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Archive for January, 2010

Two years!! Two years!!

And even a few months beyond that.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Okay, what am I muttering about?

Us foodies can be a bunch of procrastinators at times.  I started this blog mainly as a way to motivate myself to both organize my recipe pile that teeters in one corner of my kitchen and perhaps actually cook through some of those recipes I’ve clipped or sticky-noted hopefully in back issues of bon appetit magazine.

So, I finally did it!  I made the simple tomato sauce ala Marcella Hazan via Orangette that I first read about over 2 years ago.

The ingredients are so simple – there are 4 – butter, canned tomatoes, salt, and an onion.

If you’re afraid of tears, there will be few, as you peel and chop the onion in half.  Then, you grab a deep saucepan or skillet, throw in the 4 ingredients (yes, just 2 big chunks o’ onion!) and simmer for 45 minutes.  Done.

That’s it, but what remains is lovely and smooth and surprisingly rich for a tomato-based sauce.  Mmmn, butter.  I even put a very non-traditional spin on it (kind of embarrassing but let’s just say it involved veggie turkey grounds that had to be used & I have this thing about needing protein in my meal, especially after the gym) that wasn’t pretty but damn tasty.

The full recipe is covered here on Orangette. Oh, and I feel better as the amazing, prolific blogger, Smitten Kitchen only beat me to it by a mere week or so.   Please, learn from my mistakes, and don’t wait till 2012 to make this.

Try it out this weekend and tell me what you think.  BTW, I’ll also own up to not even using San Marzano tomatoes (half the reason I put it off, as I don’t usually keep those around).  I used just ordinary canned whole tomatoes (Hunt’s, I think) as I had those on hand.  And if you have made it already, tell me what your favorite use is for the used onion halves – they seem tasty on their own, but I’ve got them and some odds & ends staring at me in the fridge for tomorrow night’s meal .

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One of the best parts of my job is lunchtime!  I’m lucky enough to work in downtown Portland, and within a short walk in nearly any direction, I can eat a meal from nearly anywhere in the world.  And no, I don’t mean the Pioneer Place mall food court.

If you live in Portland, the business of food carts is old news to you probably, but it’s an amazing intersection of a supportive health department, cheap vacant lots, and a food-curious populace that has led to the ever growing number of food carts in Portland.  You can find an amazing guide at foodcartsportland.com

Bosnian, Thai, Indian, Japanese, French baguette sandwiches, the list goes on and on.  Some of the best and most original food is being served at food carts.  Oh, and most affordable too – most carts’ meals are in the $4-6 range.  New immigrants, cash-poor new culinary grads, landlords holding onto vacant lots till office vacancies decrease  – these are just a few of the characters involved in this restaurant-less renaissance.

One of my recent favorites is Sonny’s Bowl – largely for its simplicity and strong flavors.  He (Sonny?) offers 3 options – all vegan.

Now, first of all – I’m sorry to my friends that swing that way, I will never unless they can create a vegan brie. I love my cheese & real ice cream, too much.

However, you WON’T NOTICE – I promise.  Okay, so this dish I ordered – you might, if you’re not used to soy subs for meat.  I got the #3 (it’s my fave) – soy curls, green beans, ginger-citrus sauce, and brown rice.

Soy curls, btw, wtf? I know, right? Okay, so I’ve been eating mostly veggie since circa 1995 and have spent 8 years of that time in PDX, certainly a vegan mecca if there were ever one (no joke, actually, I just googled “vegan mecca” and a blog about Portland was the 3rd hit), but I never knew about soy curls till this past year.

I guess they are a form of TVP (texturized veggie protein), but somehow they are all the rage in Portland.  Anyhow, I know for you meat eaters, you are now doubting me, but they are pretty tasty.  And filling.

And the Sonny sauce (that’s what I call it) is what makes the bowl.  Each of the bowls is like KFC for the vegan set – a unique blend of secret spices.  Yum, I wish he sold the sauce in a jar.  The fresh veggies and brown rice add that healthy feeling, so important in January when we’re all thinking we should start working out, right?  The other two feature proteins, too – for those who may be soy-curl-adverse, the other bowls feature black beans and garbanzos.

The #3 is a little spicy, a little gingery, a little bbq-ish, and a little something else.  Really good!  (oh, but hey, Sonny, I think my Chinese noodle thingies on top were a little stale this round, but maybe that’s my fault for putting the lid on & steaming them a bit?).

