Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beach Eats, Home Version

You can't beat copious amounts of seafood consumed while listening to the ocean and smelling the salty sea air. And that's exactly what we did last weekend in Manzanita.

After throwing together a dinner of linguini with clams on arrival, then the next day eating (nearly) our weight in clams and crab for lunch at Kelly's Brighton Marina in Rockaway, we stopped and picked up a steamed crab on the way back and made crab cakes for dinner that night.

Talk about eating local!

 Linguini con Vongole (Linguini with Clam Sauce)

1 lb. dried pasta
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2-3 lbs. steamer clams
1/2 c. dry white wine or rosé
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente. Drain.

While pasta cooks, heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and briefly sauté till warmed, making sure it doesn't brown. Then add red pepper flakes, stir briefly, and add steamer clams and rosé. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover for five to ten minutes until clams open. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over pasta in serving bowl, sprinkle with parmesan.

* * *

No-fuss Crab Cakes

Herbs and other ingredients like hot peppers or celery can be added to these, but keep the amounts as small as possible. The point, after all, is for them to be mostly crab with just enough filler to hold them together.

1 steamed Dungeness crab (approx. 1 lb.)
2 Tbsp. yellow onion or green onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
1 c. dried bread crumbs*
1/2 tsp. lime or lemon zest
1/2 c. mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Remove meat from crab and place in mixing bowl. Add onion, garlic, bread crumbs, egg, zest and enough mayonnaise to moisten the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and combine. Form into 2" cakes about 1/2" thick (they should barely hold together). Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat and brown on both sides. Serve.

* Make your own bread crumbs by cubing two or three slices of bread and putting them in a 300° oven for half an hour or so, checking to make sure they don't burn. When they're completely dry, put them in a bowl and crush with a smaller bowl or drinking glass (I improvised, can you tell?) to make fine crumbs.

A Ramen Renaissance

Ramen is back and it's big, as exemplified by two Portland restaurants, Biwa and the pop-up sensation that is Boke Bowl. Also includes a guide to shopping Asian markets (or any ethnic markets, really).

Read about them in my article, "A Ramen Renaissance," in today's FoodDay section of the Oregonian!

Photo above by Doug Beghtel for the Oregonian. Thanks also to Bruce Ely and Thomas Boyd for their great work!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Manzanita Redux

I've been going to the beach since before I can remember, taken by my parents back in the day (or "B in the D" to use current vernacular) to any number of beach motels and campgrounds. There was an oft-told family tale of my mother and father as young newlyweds bringing his parents (called "the in-laws") to the Oregon coast for a camping trip to show off my mother's skills as a campfire cook.

Unfortunately for her, as she was coaching some pancakes or steaks or some such to grilled perfection on the red-hot iron grate, she slipped and caught herself from falling into the fire by placing her hand…yes, you can wince now…on that same grate. Since emergency rooms in hospitals weren't readily available or equipped to deal effectively with third degree burns in the mid-1950s, she bandaged it up and soldiered on as any young bride in that situation would have, presenting a brave face to the in-laws and never, EVER, wailing that she wanted to go home.

Dave with two favorites: beach and beer.

Dave and I tend to rent houses when we go to the beach if it’s more than a day trip, preferring to have a kitchen, decent beds and a functioning bathroom with shower nearby rather than a sterile and cramped motel room, especially since we can't deny Walker and Rosey the pleasure of running on the beach with dog-like abandon (see video at bottom).

Manzanita is a favorite spot having, as it does, a more leisurely pace than its northerly neighbor, Cannon Beach, which has gone from a sleepy backwater with a couple of taffy shops and myrtlewood knick-knacks to a near mall-like consumer paradise. A great local resource is Ocean Edge Vacation Rentals, with a staff that is always ready to work within our budget constraints and, even better, has many dog-friendly homes available.

Mmmm…linguini with clams.

On a recent trip for Dave's birthday we stayed at Coe's Cottage, a sweet and comfortable family retreat set back from the beach but with a terrific view of a sweep of ocean. With a decently equipped kitchen, the night we arrived I whipped up an…if I may say so…awesome linguini with clams using steamers from a local market. The second day I promised to take Dave to the spectacular Kelly's Brighton Marina to reprise a lunch I'd had there the week before, one that I knew would blow his mind.

Janice Laviolette, Kelly's best half.

Co-owner and genuinely funny gal Janice Laviolette brought three pounds of clams and two cooked crabs to our sunny picnic table on the deck overlooking the picturesque confluence of the Nehalem River and Nehalem Bay. With a couple of bottles of Ninkasi Spring Reign from the store's fridge, Dave agreed it was going to become a regular stop when we were within spitting distance of the place.

