Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lovely Lunchin'

I'm not a "ladies who lunch" kind of person (as if that wasn't pretty dang obvious).

Many years ago I met a friend, along with her sister who was visiting from New York, for lunch at Zefiro. Because it was on Northwest 21st, within spitting distance of the newly-trendy (and very expensive) shops on Northwest 23rd, it was frequented by a certain kind of West Hills matron who considered it a nice enough but not-too-fancy place to meet her friends and yet safely park her Mercedes.

The wild boar sandwich.

On that day we'd ordered the de rigeur house Caesar, still one of the best I can remember, and in came a gaggle of the aforementioned matrons, one the very recognizable wife of a prominent surgeon, dressed head to toe in a bright purple patterned fake fur suit with matching pill-box hat, pearls and what were no doubt her daytime diamonds. It was a sight to take your breath, if not your appetite, away.

Needless to say, when a friend wants to meet for lunch, I tend to choose more casual settings. I posted a couple of weeks ago about having drinks and snacks at Accanto, which in Italian means "next door," in this case sharing a wall (and management) with Genoa, Portland's newly regenerated temple to Italian cuisine. Having perused the lunch menu while I was there, the next time I got to choose a place, I suggested meeting there.

Cannelini bean soup.

It's got a bright, casual, café-like feeling in the middle of the day with its large windows looking out over the corner of 29th and Belmont, and most tables have a wide-open view of the street, giving it a neighborhood-y feel. There are several beers available on tap in a variety of styles, with locals featured prominently, which are selected to match the food. The same applies to the wine list, a nice, moderately priced selection of slurpers fit for lunch or sipping.

The soup du jour was a cannellini bean with vegetables, hearty and filling. I had the wild boar sandwich, tender, falling-apart shreds of meat in a sweet-yet-tangy barbecue sauce on a baguette, topped with provolone and pickled onions. This was a boar to fall in love with, and it made me want to shove in a few of the pile of cross-cut house chips that came with it just to take it over the top and add that salty crunch.

One friend ordered the crostini di polenta al fungi, basically a mushroom-tomato ragu on toasted rounds of polenta that was complete heaven. It would be the perfect dish to share with a friend and a couple of glasses of wine (or a cocktail) and a salad, whether for lunch or an early dinner. For a place next door, it's got a lot to offer all on its own.

Details: Accanto, 2838 SE Belmont St. 503-235-4900.

Accanto has also just announced happy hours from 3-6 pm daily, and in the evening from 9 pm-close weekdays, 10 pm-close weekends.

Critical Thinking

If you care about this country and where it's headed, you need to watch this interview between Bill Moyers, perhaps the premier journalist of the last (or really, any other) century, and David Simon, the creator of "The Wire," a Shakespearean take on modern life. Really. Watch it.

Fish Rap

From the days of Bugs Bunny and Rocky & Bullwinkle all the way to Spongebob, anchovies have been the butt of jokes, the one item that people would exempt from their "pizza with everything." In short, anchovies were the fish that nobody loved.

Eventually, of course, I tried them and found they were salty and delicious and that I'd really been having them all along in that ubiquitous sauce called Worcestershire. It had made its way into everything from my mother's salad dressing to her tuna casserole and potato salad. It was the American version of umami before we knew there was such a thing. What a revelation!

So when our neighbors invited us to dinner a few years ago and served pasta with a simple but deeply flavorful sauce made of anchovies, garlic, walnuts and parsley, I sensed I'd found a new fascination. They've since been added to my go-to tomato sauce, as well as deviled eggs and more pasta dishes and dips than you can shake a spatula at.

Pasta with Anchovy, Garlic and Walnut Sauce

1 lb. spaghetti
6 clove garlic, chopped fine
1/2 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp. capers
1 can anchovy fillets*
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 c. chopped walnut

Boil large pot of salted water. Add spaghetti.

Sauté garlic in 1/4 c. olive oil (if anchovies are packed in olive oil, include that in the 1/4 c. oil) on low heat, making sure it doesn't brown. Add anchovies to garlic and cook till anchovies dissolve. Add rest of olive oil, capers, walnuts and parsley 2-3 min. before ready to serve. Toss with pasta, and serve with parmesan and fresh ground pepper on the side.

* If using salted anchovies, wash, debone, chop finely and add at same time as capers and walnuts.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Japanese Tastes

One of the first times I had sushi was in college. I was on an overseas study program in Japan and had taken a side-trip to Fukuoka, a city on the southern-most island of Kyushu. After a day spent with friends soaking in the hot geothermal baths that dot the volcanic peaks there (ah, college…), they decided I needed to learn to play mahjong.

At some point in the middle of the night the group got peckish and ordered takeout sushi, and in what seemed like mere minutes there was a knock on the door. Like most things in Japan, our order didn't come in a flimsy cardboard box but in a beautiful covered lacquer tray that would be left in the hallway when we were finished, to be picked up and spirited away in the early hours.

