Saturday, February 28, 2015

Delicious Denizen of the Deep

The picture above arrived via text message from Kevin Gibson of Davenport.

"Local," was the caption, though the creature pictured looked anything but. Then: "Box or shame-faced crab, bycatch of Dungeness. 2000 feet down off the Oregon coast."

What the crabbers were doing catching crab at those depths I really don't know, but looking it up on Wikipedia I found this description: "The brown box crab, Lopholithodes foraminatus, is a king crab that lives from Kodiak Island, Alaska to San Diego, California at depths of 0–547 metres (0–1,795 ft). It reaches a carapace length of 150 millimetres (5.9 in.), and feeds on bivalves and detritus. It often lies buried in the sediment, and two foramens in the chelipeds allow water into the gill chamber for respiration."

Later that afternoon I was running errands in Kevin's neighborhood and stopped in. He brought out two of the six crabs that he hadn't yet steamed, and rather than the hoary monsters I'd imagined from the photo, there were two hand-sized little guys looking rather disoriented in the bright lights of the kitchen.

Kevin noted that when he cleaned the four that had already been cooked, they only yielded about a pound of meat combined. Unlike their larger cousins, the Dungeness, whose bodies contain a great deal of meat, the bodies of the box crabs had almost none, with most of the meat concentrated in the lower legs and claws. The texture reminded me of lobster in its moist chewiness and it had a sweet, salty tang. Kevin said the plan was to feature it in a salad that evening, served simply with a squeeze of grapefruit and a few slices of avocado.

I was just happy to meet this startling new neighbor, and hope that I can acquaint myself with more of his kind in the near future.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Early Spring's Brilliant Flavors: Beet Risotto, Kale Raab

Spring has come early to the fields of the Willamette Valley, evidenced by the bins of sweet green things I saw while wandering the aisles of the farmers' market in Hillsdale last weekend. Sweet because as the nightly temperatures dip into the low 40s, the plants in the field produce sugars that act as antifreeze to protect them until temperatures warm during the day.

Love that color!

You'll taste it in the carrots—I'm only buying carrots with tops attached these days so I know they're fresh from the fields, not woody from storage—and the brassicas, especially the young flowering sprouts called raab, rabe, broccolini or rapini. It's prime time for beets, too, in all colors of the rainbow, with their firm stalks and healthy leaves that make a terrific sautéed side dish to whatever you're serving for dinner.

This beet risotto, with beets just tender from simmering with the rice and infusing it with their signature brilliant color, makes a standout main dish served with sautéed market greens of any persuasion (we like to sizzle some bacon to grease the pan), or as a gorgeous side with any grilled meat.

Beet Risotto

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. arborio or carnaroli rice
3 med. red beets, chopped in 1/2" dice
5 c. stock, either vegetable or chicken
Salt to taste

Heat butter or margarine in large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. When it melts, add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir to heat, then add rice. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add beets and a ladle of stock. Stir until liquid is absorbed, then add another ladle of stock. Repeat, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking, until the rice is creamy but still has a slight crunch and the beets are tender, about 20 minutes or so. Add salt to your taste and serve with parmesan in a bowl for sprinkling.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Farm Bulletin: A Moment of Sagacity and Serenity

I love contributor Anthony Boutard's essays precisely because he never gets right to the point. Instead I'm taken on a journey on which I always learn something unexpected…in this case a little bit of Greek mythology.

If you have a pesky stepson roiling your domestic plans, send him off on a fatal errand. Such as it was with Theseus when his father was convinced to send him off to the fields of fennel where he was to kill the Cretan Bull.

Sonchus, or sow thistle.

On the way to Marathon, the youth stopped by the hut of a devotee of Hecate, the goddess of potions and herbs for sustenance. She simply fed him a big bowl of Sonchus, or sow thistle greens. On this fare alone, he captured the bull that Hercules had thoughtlessly left to terrorize the countryside, and led it back to Athens.

