Sunday, April 29, 2007

The soul of the roll with a hole

It seems like it's been a while since we've seen a new bagel shop in Portland, particularly here in inner Southeast, where the nearest bagel specific operation is the local Noah's franchise on Hawthorne. There are other bagel options of course; Kenny & Zuke's features local artisanal bagels and most of the better grocery stores carry somewhat substantial New York-ish bagels, but the bagel shop itself is a pretty rare animal in these parts. What few of them we do have tend to fall flat, at least when held up to their distant relatives on the east coast. Now don't think that I'm a bagel snob; it's been more than 20 years since I've had a real New York bagel, so I'm not using that as my yardstick here. But most of the bagels I've had since coming west have paled in comparison to even what I could get back in Michigan. I do have some standbys in Portland; specifically, Noah's, Kornblatt's and New Seasons. While they all adequately satisfy the occasional bagel jones, I've not been wowed.

So I was glad to notice, on my way to work one night, a bagel shop in the making on SE 11th Ave, called Kettleman's, just a block down from Tennessee Red's (some of you may remember that TR's is where the late, great Jake used to go whenever he broke loose from Greg's yard). Kettleman's finally opened last week, and I made it down there today to have a look.

I ordered the Oregon Lox sandwich with cream cheese, onion and capers to judge their lox chops, which in my estimation is the acid test for a bagel house. I also got two bagels to go, one plain and one everything, with a tub of scallion schmeer. The lox was very good. The bagel was toasted perfectly, the salmon and cream cheese were both generous but not ridiculous, and the onions were added conservatively so as not to overpower things. My only critique would be that they went a little bananas on the capers. A few capers go a long way. I had a little chunk each of the plain and everything bagels, with schmeer, when I got home. The crust was great, thin and crispy, and the crumb was good, moderately dense but with a little sweeter flavor than I like in a bagel. Nick from Kenny and Zuke's reports on Extra MSG's recent bagel round up that their bagel guy, "Mczlaw," uses a sourdough starter and a 24 hour retard to get a good tangy, malty flavor. Mczlaw himself asserts that he pushes the bake for maximum caramelization. Loath as I am to admit it, I can't comment on this as, well... I have yet to try Mczlaw's bagels. Incidentally, Kettleman's got a B- in the bagel crawl, the best grade of any of Portland's bagel shops. High praise, indeed!

I headed back a little later with my camera after they'd closed, and met the proprietors, Jeffrey Wang and his wife (I think I'm getting this right...) Melinda. Jeffrey had been a bagel man for a number of years back in the 80s and 90s and is returning to the bagel business after a ten-year hiatus. I have to say, they've done a good job with the place. Jeffrey handled the tile work, and the walls, painted in tasteful hues of red and orange, are adorned with local art. And it's nice and spacious, something all too lacking in a lot of hole in the wall delis. They're still working out some of the kinks, of course (the elevator jazz needs to go, and some decent reading material wouldn't hurt; a few copies of the Times and maybe the Village Voice would be a nice detail), but all in all, I think they're on the right track.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Waffles, Benjamin...

...the future is in waffles! I headed up to NoPo today to check out Flavour Spot, my friend Jon's new waffle cart. Well, it's not really that new. Jon and his business partner Dave have been redefining the waffle now for about six months. Yes, this is the first time I've been there. Yes, I know, I'm a bad friend.

The waffles are served folded and wrapped in paper and foil, sort of sandwich style. The fillings are mostly sweet, although there is a ham and cheese waffle, and the maple-butter and sausage waffle is an interesting mix of salty and sweet (could there a bacon and caramel waffle somewhere down the road?). I took three home to sample: the aforementioned maple sausage, the nut fluffer and the "Black Forest." The nut fluffer is basically a wafflized fluffernutter, and to my mind the waffle is a much more appropriate vehicle for peanut butter and marshmallow creme than bread could ever hope to be. The BF combines nutella and raspberry jam. Tasty enough, but to be accurately called a Black Forest waffle, the raspberry jam needs to be replaced with cherries, preferably tart ones to play off the nutella's hazelnutty sweetness.

Good stuff. Check 'em out next time you're up on Lombard.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lamb, swiss chard and pecorino ravioli with lamb reduction

Here's something I concocted in order to use up the leftover lamb reduction from my recent braised lamb shank adventure. I adapted this from two of Mario Batali's recipes, Basic Pasta and Ravioli Genovese. Basic Pasta is from his book Simple Italian Food, and Ravioli Genovese can be found here.