Though I don't remember much about mahjong aside from the wonderful clacking noise the tiles made, or about the specifics of the sushi (no doubt incredible), it did give me an enduring love for the cool, smooth, completely fresh taste of fish untouched by heat. I'd been in the mood for that taste again when Kathryn called, saying she was in the neighborhood and wondered if I was available for lunch.

Knowing that she is also a lover of all things Japanese, I suggested meeting at Hama Sushi in Hollywood. As I wrote in a post a couple of years ago, I like this place because of its excellent food and beautiful (read: not overwrought) presentation, and also for its unassuming nature. No costumes, no whirling knives, no koto music on the sound system, just really good, well-prepared, traditional sushi.

We started with bowls of miso, a white version rather than the usual dark brown, served simply in a bowl that is meant to be picked up and drunk from, using chopsticks to pick out the cubes of deep-fried tofu. Then came a variety of mackerel, tuna and salmon sushi along with a gorgeous and delicious avocado roll, which arrived looking like an edible work of art.

As I said previously, "smashing, and I can't recommend it highly enough." It's pretty much the next best thing to being young and playing mahjong all night with friends. Or at least as close as you can get for lunch.

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

Livin' in the Blurbs: Coming Attractions

What does a nascent farmers' market look like? Well, all you have to do is show up on a Saturday at NE 30th between Killingsworth and Emerson. Roger Konka and Norma Cravens were looking for more outlets for their fabulous Springwater Farm mushrooms. Roger had a friend who owned a vacant lot across from the foodie hotspot at NE 30th & Killingsworth (can you say Beast, Yakuza, Autentica, Fats and DOC?), so he asked if they could open a farm stand there. They did well selling 'shrooms and giving out samples of chef Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans' soups along with her easy soup kits. Now they've been joined by Draper Girls, Hood River fruit mavens, who've added produce, cider, lamb and goat meat and legumes. Looks like a market to me!

Details: Urban Farm Stand, 10 am-3 pm Saturdays on NE 30th between Killingsworth & Emerson (look for the bright blue awning).

* * *

If you've been avoiding the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU because it's just too crowded, you can look forward to a little more elbow room. Word is just in that the market is going to spread out and take over the block immediately to the south, clearing out the bustling center area and leaving room to picnic, play and breathe. Even bigger news is that they're adding another two markets, one in Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown on Mondays from 10 am to 2 pm, and one on Northwest 23rd and Savier on Thursdays from 3 pm to 7 pm, giving us more opportunities to meet the people who grow our food. And that's always a good thing!

Details: Portland Farmers Markets. Saturdays starting Mar. 20, 8:30 am-2 pm, PSU; Mondays starting June 21, 10 am-2 pm, Pioneer Courthouse Square; Wednesdays starting May 5, 10 am-2 pm, in the S Park Blocks between SW Park and Salmon; Thursdays starting June 3, 3-7 pm, NW 23rd & Savier; Thursdays starting May 6, 3-7 pm, SE 20th & Salmon; Sundays starting May 2, 10 am-2 pm on NE 7th and Wygant.

* * *

And if you're like me and you'd love some fresh ideas for using all that great produce, there are a couple of cooking classes coming up that look very promising:
  • (Nearly) Meatless Monday: The Global Gourmet with chef Ivy Manning (left), will teach you to make great Indian, Thai, Greek and Moroccan recipes that are full of vegetables, whole grains, spices and just a little bit of meat to create satisfying meals that are nutrient rich, cost less, and have a smaller carbon footprint. Feb. 8, 6-8 pm; $40, registration required. Whole Foods Market, 3535 NE 15th Ave.
  • The Food of Haiti: A Benefit for Healing Hands of Haiti with Karen Weitz. The class will cook goat stew, red beans and rice and dessert, share the meal and have copies of the recipes to take home. Feb. 12, 6-9 pm; $60, reservations required. And She Cooks! 2335 NE 41st Ave. 503-288-8196.
  • Making Sushi at Home with Yuki Yamada. The class will feature hands-on directions for making miso soup, nigari, several kinds of rolls, fish cutting and sushi rice. Dinner is included. Feb. 14, 3-6 pm; $60, reservations required. And She Cooks! 2335 NE 41st Ave. 503-288-8196.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Speak Your Mind

You've heard of Big Pharma, the lobbying arm of the big pharmaceutical companies. Well, there's also Big Elsie, and it's trying to water down new federal rules governing organic milk.

The proposed new regulations would clarify the requirement that dairy cows and other ruminants consume a meaningful amount of feed from pasture and grazing. Because this means that the big dairy companies couldn't continue their practice of confining animals in feedlot style operations, they're lobbying the White House Office of Management and Budget to weaken (or eliminate) the new rule.

The Cornucopia Institute, founded by the farmers of Organic Valley, along with FOOD Farmers (the Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers) and GoodStuffNW contributor Anthony Boutard, are urging you to express your concerns to the White House about "respecting the 10 years of collaborative work that has gone into clarifying strict pending regulations for organic livestock, especially requiring pasture." View a sample message here.

