Friday, December 30, 2016
There's something about the color yellow tinged with a hint of orange that I find intoxicating. It's that golden-hour hue that comes just before sunset as the sun is sinking toward the horizon, slanting at just the right angle—some sources say between four and five degrees—to brush everything it touches with a yellow-orange glow. If you've seen the work of Van Gogh, you've certainly seen it. Or the movie Days of Heaven, which was shot by the legendary cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler during the hours just after dawn and before sunset, suffusing the film with a dreamy, fairy tale-like atmosphere.
And the possibilities for them is endless. I've written about using them in risotto, lemoncello, a crab risotto (again, make this now), a cocktail, pasta, a salad…the list goes on and on. So run, don't walk, to your favorite produce department, get some of these gorgeous orbs and start squeezing them…need I say…now.
Preserved Meyer Lemons
12-14 Meyer lemons
Wide-mouth quart jar with screw-on lid (either a metal ring and lid or a plastic lid)
Lightly rinse the lemons to remove any surface dust or dirt and dry them with a towel. Cover the bottom of the jar with a 1/8" layer of salt. Take six of the lemons and slice them vertically in quarters to within 1/2" of the base. Holding one upright in your palm over a small bowl, fill it with salt and place it in the jar. Do the same with the other five lemons and pack them tightly into the jar. Use more lemons if required to fill the jar within 3/4" of the top (you can slice the lemons into quarters to fit in the nooks and crannies). Pour the salt from the bowl into the jar. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemons to fill the jar within 1/2" of the top (you can also use regular lemons if you need to). Screw on the lid and place in the refrigerator. Every day or so, shake the jar to distribute the salt and juice, and after three or four weeks you're good to go.
This recipe will work with regular lemons as well. You can also add herbs like bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
I knew we were in trouble when I mentioned to Ben Meyer that we were planning to smoke a bone-in ham leg for Christmas dinner in a week's time. The owner of Old Salt Marketplace got a concerned look on his face and said, "So how long have you had it brining?"
"Um…you mean I should have taken it out of the freezer already?" I responded.
The meat injector. Scary, huh?
He went on to say—to his great credit there was no eye-rolling, at least that I noticed—that in order to have it ready by Christmas we would need to inject it with brine. There was no way that the brine for a ham that large, about 14 pounds or so, would have time to penetrate all the way through the meat. (I found out later that it can take as long as a month for that to happen. Heh.)
A classic on all fronts.
Fortunately he happened to have a spare injector that he could loan us, and brought out a tool that looked as if it was used in medieval dentistry or some other torture. The main chamber is pumped full of brine, then the needle—in this case, one with holes on the sides instead of the end—is inserted perpendicular to the bone, spraying the brine into the meat. For the brine itself, he suggested using Paul Bertolli's recipe from Cooking By Hand, a groundbreaking collection of recipes for making everything from bread to charcuterie.
Brining the ham.
I came home and ran to take the ham out of the freezer, leaving it on the counter to thaw. Two days later Dave made the brine, a beautiful and fragrant blend of vegetables, herbs, salts and water, and injected it every inch-and-a-half or so all the way around the leg. Then into the fridge it went, submerged in the brine to soak for six days.
Going in the smoker.
Dave pulled it out on Sunday morning, noting the hammy, dark pink tinge the meat had taken on from the curing process. He rinsed off the ham, then started the smoker with charcoal briquets, as well as soaking chunks of apple wood to add their unique notes to the smoked meat. He'd read various accounts of how long it might take to smoke a leg of pork that large, which ranged from six to 12 hours to reach his target of 140 degrees. He planned to keep his smoker in the 200 to 250-degree range, hoping for an overall time of eight hours.
When the smoker was ready, he put on what we hoped was going to be a perfect ham. After diligently tending the fire, six hours and two or three beers later it reached the desired temperature. Since the ham needed to rest anyway, we just wrapped it in foil, planning to serving it at room temperature. But first, of course, a few samples were sliced off to make sure it was company-worthy.
