Thursday, May 31, 2007

¡Finalmente, hoy comí en Toro Bravo!

I finally got around to checking out Portland's newest spanish restaurant, Toro Bravo, earlier this evening. Their website is still under construction, but you can see their menu here. I staked out some real estate at the bar with my camera and my copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma, ordered up a glass of Rioja (just for the record, I'm really not down with the stemless stemware), and set about perusing the tapas menu for a couple of small plates.

I started with the Tortilla Español. Of course. To my mind, Tortilla ranks right up there with Patatas Bravas and seared scallops as the acid test for a tapas joint (Barry and Shellane, are you guys listening?). This tortilla was a simple preparation, packed full of chunky potatoes, served at room temperature and topped with romesco and a lemony aioli. Very tasty, and a bargain at five bucks.

For my other selection, I went with something a little more exotic, skate wing, which appeared to have been lightly sauteed... with a LOT of black pepper, which for some might be a bit overpowering. However, for my taste, which leans toward aggressive flavors, it was perfect. It was served with roasted garlic, olives, capers and a single small red pepper. I'd never had skate before, and this was quite a revelation. It's excellent, almost scallop-like in flavor, with a texture somewhere between flaky and shredded, if that makes sense.

All of this begs the question, of course, how does Toro Bravo compare to Pata Negra? I'm a little reluctant to make that comparison, as Toro Bravo isn't even a month old yet, and two tapas is by no means enough to make any kind of judgment. I'll take a stab at that once I've tried a few more of their tapas, and of course their paella. That said, I would definitely recommend giving Toro Bravo a try. They seem to be on to something.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Good Old Fashioned Chicken Coop Raising

Old fashioned, that is, except for the power tools. And the digital cameras. And the pizza. I guess it was actually a thoroughly contemporary chicken coop raising. At any rate, Portland is a town with a very vibrant chicken culture. Within the city limits, you can keep three chickens in your yard with no permit required, and the permitting process for keeping more than three is, I'm told, not a particularly difficult one to navigate. And in most parts of town, folks are pretty tolerant of it. In fact, I've noticed a few backyard coops in my own neighborhood. However, Patrick and Holly, urban homesteaders who moved here from Oakland a few years back, managed to find one of the few neighborhoods in Portland where the presence of chickens brings out the ugliness in the neighbors. So having given up on keeping their own chickens for the time being, they've partnered with Zenger Farm, an agricultural park owned by the city, and the 47th Street Farm, a CSA near the Woodstock neighborhood, in starting up a cooperative egg farm.

I found out about this last weekend, and it struck me as a very interesting project, so I signed on as a volunteer. Of course, it involves free eggs, but what I find really compelling about this is the idea of becoming directly involved in the production of not only my own food (beyond my own backyard gardening), but that of the larger community as well. With growing public awareness of the problems associated with industrial farming, specifically the economic and political costs of intensive petroleum use in both the production and shipping of food, not to mention the recent spinach and melamine scares, I really think that small urban farms, particularly those with some sort of cooperative or participatory element, are the wave of the future (what you just read is what my high school English teacher, Sharon Hunter, would've called a "run on sentence." Guilty as charged. Sorry, Mrs. Hunter!). Initially, this project will involve 50 chickens (raised on organic feed and, I'm assuming, with no antibiotics or hormones), but it has the potential to evolve into who knows what. The eggs will be used primarily to supply the 47th Street Farm for their CSA subscribers. And of course, a few of them will go to the volunteers who take care of the chickens.

About ten of us met up last Sunday at the Zenger Farm, where this is taking place, to hash out a design, and we met up again today to build the first coop. While it's still not finished, the majority of the work's been done, in four hours, no less. Here's the base being put together:

And here's one of the walls being attached to the base:

Here's an interesting, almost noir-ish, shot of Burke hanging out in the barn (he couldn't run free, due to the adjacent wetlands):

And here's Patrick, framed within the (mostly) completed coop:

The coop will be finished off with a sloping corrugated plastic roof, and the sides will be covered in a combination of chicken wire, hardware cloth and canvas. The chickens will roost inside, and there will be nesting boxes on one end (this is where they lay the eggs). The coop will also have a set of wheels which are being fabricated by a local bicycle frame builder, making it mobile so it can be relocated as Zenger's crops are rotated.

