Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spring morel dinner at Castagna

Ah, Castagna. Our preferred fancy date-night place. They had a special morel dinner last night (the last in a three-part series), and we had to partake. Usually our steak-frites-and-pear-martini place (well, Scott usually gets a Manhattan since he's not a homosexual), it was kind of exciting to see it all dolled up like one of our favorite prix-fixe joints in town (also linked on my sidebar). The evening's menu read short but sweet:

~Vol au vent with snow morels and English peas
~Coq au vin Jaune with morels
~Rhubarb crème brulée tart

The vols au vents were these little puff pastry cups stuffed with spring peas and morels floating dreamily in a chive crème fraîche. Rich yet ethereal, they made beautiful music together with a sprightly Mikaël Bouges La Pente de Chavigny Suavignon, Touraine 2006.

The coq au vin was an inventive take on the classic with tender thighs: the braising liquid was vin Jaune, a white wine similar to dry fino sherry from eastern France. (Note to Castagna chefs: I'm totally going to make this at home with rabbit and Gewürztraminer.) It was served with chewy little herbed spaetzle, browned toasty, and a platter of roasted asparagus. The grassy Rijckaert Vigne des Voises Chardonnay, Côtes du Jura 2005 pairing was à propos, considering this was the same wine used for the braising (I'm assuming.)

The photos I took of dessert were beyond salvation due to candlelight, dipping sun in an already-cloudy sky. "Why not flash?", you ask?

This guy, is why not. I do not want to be him*.

*Let's just say I was not the only food blogger there last night. I may have a mouth like a sailor, but fuck sake, I have a little decorum (seriously, could that lens be more phallic?). Jen, the chick in red (seated in the foreground on the left) is a sister of one of the chefs. Lucky girl. I have to do all the cooking in my family.

But you're dying to see the tartlette, simply dying! Oh, alright, but the photo is dreadful. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Shrunk and 'shopped all to fuck.
Very simple, yet delightful. The tartness (no pun intended) of the rhubarb cut through the rich custard with surgeon-like precision, and was gracefully rounded off with the whipped cream.

Again, what is it with Portland's achingly attractive food service professionals? They all look like they're models, or at least in a really cool band that you've never heard of. Even the dishwasher was el diablo hermoso. (Thanks, guys, for letting me get all up in your kool-aid during dinner.)

Shout-out goes to my buddy Jack who's been a server at Castagna for what must be close to a decade by now. He's a gentleman's gentleman and it was a delight running into him (and his exceedingly beautiful girlfriend) off-duty. Jack, I love you in an apron, but it's always a plezh seeing you in your civvies.

Castagna on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cherry galettes with black pepper-Kirschwasser glaze

Is there any better taste of summer than sweet bing cherries? You're giving me that look, aren't you. The "It's not summer yet, Heather, not in your neck of the woods. Fuck you smilin' about?" look.

Okay, sigh, I bought off-season produce from California. Sue me.

How could I resist? We won't have succulent chin-dripper stone fruits in Oregon for at least two months (especially if it never stops raining), and I want them now, dammit! Besides, I know what to do with a sassy little bag of cherries. Oh, do I ever.

I bake some galettes.

Galettes with black pepper-Kirschwasser glaze.

Some of you in the Forty and Fabulous set remember Kirsch as that cherry brandy that you add to fondue to let the cheese melt without clumpy into a greasy wad - this is the same stuff. Kirschwasser ("cherry water" in German) is just a double-distilled brandy made of mashed cherries, that is clear for lack of aging in wood. Portland's own Clear Creek Distillery make one that is really superb.

Since I wanted to maintain the sanguine color of cherries, I knew I'd need to add a bit of acid to the glaze, so I used the juice from my last blood orange (killing two red birds with one stone). I also added a splash of Bokbunjajoo for sweetness (and to add to the color). For the record, Bokbunjajoo tastes exactly like Loganberry Manischewitz and is to be avoided at all costs, even if you are a Korean celebrating Passover. It was a terrible err in judgment whilst wandering the booze aisle at Fubonn, and I hope that you will all learn from my mistake.

You might remember that I am afraid of pastry, and in fact can only brave a galette because they are expected to be fugly (rustic, I mean rustic). Yes, I ventured into some unsteady waters with that first experiment with savory-sweet dessert, and baby, I came out swimming. This time I went a little more aggressive with the pepper since I had the intrepid sweetness of cherry acting as the backbone.

