Saturday, July 2, 2011

New Blog

As you might have guessed, I've decided to end this blog. But no worries--I will simply be at a new location: Keeping up with two blogs is a little discombobulating, so I'm concentrating my efforts on the one. I've started a series of blogs on cold dishes for hot days, and there should be some ingredient-focused posts in the near future. Come visit!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Top of the Town: Portland

For some reason or other, I have always been drawn to the Pacific Northwest. I had never visited the area before last October, but I think I just knew that it would be incredible. A mystical land of fog and forests where the coffee and craft beers flow freely. That was my vague notion of it anyway. Of course, according to J., there's no sugarcoating the intense rainy season, but I think I could put up with it because the town itself is so incredible. It's a well-known paradise for those of us who have a penchant for counter cultures, and even though Portland is a large city, it feels much, much smaller, and every neighborhood has a distinct personality.
I've only made the pilgrimage to Portland twice, so I'm no expert, but J. grew up there and has taken me to his tried and true favorite spots, so I feel confident in this list. I highly recommend visiting the city. Watch out for cyclists--most of them play by the rules, but there are those who don't.
This little guide is BY NO MEANS comprehensive. There's so much to see, do, and eat in Portland that there's no way I can cover it all, and neither can you in one visit. I recommend you pace yourself and plan on visiting more than once to really enjoy the city.

Portland Eats

broder--a Swedish-inspired restaurant with an amazing brunch and the absolute best bloody mary I've ever had.

bunk sandwiches--very creative sandwiches and a selection of local brews.

Le Bistro Montage--a really awesome spot for late-night dining. They have an incredible collection of murals on the inside, and their mac and cheese selection is impressive. The oyster shooters are memorable--so memorable, in fact, that they're a must-try. They also wrap your leftovers in foil which they turn into little pieces of "doggie-bag" art--I think they gave me a swan the last time I was there.

Syun Izakaya--the best sushi I've ever had, hands down. As with all sushi restaurants, the menu is overwhelming, but I've never had anything bad here. The okanomiyaki pancake is unbelievable, and the dried tuna flakes on top make the whole thing look like it's moving. A visual and gustatory wonder. They also have a superb sake selection--in fact, I was told that if you happen to be a sake connoisseur, they will store your sake at the restaurant for you and unearth it when you eat there. It's a bit of a drive to get there as it's in a suburb of Portland, but it's absolutely worth it. Make reservations, though. It's a small place and always packed.

Ken's Artisan Bakery--if you like French-style pastries, this is the place to go. The Saint Honore Boulangerie is very good, but Ken's is even better. Every time we go there, we get at least three pastries to share because it's so hard to choose just one apiece. The Oregonian is a particularly nice one (blackberries, hazelnut paste), but I don't think you can go wrong. Their desserts and breads look stunning, too. I haven't tried them, but as pastries are very tricky to make, and Ken's are so incredible, I can't imagine that their bread and desserts would fall short. They also make delicious macarons--slightly larger and heartier than their French counterparts, but fabulous.

La castagna--ok, so I'm going to give you a disclaimer first. I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of molecular cuisine. On the one hand, I have always felt that, as Americans tend to overdo it on the processed foods, we should steer ourselves toward whole foods prepared in an understated way. Not that we shouldn't enjoy the fruits of culinary technology, but I think that being able to decipher what's in your food is a good thing. Having said that, this place is incredible. They focus on superb local ingredients and prepare them meticulously. They lean toward molecular cuisine without succumbing to the gimmickiness that can often accompany it. I found myself utterly charmed and even thrilled by the creativity of the chefs and the immaculate presentation of the dishes. To give you a little taste--the "snacks" that were served as part of the meal included a purple carrot leather that had been folded and filled with lotus gel, fennel pollen, and hibiscus powder; another was a buttermilk "puff" (think cheese puff, but with an intense buttermilk flavor) that had been hollowed out and filled with vegetable aioli and cod roe. Truly remarkable and probably the most entertaining and fun meal I've ever had. Expect to drop at least $75-100 per person, but as a food experience it's worth the money.