For the pasta, form a mound of 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, with a good sized depression in the middle. Put five large eggs and one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil into the depression and gradually incorporate the flour with a fork. Knead for six minutes, wrap the resulting dough ball in plastic wrap and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling, start by sauteeing one bunch of swiss chard (greens only) in butter and garlic for two to three minutes, until wilted. Once it's cooled down, chop it finely and put it into a large mixing bowl. Next, brown 1/4 lb of ground lamb, let it cool, and add to the chard. Add two eggs, 1/2 C of ricotta, 1 C of grated pecorino romano (pecorino toscano is a little milder than romano, but would be a good choice as well; the reason I went with pecorino instead of my beloved parmesan is that pecorinos are made from sheep's milk, while granas such as parmesan come from cow, and since lamb is central to this whole endeavor, I wanted to keep it all sheep like), 1/4 C of toasted pine nuts, 1/4 tsp of fresh ground nutmeg, a couple pinches of salt and a couple twists of fresh ground pepper, and mix.

Roll out the pasta dough (working with about a handful sized chunk at a time) until it's to the point of being almost sort of transparent. Cut a number of 3 to 4 inch rounds out of it. On each of half of the rounds, place about a teaspoon of the filling in the middle, wet the edges with water or egg white, and place a round on top, pressing the edges to seal (and making sure to press out as much air as possible). Use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges. Alternatively, you could roll out one large sheet, place a teaspoon of the filling every 2 or 3 inches, place another sheet on top and cut the ravioli into squares. Boil the ravioli for 5 to 6 minutes in a large pot of heavily salted water (this is the secret to cooking pasta - the water should be about as salty as the ocean). You should generally not add oil to the water when cooking pasta, by the way. It prevents the sauce from adhering.

As for the lamb reduction, well, go braise some lamb and you'll have plenty of lamb reduction left over. It freezes pretty well. I thawed and reheated mine and it was good as new. If you use pork instead of lamb in the filling, a basic red sauce would work nicely (as would parmesan in place of the pecorino). Or you could go Mario's way - never a bad strategy - and just drizzle melted butter over it and sprinkle a little more cheese on top.

Garnish with whatever you have at hand (I used pine nuts and parsley) and buon appetito!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Check these mad makizushi skillz, yo...

That enough cred for ya, T-bake? Anyway... last night was sushi night here at Casa del Belmont. Having recently gotten hold of a bunch of old Good Eats episodes, I decided to try my hand at sushi, Alton Brown style. As most of you probably know, sushi comes in many varieties, the two most common, in the States anyway, being nigiri (a slice of fish placed atop a little ball of rice) and maki (or makizushi, the rolled up variety). And that's what I made. Both of them came out very well, although I must confess, my California rolls were a bit on the dodgy side. I pass this along to any of you adventurous enough to try your hand at sushi:

As for equipment, pretty much all you need is a good sharp knife, a sushi mat and a cutting board (a plastic one devoted to meat is a good way to go here, though I used one made of wood. As Alton says, "Yes, I'm okay with that.")

Fish, raw or otherwise. I went with maguro (bluefin tuna), escolar (snake mackerel), smoked salmon and surimi (imitation crab meat made from pollock).
2 C sushi rice
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 package of nori (sheets of what most people think is seaweed; it is in fact, algae)
One carrot, julienned
One cucumber, julienned
One avocado, halved and sliced into thin strips
Wasabi paste
Pickled ginger
Sesame seeds

First, the instructions, with photos to follow (I've arranged them roughly in order as per the instructions):

The first thing you'll need to do is cook your rice, according to the instructions on the bag. This usually entails bring the rice and water to a boil, then covering and simmering for 20-30 minutes. Use at least 2 cups of rice and the equivalent amount of water, probably 2 1/2 cups. Once the rice is done, let it sit off the heat for 15 minutes or so. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, salt and rice wine vinegar in a microwave-safe container. Microwave on high for about 30 seconds, and stir to partially combine. There won't be enough vinegar to completely dissolve the sugar and salt, but do the best you can.

Transfer the rice to a large wooden, glass or ceramic bowl. Pour the vinegar/sugar/salt mixture over it and combine with a spatula. Now you don't want to stir, you want to turn the spatula sideways and make slashing motions as you turn the bowl. Then cool the rice with a fan for about 15-20 minutes, until it's near room temperature.

Next, turn your attention to the fish. For nigiri, slice strips about 1/4 inch in width from the steak, against the grain (from here on, you can check the photos below). For the maki rolls, cut 1/2 inch sections, turn them over and cut into strips which are roughly 1/2 inch square in cross section.

