Saturday, November 30, 2013

Flashback to Childhood: Tamale Pie

My mother was a ground meat maven. With three growing kids, hamburger gave her a relatively cheap way to feed a large family, and the women's magazines she subscribed to—filled with advice on wifely skills like cooking, entertaining and raising children—invariably had several recipes in each issue that called for a pound or two.

It was a time when herbs like thyme, basil and oregano were considered exotic, when Italian food was too spicy for some folks and, when tacos were introduced to middle-class tables, they were made with oil-fried tortillas, hamburger and Tillamook medium cheddar. In addition to tacos, ground beef was a primary ingredient in (so-called) Spanish rice, spaghetti sauce and a version of "goulash" that featured macaroni noodles, canned corn and more cheddar. Each of which made regular appearances on our dinner table.

Every once in awhile in a fit of nostalgia I'll get a craving for one of my mom's aforementioned dinner classics—I've already written about my reimagining of her tuna casserole—and I'll start going through the little metal boxes of recipes I copied out onto 3" by 5" cards when I was leaving for college. If that fails to turn up a lead, I'll resort to searching online for some clues.

A couple of weeks ago I'd pulled some grass-fed ground beef out of the freezer from the portion I bought from Clare at Big Table Farm and was musing over the possibilities. What sprang to mind was the cornbread-topped, chili powder-inflected American-take-on-Mexican casserole my mother would carry to the table and set before her ravening offspring.

Tamale Pie

For the cornbread topping:
1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, melted
2 eggs
1 c. cheddar cheese, grated

For the filling:
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. hamburger
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 poblano or Anaheim chiles, chopped fine
1 1/2 c. corn
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
2 c. roasted tomatoes
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375°.

Mix dry ingredients for topping in medium mixing bowl. Add milk, melted butter and eggs. Stir to combine. Add cheese and mix thoroughly.

Heat oil in large skillet. Add hamburger and brown, chopping into small bits as it cooks. Add onion and garlic and sauté till tender. Add chiles and corn and sauté till chiles are tender. Add spices and tomatoes and bring to simmer. Pour into 9" by 12" baking dish. Top with corn batter by dropping spoonfuls on top of the hamburger mixture and gently spreading it to cover the top. Place baking dish in oven and bake 45 min. until topping is browned.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Great Gifting: Bookin' It

Hello. My name is Kathleen and I love books.

A few years ago I heard someone say that they never traveled without a "flood book." That is, if they were on a trip and couldn't continue because the road was flooded—or the flight was delayed or a bus was late—they'd always have a book at the ready to help pass the time. We subscribe to that philosophy as well, and it's rare that you'll find either Dave or me without printed reading material of one kind or another on our person.

Several books by friends have come out in this past year, and any would make a fine flood book for the folks on your list.

Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, Both Wild and Domesticated by Hank Shaw. This book is a must-have for the hunters on your list. It's also a great choice for cooks who are interested in becoming more familiar with fowl that isn't chicken, especially since ducks and geese are becoming more available to we non-chef types. From hunting and processing wild birds to getting one from the grocery store that's ready to go, Shaw explains what to do with whole birds or parts, breasts to eggs to legs. And as readers of his previous book on foraging and hunting, Hunt, Gather, Cook, know, his recipes are easy enough for moderately experienced home cooks, with clear lists of ingredients and instructions. Holly Heyser's step-by-step photos of boning and other processes, plus mouth-wateringly gorgeous photos of finished dishes, illuminate Shaw's words and make this beautifully designed book a great one for the serious cook's shelf.

Pacific Northwest Cheese: A History by Tami Parr. Author of the premier blog about artisan cheese, the Pacific NW Cheese Project, as well as the first book about the Northwest's booming cheese scene, Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest: A Discovery Guide, Parr's new book is the result of extensive research that shows our current bounty of local cheese is no fluke. Fans of cheese, along with NW history buffs, will appreciate the stories of early cheese-making operations established by the Hudson's Bay Company and the contributions by people like Mrs. Helen West of Tigard, who started the Red Rock Cheese Co. in 1919, distributing her cottage cheese to customers via the Oregon Electric Trolley line which ran along the back of her property. Historic photos of early cheesemaking and quaint labels give way to contemporary portraits of the artisan cheesemakers who formed the backbone of our current artisan industry. Appendixes include the history of cheesemaking in Alaska as well as an up-to-date list of current curdsters. A fascinating read.

The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America by Langdon Cook. Mushroom hunting comes as naturally to many Northwesterners as pulling on their Danner boots. Even those of us who eschew the damp, dirty work of foraging the precious fungi from our forest floors anticipate the start of chanterelle season when stores and menues are packed with these gems. Cook, author of the blog and book Fat of the Land, takes readers behind the scenes into the murky, secretive world of the commercial mushroom hunters who supply markets and chefs with these seasonal treats. It's a truly amazing, and sometimes frightening, journey as Cook "follows the invisible food chain from patch to plate," interviewing new immigrants and scrappy geezers, and will appeal equally to those interested in food, natural history and outdoor adventure.