Six hours later…
I have to mention here that, lest you think that this project was a no-muss, no-fuss affair that we just dashed off casually, the night before I'd laid awake worrying about how salty the ham might be, running through the coulda-woulda-shoulda factors of whether we should have soaked it in water the night before to desalinate the ham and what to do if we had 14 pounds of puckeringly salty meat to somehow find a use for. And what would we be having for Christmas dinner? The Chinese restaurant scene from the movie A Christmas Story briefly flashed through my mind.
Fortunately I didn't turn over and shake Dave awake to relate my awful fears, I just turned over and forced myself to go back to sleep, probably one of the reasons we've managed to stay married for this long.
Oh, and those first slices? Heavenly, probably some of the best ham I've had in my entire life. Which was confirmed by our happy guests, who demolished a good third of the monster along with the creamy scalloped potatoes infused with bacon, caramelized onions and mushrooms, as well as the roasted vegetables and the apple pie for dessert.
A Christmas story with a happy ending? I'd say so. And the epilogue is that, after dinner, Dave was already saying he wanted to do it again. Soon.
Brine and preparation of leg from Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli, republished with his permission.
For the brine:
3 gallons water
454 grams salt
300 grams sugar
10 grams allspice berries
20 grams black peppercorns
5 grams whole cloves
10 grams whole juniper berries
2 onions (1 lb.), sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
Small bunch of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Small bunch of fresh thyme
8 bay leaves
57 grams Instacure No. 1 [pink curing salt]
For the ham:
1 fresh leg of pork, 13-15 lbs. (can also be thawed from a frozen leg)
To prepare the brine solution, put the water in a large pot. Add the salt and sugar. Crack the whole spices coarsely in a mortar and add them to the brine along with the sliced vegetables and herbs. Warm the brine to 160° (F) to release the spice and vegetable aromas and to dissolve the salt and sugar. Chill the brine to 34°, stir in the curing salt, and dissolve it thoroughly.
While the brine cooks, prepare the pork leg. Cut away the tailbone [if it hasn't been removed already] and trim away any skin, fat and glands that may remain on the flank side. Remove any excess fat around the skinless area of the aitch-bone.
Place the ham inside a deep pan with the shank end facing you. First, inject brine directly through the base three or four times, adjusting the position of the needle so that the entire shank section receives the brine. Next, turn the leg aitch-bone up so that the shank end is facing away from you. Beginning at one edge, plunge the needle deep into the heavy muscle of the lower leg, directing the needle toward the bone. Continue injecting brine at 1 1/2-inch intervals across the leg. You will notice the various muscles of the leg swelling as you pump the brine [some will leak out, which is fine]. Once you have reached the edge of the leg, return to the starting point and make a second row of injections 1 1/2 inches behind the first. Continue altering the angle of the needle around the bone until you have injected the entire leg. In all it should take 15 to 16 injections.
Place the leg into a bucket—we used a 12-quart Cambro container that fits in our fridge—and pour in the brine until the leg is submerged. Place the lid on the container and refrigerate for at least six days. After six days, remove the ham from the brine and rinse off. Discard the remaining brine.
Prepare the fire in the smoker, adding whatever well-soaked wood chunks you prefer. Put the ham in the smoker and maintain the internal temperature of the smoker between 200 and 250 degrees, adding more briquets as needed. When the internal temperature of the ham reaches 140°, remove from the smoker and rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
It's Christmas Eve and I still have one gift to figure out, so I'm assuming that some of you might be in the same awkward spot. I won't suggest that you take the route of one friend of mine whose aunt was a vociferous supporter of the current president-elect, so is giving a donation in her name to Planned Parenthood as her Christmas present, for which she will receive a thank-you note. [Side note: as of early December, more than 82,000 donations have been made to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence's name. That's alotta thank-yous.]
So I'll make a short suggestion list below in a few categories for your delectation. Do with them what you will. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below. And happy holidays!
- Friends of Family Farmers Great folks working to bring together farmers and citizens to shape and support socially and environmentally responsible family-scale agriculture in Oregon.
- Organic Seed Alliance Helping farmers, plant researchers and seed advocates work together to ensure that our organic food supply is healthy, resilient, and adaptable.