You can share your views by calling 202-456-1111 or e-mailing the White House.

* * *

Readers of GoodStuffNW know that I've been reporting on the progress of the lawsuit and recent court decision in the case against the USDA over genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets being grown in the Willamette Valley.

Another similar case involves GE alfalfa, which a federal court banned until the USDA did a thorough environmental impacts statement (EIS). The draft of that statement has now been released and there is a 60-day period that ends on February 16 for the public to make comments.

The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), based in Port Townsend, Wash., strongly believes the EIS failed to address the economic and environmental consequences of GE alfalfa and sets a dangerous precedent for future deregulation. They are also concerned that it threatens the integrity of organic seed and food systems and the National Organic Program. The Alliance worked with Center for Food Safety staff and others to put together talking points specifically for organic farmers and consumers who want to give input, as well as providing a link to submit comments.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To the Moon!

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to mention food and I get all, "I've gotta have it."

This time it was a mention of fish and chips that got my salivary glands working overtime. That and the fact that I had no clue what I was making for dinner and inspiration was, tragically, absent. Perhaps chased into a dark corner by the idea of a cool, basement-temperature Guinness to sip alongside.

You see how easily seduced I am?

So when Dave came home, I gave him my best puppy-dog eyes, all baleful and pathetic, and he caved. Though I'd seen him start to teeter when I mentioned the Guinness and how it was just a few minutes' drive away. A quick in-and-out for dinner.

We pulled up to the Moon & Sixpence in Hollywood and, once inside, had our choice of seats, the place sparsely populated with other folks there for a beer and a bite. We chose a table near the bar at a church pew that stretches along one side, the walls behind us plastered with photos of soccer players and Irish-y knickknacks.

There was a good selection of local micros on tap, including our current fave, Hopworks' Secession Black IPA, but I stuck to my guns and ordered a Guinness and fish and chips. The Guinness came first with a perfect head of pale brown foam, and with a sip of its creamy, sour darkness I knew we'd come to the right place.

At $10.95, the fish and chips are a real bargain, comprised of a long finger of English-style battered cod, crisp and crunchy. It was set on top of a pile of terrific fries, substantially sized but not the dreaded (in my case) planks, crisp on the outside and meltingly creamy on the inside. (How do they do that?)

The tartar was basic, simple stuff, tasting like it was made on the premises rather than dumped from a jar, and was offered alongside the requisite malted vinegar and catsup, Dave's condiments of choice. We drank, we sat, we talked, we ate and, like the best pubs, it was warm and welcoming, a low-key night out when a pint and a bite feel just right.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Farm Bulletin: Perfect Hominy

Most of us think of popcorn when we think of dried corn kernels, but Anthony Boutard reminds us there is another delicious use for them. You can find his Amish and Calais Flint corn at the Ayers Creek Farm booth at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday, January 24, from 10 am till 2 pm.

Hominy is corn that is steeped in an alkaline solution overnight, and then washed and cooked gently until the kernels "bloom." The midwestern tribes made hominy from the lye of wood ash. That practice was adopted by the early settlers. "Spanish hominy" was made by using hydrated lime instead of lye. Hydrated lime, or cal in Spanish, is used to make nixtamal, which is ground to made tortillas and tamales. Food grade hydrated lime is readily available in stores selling to the Latino community. Our Amish Butter popcorn (left and right, below) makes a very good white hominy. Roy's Calais Flint (top photo) makes a fine yellow hominy.

Here is how to make Spanish hominy. But be very careful with the hydrated lime, as it is very caustic and should be kept well away from children and careless adults.

In an enamel pot, add two tablespoons of hydrated lime per pound of corn, then add water to cover the kernels by an inch or so. Heat the pan to a bare simmer, don't boil, and let it cook for 40 minutes to an hour. The solution will turn a lurid yellow and the fragrance of corn will fill the kitchen. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature or on the back stoop. The next day, strain off the lime and liquid into the compost bucket. Rinse the kernels vigorously several times until they are clean. The outer skin of the kernel, the pericarp, will wash away. The orange and white kernels look just like candy corn.

If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to cook the hominy. Refill the pot with the corn and fresh water. Cover the kernels well as they will absorb a good deal of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the kernels split open as little flowers. The hominy is now ready to use in a pozole or soup.

Making hominy is messy and, though the preparation is simple and not a lot of work, it is hardly fast food. In the early 19th century, urban living quarters were rudimentary and many people lived in boarding houses without their own kitchen. From Philadelphia to Portland, and south to New Orleans, hominy vendors plied the streets of cities, along with pepper pot (tripe stew) and other prepared food vendors.

Tripe is a dish best prepared far from where it will be consumed, as the intestinal fragrance lingers in the house. Prepared hominy and tripe were cheap and nourishing food for working people. The same combination, hominy and tripe, is found in the Mexican menudos. We are a house divided on the matter of tripe, but find satisfying harmony in hominy.