Crackers and Dips: More Than 50 Handmade Snacks by Ivy Manning. I don't know what it is, but my Portland neighborhood may have more food writers per square mile than anyplace in the country. I am fortunate that Ivy is one of those who lives close by, since, when she's working on an article or book and testing recipes, she will often call and ask if I want some of the results of her meticulous (and delicious) labors. It's especially great when she has to concoct recipes containing meat, since her husband, dubbed Mr. Tofu, is a confirmed vegetarian and there's often too much for her to consume on her own. (A situation that led to her previous book, The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table.) So I can personally testify to both the incredibly variety and insanely tasty recipes she presents in this latest effort. Easy enough for beginning cooks and interested kids, it also includes toppings and dips to serve with these crunchy snacks. You may never buy a cracker from the store again.

Salty Snacks: Make Your Own Chips, Crisps, Crackers, Pretzels, Dips, and Other Savory Bites by Cynthia Nims. This ode to snackage by my friend, Seattle writer Cynthia Nims, is a compelling argument on the savory side of the sweet versus salty debate. It's geared to a more adult palate but, like Ivy Manning's book (above), it would make a great gift for cooks who like to entertain.

Other suggestions: Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut by Eastern Oregon writer Lynne Curry is a comprehensive, eminently useful book for those of us wanting to move from industrially processed meat to a pastured product; includes recipes and shopping tips. The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen: Recipes for Noodles, Dumplings, Sauces, and More by Laura B. Russell is a godsend for those who love Asian cuisine but can't get around its heavy dependence on wheat products; great resource. And one more, non-local but knee-slappingly funny sliver of a book, Nietzsche's Angel Food Cake: And Other "Recipes" for the Intellectually Famished by Rebecca Coffey is a collection of pseudo-recipes/essays with titles like "Ernest Hemingway's Battered Testicles" and "Geoffrey Chaucer's Stinking Bishop's Tart" that begs to be read out loud; perfect as a stocking stuffer or for foodies with (or who need) a sense of humor.

Read the other posts in this series: Gifts That Give Back, Mad Skills, Kids' Stuff and Good Eatin'.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Farm Bulletin: Black is the Color

This week contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm extolls the virtues of root vegetables eaten raw in salads, a crisp, sweetly crunchy pleasure that I've become an advocate for, as well.

Not just less than lovely to look at, black radish a strong, coarse creature with a harsh bite best tempered by salting first. In northern Europe, it is served in beer halls, where the root is sliced paper thin and generously salted for about 20 minutes to an hour. The Boutard children grew up eating it that way, even before beer graced their evenings. It is amazing what a transformation a sprinkle of salt accomplishes.

Black radish seedlings.

We also prepare a couple of salads/relishes by running the radish through the medium julienne blade of a Benringer mandolin and salting it for an hour. We peel it in a desultory fashion, pulling off the coarsest parts but leaving some of the black peel as decoration. When wilted, we rinse off the salt and dress it with lemon juice and olive oil, or sour cream. Both are delicious. Anthony enjoys it by the plateful as a salad while Carol prefers it in smaller doses as a relish.

Black radish is one of those very healthful vegetables that has a dedicated subterranean following, but no commodity commission loudly promoting its benefits. For what its worth, the root is high in vitamin C and is regarded as a good stimulant for liver regeneration. Both welcome at this time of the year.

Celeriac aka knob celery aka celery root…all delicious!

Knob celery, aka celeriac, was another regular winter vegetable in the Boutard house. Anthony's mother cubed and cooked the root until just tender, and then dressed it with a vinaigrette while still warm. At Ayers Creek we most commonly eat it as a raw salad. We julienne the roots and dress them in lemon juice and olive oil with a generous amount of freshly ground cayenne. We also follow James Beard's celeriac remoulade recipe where he dresses it with mayonnaise seasoned by three different mustards: sharp English, Dijon and sweet German. We make generous portions of these salads and enjoy them over a two or three day period. A sprinkle of caraway is also nice variation.

When it grows large quickly, the root can develop a pithy heart. We generally plant our knob celery later than recommended so it grows slowly in the cool autumn weather, giving it a crisp texture all the way through. In trimming the roots, we retain the topknot of greenery whenever possible. It is not just that it looks like standard desert island cartoon image from the New Yorker, we like to chop up the green part into the salad.

Get a recipe for a Celery Root Remoulade.

Top photo from Heirloom Solutions. Photo of seedlings from Horizon Herbs.

The Norman Chronicles: Shanks and Hearts

Here it is, almost Thanksgiving, and when everyone else in the United States is thinking about turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes, I'm salivating at the thought of rich, dark lamb shanks braised to falling-apart lusciousness. That's not to say come Thursday evening we won't be having turkey and fixin's—Dave would pitch a fit if he couldn't put a big bird on the Weber and stand over it with a pint of A-Bomb in his hand—but there are still dinners to make the rest of the week and leftover turkey only goes so far, right?