Subduing the massive bull required sagacity and serenity, not strength, and that is what the sow thistle provided. In kinder times before crates, it was fed to nursing sows to keep their milk flowing and disposition calm so they wouldn't roll over on the nursing piglets. Tomorrow, we will have a good quantity of this exceptional late winter pot herb, related to lettuce and chicory. It is time-consuming to harvest and clean, which is why few people gather it. We found a good patch in the Chesters that lent itself to the task, so if you all need a moment of sagacity and serenity, we have the green for you.

When the Hillsdale Farmers' Market bell rings at 10 am, we will have a robust selection of late winter greens. Sorrel, chervil, cress, horned mustard, rocket, rape, sow thistle, kale, chard, late Treviso type chicory and Catalogna chicory. The spring-like weather of the last two weeks have pushed their growth along nicely.

Detail of painting, top, by Charles-André Vanloo, called Carle Van Loo (France, 1705-1765). Photo of sow thistle by alvesgaspar.

A Stranger Named NXR Appears in Town

Happy days are here again, though they're not so much salad days as bread days. For those who've been in on the drama for the last few months and have been nodding sympathetically at our whining and moaning, we've finally got a new stove to replace our previous one!

First up, sautéing onions for chili!

For those who haven't been so privileged, the Jenn-Air range that was installed in our kitchen remodel back in 2006 was not pleased with Dave's foray into breadbaking. In the last several months, its digital control panel started shutting down, to the point where we were left with two preset oven temperatures—350° and 375°—which would only work if you stood there and reset them every three minutes. Not ideal.

Apparently a lot of newer ovens with digital panels don't like high temperatures, the one required for the kind of bread that Dave makes (500°) or the one that is preset on the oven's self-cleaning function. It's apparently common for these high temps to burn out the digital controls over time, so our choice was to replace the panel, long out of warranty, which would cost about $1,000, or replace the stove entirely.

Low simmer setting on all four burners…be still my heart!

One might ask, "Why would a manufacturer install a feature like self-cleaning and then say (as we heard from several dealers), that it shouldn't be used or, if it was, the life of the oven would be shortened, as would cooking at the high temperatures that are allowed on the oven controls?" Good question.

So we began the search for a non-digital, slide-in range that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg, since we need all our appendages for making enough money to pay the rent. On the advice of my friend Diane Morgan, we went to Eastbank Appliance and spoke with the very genial and informative Terry Hellman, who initally pointed us to an all-gas Electrolux range that had no digital controls, just an electric igniter for the burners and a fan for the oven, which would run us about $3,000, not including installation. Yes, we gulped, too.

Unfortunately—or, as it turned out, fortunately for us, Electrolux discontinued that model and Terry tracked down a different brand, the be-acronymed NXR, that would fit our requirements and, happy days, was on sale and would end up costing a little over half of the Electrolux. It was installed yesterday and, so far, looks like it will be ideal for just about everything we need. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Introducing the Bloody Monkey, a Winter Citrus Cocktail

A friend of ours is what I think of as a modern-day Renaissance man…an arts administrator in his day job, he's also an accomplished painter, an intrepid carpenter, a pie-baker of the highest order—his lemon meringue is to die for—and he can MacGyver almost anything using sticks, string and duct tape, not necessarily needing all three at the same time. He also shakes a mean cocktail, a common and oh-so-handy trait amongst the men of our crew.

Blood oranges.

His Manhattan and his Corpse Reviver (#2) know no equal. His Monkey Gland, a gin-based cocktail that features orange juice, grenadine and an anise-flavored spirit like absinthe or Pernod, is a masterpiece of subtle, bright, balanced flavors. On a recent foray to a store near his work, he ran into a sale on blood oranges and felt that they might bring a different dimension to his favorite cocktail.

We were lucky enough to be there when he was mixing up some samples, and the result was startling, like the original but more distinct, somewhat like a masterful copy of an original artwork that, in its execution, brings an added dimension to the subject.

Bloody Monkey

Makes one cocktail

1.5 oz. gin
1.5 oz. blood orange juice, strained of pulp
1 tsp. grenadine
1/2 tsp Pernod

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker. Add ice till shaker is 3/4 full. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with slice of blood orange.