Just Say Nuts to Dinner

It started with the best of intentions, like when I bought a crate of peaches in the summer, thinking of all the wonderful pies and crisps I was going to make with them. Maybe I'd even get around to making jam. Yeah!

Then a couple of days later they all got ripe at the same time, in concert with some deadlines I'd managed to put off until the last minute, and I didn't have time to peel, chop, boil and can them.

The romesco…so lovely!

So you can guess what happened when a friend called with a great deal on roasted hazelnuts from Barb and Fritz Foulke of Freddy Guys in Monmouth. She was buying several pounds to ship to a friend in Missouri and could get a bulk price if several other people wanted to buy a few pounds, too. I was so in!

Fortunately, hazelnuts (I've ranted about calling them hazelnuts v. filberts before), unlike peaches, are easy to dump in bags and freeze, and they'd been waiting patiently for me to get around to doing something with them. The other night provided the opportunity when, jonesing for a fish fix, I brought home a two-pound filet of mahi mahi.

A hazelnut crust sounded quick and simple, and since there were some red peppers sitting in the vegetable bin that needed to be used, I decided to make a romesco to go along with it. With some roasted fingerling potatoes that could go in the oven at the same time as the fish and a bunch of steamed broccolini, it was a dinner to be proud of.

If only peaches were so easy!

Hazelnut-crusted Mahi-Mahi with Hazelnut-Red Pepper Romesco

For the fish:
2 lb. filet of mahi mahi or any firm-fleshed white fish such as halibut*
Olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

For the romesco:
3 red peppers, roasted
1/3 c. hazelnuts
3 lg. garlic cloves
2 aci civri peppers, dried (or 1 tsp. red pepper flakes)
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500°.

For the fish, put hazelnuts in food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not pulverized. Remove to small mixing bowl and combine with other ingredients.

Place filet in roasting dish skin-side down and brush with olive oil. Coat evenly with hazelnut mixture, pressing it gently to compact it. Roast in oven for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

For the romesco, place all ingredients in food processor and process till smooth.

* The filet can be left whole or sliced into 1 1/2" wide strips before brushing with olive oil.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Expanding Her Horizons

Female moose, having heard that Lisa was in the area looking for milk.

Despite the crushing disappointment of not being able to find a moose to milk on her recent trip to Montana, intrepid Cheese Czarina Lisa Jacobs of Jacobs Creamery pulled herself up by her new polka-dotted bootstraps and got back to work in her cheese room. You can find her at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday (1/24) from 10 am till 2 pm. And if you have any moose milk lying about, she'd be thrilled if you could drop it off.

I have some unfortunate news to share. Sadly, a very important member of my cheesemaking crew passed over to the other side.

My gram scale is scheduled to be picked up in the morning from the recycling bin where it is resting in peace. It was early Sunday morning when I realized we had made our last batch of cheese together, and by Sunday afternoon I was scrambling like an egg to try to find a new one.

Where does one find a gram scale on Sunday afternoon in Nowheresville, you may wonder? You don't! There are no gram scales to be found.

After consulting a friend, I headed to Portland and out to 82nd Avenue to what was called a "head shop" where they sell glass pipes, novelty smoking accessories and things to smoke.

Before the transaction was complete I started to feel the giggles coming on because I was certain that the young man behind the counter thought I might be a drug dealer, especially after questioning the fellow on the accuracy of the scales and paying with cash. That's when I not-so-casually pointed out that I was a cheese maker and that I measure out my culture with the scale.

One eyebrow went up and he said, "Uh-huh."

I went to start my next batch of cheese thankful that cheesemaking had widened the varieties of stores I shop in.

Oh, and there are a few seats left in my cheese class at Sweetwares on Sunday evening, Jan. 24. We will have a cheese sampling (with some of my newest creations) and some of the finest picks out of the Jacobs Creamery aging room, as well as a light dinner. The class is from 5 to 7 pm and it will cost $75. You can call 503-546-3737 to reserve your seat.

Call It Shopera

Like, if Portland opera singers got a call to gather at a market or, say, a farmers' market? Hmmmm…

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cheese Lover's Day!

January 20th is National Cheese Lover's Day, so it's appropriate that I share a few cheesy items that have crossed the transom:

Steve Jones of Steve's Cheese, Northwest Thurman's cheesiest outlet, has announced today that he's packing up and moving to the east side to open Cheese Bar. Planned as a cheese shop, wine (and beer) bar and café, it'll expand on the original shop's extensive selection of cheeses and add artisan salumi and dry goods, as well as small plates, sandwiches and salads. Look for it to open in March at 6031 SE Belmont.

And in related news, the Queen of Cheese, Tami Parr, has posted a list of uses for all those leftover cheesy bits that seem to collect in the cheese compartment of the fridge, including shredding them and making grilled cheese sandwiches, frico or fondue, as well as using the rinds to flavor soups and sauces or feeding them (in small quantities) to your dogs as treats. Brilliant!

