Sunday, October 26, 2008

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Hunter, Gatherer, Vintner

October is the month of the Eat Local Challenge, and while I don't subscribe fully to the notion that we should necessarily restrict ourselves to procure all of our food from a 100-mile radius (I like cooking with salt and pepper, thankyouverymuch), I sometimes forget that I really don't have to. I live in the Pacific Northwest.

October also happens to be the season of chanterelles, deer and elk hunting and the fall runs of coho and Chinook salmon. An Indian summer has granted the sunshine a bit of stay, and I wanted to celebrate the meibutsu bounty of the Pacific Northwest (and some of the reasons I've never seen fit to leave my hometown). Yesterday, I threw a dinner party for 12 of my best friends and colleagues to share the bounty and praise our good fortune for living in paradise. We are a ragtag group of naturalists, foodies, hunters, gatherers and vintners.

I am also delighted to be one of the selected bloggers to be accepted by Foodbuzz to participate in their (now monthly) 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Posts series.

Norm (top photo) from Eat or Die is the Vintner mentioned in the title of this post. He and his lovely ladyfriend Gretchen couldn't keep their hands off each other all day. Danni, Janelle and Tammy (bottom photo, rear to front) set up the table with the floral arrangements made by Danni and Tammy from flowers in their gardens.

Norm brought the gorgeous Pinot Noirs: 2003 Domaine Drouhin Laurène, 2004 Resonance Sineann, 2003 Ken Wright Eason, 2004 Boedecker Stoller, and homemade Pinot Noir (2005 and 2006 Chien Fâché) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2006 Ash Hollow) that he and some friends of his made from Yamhill and Walla Walla County fruit. His pairing with my planned meal was truly inspired, and I look forward to tasting (and purchasing!) some of next year's batch. Detailed tasting notes and afterthoughts are available at his blog.

This was the setup that Janelle and Flori provided for me: a gas cooktop, a gas grill and a smoker. I couldn't have been happier. In fact, I couldn't have planned for a better venue for this dinner if I had a $5000 budget. When I though of this dinner, Janelle's house was the first place that popped into my mind. I told her my idea, and asked if we could have it at her house, sight unseen. All I knew about her house was that it was in the woods in Sandy, Oregon (about an hour southeast of Portland). When she said yes, I wasn't anticipating the idyllic scene of black-capped chickadees, cedar shakes and woodsmoke, but was thrilled.

Flori carved the table legs and stools with a chainsaw, mere days before the dinner, and milled the wood for the tabletop himself. The trees etched into the legs of the table are testament to his craftsmanship.

My menu was planned to show off the best of the northwest:

Hors d’oeuvres

Charcuterie plate of house-made coho “loukanikos” & Fraga Farm saganaki


Curried chanterelle bisque with cardamom crème fraîche


Baby spring greens with golden beets, Silver Falls Creamery chèvre & toasted pumpkin seeds
dressed with hazelnut-Pinot vinaigrette


Elk roast with alder smoked chanterelles & juniper-Pinot jus

Side of coho salmon with arugula-jalapeño pesto

Pan-fried Klamath Pearl potatoes with thyme and parsley

Grilled homegrown pattypan squash and green tomatoes

Chanterelle & cranberry ragout on toasted polenta points


Grilled Hood River D’Anjou pears with Willamette Valley Cheese Company Brindisi aged fontina
& Rogue Creamery Oregon Brand Blue Vein raw milk blue


Hood River D’Anjou pear and Gala apple galettes with homemade Douglas-fir needle ice cream and toasted hazelnut brittle

This was my first attempt ever at sausage-making, and I'm apparently a natural. I chalk that up to my German heritage. The sausage was inspired by Greek loukaniko, but I used coho salmon instead of pork (and a splash of Momokawa Diamond sake instead of dry red wine). The fennel seed (from my garden) and orange zest perfectly complemented the salmon, which was fished out of the nearby Sandy River by Flori. We cold-smoked it for an hour over alder chips, then grilled it until heated through. Sausage-making parties are going to be a new future friend event (Tammy's gonna show me here tamale-making prowess in exchange).

The saganaki was a pan-fried raw goat's milk feta from Fraga Farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. I'd never made saganaki before, but next time I'll cook the whole wedge in one piece instead of in thick slices. A drizzle of olive oil and fresh oregano and parsley from the garden finished the plate.

Turns out, crème fraîche is dead-simple to make at home. Just add a couple tablespoons of buttermilk to a cup of heavy cream, loosely cover it with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and leave it out in a warm place overnight or until slightly thickened. The cultures in the buttermilk will thicken the cream and prevent bad bacteria from growing. Stirring in a little cardamom makes it a perfect accompaniment to creamy curried chanterelle bisque (thickened with a sweet potato and butter).