Variation on a Classic: Short Ribs alla Vodka

Sometimes it's all about satisfying a craving. It could be a jones for a particular flavor: the deep spiciness of smoky chiles in a rojo sauce. Or the creamy, cheesy, oozy texture of mac and cheese or the aroma of a bolognese sauce simmering for hours on the stove. There are a few restaurant dishes that I get all dreamy about, too, like the beef tartare at Old Salt Marketplace, the Phnom Penh soup on Fridays at Ha & VL or Eric Joppie's pork chop with celeriac mash paired with whatever Randy has on cask at Bar Avignon.

Three Doors Down penne alla vodka.

One dish that knocked me off my feet the very first time I had it and still calls to me when I see it on their menu is the penne alla vodka at Hawthorne's Three Doors Down. Ignoring the fact that whenever I go there I also have to order their house Negroni, this pasta dish of penne smothered in a rich, creamy, tomatoey sauce with lovely, mild sausages that have simmered in that sauce for hours assuages a comfort craving like few others. The owners generously shared the recipe for that signature dish several years ago, and I've made it several times since.

Grass-fed beef short ribs from Old Salt.

Recently I had a couple of pounds of short ribs—my latest braised meat obsession—and wondered how they would work in place of the sausages.

In short? Like a dream. Simmering the meat in the sauce took a little longer, but once the ribs were fall-apart tender, all I had to do was remove the bones and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces before adding the cream to the sauce for the final simmer.

In this case, messing with a classic had a rewarding, and very duplicable, outcome.

Short Ribs alla Vodka

1 lb. penne
2-3 lbs. short ribs
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
2 28-oz. cans Italian tomatoes
1 c. vodka
1 c. heavy cream or sour cream
1 1/2 c. Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated

Salt and pepper the short ribs on all sides. In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or deep skillet, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the short ribs and sear. Remove the short ribs to a separate plate. Over medium-low heat, add the onion and red pepper flakes to the remaining oil in the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the meat. Sauté until onion is translucent. Return the short ribs to the pan and add the vodka and tomatoes with their liquid and bring to a simmer for two hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the short ribs from the sauce. Remove the bones and any big chunks of fat. Chop or shred the meat into bite-sized chunks. Add the meat back to the sauce. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer, continuing to cook for another 30 minutes.

During this last stage of simmering the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well and put the cooked pasta back into the pasta pot with the sauce and 2/3 cup of the parmesan. Combine, then put in serving bowl or serve in individual pasta bowls. Serve the remaining parmesan in a bowl at the table.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Livin' in the Blurbs: MyMusicRX, Lentil Underground, Farmer and Rancher Day

Ever been down and music lifted you up? Ever been feeling queasy and picked up an instrument, then forgot all about your discomfort? That's what MyMusicRx does for kids facing cancer and other serious illnesses. And this Valentine's Day you can help the Children's Cancer Association rock those kids' lives by—get this—taking your loved one(s) out for a little love-fest of your own. Eight of Portland's quintessential food establishments are donating a portion of the day's sales to MyMusicRx, so you can show your love by sharing it with some incredibly courageous kids.
  • All five Stumptown locations are participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • All three Pine State Biscuit locations are participating, donating 10% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • All three Salt & Straw locations are participating, donating 10% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Three of Bunk Sandwiches’ sandwich shop locations are participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Whiskey Soda Lounge is participating, donating 10% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Both ¿Por Que No? locations are participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales (capped at $1,000)
  • Floyd’s Coffee's SE Morrison location is participating, donating 15% of Valentine’s Day sales
  • Both Albina Press locations are participating, donating 5% of Valentine’s Day sales
* * *

Sometimes we Northwesterners think we've got a corner on cool when it comes to food. But forty years ago, corporate agribusiness launched a campaign to push small grain farmers to modernize or perish, or as Nixon Administration Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz put it, to "get big or get out." But twenty-seven-year-old David Oien decided to take a stand. When he dropped out of grad school to return to his family’s 280 acre farm, Oien became the first in his conservative Montana county to seed his fields with a radically different crop: organic lentils. Hear his story, and those of the farmers who joined him, as told by author Liz Carlisle in her new book, Lentil Underground, at a reading and booksigning at Powell's on March 9th.