Four Paws for pets and their people.

Then it was back to Manzanita where I strolled the main drag while the guys took Walker for a run. At Four Paws on the Beach, with its supply of both necessities (food, leashes, treats) and not-so (toys, apparel for owners and their pets, and "pet prayer flags"), I finally caved to the lure of the Chuckit for Walker.

And how can you not love a beach town with three book and/or magazine stores? Cloud and Leaf is the more traditional, with an intelligent selection of most genres, including best-sellers and pulpy beach reads. Ekahni Books, a relative newcomer, describes itself as "an idiosynchratic selection," with mostly used titles from (Wm) Styron to (Nora) Roberts. (Could Powell's have been this size once upon a time?)

The classic Manzanita stop is at Manzanita News & Espresso, which has anchored this beach town since I first went there, and it still has the coolest curated selection of zines both popular and eclectic. And the coffee's decent, too.

Mmm again…crab cakes!

Other must-stop shops for inveterate consumers are Syzygy and Unfurl, two (mostly) women's clothing shops that share a building on the town's upper end. Moxie Fair Trade has taken over from another fair trade gift shop nearby, with much the same colorful inventory of gifts, pottery and clothing.

I picked up a fresh steamed crab at Great Northern Garlic Company, a wine bar and small plates place, and took it back to the cottage to make crab cakes with whatever basics I could scavenge from our supplies. Fortunately we had bread for breadcrumbs, a bit of chopped onion, limes for zest and mayonnaise to moisten, and with a salad of greens from the garden and broiled asparagus, we called it dinner.

The last day Dave whipped up a spectacular breakfast of mushroom omelets with some of his bacon and bagels we'd brought, then we cleaned up the place and took the dogs on one last romp on the beach. Here's our 12-year-old Rose doing what she loves to do. And needless to say, she slept soundly the entire trip home.

A Meal to Remember

A weekend at the beach with friends…it sounds so benign, right? But when you're with Linda Colwell and Carol Boutard, things can get pretty nutty pretty fast.

Kelly's Brighton Marina in Rockaway.

Linda had taken us to one of her favorite haunts, Kelly's Brighton Marina in Rockaway, for a lunch of fresh clams and crabs washed down with a bottle of a stunning '06 Pinot d'Alsace from Domaine Bott Geyl that she'd brought along. Though the day was misty, it wasn't cold, so we sat down at one of the brightly painted picnic tables on the deck overlooking the bay.

Linda anticipating the deliciousness.

Kelly Laviolette is the ebullient proprietor manning the tanks and the cooker. His wife, Janice, mans the store and took our order, shortly thereafter delivering three pounds of tiny, succulent steamers with cups of melted butter to the table. A rain shower required a move under cover, but didn't stop us from sucking down all three pounds in short order. After all, we had two whole Dungeness crabs coming.

The delicacy that is a crab heart.

When they arrived, Linda pointed out the tiny, star-shaped heart of the crab, insisting that I needed to try it. I picked up the half-inch morsel, bit down and got a flash of a soft, creamy, intensely briny flavor. Then it was gone. And it's definitely something I'll look for the next time I shell a crab.

Kelly at work.

Walking over to the oyster tanks where Kelly himself presides, Carol asked about getting a fresh oyster. Now, Kelly has the usual small molluscs you find on most restaurant menus, but he also has eight and ten-inch-long monsters, things you might expect to find in a Ripley's Believe It or Not display. So when he told Carol to grab one out of the tank, I thought she'd choose a small, ladylike shell. I should have known better. She came back from the tank proudly carrying (or was it hoisting?) one of the leviathans. Kelly was so impressed he said he'd shoot one with her, though you can see he added his own special twist.

How poor little Travis got roped into the proceedings, I'm not sure I know, but if you turn the volume up at the end of the video you'll hear his review. Hopefully the little guy's not scarred for life.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wine and Dine

It's Memorial Day weekend and, rain or shine, people are going to be heading to wine country. They'll hit the big tasting rooms and the big wineries along the major roadways. But I'd encourage you to get off that purple highway stained with the drooling of the masses and take the opportunity to visit those wineries and farms that aren't usually open to the public.

One of my favorites is Big Table Farm, nestled in a narrow canyon outside of Gaston on highway 47. They'll be tasting through their highly-rated wines, of course, but the big attraction to me is the rare chance to see an example of sustainable agriculture using rotational grazing, where the land is being restored to useful status after decades of neglect.

Oh, and Clare tells me that there are a couple of new calves to ooh and aah over, not to mention her sweet draft horses and baby chicks. It is, after all, spring on a farm. Seriously, it's worth the drive.

