving than the author's. And then she wrote about it for the paper. You go, girl!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Livin' in the Blurbs: Class Acts

Those of you who read the Oregonian's Homes & Gardens NW section have no doubt read Vern Nelson's column about edible landscaping and wondered what in heaven's name he's going to suggest we try eating next. Last week it was begonias, next week...nibbling on the shrubbery? Farmington Gardens is going to give you the chance to put that question to Mr. Nelson himself on May 3 in his presentation on how to grow a successful edible garden, then on May 17 garden writer Lisa Albert will present tips on "Going Green" by choosing plants that attract birds and beneficial insects and that require less maintenance and fewer resources. Time to dig in!

Details: Sat., May 3: Edible Gardens with Vern Nelson. Sat., May 17: Going Green with Lisa Albert. 11 am; free with registration. Farmington Gardens, 21815 SW Farmington Rd., Beaverton. 503-649-4568.

* * *

Then the weekend of May 16th through the 18th, Seattle will be invaded by hordes of cheeseheads at the fourth annual Seattle Cheese Festival at the Pike Place Market. There will be cheese tasting, of course, and seminars by leading cheesemakers and writers like Peter Dixon from Vermont; Jeffrey Roberts, author of the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese; and Daphne Zepos of the Essex St. Cheese Co. in New York, all of whom have been featured on this very blog. (Ahem!) And Tami at the Pacific NW Cheese Project informs us that there will also be a grilled cheese contest, a "Truckle Roll" where teams race to roll wheels of cheese over a finish line (apparently hilarious to behold) and a children's parade. Not to mention wine tasting, cheese sampling, cooking demos...if it's cheesy, they're doing it!

Details: 4th Annual Seattle Cheese Festival, Fri.-Sun., May 16-18. See the website for event times and locations.

* * *

And while not a class in the classic sense, I guarantee your tastebuds will come away well-educated from Castagna's spring dinner double-header. Spring asparagus is the focus of the first dinner on May 7th, featuring asparagus soup with fried morels, pork schnitzel with asparagus and elder flower ice cream. Then on May 21st it'll be a spring morel dinner of vol au vent with morels and asparagus, coq au vin Jaune with morels and a rhubarb crème brulée tart. The whole dinner is only $45 a person and includes wine. I've been to a couple of these dinners in the past and I guarantee the food will be mind-blowing. Have you made your reservation yet?

Details: "Spring Means Green" dinners at Castagna. Spring Asparagus Dinner, Wed., May 7. Spring Morel Dinner, Wed., May 21. 6:30 pm; $45 per person includes wine. Reservations required. Castagna, 1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd. at the corner of 18th. Phone 503-231-7373.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Committing Hummus-cide


Hummus, in my view, is a much-maligned quantity. It was the barely edible, dry stuff you brought to parties in college because it was "ethnic" but in reality was a cheap way to feed your friends. And there are still very few who make a decent version, outside of Middle-Eastern restaurants like Ya Hala or Hoda's who also make their own pita bread.

I'd give my own efforts an "OK" rating back then and, even at that, it was way better than most of the stuff sold at even our most effete grocery stores, which range from chemical-tasting to having that certain je-ne-sais-quoi cardboard flavor.

Then all was made better by a recipe that my parents brought back from their pre-retirement sojourn in Liberia (yes, in Africa) where they met several Lebanese couples, teachers at the college they were working for. My mother, being a resourceful sort and knowing a good thing when she tasted it, begged a couple of recipes from them that she shared when she eventually returned home.

Ever since, our lives and the success of many a gathering have been aided and abetted by her ingenuity. I hope you agree her efforts weren't in vain.

Hummus

Taratoor sauce:
2 small garlic cloves
1/2 c. tahini paste (sesame butter)
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Hummus:
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans or 2 c. cooked beans
2 tsp. salt
3 garlic cloves
1/4 c. lemon juice

You can make this in one step by placing all the ingredients in the food processor and processing till it all turns to a smooth consistency. Add water if necessary to keep it blending (I don't). Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika (or better yet, Spanish pimenton) or the traditional sumac.

The taratoor by itself makes a terrific sauce for pork or meats, or drizzle it over rice, vegetables or appetizers like stuffed grape leaves.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Green Is The New Black"

Those of us of a certain age know Southie as an area of Boston that exploded in rioting by working class whites over the busing of black students to their schools in 1974. And The Greening of Southie makes it clear that it is still a blighted, working-class neighborhood, albeit one on the upswing in terms of development.