Details: Liz Carlisle reading a booksigning of Lentil Underground. Monday, March 9, 7:30 pm; free. Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St. 503-228-4651.

* * *

Love shopping at one of the nearly 100 farmers' markets in Oregon? Want to help support the small family farms that are making our state one of the only places in the nation where land under cultivation is growing rather than shrinking, and the average age of farmers is going down rather than up? You've got a chance to show your support and impress legislators when Friends of Family Farmers hosts Farmer and Rancher Day at the State Capitol on March 30th. Featuring a pop-up farmers market inside the Capitol and educational workshops on the latest food and farming bills, you'll also get a chance to meet with legislators and attend a lunch-time rally on the Capitol steps. The event is free and transportation, as well as lunch and refreshments, will be provided if you RSVP online. Show your thanks to these folks who work so hard to grow the food you put on your table by attending this important rally.

Details: Farmer and Rancher Day at the State Capitol organized by Friends of Family Farmers. Mon., Mar. 30. Event location at the State Capitol Bldg., 900 Court St. NE, Salem. 503-581-7124.

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Maialata: Building Community by Celebrating the Pig

A community coming together over the preparation of food is an ancient tradition, one that can connect us to our roots and to each other. The Oregon version of the Italian festival known as the Maialata, or slaughtering of the pigs, brought chefs, farmers and producers together in a day-long sharing of skills, stories and the bounty of the season.

It came as a surprise when Cathy Whims, Portland chef, owner of two of the city’s most fabled Italian restaurants, Genoa (now closed) and Nostrana, and six-time finalist for the prestigious James Beard Award, admitted that early in her career it was the cuisine of France that captured her heart.

Demonstrating making pasta by hand.

“I think a lot of cooks early in their careers are really drawn to French cuisine because everybody tells you that it’s the height of gastronomic whatever,” she said. “Which is ironic because I was working at Genoa, which was supposed to be an Italian restaurant, though it had a lot of French influence.”

Eventually she bought the restaurant and became the de facto wine buyer, meeting Italian wine distributors who would invariably invite her to come stay at their wineries.

“And I was like, a place to stay in Italy, that sounds pretty good,” she said. “So at that point I really started traveling to Italy a lot.”

Butcher Rob Roy shows how to skin a pig's head.

It was then that she fell in love with the very simple, pared down treatment of ingredients that is the hallmark of traditional Italian cuisine. Attending classes taught by legendary Italian cookbook author and teacher Marcella Hazan, whom Whims considers one of her two mentors, along with author and teacher Madeleine Kamman, set her on the path she still finds intriguing today.

“The more I traveled, the more I realized that you could travel three kilometers and a dish that you thought you knew could be completely different,” she said. “It was an endless opportunity for learning and I was really attracted to that.”

Rolling out and shaping the pasta.

On one of those trips, to Le Vigne di Zamo winery in Friuli in the north of Italy, Whims heard about a traditional celebration called the Maialata (pron. my-uh-LAH-tuh). Held on the first new moon after the first full moon, usually in late January or February, and coinciding with the time when the pigs—“maiale” in Italian—are ready to be slaughtered, the community comes together for a day-long event to butchering the pigs and make sausages, salami and cure all the pork for the coming year. They then gather and have a feast, which usually lasts most of the the night, to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty that will carry them through the winter.

It was a celebration that she felt would fit perfectly with the emerging culture of food in the Northwest, but it took two years before the elements would fall into place to make it possible. Nostrana had been doing all its own butchery since its inception, but it wasn’t until she thought of Rudy Marchesi at Montinore Estate in Forest Grove that she had a partner to help realize her dream of bringing the Maialata to Oregon.

