Sunday, March 30, 2008

Som Tam

Or, as we like to call it, "Sometimes."

Okay, I'm really pissed because I made some delicious food last night but the photos came out hell of shitteh so I don't want to show them to you. I made the dish I was going to enter into this month's Joust, which I made only because the ingredients inspired me: seared sea scallops with kaffir lime-lemongrass gastrique and coconut foam, served with green papaya-chayote slaw (som tam) and fragrant jasmine rice. I even taught myself about soy lecithin and got all molecular gastronomy on that shit! And I served the whole thing surf-and-turf style, with medallions of venison tenderloin that I rubbed with homemade green curry paste and drizzled with a pho-scented jus! It was delicious, high-end Thai food. I'll make it again, but I just want to go on the record to say I thought of that dish.

The only good photos I got were before Tammy and Steve arrived. I wanted to shoot some of it once it was plated, but with every second that I contemplated a photo, the food was getting colder. I rushed two shots that didn't turn out, and decided to post the salad instead.

Som Tam (green papaya salad)
I made this my own way, using shredded chayote for some added green flavor and crunch. I also used crushed papaya seed for a bit of pepperiness. In Thailand chayote is called fuk maew. Yes, this looks like it should sound kinda like "fuck meow".

1 green papaya (I used an underripe strawberry papaya), seeded
1 chayote, seeded
2 bird's eye chilis, seeded
1 clove garlic
1 tsp of the papaya seeds
1/2 tsp pink peppercorn
juice and zest from one lime
2 tbsp palm sugar (brown sugar can substitute)
1/4 c rice vinegar
few squirts fish sauce

Run the papaya and chayote through the grating attachment of your food processor (or you can do it on a regular cheese grater, or julienne them). Transfer to a large bowl.

Prepare the dressing: Mince the chili and garlic, crush the papaya seed and pink peppercorn together in a mortar and pestle and stir together with the lime, vinegar and fish sauce. Add the palm sugar and heat in the microwave for about 30 second to dissolve the sugar. Use fish sauce to salt the dressing as needed. Toss dressing with papaya and chayote and let sit for at least 15 minutes so the flavors can mesh.

Okay, I have another disclaimer: this is the beginning of the busiest time of year in my field. I worked about 60 hours last week (in the field 8 hours/day, then come home and work on writing an Environmental Impact Report 'til 10pm every night), and that's why I haven't been posting real food. I ate both delivered and frozen pizza for dinner last week. Tomorrow morning I'm leaving for California to conduct rare plant surveys (our Sacramento branch is short on botanists right now), and will be gone all week. Home on weekends, rinse and repeat.

I'll try to get some good stories of road food, but that will probably be the bent I hafta take until May, when I get to come home for more than just weekends. I get a $35 per diem for meals, so I imagine tales of fast food and truck stops will ensue. Being alone in a hotel gives me plenty of time to write, but finding something to write about will be the challenge.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Because we are concerned about your health!

Okay, I totally stole the idea from Voodoo Donuts, but it's so good, how could I not? I was in a stupid shittown grocery store that had maple bars and fried bacon in the deli. Two great tastes that taste great together.

[Insert Homer Simpson gargling noise here.]

But this, THIS, is the funniest fucking thing I've seen in awhile, and warranted breaking out my camera in the middle of a Benton County grocery store:

Yes, this sign is plastered directly above a vat of tater tots covered in sausage and melted cheese. Some kind of "breakfast casserole." God Bless America.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Chicken dumpling soup

Scott said "it tastes just like the Amish Kitchen back in Columbus!" I'm pretty sure he meant that in a nice way, but I think the actual Amish would think my dumplings aren't plain enough, and are of sin.
I had some leftover oven-fried chicken from Friday night, and some leftover gnocchi from Saturday, and am in a shitty mood. I needed some comfort food, with gravy.

Thank god I keep chicken stock in my freezer! I had some fancy-ass Klamath Pearl potatoes, some Sweet Nantes carrots, and a bunch of other shit that doesn't have a gay name. Ooh, I also had a little leftover gravy from fried chicken night. Onions, thyme, that chicken, and those gnocchi. Stick it in a pot with the stock and gravy on low heat until the potatoes are done (well, add the gnocchi last so you don't end up with lead slugs).