And no, I wasn't taking pictures the whole time, I did actually do some work. It was, to say the least, an interesting day, and I'm looking forward to working with the chickens. I'll keep you all up to date on this as it gets off the ground.

BAM! Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese Flan

Okay, yeah, this an Emeril recipe. But stay with me... I've been wanting to play around with flan and panna cotta lately, and this is my first venture into the neighborhood. As this is copyrighted material and all, I'm not going to post the actual recipe, but I will say that the basic ingredients for this custard are cream, eggs, roasted garlic, goat cheese, grated Pecorino (I used Parmesan), and garlic chives (I used regular chives), and anyway, the recipe can be found here, so if you decide to try your hand at this, and I encourage you to do so, go there for the amounts and technique, then follow along... First things first, you'll need to get your garlic into the oven to roast.

The flan can be made in ramekins, or in a muffin tin. Or in a mini muffin tin, which is the way I went here. While your garlic is roasting, combine the custard ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Next, butter your containers of choice and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit. You can then layer in a few slices of garlic:

Then, pour in the custard and place into a water bath (don't bring the water any more than halfway up the sides of the ramekins or tins, lest it bubble over and invade your flan):

Bake for 30 minutes at 325F, and BAM! Let me say that again: BAM! Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese Flan! Slide a knife around the edges to loosen, invert each ramekin over its respective plate and flip, tapping to release if necessary (if you use muffin tins, flip the flans onto a sheet pan). You could sauce this, but I opted for just a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan. While mine turned out a little on the soft side, as you can see from the photo (Next time around I'll need to "kick it up a notch" temperature-wise, or play around with the egg/cream ratio), they were very tasty nonetheless. Buon appetito!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

There's a very slight chance that I may have accidentally poisoned Jenni...

...And quite possibly, myself in the process.

So Jenni calls me up this evening, at about 7:00, and asks if I want to go check out some finnish DJ called Luomo at Holocene. Which I know means that I will have to dance. And I really don't dance. Except at Grateful Dead shows, which isn't really dancing so much as trying to move while tripping on mushrooms. But hey, it counts... And truth be known, I'm always up for going to Holocene. It's a cool place, if a little sceney, and within walking distance of my house. So I struck up a deal with her. Yes, I will go to Holocene and do alarming yet oddly fascinating white man jerky movements, but first you must come eat dinner at my house, because I am roasting a chicken. Not only did she agree to this, but she also brought potatoes.

I'd never roasted a chicken before, so this was uncharted territory. I stuffed the thing, an enormous free range seven pounder I'd picked up at New Seasons (it looked like a small turkey), with apples, onion, garlic and sage, made slits under the skin into which I packed more sage and garlic, and set about to roasting it. I went with a recipe from Linda Carruci's book Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks, which specified starting the chicken at 425F for 20 minutes, then turning the heat down to 350F for another hour. Linda obviously did not take into account the size of my freak bird. Parts of the chicken registered 170, but other parts only registered 155. But the potatoes were done, and we were pressed for time, so we ate it anyway. And I have to say, it was pretty tasty. I just hope I haven't given Jenni any intestinal problems, as she's leaving for a three day backpacking trip tomorrow. Bad time to have a medical emergency.

Luomo was pretty good, but one of his openers, Strategy, was much better. That's Strategy in the photo, by the way. Oh, and Jenni tells me I'm actually a pretty good dancer. Who'd a thunk?

When I got home, I cranked up the oven and threw the now carved up chicken in for another 20 minutes, and I'm glad to report that it's now done to perfection. I'm gnawing on a drumstick right now. Yes, it's almost four in the morning and I'm eating chicken. I'm totally okay with that.

Um... have fun on your backpacking trip, Jenni!

Friday, May 25, 2007

I find this really nothing short of amazing...

Check out this link to see what New York City is doing to green up its taxi cab fleet. A small, local effort to be sure, but remember, small and local is how positive change happens, folks. Makes me wonder, though, what is Portland doing to bring its own taxi fleet into the 21st Century? Perhaps we should pose this question to our honorable City Commisioner Sam Adams...

You might be thinking to yourself, Hey Tommy, what does this have to do with food? Well, nothing... Or perhaps, everything...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Grilled Chicken and Polenta with Sage Infused Balsamic Butternut Syrup

Well, I think I'm on to something here.