- The Portland Kitchen Changing the lives of underserved youth through food and cooking, helping them create healthy lifestyles, get meaningful employment and become great citizens of our community.
- The Pongo Fund Providing quality food and vital veterinary care for the family pets of anyone in honest need, keeping them safe, healthy and out of the shelters.
- Zenger Farm A working urban farm that models, promotes and educates the community about sustainable food systems, environmental stewardship, community development and access to good food for all.
- Providore Gift certificates from this store will be the bomb. Choose from Rubinette Produce, The Meat Monger, Flying Fish or Pastaworks. All delicious, all the time.
- Old Salt Marketplace* Meat lovers will celebrate with a gift certificate for anything in their butcher case and the foodies will love their lunch, brunch and dinner offerings. Plus they've got charcuterie packs for stocking stuffers and classes galore!
- Hopworks Urban Brewery* More gift certificate goodness. Beer, pizza, lotsa merch, with three locations (helloooo Vancouver!)—and it's all organic and BCorp certified. Good guys.
- Portland's Culinary Workshop Cooking classes for all ages, all skill levels, all cuisines. Just browsing their class offerings is inspiring. Gift certificates for any amount, never expire!
- Turnip the Heat Cooking School Kids will love Joanna Sooper (an elementary school teacher is her regular gig) who's committed to helping kids learn about—and love—fresh, delicious food. I know from personal experience! Gift certs available.
* Old Salt Marketplace and Hopworks are sponsors of Good Stuff NW. And fantastic, local, ethical businesses, at that.
Friday, December 23, 2016
Mention the word foraging. I dare you.
Chances are if I'm within earshot, I'll "lean in." And I don't mean that in a groovy, women-in-corporate-boardrooms, outta-my-way-mister sort of way. I mean I'll literally walk over, shove my nose into the conversation and say, "Did I hear something about foraging? For what? Where? And can I come?"
Ranger Sam shows off an Amanita muscaria.
So by the time I got to the end of the sentence "I’m writing to see if you’d like to visit Astoria for a guided mushroom foraging trip…" I was already typing "yes" in reply to the e-mail from my friend Vicky Hastings, whose agency works with the Astoria-Warrenton tourism bureau.
You see, not only do I love hunting for mushrooms, I also adore Astoria. We've been there several times over the years and have watched it turn from a working port city on the Columbia into a great destination for day trips, overnight visits and vacations, all just a 90-minute scenic drive from Portland. Its dining scene has evolved from a few scattered cafés to one with several very good restaurants featuring local seafood, produce, breads, cheese and beer. And a new brewery seems to be popping up every few months to join ranks with the big kahuna that is Fort George Brewery.
The afternoon's haul.
Our first stop was at Fort Stevens State Park to meet Ranger Sam Gibson, a strapping young fellow with a big smile who was leading us on our foraging tour that day. Our group was small, just another couple and us, so we opted for the "off-road" tour that would give us more foraging time and less walking on trails to get to the more accessible—meaning more well-known and thus potentially picked-over—spots.
As we walked to a spot where Ranger Sam had found mushrooms in previous seasons, he gave us some historical background on the park, as well as pointing out some of the different varieties of mushrooms that we would be seeing during the afternoon. He said that the park staff had started offering foraging trips as a way to encourage people to discover its natural beauty during the winter months. (Contact the park office to arrange a tour, and check this guide for other foraging opportunities.)
Commodore Hotel lobby in Astoria.
Tramping up and down hillsides and gradually filling our bags with the large porcini mushrooms that were springing up out of the wet, moss and fern-covered forest floor, I was surprised when Ranger Sam mentioned that these densely forested hills were once barren sand dunes that had been planted with trees in the first half of the 1900s. Which is interesting, since Fort Stevens was originally constructed during the Civil War to protect the mouth of the Columbia River. Featuring eight gun batteries scattered across its more than 4,000 acres, those same trees have now grown to obscure the view of the Columbia from the batteries.
Lovell Taproom at Ft. George Brewery.