The last morsel is a suggestion to give yourself (and grateful family and friends) the gift of cheese by learning how to make it in your own kitchen. Check the calendar listings on the left to find a plethora of cheese classes taught by local experts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wild Tiger Burning Bright

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eyeDare frame thy larb or mee grati?
(with apologies to Wm. Blake)

It was not so long ago that Portland's Hollywood neighborhood was a sad collection of hollow-eyed storefronts on NE Sandy Boulevard, and the best you could hope for in terms of food was the iceberg lettuce and bay shrimp salad at Pal's Shanty.

It's still no Pearl or Alberta Arts district, but the choices in dining have increased exponentially with the number of condos and townhomes popping up in former vacant lots. And no doubt the onslaught of retail outlets won't be far behind now that Whole Foods has launched their mother ship smack dab in the middle, with the nearly-new (and thankfully expanded) Trader Joe's just a couple of blocks away.

Along with Laurelwood's two brewpubs flanking each end of that stretch of Sandy, there is great Japanese to be had at Hama Sushi, authentic French bread and pastries at Fleur de Lis Bakery and, the newest star on Hollywood's sidewalk, Laotian cuisine at Wild Tiger.

A second outpost of the Wild Tiger in Vancouver, Washington, it offers a combination of Thai and Laotian dishes and is a cut above the fair-to-middling atmo and quality at most Southeast Asian places in town. And I've been scouring the city for a place that has decent Laotian cuisine since the amazing feast I had while researching a story on a new Hmong cookbook.

While (sadly) nowhere near the quality of that meal, my friend Denise and I were happy with their larb (top photo), a salad of ground meat, galangal and green onion that is the national dish of Laos. I'd originally had it with sides of Asian greens, lime and sliced vegetables that were meant to be wrapped up in lettuce leaves, but the Wild Tiger version was apparently supposed to be chopped up together and sprinkled with squeezed lime. The pork was quite good and had the right flavor, but a wrapped version and more greens would have been more fun.

We also shared the Mee Grati (left), a noodle dish sauced with a bright coconut milk curry showered with crushed peanuts. All it took was a sprinkling of lime and we were halfway to Vientiane. We also had the Sleeping Prawns (above right) starter to tide us over till the mains got there, a plate of five large tail-on shrimp with a lightly deep-fried (and elegantly folded) wrapper. The shrimp itself practically exploded with juice and almost didn't need the sweet chile dipping sauce that came with it.

So if you're in the neighborhood and getting a bit peckish, or you're in the mood for a chilled mug of light Beerlao with the Tiger on the cap (right), consider stopping in at this cheery spot.

Details: Wild Tiger, 4160 NE Sandy Blvd. Phone 503-282-2429.

Crustacean Celebration: Chowder-rific!

Can you say $2.99 to $3.99 per pound for cooked crab on sale?

Why so cheap? Well, crab season is winding down, and prices are falling at the store for this most precious of seasonal delights. In the spirit of getting it while the getting's good, we attended another crab feed with friends Denise and Keith the other night for an evening in their new garage and a rousing game of flip-cup. (Trust me, it's not a game you want to play in the house.)

Then last night, since my friend Norma Cravens of Springwater Farm had blessed me with her recipe for a crab and mushroom chowder and I wanted to try it before the crabs scuttled away till next season, I ran to the store and picked one up. Cooked and cleaned, of course.

With the recommended dash of dry sherry, this is a magnificent chowder, more stew than soup, and definitely guest-worthy with a crusty loaf and Caesar salad. Rich and luscious, it would be perfectly complemented by a smooth sauvigon blanc or bright French chardonnay.

All I can say is, "Thanks, Norma!"

Crab and Wild Mushroom Chowder
Adapted from Norma Cravens of Springwater Farm

2 tsp. unsalted butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1/2 c. yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. celery, minced
1 leek, white part only, chopped fine
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
2 russet potatoes, diced into ½ cubes
4 c. chicken stock
2 Tbsp. arrowroot or cornstarch
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. sea salt, to taste
1 c. heavy cream (or Tofutti sour cream for the lactose-intolerant)
1 lb. or so fresh crab (meat from 1 med. crab works great)

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the garlic, onion, celery and leek in butter until the onion is translucent. Add the potatoes and sauté briefly. Add mushrooms and sauté till tender. Add the sherry and cook for 2 minutes longer.

Add the chicken stock, raise the heat to medium high and bring to a low boil. Blend the arrowroot with enough cold water to form a thick slurry. Slowly add the slurry to the stock while whisking gently, and return to a boil until the mixture begins to thicken slightly.

Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender. This should take between 20 and 30 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper and cream and return to a simmer. Remove from heat.

Divide the crabmeat into 8 heated bowls, then add the hot soup and serve.*

* I reserved the larger pieces of crab meat from the legs and claws and used them as a garnish for each bowl, sprinkled with finely chopped parsley.