Cherry galettes with black pepper-Kirschwasser glaze
This would probably be great with Rainier cherries or even plums. I'm totally making them with plums in a few months. Makes 4 galettes.

Prepare the pastry dough:
1.5 c AP flour
2 pinches salt
3 tbsp sugar
8 tbsp (one stick) cold butter
~like 5 or 6 tbsp ice water

Whisk together the dry ingredients. In a food processor (or with a pastry cutter) cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal with pea-sized nubs of butter. Sprinkle in the ice water and stir together (or pulse a couple times) until the dough starts to come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and mush the dough together into a ball. Quarter the dough and wrap each in plastic wrap. Fridge for an hour or freezer for 20-30 minutes until the dough resembles modeling clay in texture.

Prepare the fruit:
2 oz. (an airline bottle) Kirschwasser
2 tbsp blood orange juice (or 1 tsp lemon juice)
2 tbsp Bokbunjajoo (or other cloying red booze - I guess sloe gin would work), or omit
2 tbsp sugar

Simmer down to a syrup (thick enough to be brushed without making pastry soggy).

~6 c bing cherries, pitted and halved (this was like 8 handfuls)
1/2 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
1 tbsp sugar
pinch Chinese 5 spice

Toss fruit together with other ingredients.

Pull the dough out of the chiller and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out as thin as is praticable - you should get each ball to about 10" in diameter. Arrange the cherries fastidiously all concave-up as pictured (you think I'm just being fussy, but this will be crucial for pooling the juice and glaze). Brush the glaze over the fruit and give each galette another crack of pepper. Fold over the edges of the dough rustically (if you want perfection then you'd be making a tarte and not a galette). Brush the dough with some milk or cream and sprinkle a pinch of sugar over the top.

Bake for 10 minutes, then brush more glaze over the fruit. Another ten minutes, and brush some glaze. Then bake another 5-10 more minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Brush once more and cool on a rack. Serve warm with black walnut ice cream, thundershowers and Nude.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Crab soba with maitake and pea shoots

This is from last Monday's dinner, but I wanted to go ahead and share it since I feel another wave of good cooking juju coming on and I don't want it to get buried. This was the last of the pea shoots, the last Persian cucumber, some nice buckwheat soba, a half pound of lump Dungeness crab meat and a maitake mushroom the size of my head. This recipe serves four generously.

Prepare the sauce by combining a splash of shoyu (soy sauce), sake or rice wine, and rice vinegar; a dribble of sesame oil and a glug of mirin; 2 or 3 tbsp of grated ginger and a minced clove of garlic, a couple sprinkles of black sesame seeds and shichimi (nanami togarashi). I didn't have any left, or I'da added a tsp of yuzu marmalade.

This time I stripped the leaves off the pea shoots and chopped the stems. Blanch in the boiling water with a whole package (8 oz) soba. Slice the cucumber and a scallion thinly and add to the sauce. Break up the maitake into bite-sized pieces and saute until softened in a little light oil (or sesame). Add to the sauce, and ad the crab. Stir very gently (don't break up that crab). When the soba and pea shoots are cooked (after ~5 minutes), drain and rinse in cold water until they are lukewarm-cool. Strain and toss with sauce/crab/veg mixture. Top with a sprinkle of your favorite furikake (rice seasoning) and shichimi. If you have it, a little grated daikon and wasabi root would be excellent.

Enjoy on a hot day with a cold glass of Kirin or other crisp lager. Ittadakimasu!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pappardelle al ragù di capriolo (pappardelle with venison ragout)

I'm such a slave to the weather. Two days of rain and it's practically autumn, as far as I'm concerned. And after seeing the cover of last month's Saveur around the house for the past 8 weeks, I've had carnivorous yearning for a hearty Bolognese.

So I pulled the venison chorizo from last winter's storage in an effort to continue clearing my freezer and "eating from the pantry". It was still really good, considering it was uncured. The pimentòn in the chorizo wasn't too much when blended with a few glugs of red wine, stewed tomatoes and copious amounts of fresh thyme. The fat from the salt pork also helped, as did the pound of grass-fed beef I used to supplement the lean game.

I didn't have a lot of tomatoes (half a can of stewed, whole toms from the freezer), but this is meat sauce, not red sauce. Also, I had some of my favorite condiment: gochujang, a Korean chili paste that is slightly sweet and miso-y. It's spicy, but not too. And it brings a sticky umami to the sauce that enmeshes perfectly with ungulate and tomatoes. A must-have for any well-stocked pantry.