Made by Ian Cheney and Portland native Curt Ellis, the team that made the documentary King Corn, it documents the building of the first LEED-certified green residential building in Boston. Following the various stake-holders involved in the process, from developers and architects to suppliers of the green materials incorporated into its design, they also spend time with the construction workers who install the materials.

And, like the residents of Greene, Iowa, who gave King Corn its heart, these workers provide the most powerful testimony on what green building is all about. Most had never heard of or worked on this kind of building, and they go from being skeptical to wishing they could live in the building themselves. And it's informative to hear them talk about how much they like the low-VOC paints and glues, and the difference between the green insulation and the fiberglass they're used to working with, which irritates their skin, lungs and eyes.

It's eminently watchable and informative, and it's showing on Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, on the Sundance Channel as part of their new series titled The Green. Watch it if you can.

Details: The Greening of Southie. Tues., Apr. 22, at 9 pm on the Sundance Channel.

Eggs: Store-bought vs. Farm Fresh


I can't look away from a good duke-it-out, winner-takes-all, side-by-side comparison story. Whether it's food or cars or shoes, I have to find out who's the champion and who's the chump.

So when I came back from my recent foray to the Fairview Farmers' Market with a dozen fresh eggs from Debra Blake's Show-off Farm chickens, I knew I had my own little (un-)cage match to conduct. Now, our usual eggs come from cage-free hens fom Steibrs Farms that are fed a vegetarian diet and are "certified humane," so they're pretty good on the eggs-as-corporate-commodity scale. Debra's eggs come from various breeds and are tinted in amazing colors from pale brown to brick red to ochre and are allowed to range free and eat everything from worms to seeds to bugs.

With Dave as co-taster, I decided to scramble the eggs in margarine in a non-stick pan, adding only a bit of kosher salt. The first difference was color, with the Steibrs eggs a paler yellow than the Show-off eggs, which also had much larger yolks. The scrambling made this difference even more noticeable, with the Show-off eggs turning almost orange in the pan.

And once they came off the flame? Again, a noticeable color difference, but the texture was the big surprise. The curds of the regular eggs were smaller and finer, with an almost grainy texture, while the farm eggs were creamy and smooth. The taste of the Steibrs eggs was clean and had a nice subtly eggy flavor, but the Show-off eggs had a richer, deeper flavor with more "spark," according to Dave.

If nothing else it was an informative, fun experiment for a Saturday morning. And, like good gin, I'll save the farm eggs for special occasions where it's important for the flavor of the eggs to shine and use the others for everyday preparations.



An additional note: After reading this post, my friend and urban chicken-farmer, Lindsey, gave me three gorgeous eggs from her girls. Once again, a simple scramble with butter and salt and I had a luscious, eggy-tasting, dreamy, creamy little breakfast. Walker was quite jealous.

The eggs (note the dates!)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Seeding the Future


"I'm going to give you a generalized genetic breeding program for the future of agriculture. Step one: Save seeds from your favorite free-living plants. Step two: Resow those seeds in a seed bed. Step three: Keep the seeds from your most productive plants. Step four: Resow those seeds in a seed bed. Keep selecting for every change that increases yield and usability. If you repeat that process 400 times you can go from a big bushy grass to a primitive corn. You do it 400 more times, that primitive corn can move out from one teeny tiny little valley in Mexico and it can adapt from Chile to Minnesota, from sea level to 10,000 feet elevation. Just doing those four things."
- Frank Morton, Wild Garden Seed

You can read the profile of Frank that I wrote for Edible Portland magazine.

Photo by Karen Morton.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

FredFest '08


Drink some amazing beer and honor the memory of Michael Jackson (the beer writer, not the freak show) at the 3rd Annual FredFest, this year promising "15 rare and unique beers" from some of Oregon's finest, including Hair of the Dog (with a special keg of Jim 07), BridgePort, Deschutes, Widmer, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Rogue and Firestone Walker.

Originally a surprise 80th birthday party for writer Fred Eckhardt (above), a supporter, mentor and cheerleader for Portland's place as the capital of Beervana, this festival now serves as a benefit for a charity of Eckhardt's choice. This year it's Parkinson's Resources of Oregon, the local affiliate chapter of the National Parkinson Foundation. His longtime friend and fellow beer writer Michael Jackson died in 2007 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Tickets for this event sell out quickly and attendance is limited to 200, so send an e-mail and get your spot reserved soon!