The reason for my shanky dreams? It's what I did with a couple of Norman's shanks at a dinner for company a month or so ago, one that I want to reprise in the very near future. Though the store definitely won't have the huge 2-plus-pound shanks that Norman so generously provided, I can just double up on smaller shanks and come out with a dinner for six and still have enough leftovers to combine with tomatoes and pasta for dinner a second night.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Artichokes and Olives

3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 lbs. lamb shanks
2 c. onions, chopped in 1/4" dice
2 Tbsp. garlic, chopped fine
2 Italian or red bell peppers, roasted and cut in slivers
1 c. oil-cured or kalamata olives, pitted
16 oz. (2 pkgs.) frozen baby artichoke hearts (or fresh in season, trimmed)
1 1/2 c. roasted or canned tomatoes
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 c. white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc
1 c. chicken stock
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375°.

Trim excess fat from lamb shanks, then generously salt and pepper them. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add lamb shanks and brown (in batches if necessary), then remove to a platter. Reduce heat to medium and add onions and garlic to the pot, adding more oil if necessary and scraping up any browned bits of lamb stuck to the bottom of the pot. Sauté till onions are translucent. Add roasted peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and rosemary and bring to a low simmer. Add lamb shanks back to the pot, burying them in the vegetables, and pour the wine and stock over the top.

Put the pot into the oven and roast for 2-3 hours until the lamb is ready to fall off the bone. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until you can remove the meat from the bones. Add salt to taste as needed.

At this point you can serve the braised lamb or, better yet, cool it completely and put in the fridge overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Reheat in a 300° oven and serve with Ayers Creek Farm Amish Butter polenta (or your favorite brand from the store).

Any leftovers can be used for a second dinner when combined with roasted tomatoes and served over pasta.

Read the other posts in The Norman Chronicles: Getting to Shepherd's Pie, Braising Saddles and Neck and Neck.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanksgiving? It's About the Sides.

Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has a way with vegetables, and his sides are always fabulous. Here's one I'll be doing this holiday.

I think the key to keeping these little cabbages delicious is cooking them on the stove over high heat. They brown nicely and get tender without becoming mushy. Use a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. This has the added advantage of keeping the oven free for that other Thanksgiving dish. Here are two different recipes, both starting with the same stove-top approach.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts Two Ways

Cut a pound sprouts into quarters lengthwise. Some of the outer leaves may come off, but keep them with the quartered sprouts. Let the oil heat over medium-high for about a minute, then add the sprouts. Stir frequently and cook until the sprouts have browned nicely on all sides. I like mine fairly dark, right at the edge of being burnt, so I cook them for about 15 minutes.

With Stoneground Mustard:

I learned this from Ned Ludd’s Jason French and David Padberg, now at Raven & Rose, when they cooked at Clarklewis here in Portland.

After the sprouts are browned, add a chopped onion, a healthy pinch of salt, and cook for another 10 minutes. Stir in about a quarter cup (more is better than less) of stoneground mustard. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, taste for salt and serve.

With Honey & Sage:

When the sprouts are caramelized, add a chopped red onion, a healthy pinch of salt, and about 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage (maybe 8-10 leaves, depending on the size). Cook for about 10 minutes, then add about one tablespoon each of honey and Katz Trio red wine vinegar. Cook another minute, adjust the salt and serve.

If you're looking for those special Thanksgiving supplies, then head over to Jim's "warehouse" to get extra virgin olive oil, Katz Orleans method vinegars, Necton flor de sal and other goodies. He'll be open Saturday from 11 am-3 pm and Monday from 3-7 pm at 833 SE Main St., Suite 122, on the ground floor on the NE corner of the building.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great Gifting: Kids' Stuff

It's hard enough thinking of gifts for Aunt Ilda or Cousin Terence, but when it comes to kids my mind goes completely blank. A trip to Toys R Us is out of the question—I wouldn't even go there for my own kid—and the incredibly plastic aisles at the local department store, with their shelves overflowing with trucks and action figures for boys and pink ponies and princesses for girls make me despair for our future.

Parents are usually a good resource for suggestions, but I've got a few to consider, too:

Cooking classes: The classes from Melinda and Susana at Portland's Culinary Workshop are open to all ages, from making Asian dumplings to learning how to create delicious vegetarian entrées. A certain level of motor skills is probably a good thing, but these gals are so dexterous at getting folks excited about food that they can handle any age, from young to ancient. Gift certificates are available for individual classes or you can pick an amount and let your giftee choose the class.

Science books: The Xerces Society has books that'll get the budding entomologist on your list wanting to head outside with a magnifying glass. From dragonflies to bees to beetles, the books on their list are both fascinating for young readers and affordable for givers. Plus a portion of each sale goes to support this great organization.

Butterfly poster: This stunning Butterfly Alphabet Poster was created several years ago by Norwegian photographer Kjell Sandved from details of his photographs of butterfly wings. Gorgeous and educational…it doesn't get better than that!