Sunday, March 23, 2008


These words make me feel like a total fucking whore. And not the good kind. I never thought I would *gasp* cook something from a mix, but Williams-Sonoma had a box of chocolate truffle bread mix (with real Valrhona chocolate!) on the clearance rack, and since I had already been planning on having some people over, I just shrugged my shoulders and bent over.

It was actually pretty decent (much better straight from the oven, with insides still squidgy), and only called for some water, eggs and a stick of butter. Not unlike a Betty Crocker cake mix, actually. My brownie recipe is pretty close, which reinforced the feeling that I was selling out, but the chocolate was good. I baked it in a souffle dish instead of a loaf, and whipped together a blissfully simple topping of cream, blood orange zest, sugar, a splash of my homemade bourbon vanilla and a pinch of my homemade "six-spice" - mace, nutmeg (both plucked from the jungle floor on our Fijian honeymoon), cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and clove. Whip until thick (but not butter).

A sprinkle of cocoa and crushed praline and the (voodoo)lily has been gilt. Serve with strong coffee or a nice glass of shiraz.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Orzo with octopus, garbanzos and chayote, with meyer lemon vinaigrette

I bought some chayote. I had always been kinda curious about these weird little fuckers, and finally bit the bullet and just brought some home. I sometimes just buy strange produce and then figure out how to use it after I get it home.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to wiki chayotes to find out what the fuck they even are. Turns out they're a cucurbit (like squash, cukes and melons), so that set my thinking in one direction. Chayote, as luck would have it, has the crisp texture and mild, clean flavor of kohlrabi (which tastes like a mild radish).

So it turns out that they're traditionally used in the Americas, Asia and in Oceania. An unencumbered Cuban recipe called for them in a 10-minute salad with octopus and garbanzos, green bell pepper and onion, and a simple oil and vinegar dressing. But I felt that the tinned octopus I picked up begged for Spanish flavors, so I twisted it a bit.

Orzo with octopus, garbanzos and chayote and meyer lemon vinaigrette
Serves 2 or 3 for a light supper or a salad

Combine in a salad bowl: 2 tins octopus (drained); a coupla handfuls of cooked garbanzos; a julienne of chayote (the seed can be avoided or ignored as you see fit) and 1/2 red bell pepper; minced garlic, shallot and 5 anchovy fillets; 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika, pinch of chili flake, 1 tbsp chopped oregano and 3 or 4 tbsp chopped Italian parsely, a coupla fat pinches of good salt and lots of black pepper; then the juice and zest of a meyer lemon, a splash of Sherry vinegar (I actually used a Korean lemon vinegar that rocks) and some extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine. Add more seasoning and/or acid as necessary.

Meanwhile cook some orzo to al dente. Strain and toss with the salad. Let this sit for at least 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Half an hour would be better.

Enjoy as is or as a side. We thought this would be good with a piece of fish or maybe on some lettuces, as an afterthought. Gah, I can't remember which it was, but we had some crisp Italian white. Kinda fruity. I can't even remember what grape it is, let alone the label. Honestly, I've grown to trust the wine guy at New Seasons so much that any more, I just tell him what I'm cooking and buy what he hands me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dinner at Simpatica: a reprise

Simpatica Catering and Dining Hall is one of our very favorite restaurants ever. We eat here every other month or so, and are never disappointed.

Best-looking kitchen in Portland. There's just something about boys in aprons, lemme tell ya.

The people we were seated with were recent California transplants, not-quite foodies (the prissy bitches passed over half the appies for some reason or another), and Simpatica virgins. They were, however, happy to receive my "Best Of Portland" list. Gah, get a couple drinks in me.

First came the hushpuppies. Tender little clouds of cornbread, crispy on the outside and ethereal puffs of steam on the inside. I enjoyed mine with a squirt of hot sauce.

The Lousiana hotlinks had that uber-savory Viande flavor - a little bit lamb, a little bit pork, and just the right amount of heat, all tempered by a cool, sweet savoy slaw. Even the prissy bitches had to give it up and testify.