A couple weeks back, I subjected myself, and my readers (all five of you), to what can best be described as a weekend of pasta madness. As you surely remember, the culmination of this was some great butternut squash tortelloni, the recipe for which came courtesy of Biba Caggiano (or rather, her book). The recipe was pretty straightforward, but there was one thing about it that really got the hamsters that turn the wheels in my head to working overtime, an almost off-handed comment that when squeezing the liquid out of the squash, said liquid should be retained, as it can be boiled down into a syrup. Sage played prominently in Biba's recipe, and I got to thinking, what if I incorporated sage into that syrup... and what if I threw in some balsamic vinegar... Yeeessss, what if... So I put my reserved squash water into the freezer, to be dealt with at a later date. That later date came the other night, when I decided to boil it down and serve up whatever the result with some grilled chicken, as well as some polenta rounds I had hanging around in the freezer.

Now, a few words about polenta here: many of the polenta recipes I've found call for a two to one ratio of water to polenta, cooked for thirty or forty minutes. This will get you polenta, sort of, but it's really not the best way to go. First of all, don't use water. Use an even mixture of chicken stock and milk (if you're a bad-ass, you could replace some of the milk with heavy cream; if you're a sociopath, follow the heavy cream with rendered bacon fat or lardo; me, I stuck with stock and milk). Second, you'll do better to use a ratio of three parts liquid to one part polenta. And third, once you've slowly stirred the polenta into the liquid at a slow boil, cook it for at least three hours, over very low heat, stirring only occasionally. This allows the starch in the corn to break down into sugars, which then caramelize. Have some extra liquid on hand, as you'll need to thin your polenta out from time to time as it thickens. But don't add too much toward the end, you'll want the polenta to end up thick enough that it's just a little difficult to stir. Once it's done, mix in a little butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano and spread it out on a small sheet pan or baking dish into a layer about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Chill it until firm, then use an empty (and clean) 12-14 oz can to cut out rounds. Or cut it into squares if you like. You can grill it, saute it, broil it, whatever. That's up to you.

The chicken's the easy part. Grill it until done. Very simple, especially if you have a cast iron grill pan. You could sautee, but you won't get that nice cross-hatch pattern. I like to grill for 5 minutes on each side, turning 90 degrees halfway through to get the proper visual, then I stick it into a 300F oven to finish for about five more minutes.

Now to the syrup. You'll need a lot of reserved squash liquid to do this, because you're going to really reduce the hell out of it. I started with about 1 1/4 cups of liquid, added one tbsp of balsamic vinegar (figure one tsp for each 1/2 cup of liquid), which brought me to about 1 1/2 cups, and wound up with barely two tbsp of syrup at the end. An entire 2 1/2 lb squash, minus the solids, reduced to two tbsp. So cook up a lot of squash. Fill ravioli with it. Make soup. Make squash custard, squash pies... or just freeze the flesh once you've squeezed all the water out of it and use it later. Here's how you want to do it:

Split each squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds (save these, by the way; you can roast them just like pumpkin seeds). Don't bother peeling it. Wrap each half in foil, and bake for about an hour at 350F. When the squash is done, let it cool, but don't unwrap the foil until you're ready to scoop out the flesh. You want as much liquid as possible, so it follows that you want as little evaporation as possible. This is why we're not roasting or sauteeing, obviously. Remove as much of the flesh as possible with an ice cream scoop and set into a large mixing bowl lined with a tea towel (don't use a terry cloth towel, as the squash will stick to it). Gather up the squash in the towel and squeeze. For a good long while. The liquid will just keep coming. After you've extracted the last of the liquid, strain it through a medium strainer lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth. Repeat until you're no longer catching any solid matter. You should end up with between 1 and 1 1/2 cups of pale orange liquid per each large (around 2 1/2 lb) squash.