Pix Patisserie--Fabulous and gorgeous French-style desserts in a bar setting. Not frou frou or boutiquey. Open late. They also make their own chocolates and ice creams, which I did not have, but that I have heard wonderful things about. One of the managers there made J's best friend's wedding cake. There's some true talent here.

Voodoo Doughnut--Okay, so the doughnuts are okay. I mean, how good can fried dough get, right? But you should go just for the spectacle of it, and the bacon maple bar is probably one of the better ideas there.

Pok Pok--Recent James Beard Award winner for best regional restaurant. When we went, the staff were very disorganized, but we went for the food, which was great. The fish sauce wings are an absolute must, and they make a great appetizer. The lemongrass game hens are also spectacular, which is no small feat, since I usually find restaurant chicken to be dry and lacking in flavor. The premise of the place is also a lot of fun--you're supposed to order dishes to share with the table, so you can taste several different things. The pork shoulder and belly is another good one, but be prepared to straight up eat fat--the most delicious fat I've ever eaten, but fat nonetheless.

Pho Hung--If you haven't had pho--Vietnamese beef noodle soup--I suggest you rectify that immediately. The stuff is magic, and it cures everything from the blues to the flu (this is not scientifically proven, but I find it to be about right). There's something about the broth that eludes me completely. J. and I tried to make it at home once. We got close, but there was something crucial missing. This is the place to go for it, though, and Portland has an astonishing variety of pho restaurants. This is one that J. and his friends prefer.

Kenny and Zuke's--A Jewish-style deli. I'm sure there are lots of New Yorkers who would take issue with the place, but we can't all live in New York, can we? It's a bit pricey, but enjoyable nonetheless. The pastrami is a must-try, the latkes are lovely, and their bagels and bialys are fabulous. I won't recommend the pickle plate, as I found the pickles were not "pickly" enough, but everything else I've had there is good. They also have a great soda selection, which is nice to have with such salty food.

Food carts!-- Two of my favorites are Potato Champion (poutine, really great French fried with lots of house-made dressings, ketchups, aiolis, etc.) and Creperie Perierra (sweet and savory crepes and the best and most creative milkshakes I've ever had). But really, there are so many food carts here that you should just walk around and sample from lots of them. I absolutely love this part of food culture, and in Portland it really shines.

Hands On Cafe--Located in the Portland School of Arts and Crafts, this is a really great place to grab Sunday brunch (which is a must-do in Portland--I think it's against the law not to have brunch on Sunday in Portland). Always crowded, you can look at the gallery while you wait for a table.


Stumptown Coffee--A great cup of brew. On the pretentious side of things, but worth a sip.

Horse Brass Pub--An English-style pub. Very cozy and dark, and the walls are stained brown from years of cigarette smoke. Sounds disgusting, but I thought it added a distinct charm to the place, and since smoking is no longer allowed indoors, you can just think of it as a relic from a bygone era. We spent a few easy hours there, nursing our drinks and just enjoying the place. The Scotch eggs are pretty decent--I mean, it's a fried, sausage-wrapped hard-boiled egg, for heaven's sake. It's not supposed to be stellar. They also have other British staples, which I've heard are just fine as well.

Tugboat Brewing Company--Portland's oldest micro-brewery. A very welcoming place with some lip-licking beers (try the Chernobyl Stout for a real wake-up call). J. tells me that the bartender sometimes plays Planet Earth, which he creates his own soundtrack to, on the small flat-screen above the bar. Amazing.

Huber's--A very old-school cafe/bar with a stained-glass ceiling. They make a Thanksgiving meal every day, but J. says it's not very good. We went there for the Spanish coffee, which the bartender prepares spectacularly. Quite a show. Kahlua, Bacardi 151, Bols triple sec and coffee, topped with fresh whipped cream and nutmeg, flamed tableside. Stunning to watch and really delicious if you're a hedonist.