The shrimp were gargantuan, and swam in an herbal crab stock reduction, perfect soppage for quality baguette. These were just one more element of my complete undoing.

The Zydeco meat pies were like spicy empanadas with the faintest dribble of creme fraiche to soothe the palate and quell the fire.

A creative take on the fried pickle, these house-made zucchini quick-pickles were a little sweeter than I'd normally prefer (in a pickle), but paired so well with the remoulade that I ain't mad at it.

After the appies (and my chance to prove that I wouldn't be a total nuisance) Dave let me come back to the kitchen and taste some of the chrysanthemum that would be featured in the salad. It tasted exactly like I expected: asteraceous. Go ahead and look it up. It's a real word. Most lettuces are in the Asteraceae family, so why not throw a chrysanthemum in the mix?

Throw in some mache and mesclun and we're laughin'. The addition of some fat and protein never hurt a bitter green that I ever met, and the chopped egg's placid character was a perfect compliment to a back-talkin' spicy crouton.

If anyone ever wants to know the secret ingredient to making regular food taste like restaurant food, this is it: copious amounts of butter.

Jason's Popeye arms come from his use of what is literally a giant wooden paddle to lull a vat of jambalaya, I just know it. When Greta asked "what're these stringy bits in here?" about the jambalaya, I assumed it was the mucilagenous starch from okra or somesuch, but upon closer inspection of the next morning's leftovers-as-breakfast, I realized it was pure ham muscle fiber. The tasso had completely dissolved into the rice. I truly wish I had been able to capture this, but I guess you'll just have to believe me. (I think some of the mix's richness was also derived from chicken livers, but this is just an educated guess based on what I tasted.)

Oh, heh, I couldn't get through more than couple bites of the jambalaya, as I had defiantly championed through the entire appie and salad courses without pacing myself.

One of the hottie sous chefs rolls a chocolate beignet through a dredge of cinnamon sugar.

The beignets were head-to-toe orgasm with roasted banana ice cream, but constituted a Multiple with the addition of salted almonds (my idea - they were strewn about the tables in tiny terra cotta vessels to quell pangs between courses). The non-foodies at our table missed out on my genius, but whatevs.

Do you know how hard it is to photograph dinner-lit food without using a flash? Out of 157 shots, I could only muster these few. Lesson learned!

Simpatica Dining Hall on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dinner at Simpatica

Can I ever express enough how much I love this place?

Saturday, March 15

Cajun Night

Oysters On The Half Shell with Tabasco Mignonette
Fried Pickles
Cajun BBQ Shrimp
Hush Puppies
Louisiana Hot Links
Cabbage Slaw
Zydeco Meat Pies with Andouille Sausage
Cajun Salad with Chopped Egg and Croutons

Chicken and Tasso Jambalaya with Creole Sauce

Chocolate Beignets with Roasted Banana Ice Cream

Update later with photos and what I'm sure will be a completely scathing review.

Friday, March 14, 2008

NY Strip with blue cheese and celeriac gnocchi

NY strip is a good cut of beef. Salt and pepper and a sear is all it needs. I gave it some Dutch blue just for shits and giggles.

Also, celeriac makes good gnocchi. I think next time I'll do a brown butter and caraway and serve it with bratwurst and maybe some braised cabbage. The celery flavor was a good, but a little misguided with the red meat and cheese (even with a chiff of basil and a drizzle of truffle oil, the celery came screaming through). The spinach under the steak was literally an act of penance.

Good flake sea salt (such as Maldon) is all a steak needs.

Mickey is my favorite

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring chicken and asparagus-pea risotto with mint

'Lenten Rose' hellebore in my garden. I collect hellebores, jack-in-the-pulpits and euphorbias.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the old adage, "she's no spring chicken". It's strange, because I generally feel pretty sassy and chic for being a chick over thirty, but I go through periods of feeling a bit fwumpy and old. This is probably not coincidental to shopping for clothing at Forever 21 at the mall.

And there it is. See that? I just psychoanalyzed myself in front of all of you and am already cutting myself some fucking slack and enjoying a nice cocktail and some delicious, white carbs.