Details: Memorial Day Weekend at Big Table Farm, 26851 NW Williams Canyon Rd., Gaston. Directions on website. 503-662-3129.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Puppy Upper!

It's been a darn long time since I've posted any cute puppy pictures, so here are a couple I snapped when I got my puppy fix this morning visiting a litter of 5-week-old Cardigan Corgis.

With the good news about the passage of the Family Farms Bill (HB 2336), the day just keeps gettin' better and better! Enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Farm Bulletin: Healthy Markets & A Farm Tour

I am delighted to welcome contributor Anthony Boutard back to the blog with this post about an important piece of legislation that needs your support, HB 2336. Then, after you've written your senator, be sure to make note of the Ayers Creek Field Day scheduled for June 26.

Last week we finally bid farewell to April—the season, that is. The melancholy period exerted its grip on us for nearly 45 days. All told, though, the fields are in good shape. The raspberries and loganberry blossoms started to open Saturday, and the boysenberries should be a wall of white by the start of next week. We are looking forward to the fruit.

On the 17th of May, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted to send HB 2336 to a vote of the full Senate with a "do pass" recommendation. Senators Thomsen (Hood River), Prozanski (Eugene), Hass (Beaverton) and Chair Dingfelder (Portland) voted aye. Senator Olsen (Canby) provided the single nay vote. The bill should have its third reading, debate and vote sometime this week. Senator Prozanski will carry the bill on the floor. If it passes, it will go to the Governor's desk.

Formally know as the "Farm Direct Bill," HB 2336 will clarify what foods may be sold directly to customers by the producer without getting additional licenses. For us, it will remove the regulatory questions regarding frikeh (left) production that initiated a stream of hems and haws when you all asked about it. In addition to making clear what foods can be sold without a license, the bill also clarifies that a seller who has food produced in a licensed facility can sell it directly to the public without additional licenses.

For example, we can sell our preserves (right) at Hillsdale without getting a separate retail store license. This latter point was equally important to those of us who worked on the bill over the last 18 months. If you have a moment to call or email your state senator in support of the bill, it will help.

The support the Oregon Farmers' Market Association, Friends of Family Farmers and Oregon Grows Partnership has been critical. Friends of Family Farmers has played a key role in bringing together an effective coalition of groups in support of family-based agriculture. Tomato tastings and exotic salt sampling are fun and may awaken interest in different foods, but hard-nosed advocacy is what changes the landscape. With their "muck boots in the capitol" strategy, the FOFF have made substantial advances in the Oregon's agricultural policy this session. There is a lot more to be done at the agency level and in future sessions.

Update: HB 2336 just passed the Senate (on Tues., 5/24) and now goes to Gov. Kitzhaber for his signature. Thanks to everyone who wrote or called! Woo hoo!

* * *

Our Field Day this year is scheduled for the 26th of June, from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. It is the Sunday before our return to Hillsdale. We will send out a reminder and directions a week before. If you are interested, jot down the date.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spread the News

Speaking of gorgeous greens (What? You weren't? But it's spring!), contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood is dreaming of what he can do when those lumpy, spongy pods start hitting the markets in the next few weeks.

I haven’t actually purchased any any fava beans yet this year, and the local crop is still at east a month away. But favas (fave is the plural in Italian) from further south should be available. I had some at a winemaker’s dinner last week—beautifully prepared and hosted by the winemakers Jan-Marc and Barbara Baker—cooked simply in good butter.

When I have the time to sit and and shuck, parboil and peel a pile o’fave for myself, I’ll make this. Since a pound of fava pods yields maybe a cup of the edible inner bean, this spread stretches them so you don’t need to shuck quite so many.

Fava Mint Bruschetta

(Always, always pronounced brew-sketta.)

For enough for four people, start with at least a pound of pods, although another half would be better. Split open the long pods with your thumb and strip out the beans, still in their tight, pale green skins. This will take about 30 minutes if you’re fast.

Get a medium saucepan of water boiling, toss in a little salt, and add the beans. Let the water return to a boil, cook another minute, then drain and run a little cold water over the beans so you can handle them. I find the easiest method for getting the bean out is pinching the skin open at one end and gently squeezing until the bright green bean pops out. It’s fine if the beans split, and most will. Plan on another 10-15 minutes for this.

Combine the shucked, peeled fave in the food processor with at least a cup of tightly packed fresh mint, a couple cloves of garlic, a splash (about a tablespoon) of Katz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc vinegar (the sweet note works well with this), a long pour of good extra virgin olive oil (at least a half cup) and pinch of sea salt. Process, taste, adjust salt, oil, or vinegar and process again to a uniform but slightly coarse paste.