Roasted golden beets and toasted pumpkin seeds provided the earthy backdrop to fresh Silver Falls Creamery chevre and bright baby spring greens. A light vinaigrette of hazelnut oil, Pinot Noir vinegar (made by Norm) and Pinot-stewed prunes (pureed with a little dijon mustard) was all this salad needed to become a work of art.

The elk for the roast was hunted by Flori's cousin, the coho was fished by Flori, the tomatoes and pattypans were grown in my garden, and we picked the chanterelles earlier in the day. The potatoes and cranberries were store-bought, but grown here in Oregon.

Elk is slightly more sinewy than deer venison, and benefits from a slow braise. This roast took 5 hours in a 180-degree bath of beef stock, shallot and garlic, and was served with a jus I made from Pinot Noir (a bottle simmered down to a cup), veal demiglace and juniper berries. I ended up pouring some of that unctuous jus over just about everything on my plate.

And in smiling fortune, this time the chanterelles were everywhere. We went up some Forest Service roads in the Mt. Hood National Forest, where the white fir and Pacific rhododendron provide the perfect backdrop to a foray. Only weeks earlier (say Janelle and Flori) the huckleberry bushes were nearly bowed over under the weight of all the fruit, but it looks like we missed our window to black bears readying for a long nap.

The cheeses were both delectable tastes of different parts of Oregon. The Willamette Valley Cheese Company's Brindisi (an aged fontina) came from Salem (only 45 minutes south of Portland), and the Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue (a raw milk blue) from Central Point (in southern Oregon, near the spot I found porcini and morels a summer ago). These were both full-flavored cheeses that stood up well to grilled pears.

My standard galette needed no update other than to be paired with my latest pride and joy, Douglas-fir needle ice cream (although Brent was enamored of the galette for its pie-like characteristics. "It's like a tiny pie," he cooed). The piney tree notes were very subtle, almost indiscernible after the first bite, as were the hints of rosemary and pink peppercorn that I added to the simmering cream to reinforce the forest flavor I desired. I will make this again, but next time I think I'll double the amount of Doug-fir and leave crushed pink peppercorns strewn throughout the ice cream. I think the cream and egg yolk can stand up to it.

The hazelnut brittle is like the Butter Brickle you might remember from the so-called ice cream, or the crunchy toffee interior of a Heath bar, but with a toasted hazelnut skeleton. I made a hard-crack candy of sugar and bourbon, and added a knob of butter for good measure. When it was golden, I poured it over a buttered Silpat of hazelnuts (that I toasted and roughly peeled beforehand) and sprinkled on some flakes of Maldon sea salt. I still have a bag of this delicious candy for future praline (or premenstrual snacking).

I think I've just found a replacement for all future holiday meals with my erratic family.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The 2008 Tillamook Mac & Chee Cook-off

...or, wherein I find out that Ilan Hall is actually super nice, and pretty funny in real life. He totally forgave me for making fun of him and everything (for the record, he is NOT afraid of starfucking fangirls, and isn't into the dick. He was just trying to sleep when I tried to prank him). When he opens Gorbles (his coming-soon restaurant in LA - Scottish and Jewish!), go give him lots of your money and eat his bacon-wrapped matzo balls.

So, last Thursday was the 2008 Tillamook Macaroni & Cheese Cook-Off. It's the 100-year anniversary of Tillamook Dairy, so I think their PR firm really busted out all the stops. Next year I'll enter a recipe, but this year I attended to cheer on fellow blogger and hottie Catherine Wilkinson of The Dish. She hasn't been blogging much these days, but she doesn't have any kids left to get sick or married, so she thinks she might be getting her groove back soon.

Catherine didn't win the cash money prize, but she did win the Widmer Brothers (local beer-makers) Brewmasters Choice award. One of you is saying "boo-urns", but the rest of you are saying "boo." And rightly so. Fuck sake, even the god-fearing dairy farmers and cheese-makers themselves voted for hers!

The Josis of Wilsonview Dairy

I also got to meet the Dairy Princess. For some reason, I was completely smitten with her (seriously, I have like 6 pictures of her), and wanted to see her get a little drunk. Such boorish behavior never befits a princess, though, and she was, in fact, a perfect lady all evening.

Look at Catherine's mac & chee. It's truly boner-making, isn't it? The fuck is up with some weird mac & chee sweet potato casserole winning? It was good, sure, but I really wonder if it wasn't just the Oregonian penchant for bong hits doing the voting here.

There were about a dozen or so judges, and the event on the whole was really well-attended. This was a good thing, as I passed out about a million of my Foodbuzz blog cards. I'm still waiting for that sweet spike in blog traffic. Yep, any day now....