I made this springtime dish to celebrate spring's arrival and to engage in battle for some Tupperware over at Ben's joint. "What's Cooking?", his blog asks. Oh I'll tell you what the fuck is cookin': well, I guess I already told you in the title of this post.

Spring makes me thing of so many things - the fecundity of rough-skinned newts; the deafening aroma of daphne blossoms across the street; and fresh chicken, skin painted with rich, butter-yellow fat. But what greater harbinger of spring is there, you wonder, than asparagus? (Well I thought of morels, too, but they weren't at New Seasons yet and I didn't have time to drive 6 hours to the Rogue National Forest to pick some.) Its little lily shoots, so tender-crisp and verdant, just perfect with snap peas for a springtime risotto. And how about some nice spring chicken, with good crunchy salt and pepper and paper-thin lemon slices under the skin? You can already smell the warm hyacinth and mossy underbrush, can't you?

Lemony spring chicken: For two people, get a double breast with the bone out but skin on. Flatten it out and lazily pound it into a half-assed paillard with the side of your fist. Give a good pinch of coarse sea salt and fresh-ground pepper to the skin-side, then slide your fingers between the skin and flesh and ease a few slices of lemon in. Skin-side down onto a rippin' hot grill pan (if it's hot enough, the chicken will literally squeal when you place it on the pan), and S&P the (non-skin) flesh side. When you get some good grill marks on the skin, flip it, turn off heat, and pop it in a 350-degree oven while your risotto is cooking. When it's done to the touch- test (learn this trick), rest for five minutes and then slice on the bias, taking care not to tear the skin too much while you slice through the lemon.

Asparagus-pea risotto with mint: YOU MUST USE HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK. That's just how it goes, sorry. I squoze in an hour to do this, during which time I read funny shit on the internets. You can make time, too, or you will just hafta wait until Saturday to make this. (If you're very clever, you already have some in your freezer.)

You know how to make risotto. If you don't, just go ahead and flip open Joy of Cooking to the How To Cook Risotto page. S'cool, I'll wait. Okay, back? Good. Cut off the woody ends of like 4 or 5 asparagus spears, then dice up the good parts (reserving the tenderest tips). Similarly dice up a handful of snap peas (fresh-shelled peas would also work, but wouldn't need to be chopped). In your pan, melt a pat of butter and a drizzle of olive oil, and sweat some shallots. When things are smelling pretty good, get going on the rest of it (toss in the arborio rice, stir until the "white dot" appears, splash of chardonnay, ladlesful of stock while tirelessly stirring, stirring, coaxing every molecule of starch out of each motherfucking grain until your hands bleed, etc.). About midway through, add the diced asparagus stems (not the tips, though! these are tender and don't need that long). Add a few scratches of nutmeg and a fat pinch of lemon zest. After like 5 more minutes (or two ladles) add some fresh thyme, too. Then toss in the asparagus tips and the peas with the last ladle of stock. Salt to taste (my homemade stock is never salted). Top with lots of parm and a chiffonade of mint.

Serve with a chilled Prosecco, which will enhance the citrus notes in the chicken and risotto, and get you buzzed if you polish off two bottles.

Heh, oops, this photo was shot before I added parm! I am such a fucking amateur!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lemongrass pork lettuce wraps with grilled pineapple

This is a recipe from a few weeks ago, but I wanted to share it today since I haven't been cooking much on this stupid finger (contrary to last week's productivity, the finger really doesn't like to move and bump shit).

My wraps are "fresh!"

I usually avoid any fruit that's not local or in season, but the tropical fruit section of the grocery store was emitting a heady fragrance, and tempted, I bought a pineapple. I cut it open and slurped up a piece: juicy, sweet, with a perfect bromeliaceous acid balance. It wasn't as good as fresh-from-the-plantation in Fiji, but it was pretty fucking good. No elderly upside-down cake would do this beauty justice - fuck a Better Homes and Gardens. I really wanted to eat it with meat.