Details: FredFest 2008. Sat., May 10, 2-6 pm; tickets $50, reservations only by e-mail. Event at Hair of the Dog Brewing, 4509 SE 23rd Ave.

Oregonian file photo.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In Season: Fiddleheads!


I was introduced to this short-lived spring green by my in-laws, former farmers in the tiny town of Houlton, Maine, often known as the coldest place in the nation in winter. They were shocked (shocked!) that I'd never had the curly delicacy that tastes like a crunchy version of spinach and is found along most streams in that state. And we were both relieved when I asked for seconds.

Norma Cravens of Springwater Farm near St. Helens gathers them on her property along with spring nettles and gorgeous maitake mushrooms. She sells her produce to several restaurants, including Nostrana, but you can find her at several of the Portland-area farmers' markets. Fiddleheads will only be around for another week or so, but if you hurry you can have these wild green treats before they're gone.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Garden Fever

Even though the experts say to hold off just a bit longer before you dig into your garden (something about the microbes getting disturbed too early?), the green thumb express is starting to thunder through the area. On Tuesday the 22nd, nationally known garden expert Barbara Damrosch, author of The Garden Primer, will be doing a presentation and answering your pressing plant questions at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, followed by a discussion and snacks, so everyone will have a chance to talk to the author, as well as your fellow gardeners. Future speakers in the Get Gardening series held the third Tuesday of the month will be Jeff Gillman, author of The Truth About Organic Gardening, and James D. Thayer, author of Portland Forest Hikes.

Details: Barbara Damrosch at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing. 7 pm; free. Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing, 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd.

* * *

Coming up on May 24th is a tour of seven spectacular private gardens titled Inviting Vines that will benefit the Rogerson Clematis Collection, an ongoing effort to preserve historic as well as new types of clematis. With three gardens on the west side and four on the east, including that of garden writer and éminence grise of Portland gardening Lucy Hardiman, this is a don't-miss event for you garden tour fanatics. Another event for vine-aholics to keep in mind is the Clematis Celebration at Joy Creek Nursery on April 27th, which is described as "an in-depth look at the wonderful members of the Atragene Group (including Clematis alpina and macropetala) as well as some of the very earliest, large-flowered Clematis patens forms." Woo hoo!

Details: Inviting Vines garden tour to benefit the Rogerson Clematis Collection. May 24, 10 am-4 pm; $20. Tickets available from Bethany Nursery, Farmington Gardens, Garden Fever, Joy Creek Nursery, Lake Oswego Dennis’ 7-Dees Nursery, Portland Nursery on SE Stark.

* * *

And, last but certainly not least, June brings us the Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program on June 14, featuring six gardens in Portland. My personal favorite is once again on the list, the incredible personal space that is the garden of Oregonian writer Dulcy Mahar. Last year I wrote, "Like her writing, this garden is full of humor and imagination, a place where plants and shrubs and, yes, garden gnomes are combined to make both stunning vistas and charming nooks." Her pal Rosemary's garden is also on the list, so you can bet I'm going to be circling this date in red on my calendar. Look for me on Dulcy's porch, sighing and gazing.

Details: Garden Conservancy Open Days Program. June 14, 10 am-4 pm; $25. Tickets available on the website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In Season: Broccoli Raab


I'm so lucky to be able to scour the bounty of our farmers' markets for what I think is some of the freshest, best-grown produce in the region (if not the country). Our moderate climate and fabulous soil, not to mention the food culture that's developed here in Oregon, makes it one of the few places in the country where small farms are flourishing rather than being lost to unchecked growth or corporatization.

Lately I've been fascinated with a green called broccoli raab that is available fresh at the markets for only a brief window in the spring. Last night we had an amazingly simple pasta dish of fresh leeks and raab sauteed with (what else?) bacon that was mind-blowingly flavorful and made for a quick one-dish meal. It got the Triple D (for triple deeeelicious) rating from the fam, and is a can't-miss pitch even for your greens-averse types.

Pasta with Leeks and Raab

1 lb. penne or other pasta
4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" strips
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 leeks, halved and cut 1/2" crosswise slices
1 bunch broccoli raab, stems trimmed and chopped in 1/2" pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c. parmesan or romano cheese, grated

Boil large pot of water and add salt (John Gorham of Toro Bravo says it should be as salty as sea water). When it reaches a rolling boil, add 1 lb. penne pasta.

