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Archive for October 2009

Poisoning Myself with (Horse) Chestnuts

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Those foreboding spiky shells should have been a sign.

I guess I’ll be more cautious about foraging from now on. A few ago, I gathered these chestnuts from a downtown tree. They looked like the whole roasted chestnuts I had in China, they felt like chestnuts, a guy working on the house told me they were chestnuts. What else could they be? Their spiky shells were a bit foreboding: perhaps that was a sign.

Now weeks later, I just got around to roasting them tonight. I knifed “x’s” onto the shell and popped them in the oven at 400. When they came out, the flesh seems chalkier than I remembered. But I took a bite. And ick, was it bitter. Hmm, could there be a poisonous variety of chestnut, I thought? Sure enough: horse chestnuts were what I plucked. I hardly heard of them: just vaguely remember some homeopathic toner I bought with their bark listed as an ingredient. I washed my mouth out with soap and frantically dialed poison control. A kind nurse answered right away and put me at ease. I only ate enough to maybe hurt my stomach. I drank water and chased it down with Halloween candy, and so far, so good. But one things for sure: I’ll certainly be more cautious when foraging for mushrooms, or any other wild-crafted foods sometime. And now I’ve still got a hankering for chestnuts, real sweet American or European ones, that is.

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An edible chestnut in the shell (By pizzodisevo /Flickr Creative Commons)

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The horse chestnuts I found scattered around the tree.

 

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Written by baltimoregon

October 31, 2009 at 8:49 pm

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My Willamette Week Restaurant Reviews

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Trout salad at Kir.

Trout salad at Kir.

Kir's pickle plate.

Kir's pickle plate.

(My three reviews that made it into the Willamette Week’s excellent Portland restaurant guide. Sorry, Giorgio’s, the editor and I decided you didn’t make the cut.)

Kir

This shabby-chic space feels like an old friend’s living room. In a flyspeck kitchen, chef-owner Amalie Roberts, the former wine director at Clyde Common, works her Mediterranean magic, assembling generous plates (a cornucopia of Manchego and cured meats, fragrant bowls of steamed mussels) for $10 or less. Sit at the Art Deco slab of bar and let bartender Russell Smith guide you. The chalkboard emphasizes affordable Old World vintages, particularly rosés. Or sip a cava-elderflower liqueur kir royale. Stunning late-summer surprises included a new pickle plate and large slabs of smoked trout beside a sunny salad of cherry tomatoes and haricots verts. Save room for the homey desserts, like the delicate plum hazelnut cake. Then find yourself becoming a regular here.

Kir flexes its muscles.

Kir flexes its muscles.

Order this: Mussels steamed with corona beans and chorizo.
Best deal: Charcuterie and cheese plate.
I’ll pass: Mixed olives, toasted pistachios (the least alluring of the snacks).

LAURA MCCANDLISH. 22 NE 7th Ave. 232-3063. kirwinebar.com Map

Happy hour pizettes pretty good deal during Fratelli's happy hours.

Happy hour pizettes pretty good deal during Fratelli's happy hours.

Fratelli

This cucina has staying power. After an 11-year, inconspicuous run in the Pearl, chef Paul Klitsie’s still at the helm. Fratelli’s Bar Dué boasts a happy hour offered not once but twice daily: first until 6 pm and again after 9 pm. Deals from the mesquite wood-fired oven include pizzas (though the green grape, olive and rosemary one lacked verve) and mix-and-match antipasti (pick the chicken-liver mousse and the better-than-hummus chickpea purée with arugula pesto). Among small plates, try the tangy, tender boar ribs; skip the porchetta sliders (all bun with little pork). The dinner menu trumpets local sources: grilled baby romaine with albacore tuna Caesar dressing, a Mountain Shadow Farms strip steak. How solid is Fratelli’s locavore street cred? Co-owner Tim Cuscaden even grows some of the produce himself, such as the beets braised with the black cod.
Order this: Braised boar ribs with balsamic glaze.
Best deal: $5 happy-hour pizzas and antipasti.
I’ll pass: Mixology (e.g., the Cello Drop) isn’t stellar. Consult the polished wine list instead.