Anyway, she was a really good sport about it. I don't know what I would've done. Prolly gotten drunk and pulled someone's hair. Or tried to make out with the Dairy Princess.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Kare udon

Okay, this is a total phone-in. I will give the concession that I used homemade chicken stock, and sure, I poached the chicken breast with lots of fresh ginger and garlic, some sake, mirin and sesame oil, then added sliced shiitakes, Sweet Nantes carrots and delicate pearl potatoes. I even threw in some heirloom Italian pepper such deep carmine that it resembles raw beef. But this is hardly cooking.

Okay, I added cubed silken tofu, slivered scallions and sliced snow peas, and at the end I folded in some thick, chewy udon noodles (boiled separately so the broth wouldn't go all soapy-starchy).

Come to think of it, what I did was truly cooking, but the act of breaking a couple cubes of Golden Curry into soup made it feel like I was faking it. Sure, I could've just added some curry powder, MSG (yes, I keep a fatty sack of it in my cupboard) and a little sugar and corn starch, and I would've achieved the same result. But I used the cubes. And I feel like a dirty cheater admitting it.

I keep cheapie Gekkeikan around for cooking, but a nice bottle of Momokawa Diamond Junmai Ginjo (I love the cloudy Pearl Junmai Genshu in the summer) for drinking. I know it's probably sacrilege, but I heat osake in the microwave. In exactly one minute it reaches perfect blood-temperature.

Oh, p.s. I'll be in and out a bit until Sunday. My good friend Catherine Wilkinson from The Dish is in town competing at the Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese Cook-off. In case you're wondering, yes, she really is that hot in real life. Today I brought her chanterelles for her recipe, then we sat in the bar of her hotel making fun of Ilan Hall from Top Chef Season 2, who is emceeing the event. Catherine had been mistakenly calling him "Ian" all day, and couldn't figure out why he was so standoffish. For laughs, I went to the concierge and asked her to page Ilan's room to tell him he had two ladies waiting for him in the bar. He never showed up; probably because he is gay, or afraid of starfucking fangirls.

Oh, p.p.s. I'm planning a very special dinner for twelve of my closest friends this weekend. Elk roast with alder-smoked chanterelles, coho loukaniko with Fraga Farm saganaki and Hood River pear galettes with Douglas-fir needle ice cream will feature prominently. Stay tuned, and happy autumn!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Doro wat with ye'abesha gomen

I've really been craving Ethiopian food lately. Maybe I'm deficient in pulses, or just have a jones for hallucinogenically spicy food. The first time I tried Ethiopian food, I didn't really know much about it other than its reputation for being hot, that it leans heavily toward vegetarian proteins like lentils, and that it's eaten with the hands, using a spongy flatbread to scoop. This all proved to be true, but my preconceived notions were such gross understatement of this cuisine. Looking around the kitchen, I noticed that I'd depleted my stores of berberé, and I wanted to smell chiles, ginger, toasted onions and fenugreek in my Sunday kitchen.

The Ethiopian culinary identity is somewhat contradictory: it's fraught with an impoverished history (and still heavily associated with famine), yet known as the cradle of civilization; the original land of milk and honey. Doro wat is the National Dish of Ethiopia - a rich stew of chicken and hard boiled eggs, flavored with berberé and niter kibbeh (an eloquently-spiced, clarified compound butter with garlic and ginger), served with injera, a spongy flatbread made with a fermented teff flour dough.

I basically followed the Congo Cookbook's recipe for doro wat, and through a bit of browsing elsewhere on the interwebs found another good recipe for a vegetable side dish. Ye'abesha gomen (or gomen) consists of collard greens simmered with onions, peppers and ginger, and appears to have variations of different names all over Africa.

The injera was a problem. Problem #1: I couldn't find teff flour anywhere (I did end up finding it at a hippie store today, locally-grown, ironically). I should've trusted my hunch that similarly gluten-free buckwheat flour would've worked, but I kind of feel like there's no point in making generic flatbread, when I could just buy some fucking tortillas.

Problem #2: Even if I had gone for the buckwheat flour, injera is made of a fermented batter, like sourdough. I did not have the two weeks to get some dough fermenting on my counter, and evidently it's illegal to sell sourdough starter. I asked the New Seasons bakery, and when they denied to sell me any of their sourdough starter for "legal reasons", I asked if they could just give me some instead (they didn't think this was as funny as I did). I didn't feel it would be authentic enough (or taste the same at all) to use chemicals to achieve the spongy bubbles.

Problem #3: No one sells injera. The fuck? Why can I get ten types of artisanal boulé, pain au levain, focaccia or ciabatta, but I only get tortillas, pita or naan for non-Eurohonky unleavened bread alternative? Not even the hippies could help me out here. I didn't want to insult the nice people at the Ethiopian restaurant by coming in to only buy injera. I thought a brown rice tortilla would be a reasonable facsimile, but I was totally fucking wrong. Next time I'll drive across town to the Ethiopian bakery.