Just for kicks, I added some dried bing cherries, sundried tomatoes and a dash of balsamic to the mix and let it stew down until the liquid was almost completely absorbed. Toss with fresh pappardelle (not homemade, but it is a workday so cut me some fucking slack) and top with Parm Redge and a chiff of basil.

Enjoyed with 2006 Domaine Brusset Côtes du Ventoux Les Boudalles. An honest, full-bodied wine, reminiscent of stone fruit, bracken, lichen-covered twigs and dry leaves that crackle beneath your feet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Artichoke heart risotto with nettle-pumpkin seed pesto

I always talk about how I am a whore for good-looking produce, and how I am completely powerless against the imp god of Ambitious Cooking (okay, I made him up, but I implore any one of you to tell me you aren't his bitch, too).

This dish, like so many others, is inspired by the "fuck sake, this has about one minute left on it, why the hell did I buy a(n) [artichoke/bag of gai lan/tub of kimchi] the size of a [fetus/dumpster/Collosus]? What in the frick am I going to do with it?" realization that seems to be par for the course these days. This time, the artichoke won.

This, my friends, is why I never use fresh artichokes. I filled my compost bowl and covered the cutting board. It'll be years before I forget the trouble they are, but I will, and I'll get wooed by another choice specimen (this one was as big as a cantaloupe), promise I'll use it, then shake my fist at that imp god of Ambitious Cooking when I'm elbow deep in spiny thistle down and stiff, leafy bracts.

This, THIS is all I got out of all that mess! And no, I don't feel like scraping my incisors across a sepal to try to drag an atom of thistleflesh into my gaping maw, so don't lecture me about wasting all that good stuff.

But this time I also had some inspirado from my buddy Peter over at cookblog (I call him Jube, short for Jubilation T. Cornpwn, because he says "there are just too many Peters", and I say "that's what she said."). He's been working with nettles a lot lately, springtime green they are, and I live pretty close to a little creek where I can harvest my own. So on Sunday I donned my leather gauntlet gloves to keep the needles off my skin, and snipped myself a bag of tender nettle tips.

I spent all day in the field, and it was raining all day AND I forgot my rain gear in the other truck so I got really drenched today. Therefore, I needed creamy starch and I wanted to make a risotto (it's easier than gnocchi, and it makes its own sauce). I figured the easiest way to get nettles into risotto was to puree it (Jube makes a nifty nettle sauce all the time), so I blanched it (deactivating the venomous trichomes), wrung out the juice and chopped it up. I toasted some pumpkin seeds and blended them with garlic, salt, olive oil and the green wad of nettle. Added a little thyme and mint and whizzed it all up.

I cleaned the artichoke hearts up real nice, quartered and then thinly sliced them. Boil for a couple minutes in acidulated water (a splash of vinegar does it) to keep them from browning. Heat up some butter and olive oil in and sauté the drained artichokes with some thinly sliced spring onion . Add the arborio rice and do the "making the risotto" thing. Stir in a few heaping spoonfuls of the pesto, salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a sexy knob of French cultured butter and some shaved Parm Redge.

Buon appetito!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Shrimp rolls with baby heirloom lettuces and refrigerator pickles, or The Odyssey

I have done it. I have created the perfect sandwich. BEHOLD MY CREATION! It is the way, the truth and the light. With an ice-cold Czech pilsner, salt and vinegar potato chips and some quick pickled radishes and Persian cukes, this sandwich is a religious experience. Praise the sandwich! Amen.

Let me tell you more about why this sandwich puts the other sandwich to a blushing shame.

Could it be the homemade mayonnaise, achingly sculpted from free-range organic eggs, white wine vinegar and olive oil from the teats of vestal virgins? Perhaps.

Is it the fresh bronze fennel fronds and parsley flowers plucked directly from my garden's nether regions (and fresh tarragon and thyme from the uh, store) minced powder-fine with sweet shallot? Could be. Heirloom bunte forellenschuss lettuce and rocket, harvested at the tenderest infancy? Oh yes, that too.

Maybe it's the pain au levain, with its shattery exterior and gossamer interior, baked fresh atop an ancient megalith. Okay, the stone isn't really ancient, but it does have cool black stains from a calzone that exploded once.

Vernal sugar snap peas, luscious wild gulf prawn meat, and the mineral serenity of celery join forces in a sandwich fit for gods and heroes, to be supped in the lazy twilight that follows epic battles and lovemaking.