Kids farm camps: The wonderful Zenger Farm is a working farm and education center on SE Powell. It's offering Winter Cooking Camps for kids in 4th to 6th grade over the Christmas holidays (they'll also be offering camps and classes this summer) where kids can learn to cook with fresh ingredients as well as see where and how it grows. I only wish there had been camps like this when I was a kid! Gift certificates are available by contacting Allison O’Sullivan.

Goldiblox: Designed by a woman engineer to get little girls excited about engineering, Goldiblox combines stories and design challenges that make it fun to explore physics, math and science. We can only hope some of them decide to go on to a career making all our lives better. (Watch Goldiblox creator Debbie Sterling's inspiring TED presentation.)

Read the other posts in this series: Gifts That Give Back, Mad Skills, Bookin' It and Good Eatin'.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Stewing Hen Comes Home to Roost

It was a few months ago that I picked up the beef I'd ordered from Clare at Big Table Farm. She was reorganizing the white-wrapped chunks of meat in her freezer and said, "Here, take this, too." It was a vacuum-packed stewing hen, one of the laying hens that had been culled from the farm's free-ranging flock.

I brought it home with the beef and put it all away in the freezer. It would be there whenever I opened the door, and I'd think, "I should really do something with that." Then I'd grab the loaf of bread or jar of freezer jam or piece of lamb or pork or beef I'd come for and shut the door on that poor hen, forgetting about her until the next time the freezer door would open.

Last week I retrieved a roast from the icy depths and grabbed the hen, too, knowing that thawing the bird would force me to deal with it. I'd read that stewing hens were literally tough old birds and were best when braised over low, slow heat. Plus they were rumored to produce a flavorful broth, which we go through like water around here, especially in the winter months.

My plan became to make a stock from the whole chicken, then tear the meat off the bones when it was done and make one of my very favorite comfort foods, a golden-crusted chicken pot pie. A couple of hours later the house was filled with the aroma of chicken stock and baking pastry, and I knew my first experience with an old hen wouldn't be my last.

Chicken Pot Pie

For the stock:
1 stewing hen

For the filling:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped into 1/4" dice
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
3 carrots, quartered and cut into 1/4" slices
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4" slices
1 c. peas (optional)
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. flour
2 1/2 c. chicken stock
Meat from stewing hen (above) or 3 c. cooked chicken
Salt to taste

For the crust:
1 1/2 c. flour, plus more for rolling out dough

1 c. cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, frozen, cut into large pieces
1 egg, beaten

3/4 c. buttermilk or milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Place whole chicken in large pot and cover with water. Bring to just boiling over high heat, then reduce to low simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 1 hr. Remove chicken from broth and cool until you can comfortably remove the meat from the bones. Bones and skin can be returned to the broth and simmered for another hour.

Heat oil in a large skillet, add onions and sauté till tender. Add garlic and sauté briefly to warm, then add rest of vegetables. Sauté till tender and set aside.

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in flour until there are no lumps visible. Return to heat and cook the roux until it loses the raw flour flavor. Pour in stock, stirring constantly until it thickens.

Put the cooked vegetables in a 9" by 12" baking dish, then scatter the chicken meat over the top of the vegetables. Pour in the thickened stock.

Put flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter or margarine and pulse until the flour mixture resembles cornmeal. Add egg and milk and process until thoroughly combined. Generously flour the area where you'll roll out the dough, then remove the sticky dough from the processor with a spatula onto the floured area. With floured hands, press out the dough into a roughly rectangular shape, then using a floured rolling pin, gently roll out the dough until it's the size of your baking dish. Gently pick up the dough and place it on top of the chicken and vegetables. (Don't worry if it doesn't fit perfectly.)

Place the dish on the middle rack of the oven and bake at 450° for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and continue baking for 25 min. until crust is browned and filling is bubbly.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Farm Bulletin: Preserving the Best of Summer

Ayers Creek Farm returns to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on Sunday (11/17) from 10 am to 2 pm for its winter run, and they are bringing along the first batch of their stunning preserves, including a couple of new contestants for the title of "Most Addictive Jams & Jellies."

Preserve production is when we reprise our summer, the good moments and the disappointments. All of the fruit we use, with the exception of lemons, comes from the farm. Many farmers contemplate preserve production as a way to capitalize on surpluses and low grade fruit, throw some sugar and pectin into a big pot and you have something to sell. Extension people call it "value-added." As we warn other farmers, the notion that making preserves as "value-added" is simply poppycock. We must purchase the jars, organic sugar, organic lemons and pay for the use of Sweet Creek Foods' kitchen and staff. We have added an investment and value is added only if and when you sell the preserves for a profit, so there is no sense poking some low grade fruit in glass.

Carol and Paul starting a batch.

We started making preserves from the opposite end of the harvest. The very first berries to ripen in the field are the highest quality fruit. They set up well without any added pectin and the flavor is brightest due to their higher acidity. For us, taking the better part of the day to deliver ten flats of berries is a waste of time and fuel. So early in the morning, we bring in a few flats each day and freeze the berries. We never crush them; they are packed into buckets whole when frozen. This gentle treatment preserves the aromatics and acidity of the fruit, as many of you know because you handle our berries the same way.