Next time you're thinking about a nice stew, or roasting a chicken, or crave a spicy curry to chase a wintry chill, why not mix it up a bit with Ethiopian food?

Shepherd's pie

Okay, to be honest, Friday was pretty fucking glorious. A seriously perfect autumn day: sunny, a balmy 65 degrees, just gorgeous. But when I got to the store after work I still ended up leaning toward comfort food, and picked up a half pound of ground lamb (and some beef, just for shits and gigs). Shepherd's pie was calling.

This also afforded me the opportunity to use up the celeriac languishing in the "root cellar" (bottom drawer of the fridge, where I keep my carrots and apples and such). I caught it in the nick of time: slightly stronger-than-desired celery flavor, but not yet totally lignified.

Shepherd's pie is dead simple to prepare. It's just a meaty, veggie mélange with gravy and a mashed root veg topping. The creativity comes when you decide which veg to use, and how you'll go about the gravy. My veg consisted of the classic (read:predictable) savory pie combo: peas, cremini mushrooms, Sweet Nantes carrots, onion, and sliced scarlet runners. I sautéed these in the fat from the lamb and beef mince until crisp-tender. The gravy was comprised of two tomatoes (simmered hot until melted into sauce) 2 tbsp veal demiglace and a half a pint of Guiness, thickened with a flour and chicken fat roux. I added some chopped rosemary and thyme for good measure, added the meat and veg mix to it, and into an oval soufflé.

I creamed together a large Yukon gold potato and a celeriac tuber (both peeled, cubed and boiled 'til tender) with a knob of good butter and some half and half. I opted to go cheese-free with the topping (my mother always topped the potatoes with grated cheese, though her Shepherd's pie was always just ground beef in tomato sauce without veg, likely a vestige from her days in the Marine Corps), but whipped in an egg so the topping would brown up better. In retrospect, added grated cheese and scallions to the potato-celeriac mix would've been a sexy take on traditional Irish champ that could've elevated it to a new zenith. Next time.

Served simply with some steamed and butter-browned Brussels sprouts and a glass of earthy Ponsalet Monastrell Jove, and you're getting hugs on your insides.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vegetable fried rice

This is all I have to show for my blogless week. I've been trying to, once again, wittle down the produce drawer in the fridge, and have been cooking a bunch of uninteresting pasta and stir-fry with the various vegetables. Do you know how "meh" penne with kale pesto and vegetables looks in a photograph? Feh.

The stir-fry from Thursday wasn't bad, if a little heavy on the hoisin and oyster sauce, but it was Project Runway (and debate) night. So I skipped the photos altogether. Last night saw the conversion of leftover rice and the remaining broccoli, peppers, shiitakes, scarlet runners (I've been picking them slightly underripe and slicing them, pod and all) and kale, as well as half a block of silken tofu and an egg, into fried rice. I also added some surimi, but it isn't crab at all, and didn't elevate it the way I hoped.

It was good, just not like the salty Chinese-American fried rice I was craving. It was, however, flavorful and healthy. Now I just have to eat the last gallon-sized bags of pattypans and yellow pear tomatoes (the last ones before I compost the vines!). Maybe I'll just bake the whole lot in cheesy bechamel.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Smoky maple-glazed salmon with potato-maitake hash and curry cream

The other day New Seasons had some divine Alaskan sockeye – supple, cadmium flesh – man, their seafood is so good lately. They have it all open to the air now, too, and you honestly can’t detect a single molecule of fishy amine. I totally forgive them for all those bunk clams they sold me way back when.

After tasting that sexy alder-smoked salt that Stacy gifted me, I think I was really craving salmon and maple – flavors so symbiotic and undeniably American. Salmon takes to a glaze like a dream, and it came together so effortlessly, like intuition. Hot brown mustard and a small glug of maple syrup made sweet music, and the crushed, smoky salt and black pepper consummated the relationship.

I had some puce baby potatoes, all iridescent skin and lilac pulp. I always pick out the tiniest pearls from the bin, so each one can be steamed intact and eaten in one bite. After steaming to a billowy interior, I tossed them into a hot pan with butter and broken petals of maitake; minced fire-roasted jalapeño, yellow pear tomatoes and a chiff of rainbow chard from the garden; and sliced onion and garlic. I tippled in a heaping tablespoon of hot curry powder and a splash of cream, and it sizzled into sauce with the melted tomatoes.

I brushed the salmon with the glaze a few times while it roasted, then dished up with some soft naan and curry okra and green tomato pickle.