I took stock of what we had in the fridge, and decided Vietnamese would be the best course of action: we had some pork, sweet/hot Chinese sausage, bún tàu (bean threads), Đồ Chua (pickled, julienned carrots and daikon), a head of greenleaf and some cilantro. Lettuce wraps are easy and healthy, which would be a nice change of pace from two-day planning and hours-long prep. This was a weeknight, for fuck's sake.

I marinated the pork (thinly sliced), sausage (cut on the bias) and pineapple (cut into "fingers" haha, get it? cuz my finger's all fucked up?) in a mixture of pineapple juice, smooshed lemongrass and grated ginger, fish sauce, chili paste (sweet and garlic), a splash of rice vinegar and a splash of rice wine, and a goodge of hoisin sauce. Hot grill pan for a split-second sear and you're good to go. I deglazed the meaty fond off the grill pan with the marinade for a tasty dipping sauce.

You could wrap these in rice papers or just enjoy it on a bed of rice vermicelli (instead of the bean threads), but this is a fun way to eat.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shredded lamb on Israeli couscous pilaf

Scott and I had a few of his homies over for dinner and vid night the other night. I had already thawed out a lamb shoulder roast to clear out some room in the freezer, so it was good that we were having some company. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a pretty decent flick - Casey Affleck can act circles around his brother. And we finally cleaned our house, as we are wont to do when company's expected.

The closest thing to maternal feelings I ever have is when I cook for people. Pete is a confirmed bachelor and doesn't get a good home-cooked meal unless he literally visits home. Chris is engaged to a vegetarian who has spent a fair amount of time around livestock of varying degrees of adorableness (and although she is mostly tolerant of his meat eating, she draws the line at lamb). So I particularly love cooking meat for these two guys. I feel like I'm giving them something special when they come over, something that can only be dished up by a nice lady in an apron.

I just found out (confirmed a suspicion, really) that lamb shoulder lends itself perfectly to a low and slow type of cooking. Three or four hours at 275oF did the trick nicely. Since I was a bit hobbled up, I showed Scott how to make my secret rub: cumin and coriander seed, the seeds from one black cardamom pod, a couple cloves, a stick of cinnamon, some peppercorns and a pinch of chili flake. Toast until fragrant and whizz in the dedicated grinder. Fat pinch of salt. Slice gashes into the meat and massage that shit in like you're warming up a girl you want to get into bed. Brown with a rough-chop mirepoix on the stove and roast (covered) until falling apart (the bones should be sticking out of the meat a good coupla inches). Scott also did the heavy lifting required to lug that fucker out the oven every hour for a flip.

I didn't trim away any of the excess fat before browning it in the Dutch oven, which in retrospect, probably would've been a good idea. There was so much fat floating on the remaining jus that I couldn't really use it for sauce (I don't have a separator, boo...). I ended up melting a bit of marmalade with honey and lots of pepper (black and pink) to make a drizzly glaze for the meat. It was pretty good for last-minute.

A simple pilaf of Israeli couscous with garbanzos, golden raisins and chopped prunes, minced parsley and cilantro and toasted pinenuts was great side. Adding glazed baby carrots with toasted cumin seed resulted in such statements as, "Wow, I never just eat carrots. These are really great!"And I glow, oh how I glow. A soft flat bread to scoop up the last of the pilaf and dip up the lamb fat and marmalade.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pork au poivre rosé with "creamsicle" beurre blanc

I found out that our liquor store sells shochu, yay! Mix with a little Trader Joe's sparkling limeade and you're laughin'. Getting shitfaced on lime chuhai makes me smile. Booze and painkillers are best mates (if your liver can take it). See that? That's how I'm doing this. I'm typing with a busted-up pinky finger.

This is the last of the pork tenderloin that we bought a week ago. Four days of dry aging in the fridge gave it a nice patina, perfect for a faggoty-assed sauce such as creamsicle beurre blanc. This is the dish I had envisioned when I chose the ingredients for this month's Royal Foodie Joust. No one made it, I'm a little surprised.

Okay, I guess I'm not that surprised, since I think I invented vanilla-orange sauce for pork. But I always think I invented something, just to Google and find it on three or four menus around the US, and maybe a recipe or two on epicurious. This is always really fucking frustrating for me, because cooking is my only real form of creativity, and I don't want to bite off anyone else's style. Oh well! Whaddyagonnado.