So for $5, this is my shot of what you get – not bad huh:

sonny bowl

*sidenote: oh, and I feel I have to add – yes, that’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Committed.  Yes, her of the Eat, Pray, Love fame.  I feel like I have to make the disclaimer that I’m borrowing it from a friend at work.  I’m just rarely a hardback buyer (sorry book industry!), and I feel guilty when I see one if it’s not from the library.  But, I’m excited this time to not have to wait for the 465 holds on 50 copies at the library to clear, so I can read it as if you haven’t heard about it, it’s all about the history of marriage, a topic I find pretty interesting (and wrote a paper in grad school about once even).  I have mixed feelings about Gilbert as a writer, but she certainly sucks me in.

anyhow, if you haven’t eaten at a food cart yet, do it!  And if you haven’t eaten at Sonny’s Bowl yet – do it!

Essential Details:

Located at SW 3rd & Washington cart pod.

Hours – food carts hours vary, but generally M-F lunchtime.

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In early December, a piece in the Oregonian’s A & E section about places in Portland serving fancy hot chocolate drinks caught my eye.  It named a few places I was familiar with already such as Cacao (great chocolate drinks & addictive 50 cent salted caramels by their register – hello, storefront by the Heathman!) and Pix Patisserie.  I noted one I had to yet to try – Alma Chocolate – located in one of my favorite neighborhoods I’ve lived in Portland along the restaurant row of NE 28th and Burnside.   Mmm… fancy hot chocolate on a gray Portland winter day, yes please!

I had the luck to enter a drawing while waiting for my drink, and the even better luck to actually win!  I was quite shocked to get a message on my cell phone one Sunday in January summoning me to pick up my prize bag, with the instructions that today was best to claim my prize, as something about “fresh cookies being baked.”

Needless to say, we fit that into our errands for the day and arrived at Alma at the same time as the other drawing winner.   We went through swift negotiations that would impress the U.N. as we determined that I would take the “salty/smoky” bag and she would take the “spicy” bag.  Okay, there wasn’t much to negotiate over – either way, we were going home with a bag of loot, chocolate loot.

Alma bag contents

Contents of my bag from Alma Chocolate

I was quite stunned actually at my winnings and mumbling something that hopefully sounded like “thanks” as I high-tailed it out of there, before they could decide they’d made a mistake.  Once safely in the car, I delved into my findings and felt giddy like a contestant on the Price is Right.  I had about a 1/2 dozen fresh cookies (one of each kind offered that day), 3 packages of various chocolate barks, a small bag of tea, and a jar of Alma’s housemade caramel sauce, all with a salty or smoky tea theme.

Alma cookies

My share of the Alma cookies

Once home, cookies were sampled with our afternoon tea.  It gets a little fuzzy here as let’s be honest, we basically gobbled them up, but let’s just say they were good!  In particular, I believe it was a salted peanut butter chunk one that made me especially pleased.  The size of the cookies was just right – I split each with my fellow and still had a good taste of each.  They weren’t over-sized either – which means you can easily try a few at a time, an option I always like as I like to try everything!

Over the next few weeks, I rationed out my prize, nibbling little chunks of the various bars:

*Salted Nutty Toffee Mini Bar – a small candy bar of dark chocolate speckled on top with crunchy chunks of nuts & toffee & sea salt

*Pistachio Toffee – a layer of thin dark chocolate sandwiched onto crunchy toffee thick with pistachios

*Salted Peanut Milk Chocolate Bark – my favorite of all three – the chocolate in this one had a slight peanut buttery taste, like a really excellent Reese’s Peanut Butter cup

So I’m trying to be critical here, but I really found little fault in any of the items.  To me, there are few combos more divine than chocolate + salt. This bag of treats has only made me more excited to return and sample more of their items, especially their truffles.  Some of their goods like the chocolate icons gilded in 23k edible gold leaf are amazing to look at, and they also do fun seasonal shapes like owls or Day of the Dead skeletons.

As an added bonus, my Chinook book (I keep mentioning this book, as it’s got some awesome deals at local businesses) has a coupon for a free truffle with purchase of a drink.  Uh, twist my arm?

I have two items left in my bag o’goodies – a small baggie of bulk lapsang souchong tea and lapsang souchong caramel sauce.  The sauce’s first ingredient is cream, followed by sweeteners and butter — I think this will be to my liking!

The only dilemma is what to serve it on, besides spooning it straight of the jar.  Vanilla ice cream seems obvious, but I am also think it might be nice drizzled over some roasted pears or a simple cake of some sort.  Ideas, anyone?

I’ll share in my next post a surprising use for the lapsang souchong tea.

Essential Details:

Alma Chocolate
140 NE 28th Ave
Portland, OR 97232
www.almachocolate.com
There is an online store if you don’t live in PDX, but if you are one of the lucky ones, current hours of their shop are Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-4pm

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A bowl of warmth

I love barley.  Not that I do much with it besides the recipe I am about to post, but I love the texture and chewiness of it.  And, it just seems healthy, right?

