Archive for February 2010
I’ll admit I probably like the idea of soul food more than the actual greasy, stick-to-your-thighs dishes. Still, I sought it out at Amy Ruth’s and Manna’s while reporting on Harlem, and I bemoaned the surprising dearth of restaurants serving it up in Baltimore. And in this lily white land of culinary plenty, I’ve often said the one cuisine we lack is Southern-style soul food.
Yet this week, all those staples–fried chicken and barbecued brisket, potato salad, mac ‘n’ cheese, stewed greens, fried catfish–were served up at a place you wouldn’t normally praise for its food. A college cafeteria. We’ve been more than pleased by the special fare prepared by OSU’s Dining Services, such as the Taste of Southeast Asia banquet we enjoyed for $7 last year. This week, their $8 Black History Month feast was even better. The only thing I didn’t like was the “tofu creole.” I should have known. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Even dessert–mini sweet potato and pecan pies and bananas foster–was delicious. Dan said the food was better than anything he had at Yale.
Speaking of Black History Month, check out our recent KBOO Food Show on the discrimination faced by black farmers here and nationwide. We had lots of folks call in and are quite proud of the show. And I’d welcome any recommendations of soul food to try here. We still need to get to Portland’s acclaimed Podnah’s Pit BBQ. And then there’s Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen in Eugene. But it’s tragic that Ted “Papa” Lee himself died unexpectedly before we go to go. I’m thankful we at least got to see Papa play the blues once right here in Corvallis, at Block 15.
What a difference it makes to actually forage for nettles at the start of the season, as opposed to last spring when they were starting to undesirably go to seed. Foraging with Chef Intaba by the river in Willamette Park last Saturday, I was also much more confident in identifying the green stalks and didn’t confuse them with young blackberry leaves. I also came prepared with my tough purple kitchen gloves and thick rubber boots, the better to wade into the brambles. We snapped off just the young top nettle leaves, so hopefully they will replenish themselves over the next month. The picked raw leaves, which when blanched or steamed are like a sweet, more fibrous spinach, smelled like chlorophyll-laden green pepper in my bag. And when you steam them up, you can drink the remaining detoxifying green-black tea, supposedly good for your complexion and urinary tract. It’s vegetal and slightly sweet.
With the blanched, chopped leaves, I made a quinoa and bulgur greek salad and a spanikopita-like lasagna, with feta, ricotta, chopped nettle and dill for the filling. See other nettle recipe suggestions here and on Culinate here. I hear they make a good soup, with potatoes. Deborah Madison has a recipe that looks nice. But I think I’ll only get the urge to forage for nettles about once a season. I still prefer domestically-cultivated greens, such as kale and spinach. But foraging is a lot easier, and in some ways more rewarding, than gardening. Here’s to next year, Intaba!
I realized it was finally time to use that gallon-size bag of sliced rhubarb I had frozen when I saw the ruby-red stalks poking up through the mulch in the garden. I couldn’t get enough rhubarb last spring. I think I o.d.-ed on the stuff last April and May, returning home with big bunches of it every time I visited the farmers market. But I never touched that frozen bag of it last fall or winter. I think, as with asparagus and blackberries, and of course, fresh tomatoes, I just prefer to eat my heart out when it’s in season and then abstain until the fresh crop emerges the following spring or summer. That first fresh bite never tastes as good as their frozen counterpart from last season.
So before rhubarb arrives, I’m trying to use up the frozen stuff. I made a soupy strawberry-rhubarb crisp last night, with the frozen local strawberries I also ignored this winter. I might make rhubarb compote/syrup with the remaining chunks. The rhubarb crop should be early this year, if my garden is any indication. It’s amazing how the perennial plant completely dies back, disappears, when it gets cold, only to reappear again, through its mulchy mound, come February. But I might not crave the tart pie plant as much this spring, since I’m indulging in the frozen stuff now.
What will you make with it once rhubarb season begins? On second thought, maybe you should freeze some so once cherries are in season, you’ll have enough on hand to make this fabulous Bing cherry-rhubarb brown betty I discovered last season.
I had no idea brewing my own kombucha tea, that fizzy tonic that you shell out $3 bucks for at the health foods store, would be so easy. Brew up a gallon of tea, add a cup of sugar, some spices such as ginger and cardamom, and a 1/4 cup vinegar (thanks Dave Love) for extra mold control. Then add the squid-like culture (a symbiotic puck of yeast and beneficial bacteria) and let it ferment for a week. It gets increasingly fizzy and tangy as it matures. Kombucha has been associated with various health benefits, but also some risks, so brew it in a sterile environment and drink in moderation. For whatever reason, the age-old beverage really quenches the thirst, and to me, is highly addictive. Hey, making your own is becoming mainstream enough for the Chicago Tribune to blog about.
I first tasted that GT’s/Synergy kombucha in Baltimore and have since fallen for Kombucha Wonder Drink’s Asian Pear Ginger. There’s a lovely local kombucha brewed in oak barrels right here in Eugene. I tried it at a recent fermentation festival there. But nothing beats the convenience, thrift and satisfaction of brewing your own. Sally Fallon of the Nourishing Traditions cookbook and the Weston A. Price Foundation is a recommended source on how to brew your own.
It’s comforting to experience and blog about events we’re having the fortune to experience for the second time in 2010, as we’re well into our second year here. Like with the recent Oregon Truffle Festival and tonight’s Fungal Feast, also in Eugene, which we again attended this year with our mycologist neighbors, Joyce and Dan. The meal (except for the appetizer) was even better this year. Feel free to compare with last year’s review. I was especially excited since the guest chef staging the feast with the Lane Community College culinary students was none other than mushroom specialist Jack Czarnecki, owner of the world-famous Joel Palmer House (where my parents graciously took us for my birthday last year).