Check out these other examples of the crabby-licious goodness that is the Crustacean Celebration at GoodStuffNW: pasta with crab and radicchio; hot artichoke and crab dip; crab crostini; killer crab cakes; Beach Cioppino and, of course, a crab feed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Livin' in the Blurbs: Turning Up the Heat

Quick notice to those of you who, like me, can't get enough of our local crustacean: On Wednesday (Jan. 20) Bar Avignon will have their second Dungeness Crab and Riesling event. To quote the e-mail that just came in: "Roll up your sleeves & get ready to get dirty; Chef Jeremy is boiling up a big pot of crab for you." The first event was last week and they sold out, so make sure and get in early for your share!

Details: Fresh Local Crab and Riesling with cracked Dungeness crab in the shell with dipping sauces. Whole crab, $18. Half crab, $10. Starts at 4 pm. Bar Avignon, 2138 SE Division St. 503-517-0808.

* * *

Another bulletin just in is this from Jeana Edelman, co-owner of HotLips Pizza, Portland's own purveyor of pie and pop: "We procured some very special pears and the soda is spectacular." Also, they've just put on tap some cherry soda that I hear is spectacular. From Jeana: "Stop into a HotLips Pizzeria and try the cherry soda. Oh my goodness! We may have to bottle this stuff! Let us know what you think."

Details: HotLips Pizza with five Portland locations: SW 18th & Morrison St., 503-517-9354; NE 33rd & Killingsworth, 503-445-1020; SE 22nd & Hawthorne, 503-234-9999; PSU (SW 6th near Hall), 503-224-0311; the Pearl (NW 10th & Irving), 503-595-2342. Call for availability.

* * *

Hillsdale's towering temple to the gods of capsaicin, Salvador Molly's, is holding their annual Great Balls of Fire "Trial by Fire" fundraiser for Oregon Heat, a non-profit organization assisting low-income households with paying their heating bills. This month-long effort kicks off with a "Toughest Tongue in the West" eating challenge on Jan. 30th to see which contestant can eat the most cheddar-and-jalapeño-loaded Great Balls of Fire. Additionally, all month long the proceeds from every order of these fritters will go to the charity. And, if you can eat all 5 fritters yourself, you get your picture on the restaurant's "Wall of Flame." And what wouldn't be awesome about that?

Details: Great Balls of First "Trial By Fire" benefit for Oregon Heat. Salvador Molly's, 1523 SW Sunset Blvd. 503-293-1790.

Wine at the Right Time

For some occasions you need to pull out the good stuff, and good friends coming over for dinner certainly fits in that category. Especially considering one of the guests successfully solved the puzzle of the strange fruit trivia contest from back in October. Additionally, he's my friend and the managing editor of NW Palate magazine, Peter Szymczak. (No, I didn't give him any hints…he apparently just knows odd bits of trivia about fruit.)

John out in his vineyard.

And since he's also a wine geek, I pulled out one of the magnums of Thomas Pinot Noir that I've had squirreled away in the basement for several years. Seven, to be exact. Dave and I get one every year for Christmas through the generosity of my brother, who must not remember the time I dressed him up in an old bathrobe with a pot on his head and then got my folks to take a picture. But that's another story.

The menu demanded a luscious red wine, with beef bourguignon I'd made the day before and held over to let the flavors meld thoroughly, served with polenta made from Ayers Creek Farm's Roy's Calais Flint corn and a radicchio caesar salad. And I could think of nothing that could better complement all this goodness than the product of John Thomas' hand-tended four-acre plot near Carlton.

The old winery building.

John is better known for his Acme Wineworks non-vintage pinot noir, a very decent wine in its own right, but one that pales in comparison to the estate pinot noir that he barrel-ages for a full two years before releasing it. At first blush this wine showed good fruit with lots of top notes, but shortly it warmed and mellowed, the earth and berry flavors coming out.

It only got better in the following hours and, when everyone had gone home after devouring the apple chutney pie for dessert with some of Peter and Diana's homemade nocino, Dave and I finished off the last sips, thankful for being privileged enough to be able to enjoy a wine as startlingly well-made as this.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's the Little Things

I'd apologize for the dearth of posts recently, but since its because of my new nephew arriving a few weeks early, I don't think there's a need for it. Amazing how such a small thing can rock your world.

Welcome, Colman!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts On: January on the Farm

Most of us city folk have no idea what a farmer's daily life is like in the winter, so the most recent e-mail newsletter from Chrissie Zaerpoor at Kookoolan Farms provided a peek over the fence that was worth sharing.

Summer's long days are famous for encouraging farmers to work 15-hour days; and winter's long nights certainly encourage us to be inside resting. But a farmer's work is never done—the work just changes shape throughout the seasons. January weather often presents its own unscheduled challenges, such as snow, lots of rain, hard freezes, power failures, broken pipes, visits from coyotes, and this year a broken tractor and a husband recovering from a surgery. We need extra time in our schedule just to deal with the unexpected!