Toast or grill good bread (New Seasons wheat levain is my daily bread, Ken’s or other good loaf fine), spread with fava mix, drizzle with a bit more oil, and eat.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Salad Smackdown: Farro Tabbouleh

A friend put it succinctly when she said that she was itching to shed "the bourbon and blanket lifestyle" we've all adopted (whether in real life or just psychologically) in order to cope with a record-setting wet, cold spring.

For me this means not only switching my wardrobe to t-shirts and sandals, but putting away the soup pots and starting to think outside the Dutch oven. And what are the shorts and sandals of the table but hearty salads made with the fresh greens spilling off of farmers' market tables and popping out of raised beds.

The Italian parsley I planted last year has come back with a vengeance, and the mint I dug up, potted and shared with the neighbors is happily doing what it does best and spreading all over the place once again. And because I was moved to buy some farro recently, I decided to see what it would be like in a tabbouleh-type of salad.

Tossed with some spring onions and garlic and tossed with a lemony vinaigrette, it's a great side dish as is, but would be great with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers when they come along, and the addition of fresh slices of mozzarella alongside would make a nice lunch. For summer barbecues it'll be a perfect light grain dish to go with whole roasted chicken hot off the Weber.

OK, weather, I'm ready for summer now. Bring it on!

Farro Tabbouleh with Lemony Mustard Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
6 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
3 c. cooked farro
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 c. coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 c. diced spring onions, including greens
Salt to taste

To make the vinaigrette, take any tightly lidded container (I often use a leftover [clean] salsa container), put all the ingredients into it, put on the lid and shake like the dickens over the sink, in case, as once happened, the lid wasn't as tight as I thought and I ended up dressing the kitchen instead of the salad. Can be made ahead; stores well for several days in the fridge.

Put 2 cups uncooked farro in the bottom of a large saucepan and cover with 2-3" of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes, adding water if it gets too dry, until farro is cooked through but still has a nice resistance when you bite into it…don't let it get mushy. Drain and rinse in cold water to cool. Transfer to large mixing bowl, add remaining ingredients and enough dressing to moisten. Combine and, if time allows, let it sit for an hour or so for flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature.

Try this Farro and Pecorino Salad for another take on this great grain!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting Schooled

You fly over it when the plane comes in for a landing at PDX; you drive over it when you head north to Vancouver or Seattle. To its credit, Vancouver has several restaurants near the Interstate Bridge overlooking the river, but I'm hard-pressed to think of more than a couple where you can drink or dine on its banks on the Oregon side.

Dan More, Salty's bar manager.

One of those is Salty's on the Columbia. Originally opened as Bart's Wharf in 1961, the building was sold and remodeled in the late 80s, keeping the sweeping decks with views of the marinas and river traffic but, sadly, losing the tuck-and-roll turquoise booths and swivel chairs that populated its dining room. I'd never been there before, but when Dan More, Salty's beverage manager, invited me to come by for a cocktail class, I happily hopped in Chili and drove out for some seat time in front of his bar.

The Aviation.

A recent transplant from Seattle, More's classic cocktail style is inspired by Murray Stenson of the Zig Zag Café, with the philosophy that "simplicity is the key." He set me up with the makings for three of the bar's signature drinks, kindly providing recipes to share, below. My next challenge is to work on him to give up the recipe for the bar's so-good-I'd-drink-it-on-its-own Bloody Mary mix.

2 oz. Aviation Gin
1/2 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
Brandied cherry or amarena cherry

Fill cocktail shaker half full of ice. "Too many people go way over the top and overuse ice," More said. Pour gin, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice in shaker, shake briefly and strain into cocktail glass. Add cherry and serve.

Lilikoi Margarita
From Salty's bartender Sam Dixon from his stint at the Hali’imaile General Store on Maui. 
2 slices orange, 1/4" thick
2 slices lemon, 1/4" thick
3 slices lime, 1/4" thick
2 oz. Cazadores Reposado tequila
3/4 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. Lilikoi (passion fruit) purée
Li hing mui plum sugar powder, available online or at Asian groceries

Rim a tall cocktail glass with lime and dip in plum sugar. Place fruit slices in bottom of pint glass and muddle, pressing out the juices but not pulverizing the fruit. Add ice till 2/3 full, adding tequila, Cointreau and purée. Top with metal shaker (called a Boston Shaker). Shake and strain into rimmed glass, garnish with slice of lime.