Saying goodbye to Ranger Sam back at the parking lot, we made the short drive into Astoria and our room for the night at the Commodore Hotel downtown. A restored 1925-era hotel that seeks to maintain its historic roots, it caters to modern guests with hipster amenities like beer on tap and an Ace Hotel-style lobby for communing. Rooms are updated with modern furniture and tiled bathrooms, but we were tipped off to a noise problem when we found packets of earplugs in the bedside table drawers—windows overlooking the street let in lots of light, but also lots of traffic noise, and the original wooden doors do nothing to keep out noise from the hallway.
IPA at Buoy Beer on the waterfront.
That said, Astoria's downtown district is bustling with activity and the hotel is within a few blocks of some terrific restaurants. We chose to go to Albatross & Co. across the street, chef Eric Bechard's intimate local watering hole-cum-oyster bar that has recently expanded its offerings to include a full dinner menu. Other dinner options nearby include the eclectically themed T. Paul's Urban Café, and Clemente's Cafe and Public House on the waterfront.
More casual dining can be had at any of the many brewpubs, including the aforementioned Fort George Brewery, as well as at Buoy Beer and Wet Dog Café, the taproom for Astoria Brewing Company. But a hidden gem we found this trip is the Lovell Taproom in the building next door to Fort George. An intimate pocket bar with a blazing fireplace, it often has special small-batch beers not found in the main brewpub next door.
Ordering at Street 14 Café.
The next morning we took the most direct route and checked out Street 14 Café, located on the first floor of the hotel. A comfortable cross between an espresso bar and an old-fashioned diner, the coffee is hot and strong and the food is affordable and delicious. If they could only get those well-seasoned waitresses with a coffee pot in one hand and a cigarette dangling from their lips, it would be the perfect throwback.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
My friends Christine and Mike at Green Dog Pet Supply, purveyors of environmentally friendly pet supplies and gifts in the Beaumont neighborhood of Northeast Portland, recently shared the following information on their blog. Some of it was news to me, so I'm hoping you'll be able to make use of these handy holiday tips, too!
Portland allows us to recycle a lot of things at curbside, including plastic plant nursery pots, empty spray oil cans, motor oil (next to bins in a clear milk jug) and food waste. In fact, in five years of curbside composting, the city has been able to turn food waste into over 400,000 tons of finished compost, which is enough compost to cover 2,400 acres of farmland, about 4 square miles. That alone is a lot of volume kept out of our landfills!
For example, lids are almost always made of a different plastic than the bottle or tub they’re sold with. It’s too work-intensive for workers to remove them—recyclers have too few people, too much recycling to pick through quickly, and everything still needs to get washed and processed or packed up to be processed elsewhere. Since the plastic in the lid is a very different plastic, with a higher melting point than bottles, they need to be processed an entirely different way.
Here’s a list of some common things that are mistakenly added to recycling, but could in fact be recycled elsewhere:
- Soft plastic bags can’t go into your curbside recycling bin, but can be recycled at both Whole Foods and New Seasons (just not hard and crinkly bags like chip bags—those need go in the trash).
- Plastic “clamshell” containers like spinach or to-go boxes can’t be recycled curbside, but can be recycled at both New Seasons and Whole Foods, as well as plastic things like yogurt/deli lids and coffee lids. (The coffee cups need to go in the garbage, because they contain waterproofing additives).
- Any paper made to contain frozen foods or takeout containers must go in the garbage. It also contains additives to make them waterproof and these additives make it non-recyclable.
- Any paper with decorative foil has to go in the garbage (though all other wrapping paper, tissue paper, cards and envelopes can go in, minus the ribbons). When it's time to unwrap gifts, you can set up two collection bags ahead of time, one for wrapping paper, tissue and cards, and the other for ribbons and foil. It can be fun for kids to be in charge of things, so have one little elf in charge of bringing presents to people to unwrap, and another little elf in charge of grabbing that wrapping paper and getting it into the right bag. You’ll be amazed at how much tidier the living room looks after present opening! And don’t forget: Those foil-covered papers and ribbons are great for kids’ craft projects.