In deep saute or frying pan, saute bacon till fat is rendered. Add olive oil if it seems too dry, then add garlic and leeks and saute. When leeks start to wilt, add raab and saute till stems are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When pasta is al dente, drain and put in serving bowl. Top with bacon and vegetables, sprinkle with some of the cheese and serve the remainder alongside.

Market Watch Is Off and Running


Now that the city's farmers' markets are starting to open for the season, it's time for the Market Watch column to gear up for another season of hard-hitting, investigative journalism. I'll be getting the dirt on what goes into those vegetables and who's responsible. Look for exposés of the latest seasonal hits (and misses) and get the dish on what to do when you bring them home. And if that's not news, I don't know what is!

Today's column covers the opening day of the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU and features Draper Girls Farm and Jacobs' Creamery. Check it out!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Class Act: Cheese and Bread

Do you have friends who are simultaneously working 60 hours a week, raising young children and remodeling their homes themselves? And they make you feel like a complete schlump because you can't even do the vacuuming and the dishes on the same weekend?

Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms is one of those people. She raises pasture-fed chickens, harvests their eggs, and also takes care of a farm full of pigs, goats, cows, rabbits and other fowl and has a stand at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market every weekend. Oh, and digs trenches, erects barns, makes cheese, yogurt, kefir and mead and sells all of it except the mead in her farm store. And she raises her son with her husband Koorosh, who holds down a job at Intel in addition to his farm duties.

Because of her interest in cheesemaking (she sells cheesemaking supplies at the farm), she's decided to host cheesemaking classes, too. The first, Cheesemaking Basics on May 17 (with an overflow session added on Aug. 2), is being taught by author and cheesemaker Mary Rosenblum (right) and covers all the basic techniques of handling renneted curd, ricotta and soft cheese. Students will even produce a wheel of their own Monterey Jack cheese.

And on May 3rd there's Breadmaking for Anyone: Home Yeast Bread Baking, taught by Bethany Lee (left), an avid home baker and pianist. Bethany also plans to offer follow-up courses in artisan breads and whole grain breads, so let Chrissie know if you're interested in these classes, as well.

Details: Cheesemaking Basics. Sat., May 17 and Sat., Aug 2, 1-4 pm; $50, reservations only with $10 credit toward cheesemaking supplies purchased at the store. E-mail reservations or call the farm at 503-730-7535.

Breadmaking for Anyone: Home Yeast Bread Baking. Sat., May 3 or 31, 3-5 pm; $40, reservations only. E-mail reservations or call the farm at 503-730-7535.

Food ala Cart: A Fortuitous Encounter


Sometimes proximity is destiny. The other day a friend and I were in the vicinity of my brother's wine shop in Sellwood when we were attacked by vicious hunger pangs. Fortunately, right there on the corner of 13th and Lexington, was a little huddle of food carts. So we decided to throw caution to the wind and survey them then and there.

One, called Wild Things, featured assorted meats, among them burgers made from alligator and ostrich, which didn't really sound that appetizing. Another was Kevin Sandri's fantastic Garden State cart, which I wrote about in a previous post, as well as the Chuck Wagon BBQ that had a promising-sounding pulled pork sandwich on the menu. And, of course, the ubiquitous taco truck that my brother had written some nice things about.

We decided to calm our appetites with a couple of the carnitas tacos from Kiko's Taqueria Uruapan, which totally rocked in flavor and price. For a paltry $1 apiece, these knocked us out. Stomachs somewhat appeased, we then went for the pulled pork sandwich, a traditional version with well-sauced meat and fresh slaw on a lackluster white bread bun that brought attention to the smokiness that was missing from the pork. Good, but not truly great.

Finishing off with Mr. Sandri's quartet of arancini and a side salad brought the field trip to a close, and we agreed that on the money-to-flavor ratio, the tacos were the best deal on this lot, with the Garden State goodies a close second.

Details: Kiko's Taqueria Uruapan, Garden State, Wild Things and Chuck Wagon BBQ. On the corner of SE 13th and Lexington in Sellwood.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Love the Java Jive

But whether it loves me, well, that's hard to say. I don't even need the caffeine, really, just the smell, the warmth, that slightly bitter flavor. Ahhhhhhhhh. In the days before Portland's streets ran beige with lattes, the decaf cafe au laits at Victoria's Nephew, home of Portland's first espresso machine, got me through my pregnancy.

