Archive for September 2009
This is the story of how the random ingredients I assembled beforehand transformed themselves into a marvelous sandwich tonight. A luscious chicken liver pate and a pickled daikon (white radish)-carrot salad were the condiments I piled onto banh mi Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches. What serendipity to glance upon Ivy Manning’s “Mushroom Banh Mi” recipe in this week’s FOODday section of The Oregonian. It just so happens I had made up some of her daikon salad (from her Farm to Table cookbook) last week.
Then there was the pate I made up for my parents, with velvety, foie gras-like livers from Kookoolan Farms. When defrosted, they were as good as fresh. It didn’t hurt that we amped up the recipe with chanterelles and leeks from the garden instead.
So I corrupted Ivy’s vegetarian sandwich, spreading pate on the baguette under the ‘shrooms. But that’s the way we like to eat: with meat as a condiment. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.
Herbaceous and fragrant, this syncretic sandwich is sweeping the Pacific Northwest and country-at-large. We love our little Baguette cafe here. And wild, hybrid versions of banh mi have surfaced in Washington and New York. But making your own isn’t difficult. It’s a great way to pay homage to two great culinary traditions, Vietamese and French. This is one edible positive to emerge from the scourge of colonialism.
This is a brilliant pie because it bridges the seasons, melding tart, jammy berries with crisp, fragrant apples. I also added quince slices to the mix, because the astringent fruit gains a wonderful rosey pear-like flavor when cooked with sugar. I’d never come across quinces before moving here to the Pacific Northwest, where we even haven them growing on the neighbor’s tree down the road. The USDA genebank here in Corvallis is home to North America’s perhaps most diverse quince collection.
Making and rolling out your own pie crust is always a patshkie, but at least this all-butter recipe made four discs, so we had two leftover to freeze. We also didn’t dock the dough (prick it with a fork) before pouring in the filling. The crust was flakey and delicious but not quite crisp enough. Maybe pre-bake it a bit first? This pie crust tutorial video helps you beef up your technique.
The pie recipe comes from Rustic Fruit Desserts, published by Portland chef Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson of the Baker & Spice Bakery there. Cory recommended the recipe when he came on our KBOO Food Show Wednesday. For our School Lunch Special, Schreiber also spoke about the challenges of his work as farm-to-school coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
I’ve realized there was a glaring omission in my review of where to eat in Newport, on the Oregon coast. Somehow I managed to overlook foodie favorite April’s at Nye Beach. But then I realized why: the restaurant shutters each January and that’s when I did my dining for the reviews. So this week I finally had a chance to eat at April’s.
While not paradigm-shifting in the vein of Portland’s most inventive spots, April’s is a reliable, elegant and warm restaurant. The servers are gracious and the food is local and good. Pacific Northwest seafood is well-represented on the contemporary Italian menu, which also features ultra-local produce from the chef-owner’s garden in nearby Toledo. My duck breast was succulent and the salmon panzanella was a fresh and unusual presentation.
For fine dining in Newport, there is also the more cosmopolitan Saffron Salmon and perhaps more affordable Panache. Most days, we’d prefer Cafe Mundo‘s earthier, more informal scene. Of course when Dungeness crab is in season, that’s the way to go, the less adorned the presentation, the better.
Dan’s uncle and aunt, our yenta (not in the busybody sense), came all the way from New York to visit, so I wanted to make a special meal.
Eggplant Parmesan? Fresh fish? But then I stumbled upon new Bon Appetit recipe for Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Figs. That’s what I would make. But calling these lamb chops is a bit misleading. It’s rack of lamb cut into chops. Not the most recession-friendly recipe. But luckily I found an affordable local source of lamb just down the road. I even biked to their store to procure it. Nice rack. Had to crack a little joke as I took the 3-lbs. of meat (and mostly rib bones) from the freezer.
The hardest part of the recipe was timing the cooking of the lamb right and carving the chops. All you do is rub the rack with herbs and garlic, add some salt and pepper, brown, roast then roast the succulent halved Kadota figs in the lamb fat. I especially love such plain-looking green figs with their resplendent blush interiors. In Siddhartha, when Herman Hesse compares “her mouth to a fig split in two“: that’s a description that’s stayed with me. Don’t you just love Google Books?
To whet our appetites, we noshed on local cheeses (including the end of an addictive Rogue Creamery Rosemary Cheddar) with hazelnut sourdough bread from the farmers’ market. They sampled my pickles; the kosher dills were a hit, maybe even better than Ben’s? What better compliment could a girl get. The asparagus and okra pickles didn’t go over as well.
Rounding out the meal was Julia’s always reliable, amenable whole grain salad. I threw blanched green beans from our garden and roasted local Italian peppers into it. I recommend making it with Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend (Israeli couscous, orzo, split garbanzo beans and red quinoa). I think that’s the Trader Joe’s item I most miss. I always pick some up when I’m in Portland. It’s supposed to be coming to Corvallis. Of course, they’ll probably discontinue carrying this product by then.
This time of year, what you see at the market dictates what food you will prepare. At closing time Saturday, for the first time I noticed a vendor selling nothing but peppers. Deep green poblanos. Fiery anaheims. Bright red and yellow Italian (long and skinnier but just as sweet as bell) peppers. It was a pepper farmer from Coburg I hadn’t seen there before. To woo us, the stand fresh-roasted the peppers right there on the grill.