- Packaging peanuts and styrofoam cannot go in your curbside bin, but check for places will reuse them. The UPS and Fedex stores are often happy to take your clean, bagged styrofoam peanuts—call your local store and ask. Excess cardboard boxes and packing peanuts can be posted on Craigslist or Next Door. People who are moving might appreciate them, or small businesses in the neighborhood might be able to use them for shipping and might even come take them off your hands!
- Styrofoam blocks are a challenge at the time of this writing. Check out this link for your options.
- When you take a toy out of a formed plastic insert, take it to Whole Foods. They have a bin labeled “non-curbside plastic” which is good for caps, lids and other misc hard plastics.
- Corks can’t go in curbside, but Whole Foods has a natural cork recycling bin inside the store. Just make sure it's natural cork, not a plastic cork.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
Portland can be a funny place, and I'm not saying that with a "Keep Portland Weird" smirk. Stroll through any neighborhood in town from late summer to early fall and you'll see fallen prunes, plums and apples smearing sidewalks. This time of year persimmons glow like orange lanterns from trees planted decades ago.
Persimmons in vodka.
Some of those fruit trees were left when the east side of the river, much of it consisting of farms and orchard land, was developed for housing in the early part of the 1900s. Other fruit trees, like cherries, prunes, quince and plums, were planted as street trees back when families had large gardens and preserved the fruit and vegetables they grew to use in the lean days of winter.
With the emergence of large supermarkets that stock fresh greens and fruit year round—not to mention women needing to get full-time jobs to support their families—big gardens gave way to landscaping, and the pantries stocked with row upon row of fruit, vegetables, tomatoes and preserves were torn out. Sadly, this meant that the skills to do all that preserving were also lost in many families like mine, though they're now being rediscovered through books, classes and online videos.
Quince in vodka.
Another way of preserving fruit, aside from submerging it in sugar syrup and "putting up" jars in the pantry, was to make liqueurs and infusions. I've now done that with quince, green walnuts, black currants and persimmons, and it's always fun to pull out a few of these colorful containers to share with friends as an after-dinner digestif. They also make great gifts decanted into small bottles available in most kitchen supply stores.
But aside from sippers and hostess gifts, they're also great mixers in cocktails. The persimmon-infused vodka I made from foraged fruit last year pairs particularly well with brown liquors like bourbon and rye. This is a cocktail that Dave created the other night, and I hope that one winter's day you'll consider making your own infused liqueur when you see those glowing orange orbs dangling from a tree.
Good Fuyu #2
2 oz. rye
1 oz. persimmon-infused vodka
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Fill cocktail mixing glass half full of ice. Add ingredients and stir 30 seconds until well-chilled. Strain into cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with amarena cherry.
Monday, December 05, 2016
Several years ago, so long ago, in fact, that the internet was in its infancy—if the browser names Mosaic and Netscape Navigator ring any bells, you're in the right era—where carrying a powerful computer around in your hip pocket, one that could answer virtually any question within seconds, was a concept left to science fiction fantasists, and people at dinner parties had to scour actual books to settle arguments about the name of the guy who was in that movie or else argue for hours over the name of the dog that was sent into orbit by the Russians (Laika, for those who care).
A well-loved (and well-marked) book.
Our house was pretty handy for situations requiring reference material, so much so that one visitor dubbed it "the house of books" for the piles that were—and still are—a major part of our living room decor. So when the holidays roll around it's no surprise that books will fill many slots on our gift lists, both for receiving and giving. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite food-centric tomes ideal for the bookish on your list. And feel free to add your own pick by clicking on the comments link below!
Buck Buck Moose by Hank Shaw. The third book by this self-described "hunter, angler, gardener, cook"—who is a superb writer on those topics as well as a good friend of mine—is a thorough compendium of hunting, cooking and eating "antlered things." Perfect for hunters, it's also a thoughtful treatise on how these animals are deeply intertwined with our history as a species. Carnivorous cooks will appreciate it, too, since his meticulously tested recipes are great even if you can't easily obtain venison—simply substitute beef, lamb or pork.