Now we're awash in pretty dang good coffee, all told, and our micro-roasters are getting some serious traction. I ran across Jeremy and Andrea of Cellar Door Coffee last year at the Montavilla Farmers' Market, where I tasted some of their very fine organic, fair-trade coffee and bought my first bag of their beans.

Andrea sent an e-mail last week letting me know they've just opened a cafe and retail outlet on SE 11th south of Hawthorne in a cute old building that's been crying out for creative ownership. Jeremy's minding the store, brewing coffee and serving tasty pastries, soup and quiche to customers while Andrea roasts the coffee in five-pound batches at their roastery.

When I stopped in, Jeremy was oohing and ahhing over a sample of Guatemalan beans that a friend had just brought back from a trip there, so he brewed it up and he, Irv (neighborhood raconteur and sign-guy) and I had an impromptu tasting.

It's just that kind of place. So stop by sometime, say hi and ask him about his recent trip to Mexico City to visit his wife's relatives. And don't forget to have some of his coffee. You might just get jiving yourself.

Details: Cellar Door Coffee, 2001 SE 11th Ave. between Hawthorne and Division. Phone 503-775-3503.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Back to Mexico for Dinner

It's no surprise that we're still reliving, if only virtually, our vacation to Mazatlan, considering the cold weather that's been visited upon us since our return. So when I saw giant pork shoulder roasts on sale at New Seasons, I had to grab one.

Browning the meat.

Then I pulled out my collection of cookbooks by Diana Kennedy, the woman who single-handedly brought Mexican cuisine to the attention of Americans who thought of Mexican food as refried beans and yellow cheese. She revealed the complex flavors and preparations, as well as the regional differences, in this ancient cuisine that was local, fresh and sustainable before we were even a glint in our founding fathers' eyes.

Simmering the ingredients.

We are crazy for carnitas, and when I saw her recipe for Carnitas Caseras, or home-cooked carnitas, it was a done deal. The preparation is relatively fast and easy and takes minimal effort, being basically a braised dish, and I had most of the ingredients on hand. So it was brown the meat, throw in the rest of the ingredients, let it simmer and then reduce the liquid. Easy!

After reducing the liquid.

Served with rice, guacamole, salsa, a salad and corn tortillas, it was like being back on the Malecon, feeling the warm breeze off the ocean. Maybe next time we take this trip we'll bring some friends along!

Carnitas Caseras (Home-Cooked Carnitas)
Adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

4 Tbsp. lard or canola oil
4 lbs. pork shoulder roast, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
4 fresh marjoram sprigs or 1/2 tsp. dried
4 fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 tsp. dried
3 bay leaves, broken up
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 orange, cut into eighths
1 c. milk
Salt to taste

Heat the lard or oil in a heavy braising pot, add the meat to the pan without crowding it and brown in batches. Remove the meat and saute the onion until softened, scraping up the brown bits from the meat. Put the meat back in with the onion and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat and fry, stirring and scraping until the pan juices have been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Drain off any extra fat and serve.

The carnitas may be prepared ahead up to the point of the final frying, but they should be kept covered so that the meat does not dry out.

Music in Hollywood

I hate concerts at arena-type venues. The seats I can afford are usually in the nose-bleed section, which means you don't so much listen to the music as watch it on the giant-screen TV, making me wonder why I spent $75 to do something I could have done for free at home.

On the other hand, I love concerts at small venues like Mississippi Studios. It's like listening to world-class talent while sitting in someone's living room. And then I went to my first house concert, a relatively new and increasingly popular way to listen to live music in a comfortable, intimate setting where ticket prices are low and musicians get to keep more money than they would if they had to pay middlemen.

Left to right: Michael Sheridan, Red Ray Frazier and Lara Michell.

The other night I went to my first Hollywood House Concert, a series put together by neighborhood resident Matt Miner and his wife, chef Sasha Kaplan. They book musicians, often local but now starting to draw national talent, you reserve your ticket with an e-mail, send money and show up on the appointed evening at their very comfortable and welcoming home. And after the concert, there's a casual buffet that Sasha composes from local, seasonal ingredients.

It makes for a wonderful evening, and now Matt is taking his model public by organizing concerts for other individuals who would like to start having music in their homes. We can only hope the idea catches on!

Details: Hollywood House Concerts. E-mail Matt for concert schedule and details.