Once you have all of your liquid, add some sage, about 10 good sized leaves per cup, and slowly simmer in the squash liquid for about ten minutes. Strain out the sage, and add the balsamic vinegar. Real balsamic vinegar, that is. Don't go with the mass produced American stuff, make sure it's from Modena, made from trebbiano grapes, aged in wooden casks... There's a difference, trust me. One tsp per half cup of squash water is about as much as you want, any more and the balsamic will just take over. In fact, you could probably get away with a little bit less. Experiment, and tell me what you come up with. Anyway, once you've got the vinegar in there, turn up the heat to a mild boil. Stirring occasionally, reduce the syrup about halfway. A good way to gauge this is to stick the handle end of a wooden spoon straight down into the liquid before you turn the heat up. Wind a rubber band around the handle right at the line of the liquid. You can then stick the handle in later and determine roughly how much the liquid has reduced by how far the top of the liquid is from the rubber band. Once the liquid has reduced by about two thirds, whisk in a little butter until melted. You'll want to stir a little more frequently from this point on. Pretty soon you'll notice that the liquid has thickened considerably, and it will start to bubble and look like caramel. I'm no confectioner, but my guess is that at this point the sugars are in fact caramelizing, and the mixture is indeed becoming something similar to caramel. At any rate, it will be good and syrupy. Continue to boil until it's just napé (click here to see what napé looks like), and pour it into a squeeze bottle to apply to your chicken and polenta. Or butternut squash custard. Or french toast. Or vanilla ice cream. Or whatever else you can think of.

The real beauty of this stuff, I'm imagining, is its versatility. It's equal parts sweet and tangy, with a subtle note of sage and a buttery umami quality. I really think it would work on almost anything.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Liquified Essence of Antilocapra Americana

Technically speaking, what I made was probably essence of Antilope Cervicapra, a species of antelope which was imported from the Indian subcontinent to supply Texas game ranches. Antilocapra Americana, which just sounded better for the title, is actually the Pronghorn Antelope, a native of the American West. Not a true antelope as it happens, but indeed the second fastest land animal in the world, after the cheetah (on a good day, he can clock it at 61 mph). And that magnificent specimen in the photo is actually Oryx Gazella, also known as the Oryx Antelope, or Gemsbok, native to the African continent. It's a safe bet we won't be eating him anytime soon either, so we'll just have to settle for that good ole boy from the Republic of Texas, Antilope Cervicapra.

Whatever the species, it makes some fine stock. Here's what to do:

First, get yourself some antelope bones. If you don't regularly hunt antelope, or there aren't any game purveyors in your area, Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas is a good source (I should warn you, once you factor in shipping it's a bit spendy). These are called "knuckles." I'm not up on my anatomy, but they look like the ends of femurs to me.

As for the recipe, any brown stock (beef/veal) recipe will do. I used Anthony Bourdain's, with a few slight modifications. The first thing to do is roast the bones, in this case about eight pounds. Lay them out on an oiled sheet pan and smear them on both sides with a mixture of tomato paste and flour. Put them into a pre-heated oven and roast them for about 30 minutes at 350F, turning them at least once. You want them to get some color, but don't let them char very much.

While the bones are roasting, roughly chop one large yellow onion, one large carrot (both peeled) and two stalks of celery. Incidentally, the French call this a mirepoix... because that's what it is. Heat several Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in a good sized stock pot and saute the vegetables until they're soft and just beginning to caramelize. When the bones are done, put them into the pot with the mirepoix and add just enough cold water to cover everything. Add a few sprigs of thyme, three bay leaves, seven or eight juniper berries and about twenty whole peppercorns. You might also add a clove or two. Bring this up to almost a rolling boil, then turn the heat down until you see just the occasional bubble breaking the surface. It's important to make sure you don't boil the stock, as you want to minimize particulate matter. Simmer slowly, occasionally skimming any foam, scum or fat that makes its way to the surface with a slotted spoon, for eight to ten hours. I know, I know, chicken stock only takes four or five hours, but we're working with red meat here, and it takes longer to extract the collagen from the bones, so don't skimp on time. Oh, and don't stir the stock (again, particulate matter). You'll lose some liquid due to evaporation, so make sure to add water, a little at a time, as necessary. If any part of the bones are exposed to air for too long, it'll impart a bitter flavor to the stock. Here's what you'll be looking at, by the way, for those eight to ten hours:

Inevitably, you'll start this project too late in the day, and when your eight to ten hours are up, it'll be 3:00 am. This is normal. Remove the bones and as much of the rest of the solid matter as possible and strain the stock through a medium strainer lined with at least two layers of cheesecloth into another large pan (you'll end up with about two quarts of stock, so a three or four quart saucepan should do the trick). Wash the stockpot very thoroughly, and strain the stock back into it. Do this, in Bourdain's words, "as many times as you can stand." I strained six times through four layers of cheesecloth, which was slow going but worked very nicely. If you skimp on the straining, you'll have to skim fat from the stock after it's cooled, and it can be tricky to get it all. Once strained, chill the stock in an ice bath. Here's the final product, in all of its gelatinous glory:

This stock is pretty perishable, but it freezes well. I put mine into ice cube trays to freeze, then popped out the cubes and put them into zipper bags for storage. This is an old Julia Child trick. The average cube is about 1/8 of a cup, so it makes for convenient measuring down the road. If you double bag them into gallon size bags, they'll last pretty much indefintely.

You might be wondering just what exactly I plan on doing with antelope stock, anyway... One idea I'll be trying out down the road is reducing the stock with some tomato paste and shallots into a demi-glace and serving it over a juniper infused savory flan with sauteed morels and fiddleheads. But that's another post...

Baguettes, Y'all! Part Deux

Is it me, or is the unsliced portion of that baguette upside-down? Anyway... Yesterday I made the first batch of baguettes with the new stand mixer. Which is a milestone of sorts, I guess, but the reason I consider this project significant enough to warrant a posting is the somewhat experimental nature of it. I altered the recipe a bit, which in baking is usually something of a gamble. The recipe I'd been using was that of the Acme Bread Company in Berkeley, a recipe which shows up in both Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking and Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible. The Acme formula calls for two pre-ferments, pate fermentee and poolish, which are mixed a day ahead and added to the lean dough on the day of baking. While this method produces a good baguette, it also produces a very sticky dough which is difficult to work, for a novice like myself at any rate. At the suggestion of the The Pastry Pirate, I omitted the pate fermentee, which she tells me isn't necessarily a standard step in making baguettes anyway (and being as she's a pastry student at the CIA, I'm inclined to defer to her expertise in these matters).

Of course, getting rid of the pate fermentee meant that my proportions were off, so I added the equivalent amounts of water and flour, as well as a little extra yeast, to the lean dough. This wound up adding way too much water, so as I was kneading (or rather as my mixer was kneading), I added some extra flour until the dough seemed to have reached a reasonable consistency. It was still sticky, but not so much as before. The mixer, outfitted with the dough hook, performed its kneading duties flawlessly, and shaping the loaves was a breeze. And yes, PP, I used my baguette pan. Hey, I paid twenty bucks for the thing, it's gonna get used.

The baguettes turned out really well. The crumb was a little more dense than Acme's (which is good, actually, my preference is for fewer air bubbles since I use this type of bread mainly for bruschetta), and the crust was excellent, very crunchy.

Many thanks, Pirate! Baguettes... Good stuff.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

This is the weekend that it happens...

...that antelope stock happens, that is. Yeah, you heard me right, antelope stock! I hope you're paying attention, Dr. Virago... As for the rest of you, stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pizza Fino claims its slice of Denver Avenue pie

Where is my polarizing filter when I need it? Anyway, I made a trip this past Sunday to Kenton, North Portland's latest up and coming neighborhood, to check out Pizza Fino, the newest addition to what's becoming something of a casual restaurant strip along N. Denver Ave (Cup and Saucer and E-san Thai have outlets on the same block, and word has it that a bakery is soon to open just a couple of blocks away). Pizza Fino was opened a few months back by Linda Zumoff, a co-owner of Bella Faccia Pizza on NE Alberta. While similar in concept to Bella Faccia, Pizza Fino has a more extensive menu which includes salads, sandwiches, calzones and pasta dishes in addition to the dozen pies (six with meat, six without).