1 sugar cube
1/2 oz. water
3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters
2 oz. Sazerac Rye
Pernod or absinthe
Lemon twist

Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice water, letting it sit and chill while preparing drink. Put sugar cube, water and bitter in a pint glass and muddle, crushing the sugar cube and dissolving it in the water. Fill the glass 2/3 full of ice, add rye and stir. Dry the chilled old-fashioned glass and rinse with a small amount of Pernod, pouring out any that remains. Strain rye mixture into glass and serve with a lemon twist.

Details: Salty's on the Columbia, 3839 NE Marine Dr. 503-288-4444.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Read It Forward

Enumerating the benefits of owning dogs has been done to death. Companionship, protection, even exercise are obvious. But incidental advantages can accrue as well, like the social circles, and subsequent friendships, that develop at the local dog park.

Another I've discovered in years of walking dogs is that you get to know your neighborhood really well, from who's fixing up their house to which elderly neighbor has passed away, or which new family is putting in raised beds and a chicken coop (a development that my dogs find particularly intriguing).

One development that's been particularly intriguing lately is a mailbox that's popped up in a parking strip next to a house that had recently sold (top photo). Labeled "BOOKS" in gold letters, opening it reveals a couple of stacks of well-thumbed pulp novels, mostly women's fiction of the type that book clubs dote on.

Questions arise of whether the books are there for the borrowing or the taking, if more than one person contributes to the trove or if there is a particular genre that the mailbox attracts, but you can bet I'll be checking it at regular intervals to see what appears there.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Tart at Heart

You could say the internet has been a boon to our marriage. And no, I'm not talking about getting drugs from Canada or watching videos of people getting way too familiar with the cameras on their laptops. (As I told our son when he got old enough…like when he was five…to disable any blocking mechanism we might install on the computer, "there are some pictures you just don't want to have in your head.")

What I'm trying to get at is that, at our house, we're information junkies. As a former journalist, Dave is never happier than when he's diving into the deep end of a pool of information on his latest fascination. Because of that he gets a ton of feeds about subjects he's interested in, from bread (Portland-based The Fresh Loaf is a big fave) to beer to cars to barbecue to cooking videos. Then he gets busy in the kitchen. 

Like last weekend. He'd spent most of Saturday making his sourdough bread, and because he absolutely hates throwing out any leftover starter he made sourdough biscuits for breakfast Sunday morning. On a Cooks Illustrated video he'd seen Chris Kimball and one of his lady friends (who seem to do most of the actual cooking, at least from what I've seen) making an onion tart. So with some of the homemade bacon he'd smoked the week before, that became dinner.

And, really, who needs more than that to make a happy marriage?

Bacon Onion Tart
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

For the crust:
1 1/4 c. flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick chilled butter or margarine, cubed
Ice water

For the filling:
4 oz bacon in 1/4-inch bits.
1 1/2 lbs. yellow or white onions (6 c. when sliced), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick)
1 sprig of thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried
2 eggs
1/2 cup half and half or whole milk

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 375°. Spray oil on bottom and sides of quiche or tart pan. Put flour, sugar, salt in processor and pulse twice. Add cubed butter and do about 15 pulses until it looks fine. Add 2 Tbsp. ice water and process. If you can squish it and it holds together, stop. If there are too many flour bits add 1 tsp. water and process again for 5 seconds. Drop walnut-sized chunks into pan and spread evenly, pushing the dough up the sides. You can put plastic wrap on it and spread with hands to get it nice and even. Pinch dough off edges of pan to make sharp edges. Put pan with dough on plate and put into freezer for 30 minutes. Remove from freezer. Spray tinfoil with oil and gently press into pan. Cook's Illustrated advises you fill it with "pie weights"; I put a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the dough and pressed it into place and it worked just fine. Bake for 30 minutes.

To make the filling: While the crust bakes, cook bacon on medium heat until a little crisp. Save 2 Tbsp. bacon fat; put bacon on paper towel-lined plate to degrease. Put 2 Tbsp. bacon fat into nonstick pan. Get the bacon fat "a little hot." Put onions into bacon fat. Add sprig of thyme and a little salt. Cover and cook 10 minutes on medium heat. You want onions soft, not brown. Remove cover and stir, replace cover and put on low for another 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a little bit.

Check crust. If it's still soft and moist, keep in oven. If not, remove tinfoil or weights and put back in oven 5-10 minutes until golden brown.

Put eggs in mixing bowl. Add half and half and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk together. Add onions and bacon and stir until incorporated. Put into tart. Smooth and make sure onions are uniform throughout. Put into oven and bake 20-25 minutes. Should be cooked through and be firm when jiggled. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan.