We'll do the maki rolls first. On your cutting board, lay out your sushi mat, flat side up, and place a sheet of nori on it, flush with the edge of the mat closest to you. You'll want the rough side of the nori up, and have it oriented so that it's wider than it is tall. I trimmed about an inch and a half off the upper edge to get the size just right. Next, place a layer of rice, about 1/4 inch thick, on the nori, covering all but a quarter inch or so at the top. Dab a thin strip of wasabi right along the middle (go easy on the wasabi, by the way. It's stronger than you think). Now you're ready to throw down the filling. In the photo, you can see that I've gone with maguro and julienned carrots. For my second roll I used escolar and cucumber, and for my California rolls I used the standard avocado, surimi, carrot and cucumber.

Roll from the bottom. When the roll is nearly complete, you'll want to lift the leading edge of the mat so that it doesn't become part of the roll, obviously. Use it consolidate the roll a bit, and you're ready to slice. A roll made from a standard sheet of nori will yield about six pieces. I cut the rolls in half, doubled up and cut into thirds. Plate... and serve!

The process for the Cali rolls is more or less the same, although you will want to cover your sushi mat with plastic wrap. After spreading the rice onto the nori, coat it with a liberal amount of sesame seeds and very carefully turn it over. Add the avocado, surimi, carrots and cucumber and roll as before.

The nigiri is a bit simpler. Start by making an oval-shaped ball of rice in the palm of your hand, about a tablespoon and a half (dip your fingers in a bowl of water, by the way, before handling the rice). With the index finger of that same hand, spread a little wasabi on the back of your fish slice. Then place the fish on the rice and plate. Serve with a little wasabi, pickled ginger, and some soy sauce, and you, my friend, will have yourself some sushi!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Braised Lamb shanks with leek infused whipped potatoes

Forgive the lazy presentation here... And that tablecloth will be gone soon. This was my first foray into braising, a technique I've been wanting to try my hand at for a while. So I picked up a couple of lamb shanks at the farmers' market last weekend and set about the task. You pros out there, and I know there are at least a couple of you, will no doubt find this a bit pedestrian (I went with a pretty basic preparation here), but any of you fellow amateurs with an interest in, or experience with, this method of cooking meat will want to read on and enjoy. And as always, your comments, snarky or otherwise, are enthusiatically encouraged...

The shanks were from SuDan farms near Canby, OR (owned and operated by, you guessed it, Sue and Dan). Their lamb is grass-fed, hormone-free and guarded by llamas, and can be found on the menus of more than a few of Portland's better restaurants. I had an interesting conversation with the guy manning the stall (I don't think it was Dan) concerning sheep dogs as Burke, between panicked freak-outs, sniffed around the coolers of meat.

Before these bad boys are braised, they need to be seasoned with a little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, then dredged in flour. They must then be browned. Using a mixture of butter and olive oil, I sauteed them in my large saute pan (which is perfect for paella, incidentally; there's a future post right there...), over pretty high heat. The shanks browned a little more quickly than I'd expected, so I only gave them a couple minutes on each side. Next time I'll tone down the heat a little.

Once the shanks were browned, I set about preparing to saute the mirepoix (two parts onion, one part each carrot and celery). Mise-en-place is a very french term which, for our purposes, basically means nothing more than prepping everything ahead of time and arranging it such that you can grab each ingredient in order, and it's a very good habit to get into. In addition to the mirepoix ingredients, here I've got three cloves of garlic, minced, 1 Tbsp of thyme, 1 1/2 tsp of rosemary, both chopped, and two bay leaves.

The sauteeing of the mirepoix starts with the onion. After removing the shanks, turning the heat down to medium and adding a little butter, I threw in my onion, with some sea salt, and cooked it until it had softened a bit and begun to release some of its moisture, about four minutes. Then I added the celery and carrot and cooked those for another four or five minutes. During all of this, some of the fond, which is to say caramelized bits of meat left behind by the lamb shanks, gets mixed up with the butter and the mirepoix, sort of giving a headstart on the deglazing of the pan. In went the garlic at this point to cook for about a minute before adding the wine. Now I have to interject here. When I added the carrots and celery, I also added another tablespoon each of butter and flour. In a moment of absent-mindedness, that is. This would be normal were I making something like jambalaya, where it's customary to cook the roux along with the mirepoix. However, in this case I had intended to make the roux separately and add it much later while reducing the braising liquid into a sauce. It didn't really throw much of a kink into the works, but if you try this recipe or something like it, you probably don't want to add the roux at this point. At any rate, I next added a cup and a half of indeterminate red wine from a
box (hey, it's organic...), and reduced it for about five minutes. Thanks to that roux, it thickened up to napé, which is what the french call the state of thickness at which a sauce coats the back of a spoon and then... well... it's sort of easier to just show you what napé looks like:

Next I added 4 cups of chicken stock, along with the thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, and put the shanks back into the pan. I brought the liquid to a boil, turned the heat down to medium low and replaced the lid, leaving it just a little ajar. I cooked the shanks this way until the meat came off the bone without much resistance, about two hours. In the meantime, I grabbed the two potatoes I'd picked up at the market on opening weekend, chopped 'em up and threw 'em into boiling water.

While the potatoes were getting their boil on, I finely chopped the white part of one leek and put it into a container with about a half cup of heavy cream. I then "hit it with the stick" as those of us who use immersion blenders like to say, until the cream and the leeks were one foamy, aromatic mass. This was added, along with a little butter and salt, to the potatoes (at this point fully cooked and drained of course), which I then mashed by hand, whipped with a whisk and set into a foil-covered mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water to keep it at temperature. And okay yes, you're right, these potatoes aren't technically infused with the leeks... By the way, if you have a stick, don't puree/mash potatoes with it. I tried this once and it didn't work out well. It may have been the variety of potato, or more likely the fact that the stick doesn't incorporate nearly as much air as a whisk, but whatever the reason I ended up with a gluey, inedible disaster and haven't used the immersion blender on potatoes since (except in potato-leek soup).

Once the shanks were done braising, I transfered them to a 200F oven, brushing them occasionally with some of the braising liquid to keep them from drying out. I then put the rest of the braising liquid through a cheesecloth lined strainer into a saucepan to begin the process of reducing it into a sauce. This took about twenty minutes at a good rolling boil, the liquid reducing by about half. Once the sauce was at the right consistency, I "finished" it with a little butter.

And voila! Plate and serve.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunday Supper at clarklewis

My friend Jenni and I had an interesting dinner this evening. We went to "Sunday Supper" at clarklewis. A little background on this for you non-Portlanders:

Back before they'd founded clarklewis, the Gotham Building Tavern or their catering outfit Ripe, Naomi Pomeroy and Michael Hebb made a name for themselves in the Portland food world through the invite-only meals served in their home, which they called "Family Supper." Later FS would be held in the building that housed Ripe, and it eventually gained a national reputation as "America's most famous illegal restaurant," even managing to draw the attention of Food Network überweirdo Rachel Ray. The Ripe empire eventually came apart at the seams, but thankfully, clarklewis survived despite the departure of the original chef and several changes in ownership. Naomi Pomeroy stayed on board, and this past January resurrected the family supper tradition in the form of "Sunday Supper," basically a prix-fixe family style dinner with the guests seated around two very long tables.

We showed up at 6:30 and ordered a couple of cocktails. For Jenni, a mojito, for myself a martini. I don't drink martinis, as I really don't like them, but every five years or so I order one somewhere just to see if my tastes are catching up to those of the cocktail nation. They're not. But this one did have an interesting twist: There was a chrysanthemum in it. Which of course meant that by the end of the martini I was dodging chrysanthemum petals. Hence the straw.

We grabbed a couple of seats for ourselves and shortly thereafter the dinner bell was rung. Naomi and her daughter welcomed us all and gave us a brief rundown of the gathering of the ingredients at the Hillsdale farmers' market earlier in the day, throwing in an aside here and there about purveyors such as "the Mushroom Dude" (funny... I went to college with someone called "the Mushroom Dude"). Then we all clapped. In short order came the salad, wild mountain lettuces with aspargus, pine nuts and pecorino shavings. It was very tasty, the pine nuts and cheese offering a nice counterbalance to the lettuces' peppery zing.

Next up was bruschetta. A word about bruschetta here: I am a bruschetta expert. I have made this so many times I can practically do it blindfolded. Bruschetta is a go-to snack for me the way Doritos are for some. I usually stick with the basics: toasted or grilled bread, rubbed with lots, and I do mean lots, of raw garlic, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I also usually add some freshly grated Parmesan (though I will, on occasion, substitute a Grana Padano, Parmigiano-Reggiano or even Dry Jack). I've experimented with everything from tomatoes and basil to Feta and Kalamata olives to Chevre and rock shrimp to Jamon Serrano and five year old Gouda, but typically I'm a purist when it comes to Bruschetta. So if you're serving this to me, you should know that I am not easily impressed.