Small-batch cooking at its finest.

Our preserves are very farmer-ish, just one type of fruit and no secret ingredients or surprising combinations. The preserves are cooked in 2 1/2 gallon steam jacket pots, so the cooking surface is a gentle 270°F (132°C). We cook about a gallon at a time. Paul Fuller has three 275-gallon pots, but at that volume, you have to add pectin in order for the fruit to gel. Several years ago, Carol's brother, Bill, visited the farm and walked us through a series of very carefully documented variations. Tasting the various versions, it was clear to us that adding pectin robbed a vital part of the fruit's spirit, inconvenient and indisputable. Sweet Creek has just two of these small pots, but Paul has added two more so we can increase production next year. There is no other co-packer in Oregon that would put up with our fussy demands, so as long as Paul and Judy own Sweet Creek and welcome us back, we will make preserves.

The most important tool for us is Paul's Omega HH1501AJK digital thermometer. In cooking, the fruit goes through a series of temperature steps. The critical range is 220 to 222°F (104.4 to 105.5°C). The fruit sets up in that range—if you allow it to bounce up to 224°F (106.6°C), the fruit has an overcooked flavor and texture. One year, the cord to the thermometer frayed and we had to use a different one for the last run of the day. The calibration was off and the fruit overcooked slightly. We now have our own Omega, so if one goes we have a backup. It also allows us to conduct test runs at home.

My favorite, the blackcap.

As we noted earlier, we see the season reflected in the fruit. The heatwave that came through during our ramble in June destroyed much of the black currant, boysenberry and blackcap crop. We have some, though not enough for the stores. The early raspberry and loganberry crops preceded the heat wave, so they are in good supply. We have done an even better job with the tart cherry preserves, though they are inherently lower in pectin than other fruit and are on the runny side. We have yet to perfect pit removal, so there will be an occasional pit in the jars. This preserve is an even greater labor of love than the others and we should drop it but we like it too much. This year, we have added a small run of grape preserves from the Veepie grape. The goal is a grown-up grape flavor with skins in the mix. The golden gage and mirabelle are back as well.

Aphrodite holds a quince.

Speaking of labors of love, Aphrodite is often portrayed holding a quince. Our two small quince trees had such a heavy crop that the trees largely collapsed. We have a small run of quince jelly in memoriam for the efforts of those two unfortunate trees. They will recover eventually and we are planting more because we cannot imagine life without a bit of quince jelly. Eventually, we will add more jellies to the mix. We have several crab apples which should bear good crops in a year or two. The jellies will test Paul's patience even more, which should him some level of beatification among fruit lovers. Though we promise him that we will stop at 19 different preserves, a good prime number, so there are just two more types to go.

Photo of statue of Aphrodite from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Great Gifting: Mad Skills

My son is a really good cook. Not dependent on recipes, he makes what pleases him and follows his palate, throwing together flavors from different cuisines in an international melting pot of his own creation, with delicious results. So for the last few holidays when a present is required, instead of trying to come up with some new gadget or game, I've given him gift certificates for hands-on cooking classes where he can pick up some new skills or find out more about a cuisine he's interested in.

Portland's Culinary Workshop: Whether it's honing basic knife skills or learning butchery or making Chinese soup dumplings (left), Melinda and Susana (top photo) make it not just informative, but fun. Their prices are more than reasonable for the lifelong skills they teach and I don't know anyplace else that covers such a wide range of topics. Almost all of their classes are open to kids under 12 for a reduced price, and they have special classes for couples, too—a gift that would cross off two birds on your list with one pen-stroke! Portland's Culinary Workshop, 807 N Russell St. 503-512-0447.

Ramsay's Dram: If you have someone on your list who appreciates sipping fine whiskeys, there is no person better to sip them with than Stuart Ramsay, writer, teacher and whiskey aficionado extraordinaire. This Scotsman calls Portland home, but he's known worldwide for his dedication to sharing the history and joys of fine spirits, as well as the pleasures of beer and wine. Imagine listening to his lovely burr extolling the virtues of a decades-old whiskey, and I think you'll agree it's a gift worth giving. Schedule of classes to be announced, gift certificates can be purchased by contacting him via e-mail.

Cocktail Classes at Raven & Rose: One of the most brilliant gifts I ever gave Dave was a basic cocktail class. He learned to wield a cocktail shaker and muddler like a pro, and I have benefitted immensely ever since. Many bars in Portland are beginning to offer classes worth checking into…from personal experience, the ones given by master mixologist Dave Shenaut will more than satisfy any thirst for knowledge your giftee may have. Cheers! Raven and Rose, 1331 SW Broadway. E-mail Natalia Toral for certificates.

Read the other posts in this year's Great Gifting series: Gifts That Give Back, Kids Stuff, Bookin' It and Good Eatin'.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Have Dinner with Hank!

This is a shameless plug for an upcoming event here in PDX featuring my friend, author and blogger Hank Shaw. Now, you could just say, "Aw, isn't it nice that she's doing this for her pal." But you'd be missing the point.