But beyond that, we design January to be a quiet, introspective month on the farm. Our actual farming activities are backed off to the bare minimum: milking the cows twice a day, feeding the chickens, and picking up eggs. (Even picking up eggs is lighter work in the winter: Due to the seasonal nature of egg-laying by outdoor-raised hens, the quantity of eggs has a minimum that coincides with the winter solstice. In the summer we pick up three buckets of eggs a day; at its minimum, we pick up a half-bucket of eggs a day!)

Like any small business, we have all the end-of-quarter and end-of-year accounting and tax preparations to attend to. We analyze all the many enterprises on our farm for viability, profitability, our enjoyment of them, and how each one fits within the integrated whole. We design the year's schedule of classes, farmer's market dates, butchering dates,and from that derive the dates for starting chicks. We choose this year's breeds for our laying hens. We order chicks for all the various kinds of chickens we raise (standard meat breed, heirloom meat breeds, and a combination of production and heirloom breeds for egg layers) and coordinate the dates for receiving all of these chicks (from multiple hatcheries!) so as not to over-book our chick brooders. We browse through the seed catalogs, selecting vegetable species and varieties for long season, and great taste; choosing old favorites and new varieties that sound wonderful. We schedule our CSA harvest dates, decide how many CSA vegetable subscriptions to take, and from that we calculate backwards a complicated calendar of field preparation, indoor seed starting, transplant dates, total vegetables needed, harvest yield, and from that the quantity of seeds we need to order. We inventory all of our equipment and supplies and decide what we need to order. We update the website and decide in what publications to advertise.

On the very last weekend of the month, our regular activities start up again, with our first cheese making class on Saturday, January 30 [see calendar at left], and with indoor starting of the first seeds for summer (onions). So yes–there's still lots of work!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Featured Player

As longtime readers know, I started this blog on a whim. I'd been online forever (can you say 1989?) and had heard of blogs, but hadn't really paid much attention to them. Then my brother went on a trip to Spain about four years ago and posted his travel notes on a blog he called Eat. Drink. Think.

As with all his writing, it was funny, engaging and very creative. It had his voice, his attitude. I was hooked. And decided to start one of my own, the excuse being that it was a marketing vehicle for my work, with the "temporary" (and, I thought, innocuous) name of GoodStuffNW. You know…something I could change later if I got serious.

Fast forward 3 1/2 years. GSNW is now a bona fide success, with more than 62,000 visitors last year and somewhere around 550 subscribers to the RSS feed. And it's become the springboard to a new career as a writer for me.

Why am I going over all this old news, you ask? Because in this morning's e-mail I got word that GSNW has reached a new milestone. Tomorrow, Jan. 14, 2010, it will be the Food Blog of the Day on Seattle-based, an up-and-coming gathering place for foodies of all persuasions.

Jerry Garcia had it right. A long, strange trip indeed!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Appreciating Accanto

I like the idea of twins. Especially the idea of having one. Not the evil kind, but one that would balance out my yang with its yin. Be likable when I'm cranky, be accessible when I'm cocooning, and maybe clean the house on a more than semi-annual basis.

Twin restaurants are a nice idea, too, especially when one of them is a higher-end, special-occasion type place. Castagna pioneered that sort of side-by-side pairing with its Café next door serving equally excellent but more approachable (and approachably priced) food. Where the restaurant is a maybe once-a-year splurge, the café can be an option on one of those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights where you can sit at the bar, have a drink and split an entrée.

The latest incarnation of this phenomenon is the Woody Allen-Soon Yi pairing of the grande dame known as Genoa with bright young thing Accanto. Granted, the old gal's had a lot of work done and looks more elegantly uptown than down-and-dowdy, but it's still going to be a more occasional pleasure even with the significantly reduced price of a meal.

So it was smart of the new owners to open up the unused corner space next door as an Italian-style enoteca, a zippy, small plates-and-a-cocktail joint with a long bar, tiny tables and a couch-filled open library on one end. The menu, the kitchen and the staff is completely separate from Genoa, though chef David Anderson, himself a twin, has a hand in overseeing the operation and the kitchen at this point.

I met a friend there for a quick drink and some snacking just to check out the vibe, and I'm thinking this place could become a frequent stop for such occasions. We took the corner of the wood slab bar, probably the best seats in the house for my money, where you can sit and watch drinks being made, kibbitz with the bartender and have a good view of the room and the street outside.

We were both intrigued by the A Traversiamo (photo, upper left) on the cocktail menu, an icy yet somehow warming concoction of Integrity Spirits' Lovejoy Vodka, J. Witty Chamomile, lemon juice and simple syrup served up with a thyme sprig. The rest of the drinks that were coming out of the shaker looked tasty, too, so let me know if you get in and sample some.

We ordered a small variety of their snacks, including the fritto misto of vegetables and calamari (photo, above right), the coating light and lightly toasted to a perfect crispness, the olives (both black and green) being something I could eat a basket of all by themselves. The arancini (top photo) were stuffed with crab and ricotta with just a hint of saffron, served in a small puddle of tomato coulis. The ricotta made the centers a little mushy, but they were still quite good.