To See

Portland Japanese Garden--Peaceful, beautiful, and extremely well done. This is a great way to spend a few hours. And I actually think the garden is more beautiful when it's overcast.

The Bishop's Close--Another beautiful garden destination. Great for a leisurely walk.

Bagby Hot Springs--A fair drive outside of Portland, but absolutely worth it. The drive itself is gorgeous, and the hike-in to the hot springs is a little like walking through a fairy tale world. The springs themselves are diverted into cedar tubs of all sizes. A perfect day-trip. Take a picnic.

Cannon Beach--Located about an hour from Portland proper, this is a tremendously glorious place on earth. Not very commercialized, quiet, and one of the most dramatic coastlines I've seen, this is a perfect place to get away from the bustle. Hunt for mussels, build a fire on the beach, and check out the sea caves. There are also some good hikes around this area, and Highway 101 is a field trip in and of itself.

Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge--Yet again, another breathtaking place. Oregon has a wealth of natural beauty, and while Multnomah Falls is a little touristy, it's still an amazing waterfall. The hike to the top isn't for quitters either--the view will reward your burning thighs.

Portland Saturday Market--There's some good craftsy stuff to be found here. You'll have to weed through the kitsch and junk, but hang in there because there really is some quality handiwork. The market also gives you an excuse to walk along the waterfront.

The International Rose Test Garden--If you're of the botanical persuasion, this is a really cool thing to see. Hundreds of varieties of roses.

Powell's City of Books--I've only been here three times, and I've already spent way too much on books. It's hard not to. A great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Okay, I'm going to stop now. If I think of anything else I'll let you know.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I'm in Portland, OR, and in typical fashion I'm not taking any photos. I hate being the tourist with the camera. I guess that means I'm not destined for photographic greatness, but that's okay. We can't all be hipsters.
However, I will be prepared to deliver some information regarding Portland dining and recreation--we've hit some really fine destinations already. In any case, if you're wondering where you should vacation next, Portland is it. The city is incredible, the wilderness around here is incredible, and the people are really genuinely friendly.
Talk soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

More Vegetable Love

I know I just did a salad post, but I have another one for you, and it's really simple (just like the other salads--can a salad be complicated?). It's also the best and most satisfying thing I've eaten in a long time. Hit the spot.

Cook up a pot of lentils. French ones--they're green and also called "le puy" lentils. They cook, at a simmer, in about 20-30 minutes. All the better if you add aromatics to flavor them--carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf, garlic.

Now, roast some beets. Red or gold, either one. Or both. Cut them into cubes--not tiny cubes--about the size of dice. Roast at 400 with salt and oil until they get soft and a little crispy on the outside.

Make a balsamic vinaigrette. Don't think too hard about it because you've got lots of flavors going on here to begin with. Toss spinach in the vinaigrette.

Pile the spinach on your plate. Top with lentils. Scatter beets over the top of the lentils. Scatter goat cheese over top of the beets. Or have the goat cheese on toasts on the side.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Salad Season


Love 'em.

You know how kids are notorious salad-haters? When I was a kid, a special treat was when I got to drink the juice at the bottom of a bowl of sauteed spinach. Of course, I had to eat the spinach to get to the bottom of the bowl.

A whole bowl of spinach. I think my blood might run green.

And it hasn't slacked off in recent years. For all my talk of baked goods and fine French cheeses (and let's not forget those), I could not do without salads. And I mean all kinds. Everything from a simple spinach salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to a wilted swiss chard salad with garlicky croutons and dried cherries. If it's cold, involves veggies, and has a dressing, I'm in.

Which is why summer is so great, culinarily speaking, for someone like me. I mean, who doesn't at least like summer? I don't think you have to like the humidity or the mosquitoes, but what's not to like about long days, cold drinks on the front porch, swimming holes, red (and green and yellow and orange...) ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and more crookneck squash than you could possibly eat?