Since I'm not doing the Joust this month, I'm entering this recipe into my baby girl Emiline's thang, the Saint Paddy's Day Pub Crawl. Also, since she is classy beyond her years, she is giving up some goodies for the winner of her contest!

So Emiline, for you I made this divine dinner. And a tip o' the hat to the Irish, it has potatoes!

Pork au poivre rosé with "creamsicle" beurre blanc
A nod to a traditional steak au poivre, I used pork tenderloin medallions instead of beef, and pink peppercorns instead of black. A vanilla-orange beurre blanc is further enriched with the use of bourbon instead of white wine.

Pink peppercorns taste somewhat like the needles of a Jeffrey pine, kind of a heptane fruitiness. Pink peppercorns are actually not in the Piperaceae (pepper) family at all, but in the Anacardiaceae (sumac) family, making them kin to mangoes and cashews. That, right there, was probably more science than you wanted in your recipe. Serves 2.

8 oz pork tenderloin (I guess this is 4"?), sliced into 1" medallions
2 tbsp pink peppercorns
1 tsp Maldon or other good sea salt

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp minced shallot
half a cup of bourbon or whiskey (I guess it would be apropos to use Irish whiskey)
Juice and zest from 1 large, sweet orange (I used a Valley Cove, which is the best fucking thing I've had in a coon's age)
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped
4-6 more tbsp butter
pinch salt

Wash and pat dry the pork. Crush the peppercorns up in mortar and pestle (or other device). Pat the crushed pepper and salt onto the medallions and set aside. Heat butter in a small-ish pan over medium-high heat. When foamy and sizzly, add the pork and brown on both sides. Transfer pork from pan to an oven-proof plate, cover with foil and roast gently in a warm oven until cooked through (but not past medium-well).

Add the shallot to the sizzly butter and reduce heat to medium-low. You can add a bit of olive oil if things are getting too brown. When the shallots are getting good and glossy, deglaze the pan with the bourbon. Add the orange juice and zest and vanilla beans, simmer for like 15 minutes until nicely reduced and the alcohol is evaporated. Remove from heat and let it sit and cool for a minute or two.

The trick to making beurre blanc is whisking in the butter to make a creamy sauce that contains no cream. Well, that's not really a trick, it's just what it is. You don't want the butter to melt completely! THAT MEANS FAIL. Cooling the booze/orange/vanilla mixture slightly will improve your odds of not fucking it up. Cut the butter into nubs and whisk it in bit by bit until it's all emulsified and creamy.

Spoon sauce over pork. Serve with fingerling potatoes that have been boiled tender, then fried crispy-skinned in butter. Toss those with a crunch of good flake sea salt and fresh thyme. In retrospect, I guess I could have a little green on the plate. Maybe some nice fava beans? I wish I didn't suck at Photoshop.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


My cats would not shut the fuck up this morning, and they started earlier than usual. At 7:00 I finally got fed up and flew out of bed and threw open the door to put a foot in they ass, when I felt immediate, excruciating pain on my pinky. The door slammed on my finger (on the extra-pinchy hinge side). I, bleary-eyed and sans contact lenses, examined the damage and instead of seeing the expected bruise or blood blister, I saw that I had completely crushed off the tip of my finger, nail and all. I was bleeding, bleeding my own blood! I screamed a slew of expletives, grabbed a wash cloth to apply pressure, and took a seat on the bathroom floor before I could pass out and add a head injury to the mess.

Four hours in the ER later, I have 4 stitches and 15 (err.. 14) Vicodin. The pills are already starting to wear off and I'm bleeding through my bandages, so I'm gonna cut this short. Typing entirely with my left hand is hardly expedient, so I'm out for a few more days. Scott cracked me up in the ER waiting room by saying, "wow, honey you really pwned yourself!"

EDIT: I forgot to mention that, in a bizarre twist of irony, that the Nurse Practitioner who sewed me up has a passion for cooking! He participates in a food blog (a "vlog" actually, it's a video blog) called Fat Belly Traveller. Check him out in this video. Thanks again for the good work on the finger, Denny!