Naomi got off on the right foot by pronouncing it correctly (this is surprisingly rare, even in good restaurants). The bruschetta was topped with a citrus aioli (blood orange, I think she said, but for some reason it registered as grapefruit on my palate), Boston mackerel and pickled red onion. I didn't taste an awful lot of garlic, so crostini might be a more accurately applied title than bruschetta here (although it's very possible that I've desensitized myself to garlic through overuse). Whatever we call it, though, it was very good. I'd never thought to incorporate citrus. Interesting.

Next to come out was the main course, braised duck leg and seared duck breast, with rhubarb mostarda. I don't know duck quite like I know Bruschetta, but this was great, the mostarda (almost a chutney, really) providing a tart/sweet foil to the richness of the duck meat. Accompanying this was new potato hash with ramps and wild mushrooms, and kale raab with chili flakes and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. The potatoes were perfect. It can be a little tricky, for me at least, to get this sort of preparation to that fork-tender but still substantial state. My guess is that they were parboiled before being cooked with the ramps and mushrooms. The kale raab was nice as well, with the chili flakes providing just enough bite to keep things interesting. However, I'm now having trouble working out whether what I was eating was kale and raab, or actually kale raab (a hybrid of, well, kale and raab). The menu said kale raab, it was dark, and I'm not too familiar with either of these vegetables, so at the time I assumed it was just that, but looking at the photo after the fact, it looks like there are two distinct vegetables there on the plate. Naomi, if you're reading this, perhaps you can set me straight on this...

At this point, of course, we were all pretty stuffed. But too stuffed for dessert? Noooo... Here we can see Naomi filling the eclairs with vanilla cream...

...and here's the finished product:

The caramel on the plate, by the way, was infused with earl grey tea. An interesting combination of flavors, although the tea was definitely pretty forward (imagine a cup of slightly sweet, very buttery earl grey tea. Hmmm, that doesn't sound too bad, actually...).

Throughout all of this, we had an interesting conversation with Chad and Cheryl across the table for much of the night (it turns out, incidentally, that they live a few doors down the street from Jenni). All in all, I would say Sunday Supper is definitely something I'd recommend.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blood Orange Spearmint Sorbet... Huzzah!

Not really even sure what Huzzah means, but man, is it fun to say! Anyway, this here's my riff on Sweet Napa's blood orange chocolate mint sorbet (as in "chocolate mint," the herb; chocolate itself was not involved). While the Nap deserves most of the credit for the inspiration, this was also inspired, co-inspired you might say, by a tangerine mint sorbet I had a few weeks back at Screen Door, which was excellent (and it came with a ginger cookie! For those of you here in Stumptown, Screen Door is a newish place on the east side, Burnside & 24th, and it's well worth a try). I couldn't find chocolate mint, so I fell back on trusty old spearmint instead.

I made this by first creating a sugar syrup of 1 1/4 C of sugar (evaporated cane juice in this case) dissolved into 1 3/4 C of water (just regular old water). After bringing to a boil, I took it off the heat and added the zest of one lemon and one orange, and two sticks of Wrigley's Doublemint gum (kidding, kidding... chopped spearmint, about 1/4 oz) to steep for an hour. Checking it with my refractometer (finger), I determined it to be at approximately 26.475 Brix (sweet). Heh. Heh. Heh... Into the fridge it went to hang out overnight.

For today's final assembly, I added the juice of 3 blood oranges and 1 lemon (about a cup altogether), and put it into the freezer. I pulled it out after a couple hours, put it into a blender and pulsed a few times, then stuck it back in the freezer. I did this on the hour three more times before letting it freeze for good.

The texture was nice, although a little more liquid than Screen Door's. The flavor was citrusy, sweet but not too sugary, with a tart, somewhat astringent yet not unpleasant finish (had it not been for the lemon, this would probably have been overpoweringly sweet). The spearmint was subtle. It was definitely there, but existed more in the sinus cavity than on the tongue.

The color was a bit lighter than I'd expected (click here to see the Nap's raspberry-esque version). The juice around the sorbet is that of a Moro blood orange (as are the slices) which I picked up this afternoon at the food co-op on my way home from the farmers' market. The blood oranges used in the making of the sorbet itself were of an indeterminate variety, Tarocco perhaps, but obviously not Moro.

All things considered, it was a success. Although I may kick this idea around in sherbet form at some point in the future... Filing that one away...