The meal began with rosemary ciabatta bread dipped in Czarnecki’s glorious white truffle oil, purportedly the only all-natural one manufactured with domestic truffles here in the U.S. Delicious as it was, we couldn’t bring ourselves to pay $30 to bring a small bottle of the oil home. I prefer to enjoy my truffles on rare special occasions. I wouldn’t want to get too used to these things, like the son of the Mycological mushroom distributor at our table who wrinkled his nose at truffles, complaining of “truffle breath” and the way they made him burp. That’s a burp that smells good to me. But when they’re past ripe, a rotting one, such as a rare Oregon Brown (Calapooia) truffle specimen I sniffed tonight, can smell putrid.
Though last year’s black truffle and gnocchi appetizer was more memorable, it was incredible in the salad tonight how refrigerating the salami and cheese with truffles allows the oils in the fat of the meat and cheese to absorb the fungi’s pungent aroma over a period of weeks. That’s the same process folks use to infuse butter or even eggs (through the shell!) with a truffle’s essence.
The entree was stellar; the Polish-influenced side dishes particularly unique. Dried morel mushrooms floated in a caraway-and-sweet pepper cream sauce bathing the perfectly-braised pork loin. Note to self: go foraging for morels when they appear in April. I fell in love with the creamy Polish kapusta, the humble sauerkraut and split peas dish Czarnecki gussied up with porcini mushrooms. The sweet peas temper the bracing brine of the kraut. I should make some with the jars of homemade kraut sitting in the fridge. This dish was sure new to me. And for dessert: panna cotta (like creamy Jello) topped with a candy cap mushroom syrup. I bid on some of these surprisingly maple syrup-flavored dried mushrooms (only when dried is that sweet aroma revealed). Neighbor Dan said mycologists think candy caps contain the same chemical compounds used in artificial maple syrup. But I did have a winning bid–only $3– for a small bag of hedgehog mushrooms. They’ll make a nice sauce for Valentine’s Day steak.
I finally branched out from our standby Poppi’s Anatolia and had myself an ethereal pizza experience for lunch (and leftovers for dinner) in Eugene today. For months friends have said we had to try the legendary, vegan-friendly Pizza Research Institute. My meal today confirmed the hype. Since it was no more expensive I sprang for the Chef’s Choice, a colorful mandala-like collage of 12-14 fresh toppings arranged on your pie. Today, this taste sensation included curried cauliflower, sweet carmelized eggplant, preserved peaches, grilled zucchini and piped florettes of ricotta. The zesty crust was flecked with herbs. Unusual homemade condiments–a coconut curry habanero sauce, a honey chipotle lime hot sauce–were on hand to dip your crust handles into. I started with a small simple salad, studded with toasted sunflower and black sesame seeds, dressed with a garlicky buttermilk poppy seed dressing recipe I’d love to obtain.
Especially revelatory was the candied eggplant topping. I mistook it for some type of piquant dried fruit. It made me want to try out a recipe for eggplant jam, such as the one Linda Ziedrich includes The Joy of Jams, Jellies. I’ll also definitely have eggplant the next time I’m at PRI. The chef recommended the chevre, marinated eggplant & carmelized onions pizza for next time. Next time indeed!
When will I learn not to make such a potschke when I’m rushing out to a potluck. But it’s always fun to experiment when you have an audience of food lovers that includes more folks than just your husband. So for the Slow Food Corvallis annual potluck, I decided to make the Pork Meatball Banh Mi, that hybrid Vietnamese-French creation that had been calling to me from the meatball special issue of Bon Appetit. There’s something about these umami-packed sandwiches that I always crave. Is it the mushroom or liver pate slathered on the baguette? Or the Sriracha-accented mayo? Or the quick-pickled daikon and radish slivers? None of these parts on their own are that special. But together they create a truly memorable culinary creation. Let’s just say that Baguette is my favorite, not to mention the cheapest, place to eat in town.
I wasn’t excited to make another porky dish, but these meatballs were ethereal. Seasoned with basil, chopped lemongrass (my addition), Sriracha chile sauce and a dash of fish sauce, they were like the most succulent dumpling filling. I also happened to make them with special hazelnut-finished Red Wattle pork from Heritage Farms Northwest, which I ordered through the new online farmer’s market, Corvallis Local Foods. They are pretty adorable, happy pigs…and the adults can weigh up to a ton! We had this rare pork at a Slow Food dinner where we compared it to a more conventional breed.
As a vegetarian option, I also made this curried wild mushroom pate for the banh mi, with shiitakes and velvety delicate winter chanterelles (who knew they grew all winter?) also ordered through Corvallis Local Foods. Other dishes at the potluck last night included a lush truffled potato gratin, a Moroccan lamb and pumpkin tagine, and brie baked in homemade, extra yolky brioche. For dessert, we feasted on some ethereal homemade Fig Newtons, baked with locally wheat from Harrisburg, that were infinitely better than the Nabisco ones. It was great to again meet Linda Ziedrich, the author of inspiring cookbooks on pickling and jamming, there, though I’m not sure what she made. We’ve had her call into the KBOO show, and I ran her membrillo recipe with my quince article. Dan was delighted that Intaba sent her excellent (and I think gluten-free?) spinach and meat lasagna home with us, so that was dinner tonight. When a bunch of foodies gather, that’s one potluck where you know you’ll eat well.