Archive for March 2010
We’ve had more seder invites than ever before here in Oregon. I guess Jews really come out of the woodwork in a small college town. Tonight we got to experience our first Israeli-style one. It was just our vibe, with only some cursory readings from the haggadah and more emphasis on the food. The presence of two toddlers throwing food around the table also added levity.
For some reason, I decided to make the gefilte fish. I had heard about a version made with salmon that is popular here in the Pacific Northwest. Wrestling the carp in the bathtub and boiling fish heads and bones into stock this is not. No, in fact my recipe simply called for grinding up fresh salmon with onions, carrots, parsley and eggs in the food processor. Then you bake the mixture in muffin cups until set. I got the recipe from the Cooking Jewish book I reviewed for The Sun. But I’m still curious about the method where you slowly boil the balls in homemade fish stock. That’s how Dan’s Bubbe, the self-proclaimed ace of gefilte fish, did it. Be sure to have your fish man grind the fish for you in advance, she stressed. I hope I get the chance to make it with her sometime.
There were unusual treats at this seder table, like potato-matzo meal rolls (anything resembling bread is such a luxury), a smooth, apple-less date paste for the charoset (makes sense since apples aren’t native to region) and plates of creamy whipped hummus. The secret to good Arab/Israeli hummus seems to be the quality of the tahini or tehina (ground sesame paste) which they bring from back home. Ours seems to be thicker and clumpier here. There was no secret ingredient but the hummus was seasoned with paprika, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and olive oil. And garnished with a drizzle of oil and the whole chickpeas. The Israelis were talking of some fabled cook’s top-secret hummus recipe, perhaps that of Abu Hassan’s in Jaffa? Food preferences unite Israelis and Arabs. If only breaking more bread together could somehow lead to peace. But politics was mostly off the table tonight. In fact, the group tonight was surprised that the Corvallis rabbi would hold forth on Israel/Mid-East politics during a Yom Kippur service. But it’s so second nature for us to mix up politics, religion, etc. here.
The best thing I made was the beet red horseradish, the sweet root vegetable softening the bitter herb’s bite. Dan and I screamed and cried from the fumes that filled the kitchen as I ground up that bitter root last night. Luckily, there’s plenty more in the freezer. The ruby condiment also nicely contrasted with the pasty fish logs.
For dessert, we had a lovely flourless chocolate torte. And I indulged in the Matzo Brittle crack recipe. If you like Fleur de Sel caramels, you’ll love this. Now just one more foodie-focused seder to go, Friday. Next year at our house? We need to step up to the plate.
Finally, some back-to-back success with curing meats, just as I’m feeling the need to go vegetarian more than ever. Fasting on a cleanse just isn’t going to happen. I love food too much. At least I’ll soon be trying to go bread-free for Passover. But for now, I’m still on pork. Just remember curing it doesn’t mean you eat much of it. It’s still hanging in the fridge, a thin lardo-like, umami-rich slice to be rationed at a time. Still, it’s thrilling to see the guanciale turn out so well, after bacon and especially pancetta proved somewhat disappointing. And guanciale is more of an investment since it hangs to dry (in the fridge this time) for three weeks after the week-long salt, sugar and spice cure.
If you haven’t heard of guanciale, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard of it either until making this Pasta All’ Amatriciana recipe (with bacon as a substitute) in Bon Appetit recently. But unsmoked cured pork jowl just seems to have a more memorable quality that many cultures, including Southern, revere. So try some of your own. Sweet Briar Farms at our farmers’ market seemed delighted I wanted pig cheeks and jowl, those unloved cheap cuts no one ever requests. To make your own guanciale, Mario Batali seems to have the most recommended recipe. I’d like to try some more famous all’ amatriciana recipes with my finished product. Of course, I’d like to eat at Batali’s restaurants sometime, too. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to in Vegas last weekend.