“He has such a beautiful, old world sensibility,” she said of Marchesi’s biodynamic approach to winemaking and food. “He makes his own cheeses, he makes his own salami. I told him about it and he got really excited and said we should do it at Montinore.”

The first two celebrations were ticketed events where the public could observe the butchering of a pig and participate in making sausages and ravioli alongside well-known Portland chefs, then sit down for a multicourse feast accompanied by Marchesi’s Montinore wines. They were hugely successful, but weren’t living up to the spirit of the Maialata that Whims had envisioned.

“I just thought it was like the commercialization of Christmas or something,” Whims said. “It took away the whole spirit.”

So for this year’s Maialata, held on January 18 at Montinore, she went back to the theme of the original festival that she’d heard about from her friends in Friuli: a gathering of a community.

“I thought, why don’t we do it with colleagues and other people who are interested in food,” she said. “One of the hardest things about being a chef is that you’re in your restaurant and you don’t get to interact with other chefs. We all have something to learn from each other.

“I just wanted the spirit to be that of sharing and not worrying about promoting this event to sell it. It just took a real load off of it, I think, and brought it back to what it really should be.”

In that spirit, two pigs were raised just for the festival, one a black-and-white Hampshire from a Forest Grove firefighter and friend of Marchesi’s, Steve Statelman, who got into raising pigs, in his words, “as a midlife crisis of sorts, but it was more productive and cheaper than buying a Porsche and getting a 20-year-old girlfriend.”

The other pig, a Berkshire and Duroc cross, came from Wolfgang Ortloff and his wife Susan at Worden Hill Farm in the Dundee Hills and had been fed on apples from Baird Family Orchards and Briar Rose Creamery whey, both Dundee producers.

The butchery itself was handled by Nostrana’s in-house butcher, Rob Roy, and Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective. They narrated the steps involved in breaking down a carcass to the crowd of their peers who had gathered around them. At one point, Roy was demonstrating how to skin the head for porchetta di testa, an Italian specialty made from the meat of the head wrapped in its scalp and ears. When Roy started the process from the back of the head instead of the front, Davis exclaimed, “I never thought of doing it that way!”

“It’s like he sneezed his face off,” Roy joked.

Whims then took over the pasta-making portion of the event. She demonstrated making a bowl-shaped well in the center of a mound of flour, then pouring water into the well and whisking the water into the flour while maintaining the bowl shape. A natural teacher, she guided her colleagues into kneading and rolling out the dough, then pressing it through the wires of a chitarra, a traditional pasta-making implement, to make the spaghetti alla chitarra, a pasta she’d learned to make on her recent trip to Rustichella d’Abruzzo, one of Italy’s premier pasta producers.

As Whims and her colleagues adjourned to the subterranean wine cellar lit by a dozen flickering candelabras, everyone dug into the food they’d helped prepare that day. Was it the successful Maialata , the gathering of a community, that Whims had envisioned?

Judging by the flood of photos and videos that began appearing on her colleagues’ Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages, the spirit of the Maialata was alive and well and spreading its message into the broader community.

Farm Bulletin: To Every Farm, a Muse

No visit to Ayers Creek Farm is complete without a demonstration of the culinary uses of the food that contributor Anthony Boutard and his wife, Carol, grow on their 140-acre farm. To their credit, their decade-long Herculean effort has been rewarded with the appointment of their very own muse. 

Before the Olympian deities took over and bureaucratized the Office of Muses, there were just three muses residing on Mount Helicon: Aoide (expression), Mneme (memory) and Melete (occasion). Linda Colwell is our Melete. Whether it is a ramble or some other occasion, Linda steps in and everything flows smoothly.

Linda Colwell, Ayers Creek's Melete.

When Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network asked us on a hopeful afternoon in April if we could host a lunch and tour at Ayers Creek for the Organicology conference in early February, it seemed like an reasonable idea. With our lovely Melete watching over us, what could go wrong? Nothing, as it turns out, even in a week marked by torrents of rain, the sun shone and we all had a good time.