LAURA MCCANDLISH. 1230 NW Hoyt St. 241-8800. www.fratellicucina.com Map

Clarklewis

Lunch and happy hour—that’s when to frequent the former capital of the fallen Ripe food empire. Sure, you’ll miss seafood starters (scallops with sweet corn and chanterelles), toothsome antipastos (arugula, burrata, yellow beans and grilled peaches) and heartier entrees (roasted pork shoulder with figs), but you can still sample a decent menu for a lot less cash. Try these sandwiches: peppery lamb bacon with grilled eggplant or in a BLT on the blue-plate special; roast chicken salad with Gruyère; an Italian grinder with olive dressing. Salads (watermelon with feta) seem less bold these days; most desserts don’t wow.
Order this: Any housemade pasta, like tagliatelle with lamb ragu. The smaller plate is ample.
Best deal: $6 happy-hour hamburger.
I’ll pass: Insipid soup and plain sorbet don’t beef up the lunch special. Get the sandwich alone instead.

LAURA MCCANDLISH. 1001 SE Water Ave. 235-2294. www.clarklewispdx.com Map

Written by baltimoregon

October 21, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Cider and Ruth Reichl’s Pumpkin Tureen

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In-the-pumpkin soup.

In-the-pumpkin soup.

Here’s a simple, filling fall dinner recipe Ruth Reichl recently described on NPR’s Fresh Air. It was one of her staples during her Lower East Side bohemian days. We used a cute, white lumina pumpkin from our new favorite Matt-Cyn Farms in Corvallis, a whole wheat sourdough baguette, Irish swiss and cut down the creaminess down with chicken broth. And added sage. It’s a cheesy soup fortified with the soft pumpkin you scrape down the sides.

We chased it down with cider from a neighbor who generously pressed it for us again this year. I’d love to learn how. Apparently, folks spike their sweet apple cider here with quince.

Speaking of Reichl, I just received my first–and now last–issue of Gourmet. Will it become a collector’s item? I agree with their picks for best restaurants in Portland–Pok Pok and Le Pigeon–although the latter is a little too over-hyped and fois gras/bone marrow-loving for my taste.

Written by baltimoregon

October 20, 2009 at 12:10 am

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Pork Pork

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Restaurant-style pork chops with rosemary polenta and grilled quince.

Restaurant-style pork chops with rosemary polenta and grilled quince.

We really live, or at least eat, like kings here in Oregon. Grant us our one indulgence in these hard times, please. Thick cuts of pork twice in one weekend, oh my! We had milk-braised pork loin at a special quince-themed dinner at Big River Friday. Hard work researching an article. Perhaps that succulent meat prodded us to spring for bone-in loin chops from the Sweet Briar Farms stand at the Saturday market. Their smokey slab bacon was also to die for with pickled quince in Big River’s silky pumpkin soup.

Sam Sifton’s maple-glazed pork chops and rosemary polenta recipe also  inspired the purchase. The man loves his meat. When will we be treated to his regular restaurant reviews? Here he recreates a popular Brooklyn bistro staple that was surprisingly easy to make at home. I didn’t go all out with the polenta, just boiled up the scant grains I had with some butter and rosemary. Didn’t have green apples but I’m swimming in quince and grilled in the maple pork juices, it was a tangy substitute. The chops were sweet and steak-like, with enough meat to feed us again tonight. The carmelized pecans and crystallized ginger made for an unfussy yet elegant garnish. There’s just nothing like open-range, acorn or hazelnut-foraging pork. Amy, we cooked it well (and that study was funded by industrial pork lobbyists).

So cute when they're young (at My Pharm in Monroe).

So cute when they're young (at My Pharm in Monroe).

Yet so nasty months later.

Yet so nasty months later.

I’m looking forward to a Slow Food Corvallis event later this fall, where we’ll taste-test a heritage breed alongside your supermarket Smithfield variety. The later will be hard to eat. The tasting will be at Gathering Together Farm, but the November date has apparently been pushed back because the Hampshire or Berkshire isn’t ready for slaughter yet. I’d love one as a pet!

Written by baltimoregon

October 13, 2009 at 12:02 am

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The Death of Gourmet

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The end is near: this is an unripe quince on the recipes for everything in season September issue.