And refrigerator pickles. You, pickle of impatience. Pickle of haste. Quickle.

You are hewn from delicate Persian cucumbers, translucent radishes and hairline slivers of shallot. Your three vinegars are white wine, for elegance; white balsamic, for eloquence; and apple cider, for spunk. You are spiced with the seed of coriander, black mustard, caraway, fennel and celery. You are the salt of the earth (err... of the sea, actually).

O, shrimp roll and refrigerator pickle, for whom I wax majestic: I breathe unto you creation! Now go! Fulfill your destiny and become my dinner. Circle of life and whatnot.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chrysanthemum salad with poached egg and warm bacon vinaigrette

In the spirit of gilding the (voodoo)lily, I thought I'd take the classic Salade Lyonnaise and take it in a different direction. Instead of the traditional frisée, I used crysanthemum leaves, which are slightly less bitter and impart a green, herbal note to balance the rich egg and dressing. They're sold in Asian markets as tong hao.

Yes, Antonia made a similar salad on this week's Top Chef, but I think mine is better. And you'll just hafta believe me, I really had been thinking of doing this before I saw the show, since I already had the giant bag of chrysanthemum leaves (see last week's Fubonn spree, wherein I also picked up those pea shoots).

Besides, it's not like Antonia invented Salade Lyonnaise. And she sure as hell didn't serve hers on a shady patio in perfect 80 degree weather. Cue birds chirping and the sounds of children's laughter.

Chrysanthemum salad with poached egg and warm bacon vinaigrette
Serves 2 for brunch or a light supper. Don't use an aluminum pan for this or else the vinegar you'll add will react with the pan and make everything taste tinny and "off".

~6 cups chrysanthemum leaves (this was a full typical produce-sized bag, after cleaning)
2 eggs
4 slices of bacon, minced
2 tbsp minced shallot
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 c white wine vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon or spicy brown mustard
1/2 tsp minced thyme

Stem and scrupulously wash the greens, pinch off the large stems and shake the leaves out to dry (since I don't have a salad spinner, I invented a technique where I soak them in a sink of cold water, shaking them a bit to knock out the dirt, then strain and rinse again, then place a large bowl over the strainer and shake off the water).

Poach the eggs - simmer in hot water with a splash of vinegar until the whites set up. You don't want the water boiling or you'll end up with wispy whites like egg drop soup. I crack the eggs into a small bowl and then gently dip the bowl into the water and slide them out. Note that the photos clearly show that I overcooked mine ever-so-slightly. You want runny yolks. Mine were more like custard. Hey, nobody's perfect.

Render the bacon bits for a minute over medium-low heat, then add the shallot and lemon zest. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon and shallot are browned and crispy. Remove from heat, add the lemon zest and juice, vinegar, mustard and thyme and whisk until emulsified. Salt and pepper (and more lemon or vinegar) to taste. Yes, you have just made salad dressing with bacon fat. You can thin this with a little olive oil if you want to make it healthier, but if you're eating salad with bacon and eggs on it, I'd say you've already given up.

Plate the leaves and top with poached egg, then dribble the bacon vinaigrette over the top. Add a crack of black pepper to finish. Serve with a crusty bread (we had poppyseed bialy) and prosecco (or leftover Domaine Labbé).

Wumpy stared at us and pawed pitifully at the screen door the entire time we ate.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The extension of a verdant heart

Good lord it is fucking hot out! Way too hot to cook. I ordered pizza, and am tapping my foot impatiently while I wait. I did have energy to make a cocktail, though.

Bärenjager iced tea

2 oz Bärenjager honey liqueur
1 oz whiskey
1 oz. lemon juice
8 oz. iced tea

Combine in a glass of ice.

Here are just a few images of the garden that takes up my time and money these days.

My sweet (and eternally hot, I might add) mother-in-law Linda sent me these pretty Japanese bird bells as a "just cuz" gift. I hung them in the Russian olive tree in my front yard.
Thanks again, Linda - I absolutely love them!

My azalea kicks so much ass this time of year, although it almost got too hot today. This color is so luscious I could just eat it with a scoop of ice cream.

I love this Lewisia cotyledon. It's a native of southern Oregon and flourishes in the oppressive heat of the rock garden.