Four by-the-slice options were offered, in the very reasonable $2.00-$3.00 range. I ordered one each of the Pepperoni and the "Jesus H. Slice," which consists of pepperoncini, ham and roasted pepperoni. Now I like my pizza with a side of irreverence, but how were the slices, that's the important consideration. As anyone who orders individual slices with any regularity will be aware, pizza sold this way tends to lose its just-out-of-the-oven luster pretty quickly, and this pizza was no exception. That said, the slightly long in the tooth slices were in reasonably good condition, neither rubbery nor greasy. The sauce to cheese ratio was just about right, and the crust was good as well. It was on the thin/crisp side but still had a somewhat chewy texture and held its own against the sauce. And the ham and pepperoncinis were a good combination. This was all washed down with a pint of Laurelwood's Organic Red, although Pizza Fino does feature a full bar with a handful of house cocktails. I also ordered a Caesar salad to go and dispatched it once home. Made with romaine, focaccia croutons and shaved Pecorino, it's a perfectly serviceable Caesar, although it could benefit from a little more garlic and anchovy.

I'm only barely scratching the surface here, of course. I'll have to make a trip back at some point to delve a little deeper into the menu or order a pie for take-out, and when that happens, I'll post an update... But for a quick slice and a pint, Pizza Fino has my recommendation for the next time you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day Cookies

These are the chocolate cookies that my mom used to make when I was growing up. She recently sent me the recipe, and in honor of her on this Mother's Day, I tried my hand at making them myself (she's off in the UK at the moment, so she won't get to sample the results). I'm not sure what these are called, but I imagine any pastry chefs out there will recognize them immediately. Here's the recipe:

3 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C butter
1 C sugar
1 egg
3/8 C milk
3/4 C cocoa

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add sugar to butter gradually and cream until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add flour mixture alternately with milk (flour first and last). Add cocoa and blend well. Roll into a tube in waxed paper or aluminum foil and chill. Cut in one quarter inch slices and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven.

They came out about like I remember them, but a little dry. I may have baked them a little too long (the original recipe called for only five minutes, but they seemed underdone so I gave them another five), or I may need to add a little more butter and/or milk (again, any pastry chefs out there, feel free to chime in on this). Or, maybe Mom just sandbagged me. But all in all, they were pretty good for a first attempt.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Hope you're having fun in Wales!

Let the Gardening Begin!

Well, I finally got the garden out, or about two thirds of it anyway. This is a project I'd started last Spring, but when I killed all of my seedlings I lost interest. This year I was extra careful with the watering, feeding and hardening off of the seedlings, and while most of them lived, they turned out pretty spindly and pathetic. So I threw in the towel. I went out and bought a bunch of starts this weekend, and I'm okay with that... I am gardening! I've got the first two beds planted with tomatoes (Roprecco, San Marzano, Oregon Spring and Green Zebra), peppers (Cal Wonder and Red Beauty), cucumbers (Lemon and Burpless), and one variety each of snap peas and zucchini. I haven't decided what will go in the third bed yet, but I have a hunch it will be squash and melons of one sort or another, and perhaps some eggplant. I also have to finish the cloches by adding plastic on the sides and ends which can be rolled up for ventilation during the day. That'll be next weekend's project.

I've also got a separate herb garden, with basil, parsley and chives so far (to be finished off with some tarragon, thyme and purple basil):

And here's a good shot of my neighbor's cat chillin' on the patio:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Meme of the Moment: The Naked Fridge

Showing the contents of one's refrigerator seems to be all the rage lately on the fugosphere (food blogosphere, that is...), and while my fridge isn't nearly as attractive as some of the gleaming Sub-Zeros I've checked out online lately, I thought I'd have a crack at it myself nonetheless. This isn't a bad idea, really. It raises an interesting anthropological question: How do the contents of one's refrigerator reflect the personality and culture of the owner of said chillbox? I'm operating on four hours' sleep at the moment, so I'm not touching that one, but any comments on this would be more than welcome.

As for my fridge, well let's see, what's in there... A lot of locally produced items, such as organic yogurt (Nancy's), cage free eggs (Stiebrs), some cheese (Rogue Creamery), canned fish (Old Oregon Smoke House), butter (Rogue creamery again), some tasty Oregon produce (from, well... Oregon), a couple of rotting Nanaimo bars (not sure where those are from, but I think it's safe to say they're not from Nanaimo...) and, horror of horrors, some Kraft salad dressing (not local... Cincinnati, maybe?). And a whole bunch of other stuff that needs to be thrown out!