Vive la France!

"The Intelligence Cycle is the process by which information is acquired, converted into intelligence, and made available to policymakers. Information is raw data from any source, data that may be fragmentary, contradictory, unreliable, ambiguous, deceptive or wrong. Intelligence is information that has been collected, integrated, evaluated, analyzed and interpreted. Finished intelligence is the final product of the Intelligence Cycle ready to be delivered to the policymaker." - World Factbook

It's probably something known to every fifth grader on the planet, but it was a surprise to me. The CIA, yes, our Central Intelligence Agency, has a website called the World Factbook, one that lists (nearly) every country on the planet, with their flags, history, political systems and all the stuff I used to get from an encyclopedia.

Unfortunately it doesn't include the juicy stuff like which diplomat's wife is having an affair with which consul's assistant or how the Pakistanis could have missed a certain tall, bearded man living in a high-security compound in a retirement community inhabited by its own military. For that I guess we have to go to Wikileaks which, by the way, Wikipedia is quick to inform us that it is not associated with (in case you were wondering).

What the CIA is missing are the sections I used to love in the encyclopedias of my youth that illuminated the way people lived in the country, their cultural traditions and the foods they loved. So I didn't find the CIA's dry recitation of facts much help in coming up with a brilliant detail about French cuisine that I could riff off of to open this post about our dinner at Cocotte, the charming French bistro that recently opened on the corner of NE 30th and Killingsworth.

The amuses.

Originally opened as the Middle Eastern-inspired Grolla, it closed and was briefly home to Fats, Micah Camden's unfortunate venture into pub cuisine. It is one of my favorite spaces in the city, with nearly floor-to-ceiling folding wooden doors that let in the maximum amount of light for its north and east-facing site. I'm hoping the new owners have left the doors in functioning condition, since I've always thought they'd be wonderful thrown open to catch the summer breeze.

The vichysoisse.

Those owners, Kat Liebman and Zoe Hackett, met while both worked in the kitchen at Lucy's Table, and they've cleaned out the Brit tchotchkes and Frenchified the place with framed botanical prints, mirrors and country antiques. Like fellow newcomer St. Jack, the Gallic vibe spills out of the menu with dishes rooted in France and executed with Northwest ingredients like produce from Side Yard Farm, an urban farm located in the neighborhood, and meat from Eat Oregon First, a network of local farms banded together to distribute their products.

Duck confit.

The amuses were delightful bites, one a light chicken liver mousse and the other a triple cheese mousse, both served on different delicious, crispy house-made crackers. The vichysoisse soup was also light and creamy with a tiny touch of unusual pesto made from burnet, though the advertised splash of rhubarb lemon verbena vinegar, which sounded really interesting, was virtually undetectable.

Pork loin.

The duck confit was crazy good, served on a bed of farro, baby arugula and watercress and adorned with wild mushrooms, braised spring leeks and a dollop of blood orange marmalade. The grain and vegetables complemented the duck perfectly, and had me making a mental note to get some farro on my next trip to the store. The excellent pork loin chop had my two carnivorous companions raving, but over the mustard French lentils that were beneath it, behavior unusual for them, to say the least. I managed a taste of the bing cherry and roasted shallot jam that topped the meat, but got a definite "stay away from my lentils" glare from both of them when I attempted to scoop some. Sheesh.

Celery and fennel sorbet.

After a palate cleanser of an interesting celery and fennel sorbet, the salad of straight-from-the-garden spring greens with shaved fennel, castelvetrano olives, grapefruit sections and marcona almonds dressed with a creamy peppercorn vinaigrette was a nice combo I want to imitate at our next dinner party. My dessert, a crêpe suzette drizzled with caramel and topped with a scoop of poppy seed ice cream, was a surprisingly light and lovely finish, but was totally upstaged by the chocolate peanut butter ice cream lusciously melting over Mr. B's choice of crême fraîche chocolate gateau. Magnifique!

Dave and I chose to include the wine pairings for an additional $15 per person, which brought the $35 prix fixe price for the four courses with amuse-bouche and palate cleanser to a total of $50 each. While it's a great deal for the quality of the food and wine offered, what concerns me, of course, is whether they'll be able to draw a regular crowd to support that price tag on a regular basis. I'd frankly rather see some of the items offered à la cart, even if it's only at the bar, since the food is genuinely terrific and worth seeking out on more than a special occasion basis.

Crêpe suzette.

The service the night we were there was stellar, and the kitchen bent over backwards to accomodate Dave's lactose intolerance, giving him a specially concocted amuse course and a dessert of broiled grapefruit glazed with caramelized sugar and marcona almonds. It's a lot to ask of a French restaurant without much notice, but they rose to the occasion admirably.