That rhododendron is completely garish this time of year, but the Anna's hummingbirds love it. This afternoon, after that fat old sun crept across the roof to the other side of the house, I carved out a path of hazelnut shells to the herb garden . The birds are going to have a heyday picking out the little nubs of nutmeat.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wild prawn and cod paella with smoked sturgeon and heirloom tomatoes

I craved the lusty sunshine aroma of saffron and of smoky pimentón. I had fresh peppers and flatleaf parsley, a nubile pink brandywine tomato and a bag of rice. I didn't have any bivalves around, and even though it's practically not a paella without mussels or clams (shit, some langostines would be nice, too), I did have some gorgeous trawl-caught wild gulf prawns*, some California (true) cod and some smoked Columbia River sturgeon (compliments of my dad, the intrepid sportsman). Paella was definitely on the menu.

*Pardon the distance from my table! I'm trying to be better about at least sticking to my coast when sourcing my protein and produce, but sometimes I fold a little. At least they're not farmed. Baby steps!

Such a basic dish, if you keep things like smoked paprika and saffron in your kitchen! You don't even need a paella pan (I need one more piece specialtyware like I need a hole in the head), although without one I will never achieve that golden crust prized by my Spanish countrywomen (right, Núria?). Come to think of it, I don't have a crockpot, so that means I can have a paella pan (and what the hell, throw in a nice tagine for good measure), right?

Dice up some bell pepper (red, yellow or orange; I think green is too strong-tasting), onion, garlic and tomato. Heat olive oil in the a pan and add the vegetables (except the tomato). Fry for a minute, then add the rice and paprika. Stir-fry the rice for a few minutes, then add a splash of white wine and some chicken or fish stock. Add a bay leaf, a pinch of red chili flake and a pinch of saffron threads, then stir and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is done, then take off the lid, stir in the seafood, salt and pepper, tomatoes and chopped parsley, and stick the whole thing in a hot oven until the top of the rice gets a little browned and crispy. Top with more chopped parsley.

For Jube and Norm (and other oenophiles) - I paired this with a Domaine Labbé Vin de Savoie Abymes 2006. (Yes, it was displayed directly beneath the seafood case, else I'd never thunkit.) The minerality tapers off the juicy fruit notes, while quelling the acidity a bit. It complemented the floral saffron and sweet tomatoes in the paella perfectly, and cut right through the rich starch and seafood. Even though I don't usually think about wine, I at least know what it tastes like!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Garlicky pork noodles with pea shoots

Since I used up all the produce that had been festering in my crisper, of course I had to make another run to Fubonn for some Chinese vegetables. This week, I found some beautiful, verdant pea shoots (dou miao) and some other things that will surface as the week progresses. The pea shoots include the leaves (and the leafy stipules), the tendrils, and the stems. The leaves wilt down like any leafy green vegetable, but the stems and tendrils stay toothsome, a bit like celery. I think if they had been cooked within a day or two of being picked, they would've been more succulent.

Even though this dish does have pork, it is very lean, very thinly-sliced, center-cut loin. Can you believe they had whole loins for $15 instead of $40? Normally I don't bargain-shop meat, but I couldn't pass this up. My buddy Norm at Eat or Die grew up on a farm in Small Town, USA, and can't figure out how a farmer can stay in business with those prices (government subsidies, that's how). I shrugged off the guilt and butchered it into 20 really nice chops. The two ends went into tonight's dinner.

After all the red meat, I wanted something fresh, garlicky and spicy, and crunchy, but noodly. So I made a quick marinade with splashes of good, dark soy sauce (laochou; a nice thick soy sauce), rice wine and white wine vinegar, and a glug of dark sesame oil; a couple heaping spoonfuls of sambal oelek, oyster sauce and hoisin sauce; 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic, smashed and minced; 2 heaping spoonfuls of grated ginger; a dash of my homemade seven-spice and 5 or 6 cracks of black pepper; a spoonful of sugar and corn starch, and a fat pinch of MSG. Yes, I keep a sack of MSG in my kitchen. It's 100% pure umami!

Marinate the pork for at least 15 minutes (I was really hungry). Blanch the pea shoots to soften them up a bit. Stir fry the pork with a little sliced onion and cloud ear fungus until sticky (like 5 minutes), then add the sauce and pea shoots and toss to coat. Toss with cooked noodles of your choosing (I used fettucine, because it's what I had) and sliced scallion. This would also be delicious as a vegetarian dish with tofu and shitakes. I included the cloud ear fungus for crunch, and because I keep a jar of them in my kitchen. Soak them in the cooking pasta water to soften.

I have more ideas for the other half of the pea shoots, so stay tuned!