Which is: Hank's on a 43-city, 39-state tour promoting his new book, "Duck, Duck, Goose," a comprehensive but approachable guide to cooking those birds, including species and breed identification, hunting advice and, for those of us who prefer our birds already plucked and cleaned, tips on buying them from the store. Not to mention scads of recipes. He's coming to Portland on Dec. 8th for a sold-out class on duck butchery at the Portland Meat Collective, and the next day he'll be working with chef Aaron Barnett of St. Jack to prepare a four-course dinner.

Barnett says there'll be two seatings, one at 5:30, then one at 8 or 8:30—details are still being worked out—and he's hinting that, yes, even dessert will include some ducky ingredient (can you say cracklings?).

This might lead you to say, "Well, that's all very well and good that Mr. Shaw's publisher is flying him all over the country so he can peddle his books and make money off of a bunch of expensive dinners."

But you'd be dead wrong.

First off, publishers these days provide some help with editing and production, but mostly they're in the printing business. Any sales and marketing efforts are largely the responsibility of the authors, and Hank is no exception. Plus he's a little crazy so, like his tour for his first book, "Hunt, Gather, Cook," he's hopped in his old Toyota Tacoma with boxes of books and a sleeping bag. Here's his reasoning:

"Why do it? Because of you, dear readers. Two years ago, when 'Hunt, Gather, Cook' came out — God, has is been two years already?! — I started with a modest tour schedule. Then I heard from you, over and over again, asking me to come to your city. I threw down the gauntlet: I’ll come if you think you can help me sell a few dozen books. You picked up that gauntlet, and again and again, showed me the kind of hospitality and generosity that still gets me a little teary-eyed, even now. That tour was a highlight of my life."

So there you go. A valiant effort to spread the gospel of a sustainable, not to mention delicious, wild food that he's dedicated the past two years, and a great deal of his career, to. I think that's worthy of some support, and I think you will, too.

Details: Hank Shaw's "Duck, Duck, Goose" Dinner with Chef Aaron Barnett of St. Jack. Sun., Dec. 8. Two seatings, 5:30 and 8 pm; $65 for dinner, wine pairing with each course add $35. Full bar and wine list also available. Reservations required. St. Jack, 2039 SE Clinton. 503-360-1281.

* * *
Menu update:
French Duck Feast at St. Jack
  • Goose Terrine: poached quince, pickled mustard seed, cress
  • Stuffed Duck Neck: pork sausage, port soaked prune, pistachio, pommes puree, madeira jus
  • Roasted Duck Breast: fermented apple, liver sauce, cumin carrots
  • Caramel Creme Chiboust: duck cracklings, hazelnut dacquoise, cinnamon apples
Photos of Hank and ducks by Holly Heyser from "Duck, Duck, Goose."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Call Me Old-Fashioned

It was said to have originated in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1881, the concoction of a bartender at the gentlemen-only Pendennis Club. When I visited that bourbon-soaked city last year—the area is home to the likes of Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, Bulleit and Woodford Reserve, among others—the old-fashioned was the drink I ordered at the St. Charles Exchange (below left), the Pendennis still being a private club, though it now has "a handful of female members."*

Sitting down at the bar, I knew my answer when the bartender asked what he could get me. When ordering the signature bourbon cocktail in a bourbon-centric town, I should have been ready for the his next question, which was to ask which bourbon I'd prefer. Being somewhat unprepared (not to mention fairly uninformed), I asked what he'd recommend to a non-native interested in something local.

His choice, interestingly, was Old Forester, which was also recommended by the driver assigned to show me the area, who said he prefers it to many higher-priced bourbons. I was happy to find it at our local liquor store for well under $20, and it's since become one of our favorites for Old-Fashioneds and Manhattans.


Adapted from Kenneth McCoy's version in the New York Times.

Dash of Regans’ orange bitters
Dash of Angostura bitters
Dash of simple syrup (see below)
1 tsp. of brandied cherry juice (we use syrup from Amarena cherries)
2 oz. of your favorite whiskey (see above)
Orange peel

Stir ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over three or four ice cubes. Garnish with a thick twist of orange peel.

Dave's Simple Syrup

Half Demerara or brown sugar with half water—stirred until mixed thoroughly—no heat.

* From Wikipedia.

Sweet on Sweet Potatoes

If you want to incorporate healthier options than the usual rice/pasta/potatoes in your dinner rotation but you're afraid it'll take too much time or trouble, you'll love Jim Dixon's easy-to-fix, delicious sautéed sweet potatoes.

Since it’s that time of year, Real Good Food now offers Starvation Alley organic cranberry juice. Freshly squeezed and unsweetened, it’s not the stuff you swill for breakfast, but it’s great in all kinds of cocktails, with a splash of fizzy water or as a tart, acidic flavor note in all kinds of savory dishes. Like this one.