Like Le Pichet in Seattle, this place could easily become the go-to when you need a fix for your inner Francophile, and we're anxious to return to try the happy hour when food specials are available for $5. I'm sure the CIA is uninterested, but I wonder if Julian Assange knows about this place yet?

Details: Cocotte, 2930 NE Killingsworth St. 503-227-2669.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Horn of Plenty

This time of year I can't stay away from the farmers' markets, and apparently I'm not the only one judging by this installment from contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood.

I can’t stop buying the early season vegetables, intensely green, oozing chlorophyll and wonderful with just oil and salt (and sometimes a bit more). I get nettles whenever I can, and the tender tops of fava beans have been a revelation. I’ve grown favas, and I wish I knew you could eat the tops when they were taking over the garden.

My own garden provides sorrel, an astringent herb with a lemony tang. Soup seems to be what most recipe sources make from it, but I like adding it to salads, salsa verde and anything with fish. Last week I combined some with a couple of other early season vegetables for my never-ending parade of fritters.

Sorrel, Nettle, Fava, and Spring Onion Fritters

Start by carefully (tongs or gloves) dropping a bunch of stinging nettles (bunch loosely defined as a clump about the size of cantaloupe) into boiling water. After a minute or so, fish them out and let them cool and drain (save the water for soup or nettle tea). Chop finely.

Dice a spring onion finely; do the same with about as much fresh sorrel as you have cooked nettle (maybe a well-packed cup or so). Ditto the fava leaves and flowers. Combine the vegetables with a couple of eggs, bit of salt, maybe a quarter cup of grated Parmigiano, and enough breadcrumbs to give the mix some body without drying it out too much (roughly half cup, but test the mix to make sure it holds together). Adding a healthy scoop of fresh ricotta, maybe adjusting the bread crumbs up as well, makes these even better.

Use a pair of soup spoons to form walnut size fritters, slide them in enough hot extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a heavy skillet, gently flatten, and cook until browned on both sides. Sprinkle flor de sal over the cooked fritters and eat immediately.

Live and Learn

I guess it's why I'm not religious in the strict sense of the word. Sure, I have my beliefs, though they're more a not-very-well-thought-out accumulation of the experiences and relationships I've had thus far. But dogma has never really worked for me, since it seems as soon as I attempt to neatly package anything up and seal it with tape, I'll find something lurking under the couch that blows my neatly organized system all to heck.

The same goes for recipes. Sure, I've got my classics, but they're always getting tweaked and fiddled with to see if maybe they can be made just a teensy, eensy bit better.

It happened the other day when I had lunch at Taste Unique, Stefania Toscano's Italian take-out diner on SE Division, which qualifies as my favorite Italian restaurant in Portland even though it only seats eight people. I'd heard her pasta carbonara (left, above) was astonishingly luscious, and since it's one of my family's favorite go-to recipes, I had to try her version.

Now, my carbonara is based on a Marcella Hazan recipe that uses whole eggs supplemented with egg yolks, along with a glug or so of white wine in the sauce. Not so Stefania's. As a matter of fact, she looked shocked when I asked if she used whole eggs, replying with an emphatic "No!" adding that she also considers cream a no-no. Her pasta is bathed in a rich sauce made with yolks and yolks alone.

So of course I came home and whipped up a yolks-only version of my own, and it gave the old recipe a run for its money, especially with Dave's home-smoked bacon. Though using six eggs yolks for a pound of pasta made the Scrooge in me wince, not to mention what to do with that many whites.

It's all about figuring out what works for you. Which is a pretty good metaphor for living your life, don't you think?

Extra-Rich Pasta Carbonara

1 lb. pasta
6 egg yolks
1/2 c. parmesan, grated, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 lb. bacon
1 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. parsley, finely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente. While pasta is cooking, fry bacon until fat renders. Add garlic and sauté briefly but do not brown. Remove from heat. Separate egg yolks into a small mixing bowl and whip briefly with a fork till smooth. Add parmesan and stir to combine. Drain pasta and place in serving dish. Pour egg mixture over the top and toss. Add bacon mixture and stir. Sprinkle lightly with parsley and a bit of parmesan. Serve.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Timing is Everything

Some days it's all about the timing.

I'd been jonesing for some fresh salmon for awhile, and with our friends Kathryn and J— coming over for dinner it seemed like the perfect opportunity to satisfy my longing. While to some that may seem a tad self-centered of me (I am a blogger, remember?), I know very few Northwesterners who would turn down a whole salmon lovingly roasted over hardwood on Dave's Weber.