We also had a selection of their "salumi e formaggi," three samples each of cheeses and cured meat, and the cheeses definitely outshown the meats. They're buying good quality cured meats from outside purveyors, but having had housemade meats in other places (notably Kevin Gibson's at Evoe), I'm more than a little spoiled. (Note: The bartender said they are planning on featuring their own meats in the future.) And it would have been nice to see more local cheese on the list, since there are so many fabulous choices here in the Northwest.

Like Bar Avignon, this is a great place for the aforementioned drinks-and-a-snack, but also someplace to grab a quick bite or have a meal. And it might just tempt you to visit its twin next door a little more often.

Details: Accanto, 2838 SE Belmont St. 503-235-4900.

Growing Pains: The Urban Growth Debate

"In physics, the
second law of thermodynamics, which deals with the natural flow of energy distribution…stipulates that localized 'systems,' (think of an ice cube melting), will disperse outward, unless a counter force is applied to contain it. In population centers of the country, urban sprawl and resource depletion are the natural consequences of increasing populations (the melting ice cube), unless countervailing forces (land use laws) are effectively applied to manage growth, and protect finite resources."
- Cooking Up A Story

You may not have heard much about it yet, but in the Portland metro area there's a big discussion going on, called the Reserves Process, about how much land will be allocated for development and how much will be set aside for agricultural use and open space. This process will directly affect the small farmers in the Willamette Valley who provide much of the local food you see at farmers' markets and stores.

This video by my friend Rebecca at Cooking Up a Story gives a good outline of the major points of the debate. Read the full post on the issue here.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Crustacean Celebration: The Loveliest Words

There are two words that are music to my ears, that send me into reveries of feasts gone by, of sand and salt and sea, and those two words are "crab feed." We were fortunate to have two of these fêtes du crabes over the holidays, one here at the house and the other at our friends Kathryn and Jeff's home.

Ours was pretty simple, starting with the ceremonial covering of the table with newspaper, the better to share amusing tidbits during the meal. Then each person claimed a pre-cooked, pre-cleaned crab from the pile and set to work with the various implements of destruction we provided, including hammers, nutcrackers and pliers.

Note to those considering hosting a crab feed: It's important to have fewer implements than guests in order to promote sharing and/or grabbing and/or whining over who's hogging the tools. We also provided a salad bowl full of chopped romaine, a pitcher of thousand island dressing, lots of lemons, a loaf of Dave's bread and libations aplenty.

At the second feed, Kathryn and Jeff had the table covered with newspapers when we arrived, but they'd decided to take the extra step of cooking the crabs themselves in large pots of water boiling away on the stove. Most of the guests adjourned to the living room with the wine, the better to ignore the screaming of the crabs as they were boiled alive.

Cooked this way, I have to say that the meat was slightly fresher-tasting than the precooked ones we'd had so far. You do have to deal with cleaning them, though it's a really simple task, since the shell basically pops off with a slight tug and it's easy to scrape off the gills and rinse out the ochre-colored tamale under running water.

The Caesar they made to go with the crab was reminiscent (and maybe even better) than the one I remember from Zefiro (to which I've compared all subsequent Caesars) and was a nice choice to have with the sweet crab meat. And I'm thinking we might just need to reprise this dinner in the new year before the season completely passes us by.

Check out these other examples of the crabby-licious goodness that is the Crustacean Celebration at GoodStuffNW: pasta with crab and radicchio; hot artichoke and crab dip; crab crostini; killer crab cakes; and Beach Cioppino.

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Bit of Vermont in Portland

It has been our desire to be a kind of “Third Place” (see Ray Oldenberg’s “The Great Good Place”) to our customers and neighbors and we feel this location gives us the perfect opportunity to be just that to a wide range of Portlanders.” - Oven builder Matt Wilson

Word is just in that American Flatbread, a Vermont-based restaurant chain, is coming to Portland.

I visited their outpost on a trip to Burlington, Vermont, (photo, top) a couple of years ago and wrote: "Basically a pizza parlor and pub, they're dedicated to local, natural ingredients for the flatbread pizzas they make in the wood-fired oven that sits front and center in the dining room. Comparable to our temples of woodfire like Ken's or Nostrana, with Vermont microbrews featured prominently on the beverage menu, this is a place I could get comfortable going to."

The press release on their website announcing the news says that they've leased space in the General Automotive Building in the North Park Blocks, at 411 NW Park, that will be the first LEED Platinum-certified renovation in downtown Portland. It's the third expansion for the company, the first on the west coast, and will include "a craft brewing operation."

The company put out a call in early December for volunteers to help build the mud-and-stone oven, and they will also have a portable oven that will travel to various events around town. You can see a slide show of the oven-building process on their website.

Photos of Portland oven builders from American Flatbread.