The gorgeous groaning board.

Working with Mark Doxtader and Jason Barwikowski of Tastebud, and Sarah Minnick of Lovely's 50/50, Linda showcased the fruits, vegetables and grains of the farm. While we led a tour in the fields, Linda gave a talk about the various ingredients in the lunch. One participant confided to us that he loved Linda's talk so much that he was tempted to sit through it a second time. Here is the quartet's menu:
  • Amish Butter popcorn with Aci Sivri cayenne
  • Black Radish soup
  • Green Posole made with Amish Butter hominy, pumpkin seeds, and sorrel
  • Late treviso panzanella style salad with roasted Sibley squash and kakai seeds
  • Roy's Calais Flint polenta with braised Borlotti beans with leeks and chicory
  • Oven-roasted sweet potatoes
  • Focaccia with late summer dried green grapes
  • Sprouted barley toast with roasted winter squash drizzled with honey and Ayers Creek jam
  • Winter field greens as available: rocket, chervil, kale
  • Adzuki bean ice cream between Kakai pumpkin seed cookies
  • Chester blackberry ice cream between Amish Butter and Almond cookies
Salad of winter field greens.

The Tastebud oven has welcomed guests to the Ayers Creek since the first ramble. This Christmas, we received greetings from a former Hillsdale Farmers' Market regular, now residing in Portugal, recalling that day. Sami's teenage daughter was convinced rather reluctantly to fritter away a Sunday afternoon at that ramble. The walk went well for her but the high point of the day was walking into the shade of the oaks and seeing her favorite feature of the Hillsdale market, the Tastebud oven. It always heralds a good event when Mark's truck maneuvers into position.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Covalent Brewing: Woman Owned, Woman Brewed

Women and beer. It's a fraught subject even in the 21st Century, isn't it?

While most of the advertising for beer still features mostly young guys with a smattering of smashing-looking female model types (just so you'll know the guys are manly men), there's not a lot of acknowlegement of women—and I count myself among them—who really love beer.

That same absence of women is reflected in brewing. As Megan Flynn, editor of Beer West magazine (now closed) said in an article I wrote in 2011 on Oregon's women brewers, "I don’t think it’s that different from any other male-dominated industry," noting that the dearth of women in the field isn’t because women aren’t interested in beer or brewing.

"The at-work brewing scene, the guys are very used to being dudes," she said. "It’s heavy lifting, manual labor, moving hoses, lifting up kegs and listening to loud music." It can make it hard for women to feel welcome, even if there's not outright harassment.

Covalent Brewing's Meagan Hatfield.

Teri Fahrendorf, founder of the Pink Boots Society for women brewers and for 17 years the head brewer at Steelhead Brewing in Eugene, said it was evident to her early on that women could do the job by doing it smarter, not harder. Instead of trying to match the guys muscle-for-muscle, she said, she always asked "how can I do this so that I’m not going to get worn out" after a few years as she'd seen so many of her male colleagues do.

So far there's only one woman, Kari Gjerdingen of Mutiny Brewing in Joseph, Oregon, who has opened her own brewery. But we who live in the Willamette Valley may be about to get our own "woman-owned, woman-brewed" brewery in the person of Meagan Hatfield. A home-brewer for 13 years, a six-month stint at Wyeast Laboratories confirmed her decision to go into brewing as a profession. A degree in biology also helped.

"The science of brewing is so fascinating, " she said. "I'm kind of a nerd for that."

It's no wonder, then, that she's named her new venture Covalent Brewing after chemical bonds formed during the brewing process. Not that it's all science, mind you. Hatfield said that she's found that creating different flavor combinations is also exciting, and foresees a wide range of year-round standards on her list with a couple of rotating taps for experiments.

Lately she's been particularly taken with chile pepper infusions and is curious about incorporating other seasonal ingredients like squash in her brewing. Hatfield has been slowly collecting equipment and is looking for a building that would accomodate a small brewery and tasting room somewhere in Southeast Portland or possibly Milwaukie. Let's hope she finds one soon.