So when I stopped by, of all places, our neighborhood Fred Meyer and saw whole wild sockeye on special for $3.99 a pound, I nearly fell to my knees in praise to the god of dinner parties. Each one weighed in at just about three pounds and, since I know my guests well, I got two assuming we'd polish off more than one yet have leftovers aplenty.

Dinner was awesome, with a simple spring onion and wild mushroom risotto and Kathryn's salad of dressed wild greens with warm goat cheese cakes. It was all washed down by a stunning bottle of Boedecker Pinot Noir that they brought from their cellar. But leftovers there were, and I sent a package home with my guests, extracting a promise from Kathryn that she'd share her recipe for her Asian salmon cakes in exchange.

A couple of days later the recipe arrived with her note that it was a work in progress and that I should feel free to tweak at will. So with thanks to her, here's what I came up with. And I pass along her instruction to bring your creative juices to bear on these fabulous fritters. Just share any discoveries you might make along the way!

Salmon Cakes

2 lbs. fresh salmon (or 3 c. leftover salmon, flaked)
1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 serrano peppers, seeded and finely chopped
3 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
Zest of half a lime
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. sriracha
2-3 Tbsp. sesame oil
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

If you're starting with fresh salmon, boil 1/2" of water in a deep-sided skillet. Turn down to simmer and poach fish until medium rare in the center. Then flake, removing any bones, and use as directed.

Combine salmon and the rest of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Form into 2" wide and 1/2" thick cakes. Heat vegetable oil in non-stick skillet and fry over medium high heat till browned and crispy.

Excellent served with black rice and baby bok choi with a drizzle of wasabi cream.

Reporting from the Heart

This report from Oregonian photographer Motoya Nakamura is heart-wrenching and moving and so worth watching. I've worked with Motoya on stories I've done for FoodDay and MIX magazine and, unlike some photographers, he's always engaging with the people he's covering, especially the children. I can only imagine how difficult this assignment must have been for him.

See a second video of Motoya and reporter Richard Read describing their experience covering this story.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Evolutionary Breakthrough

Today I'm announcing that there is concrete evidence proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the creationists are wrong and Darwin had it right when he theorized that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. I saw it happen, not on some remote island or in a laboratory, but right there on my plate at dinner last night.

Asparagus and caramelized shallot crêpe with parsnip, rhubab compote and tangerine oil.

Chef Aaron Woo (at left in top photo), co-owner of Vita Café, the ever-so-crunchy natural foods restaurant on Alberta, had sterling creative credentials from places like San Francisco's Stars and Portland's ClarkLewis. But he was feeling constrained by the 70s-era mindset found in the vegetarian dining scene in Portland and longed for a challenge.

Tabetha Warren at the bar cart I'm planning to steal.

So he packed up and went to Greystone, the Culinary Institute of America's outpost in the Napa Valley, where he studied modern cuisine with Kyle Connaughton, chef at The Fat Duck in England and a devotee of modern as well as Japanese cuisine, and Aaron London, executive chef at Ubuntu, the Michelin-starred "vegetable" restaurant in Napa.

Rapini, corona beans and orecchiette with fennel, garlic, chiles and parmesan.

The inspiration and experience he gained inspired Woo to open Natural Selection, a warm and inviting place where he could experiment with the modern techniques he'd learned and apply them to rustic European dishes. Its 30 or so seats surround what's basically a large kitchen island that fronts the stove and grill, giving every seat in the house a view of Woo at work. A fabulous industrial cart that would be the envy of any steam-punk-obsessed nerd serves as a bar cart. (Note: don't be surprised if it disappears and rematerializes in my dining room.) It's ably manned by talented mixologist Tabetha Warren, who creates the restaurant's signature cocktails with the same eye for ingredients that Woo brings to his kitchen.

Moroccan spiced chickpea stew with almonds, harissa and couscous.

With a prix fixe menu of four courses for $35, there are two choices for each course, including at least one gluten-free or vegan (or both) dish per course. Woo and his staff bend over the counter arranging each exquisitely plated leaf and smear, each composition offering a thoughtful balance of flavor, texture and color.

Brioche bread pudding with dried pear, huckleberry sauce and vanilla cream.

The food is so good, as a matter of fact, that I hesitate to sully it with the baggage that goes along with the label "vegetarian," since even the most ardent carnivore isn't going to miss his ration of animal flesh after a meal here. And that's what I'd call a step forward in Portland's evolution.

Details: Natural Selection, 3033 NE Alberta St. 503-288-5883.