In other news, today was Burke's first trip to the farmers' market. That went... well... kind of okay. For those of you not familiar with Burke, he's my mentally ill border collie. Here's a photo (that's Burke on the right, and on the left, my previous border collie - also mentally ill in his own special way - the mighty Copilot, may he rest in a constant state of fetch; the leg at far right belongs to Jodi, one of Burke's previous foster-moms):

Burke is a rescue dog, and experienced untold cruelties in his obscure and mysterious past, which have made him very apprehensive of unfamiliar situations and sudden loud noises. He would also seem to have a touch of agoraphobia. But he's gotten much better in the five months I've had him, and has generally loosened up when it comes to walks, and to some degree, crowds. So I figured I'd introduce him to the market.

Now Burke and I have a routine when I'm walking him and we encounter any frightening, startling or otherwise surprising circumstance. Burke goes into a panicked crouch and digs his claws in to the grass, pavement, cement... I try to reassure him. This doesn't work, and in order to get him to move, I drag him a few feet until he finally realizes that it's time to start walking again. This is our routine. And it works. But it can't look very good to the Birkenstocked, hemp tote carrying folks at the noisy, crowded, chaotic farmers' market, where Burke went into his crouch about every ten yards. Burke and I got more than a few horrified looks, with me trying to explain, "He's a rescue dog! He was abused! Believe me, this is normal! We go through this on every walk! He's fine!" Yeah, right you jerk! I oughtta call the Humane Society on your sorry ass, you monster! Nobody actually said that, but I could feel them thinking it. I guess Burke and I have a little more work in front of us before he goes back to the market.

Burke did come out of this experience with a dividend, however: a pig's ear! Which he ate. I thought he would just sort of gnaw on it, but he actually consumed the thing. And quickly! Can't wait for that to pass through...

Your knives are dull...

You know they are. Don't look at me that way. Oh, I know what you're thinking: "But I sharpen them on my steel every time I use them!" That steel isn't sharpening. It's honing. Sharpening removes a tiny amount of metal from the blade to create a fine edge. Honing simply realigns errant steel molecules and doesn't do much good once that edge is worn down by all that chopping (and occasionally slicing off the tips of your thumbs). Trust me, you need to get your knives sharpened.

If you live near a Sur La Table, you're in luck! During the month of April, they will sharpen two knives for you. For free! Details can be found at their website. I'll be taking my santoku and my boner (my boning knife! Jeez...). If you live in Portland, this means you'll have to venture into the Pearl District. I'm sorry. But sharp knives are well worth the sacrifice. If you live in Lake Oswego, there's one there too.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Grocery shopping, squirrel style

This was just way too funny to ignore. Here we see one of the squirrels that live in the roof over the porch of the house next door. We'll call him Clyde. Clyde's been out foraging for edibles, and it appears he's found himself a nice chunk of crusty, artisanal bread. From the looks of it, I would guess that it's the Country Blonde pain au levain from Ken's Artisan Breads, which is made with a blend of organic white, whole wheat, whole rye and spelt flours. An excellent table bread, it's also ideal for sandwiches and toast. Very nice choice, Clyde! The only problem is...'s too big to fit through the front door! We've all had this problem, of course, but it usually involves a couch. I've just checked on Clyde's progress, and it looks like he finally got it in as I've been writing this. Nice work, Clyde! Your efforts will be rewarded with a tasty feast indeed!

Not quite sure what to call this...

Well, this is a momentous occasion indeed... the first recipe to be posted on the new blog. Heady stuff! This is an hors d'oeuvre that I improvised a couple years ago for a Thanksgiving dinner, to very positive reviews. I've made it a few times since, and it always goes over well. You could probably call this a goat cheese balsamic pear phyllo tart, that's about the best name I've come up with. Think of it as a riff on baklava. Or spanakopita. And of course, I don't have a photo of it, and as I hate posting without a photo, I've dug up this shot of archetypal nerd extraordinaire Steve Urkel from the 90's mega-hit sitcom "Family Matters" as a stand-in.


-One 9X13 baking dish
-One pastry brush
-One of those pancake flipper things (I grew up calling it a spatula; it is in fact not a spatula, but rather a pancake flipper thing)


-Phyllo dough, one 1 lb package, thawed (It's very important that it be completely thawed. I can't stress this enough)
-Unsalted butter, one stick (Not a bad idea to have more handy)
-Three pears (Bosc will probably work best here), peeled, cored and sliced
-Balsamic vinegar, one cup
-Water, one cup
-Goat cheese, ten ounces or so
-Two large yellow onions
-Salt, one Tbsp
-Chopped walnuts, one cup

First, you're going to want to caramelize the onions. I usually julienne them (or something like it anyway) into 3 inch pieces. You could french the onions, if you're a bad-ass, or just slice them up however you like, but don't chop or dice them; you don't want particularly small pieces here. Throw the onions into a large saute or frying pan with a liberal dose of olive oil, butter, or a combination thereof, sprinkle them with the salt, and cook over medium heat until they start to get a little color. Turn the heat down to medium low and stir or toss frequently until they've turned a light caramelly brown. This will take a while, perhaps up to an hour, but the aroma produced is worth the wait.