Life Without a Recipe by Diana Abu Jaber. Memoirs are slippery beasts, the good ones treading the fine lines between tell-all and tight-lipped, between my-life-is-so-fabulous and Blanche Dubois, cringe-inducing drama. Abu Jaber, a professor of writing and literature who splits her time between Portland and Florida, writes with skill about growing up the daughter of an American mother, a Jordanian father and a powerhouse of a German grandmother. In this, her second, memoir, she continues the journey she began in The Language Of Baklava, weaving "a book of love, death and cake."
Better from Scratch and Crackers & Dips by Ivy Manning. Prolific writer and author of cookbooks on subjects ranging from how to cook for a mixed-diet family to fixing easy weeknight vegetarian meals to one of the best farmers' market cookbooks around, these two slim volumes are packed with recipes so good they're already as well-thumbed as my grandmother's Joy of Cooking. Better from Scratch will stun you with how easy it is to make things you usually buy from the store—often for a premium price—like granola, beef jerky, graham crackers and kimchi. Ditto for Crackers and Dips, where you'll have fun, spend less and enjoy crunchy, sweet and savory treats made from whole grains, real butter, cheese, fresh spices and no preservatives.
Oysters and Crab by Cynthia Nims. Seattle writer and cookbook author Nims is passionate about the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, especially the creatures pulled from the depths of the waters off our own West Coast. In Oysters she describes in detail the biology of these amazing shellfish and how they help purify the waters they live in. She then moves on to suggest the best methods of buying, cooking (or not!) and eating them, with more than 30 recipes. Our West Coast Dungeness is the star of Crab, but she also covers its Atlantic and Gulf Coast cousins, delving into the history and importance of the commercial fishing industry, then quickly moving on to how to buy, clean and—with more than 50 recipes—how to cook these beauties.
My Beer Year by Lucy Burningham. This book by Portland beer writer Burningham has a long but delightful descriptor: "Adventures with hop farmers, craft brewers, chefs, beer sommeliers, and fanatical drinkers as a Beer Master in training." With wit (as well as Wit), it describes how this young writer and mom fell in love with beer to the point where she decided to become a Certified Ciccerone, going through the rigorous and arcane training and testing regimen to become a beer expert. (And you just thought knowing an IPA from a Porter made you that, right?) Full of character and plenty of characters, its a great book for the beer fanatic in your life.
Pure Beef by Lynne Curry. The current dietary advice, as Michael Pollan famously said, is to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." But if we are going to eat protein, its important to eat animals raised humanely, with their feet on the earth and the sun on their backs. In other words, pasture-raised animals rather than those raised in crowded, confined conditions requiring daily doses of antibiotics to survive. To that end, I heartily recommend Joseph, Oregon, writer Lynne Curry's book on buying, cooking and eating grass-fed beef, an incredibly well-researched and thoroughly recipe-tested primer on how to get the most delicious results possible from these tasty beasts.
Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Dividing her time between a home on the coast of Maine and an olive farm in Tuscany, Jenkins shares her contagious passion for the flavors of the Mediterranean, a diet she is convinced is one of the most healthful and flavorful on the planet. I've tried several recipes from this book, and I can't argue with that premise.
Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. If you have a bread baker in your life, or someone who's interested in learning to make bread, I can't recommend this book highly enough. My husband worked for two years to make what he considered the perfect artisan loaf, and was frustrated with what he felt were mediocre results until friends got him this book. It was a game-changer, and it apparently has some pretty good recipes for other good things to eat, though those pages remain remarkably unthumbed around here.
James Beard: A Biography by Robert Clark. As a fifth-generation Oregonian, I thought I knew plenty about native son James Beard. That is, until I read this biography of this world-famous cook, eater and bon vivant. A truly fascinating character in his own right, it follows Beard's upbringing in Portland in the late 1800s, his escape from his controlling-yet-supportive mother to New York and Europe and his lifelong love affair with the flavors and ingredients of the Northwest. In addition, it follows the evolution of the American palate with discussions that add depth and nuance to Beard's at times tragic yet joyful journey.