Not to mention the all-important summer vacation. Even if you just get to spend a couple days at home, revel in that. Wake up late, eat pancakes for breakfast (with whipped cream), read frivolous novels, watch silly movies, go on long walks, light lots of candles and turn off all the lights, never heat up the stove during the hot part of the day, stick your bare toes in every body of water you come to. Be alive. Be a human being, for heaven's sake.

And eat salad. Lots.

There's really no need to turn on your stove for most of the summer. Of course, you'll have to when you want fruit cobblers, crumbles, crisps and pandowdies...or pancakes with blueberries...or galettes. But all those other times? Cold food. You can do a lot with cold food.

Before I head into full-on salad season, I like to stock up on a few things. Pouring processed, mass-produced olive oil on a fresh green salad is downright insulting. I always have a bottle of really fine olive oil around. You use it sparingly and only as a garnish, never heated. Drizzled on a salad or on a finished soup, over cooked pasta served simply with some ricotta and fresh herbs, or on the quintessential tomato-mozzarella salad. A bottle of high-quality olive oil is a fine thing. Look for olive oil that has a slightly green tint. If you have the opportunity to taste before you buy, I highly encourage that. Olive oils have a wide range of flavors, from fruity to spicy. I happen to know that Whole Foods is very good about letting customers try things before they buy them. Don’t be afraid to ask.

I also love having a good balsamic vinegar on the shelf. Between the olive oil and the vinegar, you have the potential to make a very simple but strikingly delicious salad on very short notice.

The first salad I made is a grated carrot salad, or carottes rapées. I ate it often and in large quantities when I was in France. It was readily available in every supermarket and at these little shops, sort of like delis but without the focus on cured meats, where you could buy everything from salads to quiche and coq au vin. Fast food the French way.

Usually the French make it with lemon juice, salad oil (the French seem to favor flavorless oils for salads), and maybe some chives. Very simple and refreshing. But I love to make a thing my own, and so I made some alterations, but the essence is the same.

If you have a food processor, making this salad is like magic. If not, a little elbow grease will get you to the same result, if a bit slower.

Grated Carrot Salad with Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4

Grate with a food processor or using the large holes of a box grater:

8 medium carrots

Place in a serving bowl. Add:

½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Juice of 2 small lemons

2 teaspoons agave nectar

Handful of dill, chopped

1 scallion, thinly sliced

(1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard—Maille is


Salt and pepper to taste

Stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

The next salad is slightly more exotic. It’s inspired by a Molly Wizenberg (author of the Orangette blog) recipe, but I’ve made some serious alterations. Her version is great too—chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, parmesan. Very easy and satisfying. I happen to love Middle Eastern spices though. I think I could put cumin on everything. If the pomegranate molasses stumps you, no need to fret. It can be found at any Indian, Middle Eastern, or large Asian grocery store, and in more hippie-dippy towns it might show up at your run of the mill grocery store. It’s sweet and sour and really gives this salad the kick in the pants it needs to be incredible. If you can’t find it, use a little lemon juice and a squirt of agave nectar or honey. It won’t be the same flavor, but it’ll work.

Garbanzo Bean Salad

Serves 2 hungry people, or 4 less-hungry people

Drain and rinse well:

1 can garbanzo beans

In a small skillet, heat over medium heat:

1 tablespoon safflower oil

Add and toast until fragrant:

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Combine the beans and toasted seeds in a bowl and add:

¼ cup loosely-packed cilantro, finely chopped

½ a large English-style cucumber, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

A knob (1/2 the size of your thumb) fresh

ginger, minced

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

Salt and pepper to taste

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Individual Raspberry Clafoutis

You'll have to bear with me on the photos, people. I'm trying to play around with diffused light, and this one turned out to be a little precious-looking. The tiny espresso cups don't help.

Let's hear it for miniature desserts. And I'm not talking about cupcakes. I guess I don't hate cupcakes. I mean, who can hate a heavily-frosted single-serving cake? But I do hate their trendiness when there are so many tast(y)ier sweets out there. And then, when I altered this clafoutis recipe, they turned out to look suspiciously like cupcakes or muffins. BUT THEY'RE NOT. Don't forget that.