I also love this soup recipe. It takes (at the most) about a 1/2 hour of actual in-the-kitchen work, then an hour to simmer, and bam — a good six bowls of soup is ready on your stovetop.

I originally found a version of this recipe on epicurious, but I simplified it with a little magic ingredient:

Pacifric Mushroom Broth

I like using this broth to give a little mushroom-y boost.  The original recipe involves soaking dried porcini mushrooms and adding the soaking water.  I think my method is a bit cheaper and simpler.  I often find this broth on sale at places like Fred Meyer’s for about $2.50 (there’s also a dollar off coupon in the Chinook Book).

Mushroom Barley Soup – makes a full post – at least 6 bowls

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped (any kind, regular button are fine or a mix of wild if you want to gild the lily)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1-2 tsp of dried thyme
1/4 cup parsley, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon flour
4 quarts broth (8 cups) – (I use 2 quarts of mushroom & 2 quarts of veggie)
1 cup whole pearl barley
2 teaspoons salt

1.  Melt butter in a big soup pot on medium heat, then add onions and saute about 5 min, till soft.  Add garlic and carrots and simmer a few more minutes, then toss in mushrooms, parsley, thyme, and salt. Cook about 5 minutes till veggies are soft.  Meanwhile, heat broth in a separate pan or heat up in microwave in a Pyrex measuring glass.

Veggies in pot

2.  Lower heat and add flour.  Stir in well, and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

3.  Begin adding warmed broth and stir.  Add barley and salt (use less if your broth is salty), and bring to a boil.

4. Turn down to low to simmer.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

I usually serve it with a dollop of sour cream and good bread for dipping in the broth.

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One of my favorite Trader Joe’s products is their Soyaki teriyaki sauce.  I think it’s the TJ-version of Soy Vay, which is similarly great (especially the wasabi one -yum!).

Trader Joe's Island Soyaki sauce

I like this stuff for several reasons:

  • It’s pretty cheap & lasts a long time in the fridge.
  • It’s tasty!  It’s got a mix of great stuff like ginger, pineapple juice, sesame seeds, garlic, and soy sauce.  Shake it up well before using!
  • It’s a great protein marinade when you’re short on time & ideas.

I used it the other night to marinate tuna that my brother caught, then quickly sauteed thin slices of the tuna and served it bento-style with steamed broccoli & brown rice.  It’s also great with salmon, and I use it for an easy baked tofu, too (just chop tofu in chunks or wedges, mix with sauce & bake in one layer on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 30-45 min).

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So far in January – okay all 10 days of it – but anyhow, so far, I have been making a big pot of soup on Sunday that gets us to at least Tuesday lunch.  There’s no need to go on about how great Sundays are for making simmering soup all afternoon, and we all know the benefits of a big pot of comfort food to start the week.  Oh, and can we say thrifty, too?

I really like having a good supply in the pantry – perhaps I’ll talk more about this in another post, but there’s something comforting about knowing there are several meals lined up behind those doors.  The last 2 weeks I have used soup gift packs from my pantry to make my big pots.  You know – the packs contain some sort of lentils or beans and some seasoning.  You add a can or two of tomatoes and perhaps some fresh veggies, simmer, and poof – soup.   A lovely gift really.   No recipe here to really share though.

However – fear not – you need something to go alongside all that soup, right?  And you’ve already made my cornbread, right?  How about some cheddar & sage buttermilk biscuits?

I thought so… I clipped this recipe from last Tuesday’s Food Day (the Oregonian’s food section) and knew this would be great with my Soup on Sundays in January.

Since there were just two of us, I halved the recipe, and we still only ate about 1/3 of the biscuits.  Oh, and I used a star cookie cutter, as I don’t have a biscuit cutter (note to self: seek next time at Goodwill!).  Please excuse the funny shapes and dark lighting (sigh…winter in Portland), but here’s a peek:

biscuits

Star-shaped cheddar & sage buttermilk biscuits

Cheddar & Sage Buttermilk Biscuits – adapted from Food Day

Makes about 14 star-shaped biscuits – may vary depending upon your cutter size.

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt (I used sea salt)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar (I used a mix of  Tillamook vintage extra-sharp cheddar & regular cheddar)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add cheese and sage, and pulse to mix.  Add butter and pulse until mix is the texture of coarse meal.  Add buttermilk and pulse until just combined, 2-3 pulses.   You may then to use a spatula to scrape the sides down.