While the onions are doing their thing, put the vinegar and water into a good sized sauce pan, bring it to a simmer and add the pears. You don't want them to cook for too long, just long enough for them to take on some of the flavor of the vinegar, maybe ten minutes. Strain and pat dry.

Next, grease up that baking dish and melt the butter. Phyllo dough usually comes rolled into two half-pound sub-packages. You'll probably only use one, but have the other handy just in case. Unroll the phyllo and lay it flat on your counter. Trim it, if necessary, to fit the baking dish. Lay a slightly damp towel over the dough while it sits, as it will dry out and become difficult to work very quickly. Once the onions are finished caramelizing and off the heat, layer 12 to 15 sheets of the phyllo into the baking dish, brushing melted butter onto every second or third sheet. Spread the onions over the top. Layer ten more sheets of phyllo on top of the onions, again having brushed every second or third sheet with the butter. Arrange the pear slices in a thin layer and add ten more sheets of phyllo (again with the butter). Crumble the goat cheese over all of this (or soften it in the microwave and spread it evenly) and add the last ten sheets of buttered phyllo. You'll want to score the top 3 or 4 sheets. I usually make three cuts lengthwise, then I make 45 degree cuts every 2 inches or so from the center cut out to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top.

Place into a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees and bake for 45-50 minutes. When done, the top layer of phyllo will be golden but not quite verging on burned, and the walnuts will have a nice toasted appearance. Let it cool, and slice along the scores into that classic trapezoidal baklava shape. Dig one or two pieces out with your knife and let the pancake flipper thing do the rest of the work.

And enjoy! Send any leftovers to your cardiologist.

Monday, April 9, 2007


This would be me, in that classic "taking a picture of myself without revealing too much of what I look like" pose. Because you have to understand, this isn't about Tommy. It's about what Tommy eats.

Welcome to Macerating Shallots, my personal outlet for ruminations on all things edible.

I've been blogging for a while now, under the title "Tha Angry Liberal," and while I of course remain an angry liberal, lately I'm finding myself focusing more and more of my creative energy into destroying my kitchen (I'm not kidding. A seemingly innocent experiment with something like jambalaya can take weeks to clean up. Ask my housemates).

All of this chopping, sauteing, mixing, kneading, baking, broiling, blanching and shocking and occasionally slicing off the tips of my thumbs naturally brings with it the desire to share these culinary exploits, insane as they may at times be, with the world. That's you.

The following posts were originally put up on TAL (the first two earlier tonight, the other two back in January - some of you will get a laugh out of the chili post, I'm sure), and while they are technically re-runs, they're fascinating nonetheless, so read them. At least twice.

Tha Angry Liberal will live on, of course, but it just doesn't make sense to blog about food over there. Food should not be angry. Nay, food MUST not be angry! Thus, I give you... Macerating Shallots. Buon Appetito!


Ever had Hasenpfeffer?

Neither had I. I wasn't even sure it was real. I'd suspected that it only existed in Bugs Bunny cartoons and the Laverne and Shirley theme song. But it is, in fact, a traditional german stew of rabbit (hence the Bugs Bunny reference), historically prepared with wine and vinegar. I'd never eaten rabbit, as it happens. It definitely reminds me of poultry, but it's not particularly chicken-like, much more... lush. I'd describe it as almost a white meat version of duck. At any rate, it was quite tasty. The green sauce you see on top of the rabbit leg is a pesto made with a very liberal amount of vinegar, which is sort of in keeping with the traditional preparation, but it overpowered the meat. It was excellent on its own, however, and paired very well with the fava beans, and to a lesser extent, the potatoes.

I'm ashamed to say that I didn't eat the asparagus. I'm not fond of asparagus. I'm trying, I'm just not there yet. But it didn't go to waste. It's on its way to the compost pile.

My housemate Robert brought this back from his Easter potluck party this evening in a Tupperware container (forgive my amateurish plating). Many thanks, Robert, for expanding my culinary horizons!