But I took them home to do myself. Some right on the gas burner, some under the broiler. Until they blister and turn black, then into a paper bag to steam for 10 minutes before slipping off the skins. It’s hard to get the timing just right. But better to overdue it slightly, to get that smokey roasted flavor, if you don’t mind them falling apart.
And fall apart they did as I tried to stuff the poblanos for Chiles Rellenos. Mark Bittman inspired the stuffing: grated Monterey Jack cheese, mixed with some fresh sweet corn and pumpkin seeds. Bittman also gave good tips for the batter: whip egg whites until stiff, then add flour and some beer to keep it airy. Ours didn’t quite have the right consistency because my husband is still learning how to separate the egg whites from the yolk. (Never-mind, I’ll just do it myself). But it was less eggy/omelette-like than the Rellenos my father, who worked in a Mexican restaurant throughout college, always makes.
His Mexican recipes are some of the most treasured in our family, as if that were our ancestry (oh wait: we do have Mexican cousins, stemming from the forty years my explorer-archaeologist-adventurer-cultural pirate great-great grandfather spent there). Most beloved is Dad’s famous Salsa Verde (green sauce). Here’s the recipe:
1 large onion
1 can green chiles (or roast your own anaheims or poblanos, of course)
2 cups chicken stock
1 lb. tomatillos
sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic, Mexican oregano, oil, cilantro is optional.
Saute the onions until translucent. Add all the other remaining ingredients except the sour cream. Simmer for 45 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender or in a blender blender. Add sour cream to taste and blend til smooth.
And it freezes well to boot. I spooned the sauce over Chiles Rellenos but it is also excellent with camerones: just take steamed shrimp and place them atop a bed of Mexican rice and lettuce and top with the hot salsa verde.
What a difference a year makes. I never thought I’d feel at home in Corvallis (or blogging, for that matter) but here exactly a year later since the move and this project began, and I’m well at ease.
We’re frantically trying to weed and tame the yard this weekend after a summer and, well really, a year of neglect. But I’m at least adept enough to coax a few vegetables from the earth. The green (and purple and yellow) beans, tomatoes and remaining leeks are still abundant enough to source a meal.
Fresh albacore is the obvious reply to what to make for dinner this time of year.
Apparently there’s only about a week left in the season. The one-pound chunk we bought downtown today at Harry & Annette’s Fresh Fish just came in from the coast this morning. Fresh albacore is affordable, fleeting and so much more delicious and less fishy than the canned stuff. It’s not sushi-grade bluefin or yellowtail but it’s a milder still meaty fish that melds well with a range of flavors, particularly gingerly Asian marinades.
The most recent food column in the local Corvallis newspaper inspired me. Since we shy away from the grill, we roasted the fish at high-heat, 500 degrees. We whipped up our version of the fresh tomato-ginger “relish” and the hot mustard better sauce. I doubled the sweet onion in the relish since I lacked green ones. And some leftover lebni yogurt cheese stood in for whipping cream, yielding a tasty but curdled butter sauce.
My home-grown beans we steamed and sauteed with lemon, rosemary and chopped walnuts. Freshing but a tad bit bland, according to Dan. But overall a memorable meal.
I just wonder if cooking will continue to capture my attention in 2009-10 as it did, sustaining me, last year.
It seems sacrilege for a budding food writer to avoid the foodie movie everyone’s talking about until now. Hey, I saw Food, Inc. before its release. My journalistic instincts just remain more muckraking than gourmet. But Julie & Julia beckoned. I couldn’t contain my curiosity anymore. In anticipation, I found myself grabbing lunch at our surprisingly excellent strip-mall French patisserie here. Le Patissier has delicious (and quick to disappear) almond cream and paste croissants. But the savory items, buttery quiches and salads with a snappy Dijon vinaigrette are also memorable. The bakery uses many local ingredients (strawberries in the tarts, etc.) but you’d never know, because they don’t advertise it for fear of being labeled “greenwashing.”
Julie & Julia was of course heart-warming. And Nora Ephron brilliantly melded Julie Powell’s memoir with Julia Child’s rebirth as a cook in France. I teared up several times, mostly in vicariously experiencing the letdowns and eventual joys the two leads had upon finally getting good news from editors/publishers/readers…our tenuous existence as food writers/bloggers/cookbook authors is in their hands. Of course Julie Powell’s self-doubts about the narcissistic nature of blogging, and her desire to forge on with this self-imposed project anyway, resonated with me. Perhaps the most poignant, but subtle, part of the film to me: when Julia cries, with envy, upon learning that her sister (who also married late) is expecting a child. Did she regret not having her own? Children would have compromised her career, she said, but she missed not having grandchildren. If only you could have one with out the other. It takes a void, for sure, to throw yourself headlong into something, as Julia Child did with French cooking.
But frankly most of her recipes, and much of French cooking, doesn’t really interest me. I’m only drawn to choice French desserts and pastries. I’ll attempt a few dishes: chocolate mousse, braised cucumbers, perhaps, and I’d love to learn to bone a duck. Julie Powell can also be a model of what I don’t wish to become. Sure, she had a great idea but could have poured much more curiosity and reporting into it. As with Harry Potter, I’m skeptical of the books everyone is reading or ordering at once. I’ll wait to turn to Julia when the trend cools down. At lest I’m not the only one who finds food of this style inaccessible and daunting.