Cranberry-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I got these nice little sweet potatoes (top photo) from my friends at Groundwork Organics, but the jewel or garnet versions sold in the produce section will work just fine. Fun fact: even if they’re called yams, all of them sold in these parts are Ipomoea batatas, aka sweet potatoes. True yams only grow in the tropics. Get a couple of pounds.

If your sweet potatoes are big, cut them into chunks about 3/4 of an inch thick (don’t peel, just scrub). Arrange them in a single layer in a heavy skillet or roasting pan, add a sliced onion and toss with extra virgin olive oil.

Mix about a half cup of the cranberry juice* with a couple of tablespoons of sorghum syrup (order via e-mail), honey or maple syrup. Pour it over the vegetables and sprinkle liberally with salt. Roast at 350° for about an hour, tossing the vegetables at least once so all sides spend some time in the juice. It's done when the sweet potatoes are tender; serve the reduced cranberry juice from the pan in a bowl at the table and spoon it onto the sweet potatoes.

* You can find other brands of unsweetened cranberry juice at New Seasons, Whole Foods and other markets.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Great Gifting: Gifts That Give Back

This year's series of holiday gift-giving posts kicks off with a win-win-win suggestion: it'll make your recipient extremely happy, it'll do good for someone in your community and it'll make you look like an awesome person for giving something that is self-liquidating (i.e. doesn't have to be dusted or stored) and also helps those less fortunate. You can add in another win if you count the fact that all this happens with money you'd be spending anyway, maybe on a gift that doesn't do any of the above.

What is this magical prezzie that satisfies on so many levels?

Well, New Deal Distillery is holding its 4th Annual Season's Eatings event on December 14, a holiday bazaar that brings together local food and drink artisans to showcase the area’s finest chocolates, cheeses, spirits and foodstuffs. And we're not talking just any old artisans, but folks like Pok Pok Som drinking vinegars, cured meats from Tails and Trotters, heavenly handmade chocolates from Alma Chocolates (top photo), locally roasted coffee from Water Avenue, addictive chocolate truffles and cheeses from Briar Rose Creamery, pickles from Unbound Pickling, jellies from Kelly's Jelly and so many more. (List on the website.)

New Deal, of course, will be featuring its roster of distilled goodness for tasting and purchase as well, and I can guarantee from past experience that your giftees will be thrilled to find a bottle of spirits under the tree instead of some gewgaw from the Dollar Store or Tuesday Morning. Proceeds from your purchases will benefit the Oregon Food Bank, and admission is just one non-perishable food item or a donation in the amount of your choosing.

So start making your list now, and don't forget the holiday parties and gatherings that might require a host or hostess gift. You can't help but come out a winner.

Details: 4th Annual Season's Eatings.Sat., Dec. 14, noon-6 pm; admission is one non-perishable food item (or cash donation). Event at New Deal Distillery, 900 SE Salmon St. 503-234-2513.

Read the other posts in this year's Great Gifting series: Mad Skills, Kids' Stuff, Bookin' It and Good Eatin'.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A Question of Quince

“They dined on mince, and slices of quince

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon.”

- Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat

I recently ran across one of my favorite childhood books, a collection of poems called "Edward Lear's Nonsense Book" (left). Now dog-eared and falling apart, when I was a child its odd characters like the Jumblies, the Owl and the Pussycat and the Old Man with a Beard felt like falling with Alice down the rabbit hole. To a kid raised on Barbie dolls and Saturday morning cartoons, it was a curious and unfamiliar universe, one that was at once both delightful and disturbing. Needless to say, I loved it.

Chopped and ready to cook.

Lear's mention of quince, along with runcible spoons and Pobbles (one of whom had no toes), was at least partially responsible for a lifetime of Anglophilia, which I still suffer from. So when my neighbor Karl offered me a box of quince from his tree, I gladly accepted, though I had no idea what to do with them—Lear obviously ignored the fact that they're rock hard and terrifically tannic, obviously not meant for eating out of hand.

Now where's that runcible spoon?

Karl had given me a recipe for his quince liqueur, which takes a month to ferment and which I'll post about later, but it left more than half the box still unused. A suggestion from Katherine Deumling gave me a quick and easy solution, though, and that was to make a quince sauce from them. Like applesauce, it requires little else other than sugar and lemon and heat to make, so in just a couple of hours I'd spared myself the guilt and embarrassment of wasting a lovely pile of fruit.

Now to figure out what a runcible spoon is so I can eat it.

Quince Sauce

4 lbs. quince, the more fragrant the better
Sugar or mild honey, to taste
Juice of 2 lemons

Coarsely chop the quince into large pieces, removing core and any bruises or brown spots. Place in large pot over medium heat and pour in a cup of water and lemon juice. Stir to combine. When water in bottom of pot begins to boil, reduce heat to low simmer and, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, cook until quince pieces are tender. Add sugar to taste (I like mine slightly tart, but it still takes a fair amount of sugar to get it to that stage). Allow to cool. If you want, you can mash it by hand or run it through a food mill to remove skins and make a smooth sauce. At this point it will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so, or it can be frozen and saved for later use.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Quick Hits: Xico, Angel Food & Fun, Teote

I've had a yen, an itch, a yearning lately for Mexican food, the real stuff, not a knock-off I've dreamed up to put in tacos here at home. The past couple of weeks I've had some that hits the spot.