The freezer offers some more interesting items, many of which are leftovers from recent culinary projects, such as potato-leek puree, lamb reduction and a few ice cube trays full of chicken stock. You'll also notice, in the upper right corner, ten pounds of antelope bones, which will soon be turned into antelope stock (and subsequently, antelope demi-glace; watch for that in a future post).

Up top, we have a jar of all-purpose flour, a bag of bread flour, bamboo skewers, some sushi rice and a box labelled "toaster" (I'm pretty sure there's a toaster in there).

All right then, I've shown you mine... Now show me yours!

Victim's Eye View... or... Yes, but will it puree a HandiCam?

I have to tell you, I'm getting a little tired of cheese these days. Not just any cheese, but a specific kind: Cheddar. Mind you, I'm not getting tired of eating it, but rather of watching it age, a la Cheddarvision. A lot of attention has been paid to this one particular wheel of fromage maturing away in Somerset (I'm sure it will sell for zillions once it's finally done), and while it pleases me to no end that so much attention is being paid to an artisanally produced food product, I think the time has come to move on to a new, infintely more entertaining internet phenomenon: Will it blend?. Now here's a product testimonial! Sure, it's a marketing gimmick, but it's good for a laugh. Check it out.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Pasta Weekend Part Three: Butternut Squash Tortelloni with Sage Butter...

...and pasta weekend is hereby brought to a close! I won't subject you to a keynote speech... This final installment was based on one of Biba Caggiano's recipes, from her book Biba's Taste of Italy. Or more accurately, it is one of Biba Caggiano's recipes, from said book. And as such, I'm not going to post the recipe, as posting someone else's recipe verbatim on my blog really doesn't seem kosher. It is, after all, copyrighted material. You'll just have to go buy the book. But I will tell you this much: The filling was made with baked butternut squash, Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper. And the sauce was made from... well, sage and butter. The pasta, as with the previous two installments, was based on Mario Batali's recipe, but with a couple extra egg yolks added this time. Here are some photos of the process, for your enjoyment:

It all begins with the pasta volcano:

Next up, the Butternut/Parmigiano filling:

Finally, the evolution of the tortelloni:

Add to that some chiffonaded sage briefly cooked in melted butter and you've got yourself some good vittles! This was hands down the tastiest of this weekend's pasta experiments. The sage butter was nothing short of sublime, and paired perfectly with the squash filling. Biba Caggiano is a genious. This is one I'll be filing away...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pasta Weekend Part Two: Black Pepper Tagliatelle with Red Sauce and Seared Tuna

I invited Jenni over tonight to try my reworking of one of Mario Batali's recipes, Tagliatelle with Fresh Tuna Ragu. I added pepper to the tagliatelle, and rather than incorporate the tuna into the sauce, I seared it and served it on top. You can get the pasta recipe from the recent ravioli post. Just add 1-2 Tbsp of finely ground black pepper, and after rolling the pasta, cut it into strips 3/4 of an inch wide. Here's a nice shot of the tagliatelle drying:

The sauce is a pretty simple tomato sauce, which you can play around with any number of ways. I stayed pretty true to the basic tomato sauce, but did add some oregano. Here's my version:

One 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, liquid reserved
1/4 C of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
One small carrot, finely chopped or shredded
Three cloves of garlic, minced
One Tbsp each of fresh thyme and oregano, chopped
One Tsp of fresh rosemary, chopped

In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat and cook the onions until soft and translucent, about ten minutes. Add the carrot and cook for another five minutes. Add the garlic, thyme and oregano and continue to cook for two minutes. Add the tomatoes and reserved liquid and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, longer if necessary. What you're looking for is a nice thick consistency here. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once the sauce has been simmering for a while and is getting close to the right consistency, turn the heat to low and just let it bubble away. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil, about one Tbsp, in a saute or frying pan (It's best to get the pan on the heat for a minute, then add the oil and give it about another minute to come up to temperature. You can tell it's hot enough when currents within the hot oil cause it to take on a "rippling" appearance; oh, and do NOT use a non-stick pan). Season the tuna with salt and pepper and sear for about two minutes on each side, longer if you don't like your tuna particularly rare, and slice into 1/4 inch strips. Alternately, you could slice the tuna into strips first and sear for about 30 seconds on each side. Place the tuna into an oven safe dish, cover with foil and set into a warm, but not hot, oven (I turned the oven up to about 400 for 10 or 15 minutes, then turned it off about 10 minutes before I put the tuna in, and it was just the right temperature).