The end is near. They couldn't even find a ripe quince for the "recipes for everything in season" September issue.

I’ve meant to blog about Gourmet magazine’s fate but can’t seem to manage posting more than once a week these days. Folks have a special fondness for it here in this food-loving state. And Gourmet loved Oregon back: see this recent feature on Portland Food Carts.

But I came late to the Gourmet table. I didn’t have the same heart attack/heartbreak other foodies did when the news of its demise broke. Yet it’s trumped-up website, rolled out by the magnetic (and tireless-that woman is always on the road) editor Ruth Reichl, drew me in this past year. Particularly Politics of the Plate columns. And their cookbook club reviews of new ones like Corey Schreiber’s Rustic Fruit Desserts. That’s where I got the apple-blackberry pie recipe. The website even encouraged me to subscribe for $12 a year. Wonder if I’ll ever get that first issue? But I can barely keep up with Bon Appetit. Two increasingly identical food pubs under one house is redundant, especially in these times. Why not keep the website though?

The September cover does now seem a harbinger of Gourmet’s imminent demise. Why would they put an unripe (green, still fuzz-covered) quince on the cover of an issue devoted to cooking with produce at its peak. Quinces don’t really come on ’til October. At least they got the favored quince preparation method right: poaching, in cardamom syrup, which really brings out the Caucus region fruit’s rosy fragrance and flavor.

These Oregon quinces are ripe. You can see-and especially smell-the difference.

These Oregon quinces are ripe. You can see-and especially smell-the difference.

Written by baltimoregon

October 9, 2009 at 12:26 am

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Take the Tabbouleh, Corn Pudding-Stuffed Acorn Squash, and still Pesto a Plenty

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Tabbouleh.

Tabbouleh.

I haven’t blogged much lately or made much headway on the canning or cooking front. But at least I have an excuse. This week, I returned to the classroom, in a paid position, for the first time in six years. Not that that will stop me. Cooking is my release.

Too bad the end-of-harvest bounty now is staggering. I want to snatch it all up before it goes away for the long, gray winter. I didn’t know what I was missing last year. So I’ll recommend some simple recipes for what’s in season before it’s too late.

Still have tomatoes and cukes, not to mention mint and Italian parsley, still hanging on the in the garden? Make some tabbouleh. Don’t bother to skin or peel your tomatoes, especially if they are fresh from the vine. Mint and the parsley promote good breath and help you digest your meal. I used a recipe from the Cooking Jewish bible, a tome I had reviewed for The Baltimore Sun’s cookbook column.

Surprise nearly October garden-fresh (literally) cukes for the tabbouleh.

Surprise nearly October garden-fresh (literally) cukes for the tabbouleh.

Malca’s Tabbouleh (Serves 4 to 6)

from Wendy Altman Cohen

1/2 cup fine bulgur

1/2 cup (packed) chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 bunch ( 6 to 8 ) scallions, white and green parts, chopped

2 medium-size tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 medium-size cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher (coarse) salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves

1. Prepare the bulgur according to the package directions (see note). Fluff the grains with a fork and allow to cool completely.

2. Mix the bulgur with all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Toss well and allow to sit for 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

Note: If you buy your bulgur loose from a bin, here are the cooking instructions: Combine the bulgur with 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until tender and the water is completely absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. Then fluff the grains with a fork and allow the bulgur to cool completely.

From Cooking Jewish by Judy Bart Kancigor

I also recommend this “Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash” dish. Next time, I would ratchet up the pudding’s flavor by tossing in chunks of salty country aged ham. And this week’s NPR Kitchen Window sings of the carnal pleasures of corn pudding. It really is revelatory. I didn’t grate or blend the kernels I sliced off the cob. Would that bring out their sweetness? I did make a salty-sweet corn and oyster pudding two years back while reviewing the Bake Until Bubbly cookbook, also for Then Sun. It was pretty sublime.

Corn Pudding in a Squash Bowl.

Corn Pudding in a Squash Bowl.

Roasted tail-end of a zucchini, candy-sweet.

Roasted tail-end of a zucchini, candy-sweet.

Written by baltimoregon

October 1, 2009 at 12:15 am

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