The sign pointing the way to lunch at Kelly Myers' Xico is both functional and fun—after all, you do have to go around to the side of the building to find the window where you'll place your order. But it also spells lunch as "lunx," emphasizing the fact that Xico is pronounced "CHEE-koh" not "SHEE-koh."

Once you walk up to that window you'll find a list of several Mexican tortas, or sandwiches (pork belly torta, left), made with pork (belly or shoulder) simmered in Kelly's signature chile sauces, as well as chicken, chorizo and vegetarian versions. All feature some combination of Oaxacan cheese, red onion escabeche, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and beans layered in a light bread roll that holds up nicely to the saucy fillings, and all are incredibly delicous at under $10.

The Sonoran hot dog (top photo), however, is crazy good and a steal for $6. A Nathan's all beef frank is wrapped in bacon and grilled, then laid on a pinto bean-slathered bun, topped with the house tomatillo salsa and showers of crumbled cotija cheese, escabeche and a zigzag of crema to top it all off. Add in a hibiscus flower agua fresca or, my choice, their sublime horchata, a just-slightly-sweet-with-a-hint-of-cinnamon beverage that is ideal as a counterpoint to chile spicing, and you've got a totally awesome, not-to-be-forgotten midday meal.

Oh, and in case you thought the walk-up window means sitting on the sidewalk in the cold, you get to go through the side door and choose one of their comfy banquette tables inside. Sweet!

Details: Xico, 3715 SE Division St. 503-548-6343.

* * *

When my friend Michel suggested checking out a new Mexican place in the 'hood, I was all for it. When she told me the name of it was Angel Food & Fun, I was a little less excited. But because Michel knows her south-of-the-border cuisines, and I subsequently read that the owner was former Bluehour sous chef Manuel Lopez, any anxiousness disappeared.

We walked in at noon straight up and found the cozy canteloupe-colored room scattered with a few simple tables, each one topped with the colorful fabric flowers you'll see at any open-air mercado in Mexico. The menus were stacked at the counter, and Manuel's wife, who also helps out in the kitchen, was happy to answer questions and make recommendations.

While the menu features the expected burritos, tacos and tamales, they're well-executed versions—handmade tortillas, well-seasoned meats and escabeche on the tacos, a grilled cheese frico rolled into the burrito and a banana leaf-wrapped tamale. But it's the authentic Yucatecan treatment that Lopez gives to the other items that makes this a stand-out place rivaling higher-priced Mexican restaurants around town.

We started with a panucho (above left), a refried tortilla spread with refried black beans and shredded chicken, then heaped with avocado, lettuce, tomato, escabeche and a slice of pickled jalapeño. The cochinita pibil (top photo) is a hearty bowl of achiote-braised pork that's been wrapped in banana leaves and braised for hours, served with a topping of pickled onions and cabbage with some of the afore-mentioned house tortillas on the side. A dish I hadn't had before was a relleno negro (above right), a stew of luscious pulled turkey meat in a recado negro, a sauce of blackened chiles and turkey broth that Lopez tops with slices of warm corn mush, comfort food of the highest order.

Seriously, the prices here are so reasonable, the executions so awesome, that it'll be hard not to go back on a regular basis on those I-don't-feel-like-cooking or need-a-fix-of-authentic-Mexican-goodness nights. The fact that it's close by is just icing on the cake.

Details: Angel Food and Fun, 5135 NE 60th Ave. 503-287-7909.

* * *

Arepa: (Spanish pronunciation: [aˈɾepa]) a flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour prominent in the cuisine of Colombia and Venezuela. It is eaten daily in those countries and can be served with various accompaniments such as cheese (cuajada), avocado, jelly or jam or (especially in Venezuela) split and used to make sandwiches. - from Wikipedia

Called an "areparia," Teote specializes in this classic street food of Venezuela with a distinctly NW twist—it's also gluten-free, which means that carbs are of the rice, corn, beans and plantain persuasion. Its wildly south-of-the-border, technicolor-meets-barn wood ambience is owner Michael Kennett's brick-and-mortar expansion of his Fuego de Lotus food cart that he's branding a "Latin American street food experience"that "curate[s] a menu of exciting cross-cultural flavors and epicurean delights."

Regardless of the marketing buzzwords, the food here is luscious, the plates loaded and very reasonably priced. My pernil, pork roasted in a Morita chile sauce, was a thick slice of deliciously seasoned meat served with kale salad, rice, verde sauce, queso-sprinkled black beans and plantains. The arepa, which I've never had before so have nothing to compare it to, was crispy on the outside but a bit heavy and bland inside, though it did complement the rest of the plate.

An interesting new cuisine, great prices and loads of food? Makes a good lunchtime stop for me!

Details: Teote, 1615 SE 12th Ave. 971-888-5281.