There are different kinds of clafoutis out there. Some are more like a custard, and others are more cake-like. This one is cakey, but with a wholesomeness that cake lacks. I'm really starting to dig flour blends--they offer more flavor and more texture to baked goods that might lack it otherwise. Here, I used a blend of all-purpose flour, spelt flour, and cornmeal. You could probably get away with using all spelt or whole wheat pastry flour, but I'm not familiar enough with how they work to feel confident doing that yet. One day...

Salt-Kissed Individual Raspberry Clafoutis
Makes about 18
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease two standard-sized muffin tins.
Combine in a large bowl:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a separate bowl, whisk together:
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
Whisk in:
1/4 cup butter, melted, browned, and cooled slightly
Zest of 2 lemons
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Divide the batter among the muffin tins, filling each no more than 3/4 full. Drop on top of the batter:
4 raspberries per clafoutis
Sprinkle over the top of each clafoutis:
Small pinch turbinado sugar
Small pinch coarse salt
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Scape

Springtime is awash with all sorts of mysterious and strange vegetables. Not to dethrone summer, which is obviously the queen of produce, but spring is a fine court jester.
One of the things I find most satisfying in my cooking experiences is the ability to play with food. I like to find humor in what I cook and eat. Food humor isn't usually of the laugh-out-loud variety, but of the smug, coy, you'll-never-guess-what-my-secret-ingredient-is sort of humor. This is the one redeeming thing about molecular gastronomy in my mind. I have issues with the whole Food That Isn't Food movement--you know, pickle-flavored air and truffle foam on top of a sweet pea emulsion. I like to be able to chew my food, thanks. But I will hand it to those rogue chefs--they know how to play, and for that I salute them.
That's why springtime is so great for cooking. First, you have the utterly baffling rhubarb with its electric pink stalks and tongue-curdling sourness. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? What do I do with it? Then comes asparagus, poking wierdly from the soil and offering up the first fresh chlorophyll of the season. Then you have ramps and morels, both inhabitants of the woods and highly prized by foragers and gourmets alike. I try to take advantage of all these, but I have a soft spot for the garlic scape.
As a garlic bulb grows beneath the soil, it will eventually send up a little green shoot. This is the scape. The growth of the bulb will be hampered if the scape is left on the plant, so most farmers cut it off. Lucky is he who finds the scape at his farmer's market. If you eat a garlic scape raw, you'll notice that it has all the flavor of the garlic clove but without the sting. When scapes are in season, I use them raw and cooked. A raw scape is a nugget of flavor and has a lovely, tender crunch. A cooked scape is savory and slightly sweet with a tender bite. You really can't lose either way.
To accompany a stuffed leg of lamb that my darlin' cooked last night, I made a rough approximation of tabbouleh with garlic scapes. Instead of parsley, I used mustard greens for roughage. Blanching the mustard briefly before chopping it up removes any bitterness or fuzziness. And for those of you who aren't familiar with the grain, bulgur is a really fabulous addition to salads, soups, and yeast breads. It has a very slight crunch to it and a lovely nutty flavor. My favorite brand is Bob's Red Mill. It's slightly more rustic than the stuff you usually get in bulk bins.
Tabbouleh with Mustard Greens and Garlic Scapes
serves 6
Measure out:
1 cup bulgur
into a large bowl. Boil 2 cups water and pour over the bulgur. Allow this to sit for about 30 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is softened and slightly fluffy-looking. If there is any water that has not been absorbed, simply strain the bulgur.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add:
1 large bunch mustard greens, roughly torn and tough stalks removed
Blanch briefly, about 1 minute. Drain and try to remove as much water as possible. I used a salad spinner, but a dish towel and a good arm will work, too. Chop the mustard finely and add to the bulgur. Stir in:
1/2 a large, English cucumber, roughly chopped
3-5 garlic scapes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 handful mint leaves, chopped
1 handful dill fronds, chopped
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Refrigerate until well-chilled.