No energy to write now, as I’m still recovering from an early a.m. flight back from my first (and likely last) trip to Vegas. Somehow a meal of foraged and native Oregon ingredients seemed the perfect antidote to Sin City’s tawdriness. So I mustered all the strength I had to get to the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market after the flight landed in Portland. Friend Rebecka from Gathering Together Farm was there and co-host Miriam met me at the market, there in her neighborhood. The fiery coral, first-of-spring salmon called to me, and the freshly foraged fiddlehead ferns and mushrooms. The salmon I rubbed with cracked juniper berries (listening to The Splendid Table inspired me), and then sealed with creme fraiche a la Molly Wizenberg. For the side dish, I sauteed delicate yellow foot winter chanterelle and shitake mushrooms in my home-cured guanicale with onions and garlic, then added the blanched ferns. A simple antidote to a place of excess. Something about being in Vegas makes one want to fast, maybe with one of those lemon juice cleanses. We’ll see if I have the will-power.
Thankfully, today I got to return to my passion for food with a KBOO special St. Paddy’s Day episode on corned beef. Two excellent guests joined us for the discussion. Ken Gordon, of Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen, joined us in-studio, and food writer (and Portland native) Matthew Amster-Burton called in from Seattle. His new Spilled Milk podcast recently addressed this topic. We even got to indulge in luscious corned beef and rye sandwiches on-air. We’ll post the audio soon.
To prepare for the show, I brined my own brisket to make my first corned beef ever. I got a small 2lb. brisket from Deck Family Farms through Corvallis Local Foods. For the brine, I used the recipe Matthew Amster-Burton recommended. But I didn’t have the hours to slow-braise he called for. So I boiled it in stout and then added tons of root vegetables (potatoes, parsnips, carrots, celeriac and rutabaga) and cabbage and onions, as The Oregonian recommended. The tender sliced brisket was delicious with Weinsteiger horseradish mustard and the freshly ground prepared horseradish my friend Rebecka made. I hope corning my own brisket becomes an annual tradition. I love how effortless curing and fermenting is. Maximum taste from just slathering on a salt/spice rub and letting it sit.
Just when we thought spring had sprung, near freezing temperatures plunge us back down again. But apparently that’s typical for Oregon in March. I’m finally learning the rhythm of her seasons.
We had balmy weather this past month, making it hard to fathom the snowpocalypse that descended on our loved ones back East. But then snap! it turns cold here and Mom’s on the phone from Virginia, talking about her beautiful, seems like the upper 60s, spring day.
It’s hard to figure out how unpredictable spring affects one’s garden. Survival of the fittest, right? I was concerned about the rhubarb and strawberries and peas growing most vigorously, so I threw some plastic bags over them. Maybe I’ll build a plastic hoophouse for protection, oh, one of these days. For now, I’m a laissez-faire gardener. So I fitfully sowed tiny carrot, radish, lettuce and spinach seeds, allowing them to come up where they like. With them and the onions, I tend to oversow seeds too tightly together. It’s just so hard to fathom each will become a full-size vegetable. I’ll just have to remember to thin when they sprout. Now if that cold would only kill off those ubiquitous garden slugs I tend to murder almost daily.
Speaking of cold, we finally got some much-needed weatherization work done on our 1939 house today. I’m most excited about scrapping the drafty aluminum sliding basement windows, which were replaced with much more insulated (and easier to climb out of in case of fire) vinyl ones. We care because we sleep in the room. We also had insulation blown into the attic. I have only kind words so far about Total Comfort Weatherization, which is also supposed to help us with paperwork for all the state and federal tax credits once the work is done.
This sunny, citrusy soup caught my attention in the excellent newsletter (chock full of recipes) the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market organizers in San Fran put out. I had nutty knobs of local Jersusalem artichokes (or sunchokes) in the fridge, I wanted to sneak in some crab once more this season, and I’m always game to give Meyer lemons another chance.
The soup was subtle yet refreshing. The puree didn’t complete with the sweet, mellow crab meat. I still don’t love Meyer lemons (they have some faint mustiness, kind of like kumquats, that’s off-putting). But they caramelized upon roasting, giving the soup a welcome tang. I didn’t quite understand the recipe (was I supposed to strain the cooking water off…I didn’t) but it still came out well. I fitfully added some mustard, capers, tarragon vinegar, white wine, little dribs and drabs of things, to punch up the broth.
We got quite a deal on the one cooked crab Dan shelled for the meat. Gotta love Richey’s Market-we’ll be sad to see it go when/if Market of Choice comes in. $5 a pound seemed like a good deal. Fortunately, it only takes a few times for me to have my crab fill until next season.