Witness the Bounty!

Yesterday was a big day, my friends! It was the opening day of the downtown Portland Farmers' Market (an important thing to remember about the Portland Farmers' Market: Yes, you DO have to feed the meters on Saturday. Found this out the hard way...)! I didn't think I'd be able to control myself, but I actually came away with an amount of stuff that I could carry back to the car in one trip. Let's see, what have we got there... Looks like some leeks, shallot greens, a quarter pound of Juniper Grove Redmondo (aged about 9 months, mildly goaty, slightly pungent, nutty flavor), broccoli rabe, Rogue Creamery pesto cheese curds, a couple of Nikola potatoes, some runty early season carrots, stinging nettle and yellowfoot mushrooms. What am I going to do with all this, you ask? Well, when I got home yesterday I julienned one of the leeks, sauteed it with the mushrooms, added some cream, reduced and finished with a little butter, tossed it with some whole wheat fettucine and topped it all with some grilled chicken for lunch (downing most of the pesto curds, along with a double deuce of Rogue Hazelnut Brown, in the process; gotta have fuel for hard work like this, y'know...). Right now I'm about to make some pesto with the nettles. And I'm making inroads on the Redmondo (perfect, sliced thinly, with some crusty bread and good olive oil). The rest is sitting in my crisper drawer awaiting future projects.

And speaking of future projects, allow me to show off my new toy:

I found this on Craigslist. It's the big one, the 500-watt, 6 qt model. I've been wanting one of these for a while now, but they're way too expensive new. I got a pretty good deal on this guy (thank you, Craig!). Sort of dwarfs the cordless drill, wouldn't you say?

My First Culinary Review

The following commentary is courtesy of my housemate, Robert, upon tasting the rough-draft version of the creole (not cajun, as he describes) chili I'll be entering in Greg and Bonnie's annual Chili/Cornbread Cook-off next weekend. To wit, Robert's assessment:

Winter Warmth Assessed by an Amateur

Nice and meaty it was, with cajun flavor enough. It burns not the lips, nor the probing tongue, only a pleasant tingle in the throat, but then... The head and upper body warm, the skin flushes, and we can say - Yes! Excellent!

Probing tongue? Pleasant tingle? Skin flushes? Huh, sounds like he really enjoyed it! Anyway, this is a work in progress, and I have almost a week to work it out. Cross your fingers for me, friends, and with any luck this year I will CRUSH the competition!!!

Baguettes, Y'all!

As some of you may know, I've been experimenting with bread lately. I've been cutting my teeth, for the last few weeks, on a pretty basic Italian bread recipe, and I've decided to branch out a bit. I made baguettes the other day, with, get this... very considerable success! I have to say, I'm pretty proud of myself here, folks. Baguettes, while not exactly difficult, per se, are one of the more technically demanding forms of bread to make, and I'm happy to reiterate that mine came out really quite well. Now, they can't be technically considered baguettes, as they're not quite long enough (hold the jokes, people). You need a professional oven to make true baguettes. They were, rather, miniature versions of the same. But the dough was true, and that's the real test.

Baguette dough, or for that matter any traditional french bread dough, involves two pre-ferments (pate fermentee, or "scrap dough," and poolish, so named for the Polish bakers who supposedly invented it), which distinguishes this kind of bread from a more simple one-day bake, such as the aforementioned basic Italian bread. Creating the pre-ferments involved really nothing more than mixing some flour, water and yeast the day before, the pate fermentee being refrigerated overnight, while the poolish was fermented overnight at room temperature. Both of these pre-ferments are really quite impressive once they're ready to incorporate into the dough the next day, the yeast having produced some pretty aggressive bubbling.

Why bother with the pre-ferments, you ask? Well, the purpose of the pate fermentee is to impart a slightly sour flavor (somewhat akin to a sourdough starter, the sour flavor being the result of the acetic acid which develops during refrigeration), while the poolish develops gluten, which gives the final dough its extensibility, which helps in shaping the loaves.

On the baking day, the pre-ferments are incorporated into the rest of the dough, and it's pretty smooth sailing from there on out, although I have to say that the end result is a very sticky dough which can be a bit tricky to work with. I, myself, don't yet have the skills to knead this dough by hand, and relied heavily on my pastry scraper, so at this point I'm still a bit of a candy-ass, I suppose. But after baking the loaves in my newly-acquired baguette pan (yes, you DO need a baguette pan to really do this right), my baguettes turned out as well as any I've ever bought at a bakery, so I'm considering this endeavor to have been a success!