Dump it out onto a floured surface and knead until it just comes together.  Roll out to about 3/4″ thickness (I can never judge this well, and I probably rolled mine a little thin).  Cut into round or star or whatever shape you’re working with.

Place on a baking sheet, spaced apart, and bake about 10-12 minutes till golden and puffy.  Enjoy with soup!

Notes:

I used my small food processor (crossing my fingers it all fit) and was surprised how well it worked!  It prevented the biscuit batter from getting overworked and made a light, fluffy finish product.  I think you could do it by hand if you don’t have a processor at your fingertips.

You could sub different cheese or probably use milk if you don’t have buttermilk.  Maybe rosemary or basil instead of sage?

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My fellow and I have lived in the Woodlawn neighborhood in NE Portland, Oregon, for nearly 2 years now as renters.  I quite it like it – it’s about 5 miles to work by bike, and we’ve got 2 bus lines close by as well.  The much-more famous Alberta Arts neighborhood is just up the road, far enough away to keep the chaos of Last Thursday (a monthly street fair that at its best is an art fair & at its worst, a mob of drunks)  at arms’ reach.  And, our neighborhood park is lovely with big trees, open lawns, and basketball courts we use a lot come spring.

We moved in at a time, too, when Woodlawn was just coming back to life.  The main business street, NE Dekum, still doesn’t have a lot, but two new restaurants opened up right around the time we moved here.

Firehouse

Photo of exterior from Firehouse's website

One of them is Firehouse, housed in an old firehouse, natch.  It features a wood-burning oven and simple Italian-influenced foods.  We attended their New Year Eve dinner for the 2nd time in a row this year, as last year’s dinner was such a feast.  This year’s meal featured 5 courses for $50 which was a great value for the quality (and amounts!) of food we got.

As we walked up, a member of their staff was roasting chestnuts and serving them in a little paper cones.  I felt a bit like a squirrel chomping away, but it was a novel treat while awaiting our table.

The first course was actually three small plates – a hard sheep’s milk cheese drizzled with honey & Marcona almonds, warm rosemary-marinated green olives, and chopped roasted beets with small crumbles of cheese and nuts.  The beets were a substitution for their pate as we don’t eat meat.  My only complaint was the beets were chopped a little too small, making it hard to stab them with my fork in a graceful manner.

The olives were one of the standouts of the meal – sounds silly, right?  But, I really enjoyed their warmth and deep rosemary flavor.  At home, I usually take them out of the depths of a cold fridge and plop out of their  jar or deli container into a bowl.  The warmth really made them more enjoyable and deepened the flavor.

The salad course came out next, featuring greens, thinly sliced fennel, and blood orange segments.  This salad was okay, but it didn’t knock me out.  There were too many greens, and it became a bit monotonous.  Perhaps a smaller portion and a few large slices of oranges would have struck a better balance.

Photos from Firehouse's website

My eyes grew wide at the next course that emerged from their wood-fired oven  – a full large-dinner plate sized pizza for the two of us.  It had scattered small bits of truffle – the ‘shroom kind, not the chocolate kind, that is.  Mmmm – my 1st time eating truffles on a pizza – they added a nice salty flavor.

We both had the same main – a seafood bouillabaisse featuring local cod, crab, and mussels.  The broth was tomato-based with hints of fennel.

There were three options for dessert.  By this time, I was feeling pretty stuffed to the brim.  However, when our pear-apple strudel and chocolate cassata siciliana cake arrived, I caught a 2nd wind and devoured my shares of both.

The pear-apple strudel had a flaky delicious pastry strips on top of tender fruit and wasn’t overly sweet.  It was dressed simply with a light chantilly cream.  It was the first time I can recall having a cassata – it was a layered chocolate cake, with a lighter chocolate filling (ricotta, perhaps, according to wikipedia) and finely chopped pistachios.  To the side was a kumquat marmalade which added a nice tangy finish to the cake.

I’ve heard rumors (ok – more than that, as they came from the owner of Firehouse) that the pastry chef will soon open a coffee/bake shop across the street from Firehouse, and  I can hardly wait!  The desserts on NYE, plus a chocolate torte I had at Firehouse a few weeks ago (very similar to Orangette’s “winning-hearts-and-minds chocolate cake”) have been some of the highlights of my meals at Firehouse.

As we left, several of the staff in the open kitchen paused in their preparations to wish us a Happy New Year.  It was a simple moment, but it left me feeling warm as we headed outside into the darkness to await 2010.

Essential Details:

Firehouse
711 NE Dekum, Portland, OR 97211
(503)954-1702
Winter Hours: Wed, Thurs, Sun 5pm-9pm; Fri & Sat 5pm-10pm

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