Once the tuna's hanging out in the oven, drop your pasta into some heavily salted boiling water and cook until it's al dente. For my pasta, which was pretty thick, this is anywhere from seven to ten minutes. Thinner tagliatelle will take much less time to cook, so test early and test often.

Strain the pasta, plate it with a little sauce, add the tuna and you're ready to rumble. This serves two.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Pasta Weekend Part One and a Half: VooDoo Doughnut

Okay, so doughnuts can't technically be considered pasta, and most of this post is about music anyway, but just bear with me for a bit.

My friend John and I went to Dante's this evening to see Tapes 'n Tapes, who are currently on tour with Ladyhawk and The Harlem Shakes. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to catch any of the Shakes, but Ladyhawk went on just as we had our beers in hand. Ladyhawk is a terrible name for a band, if you ask me, but they were quite impressive. Sort of an agressive roots rock sort of thing, what Richmond Fontaine might sound like if they were a bit more dischordant. Their lead guitarist pulled some very interesting noises out of his guitar, in an almost Kevin Shields sort of way.

Tapes 'n Tapes were great as well, although it took them a few songs to get up to speed, and their keyboard player seemed to be having some issues. They played quite a bit of new material (they apparently have a new record slated for a fall release), as well as most of the songs from their current record, The Loon, and a few older songs. They played Coachella a week ago. Wish I could've gotten down there to see that! It's always good to see a band on the verge of breaking. You can tell they're excited and having a lot of fun, but at the same time they're still a little hungry. There's a pretty funny clip on YouTube that they were involved in, by the way. Check it out here.

So here's where this becomes food-related. After the show, John and I walked across the street to VooDoo Doughnut, which opens at 10 pm, and does a brisk post-Dantes business with doughnuts such as the Blood Filled VooDoo Doughnut (which oozes jam when stabbed), the Memphis Mafia (chocolate chips, banana and peanut butter) and my favorite, the Maple Bacon Bar. Mmmm... Post-Rock doughnuts...

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pasta Weekend Part One: Fettuccine Alfredo Reconsidered

This weekend is hereby declared Pasta Weekend! What does that mean, you ask? Well, I suppose it means that I'll be sick of pasta by the end of the weekend. At any rate, I've decided to make three pasta dishes over the next few days, based on recipes by three of the greats: Linda Carucci, Mario Batali and Biba Caggiano. I began with a re-examination of Fettucine Alfredo, inspired by a recipe in Linda Carucci's book Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks.

Fettuccine Alfredo is sort of my ultimate comfort food, and I've been making it, any number of ways, for years and years. Rather than tossing the pasta in the sauce, I've typically cooked the pasta and the sauce separately, pouring the sauce over the pasta in the end. This would seem heretical, going by most of the recipes we see, but for the fact that Fettuccine Alfredo is a variation on fettuccine al burre, created in 1914 by a Roman chef named Alfredo di Lelio, primarily for North American tourists. Which is to say that it really doesn't exist in the canon of Italian cuisine. And as far as I'm concerned, that means that anything goes in the preparation of this dish.

The recipe of Linda's that I used as my jumping off point was Fettuccine Alfredo with Shrimp and Peas. A couple of things in this recipe caught my eye, the main thing being the use of egg yolks, which I hadn't seen before (they imparted a silky texture to the sauce). Another surprise in her recipe was the omission of onions and garlic (!!!). And she's included peas, something I normally associate with Carbonara.

In addition to making a few minor adjustments to amounts and proportions of the ingredients, I deviated from this recipe on several fronts. First, I included onions (shallots, in this case) and garlic. And I got rid of the peas. And I went with rock shrimp. Apart from that, I stuck pretty close to the original. My version, by the way, serves two (with leftovers). Here goes:

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 lb fettuccine
6 Tbsp butter
2 C heavy cream, room temperature
1/2 lb rock shrimp
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 C fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 leaves of basil, chiffonaded

Set a large saute (or frying) pan over medium heat for about a minute. Add the oil, give it a minute to come to temperature, then add the shallot and saute until just translucent, about two or three minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute for another minute. Transfer the shallot and garlic to a small bowl. Wipe out the pan, and set back over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp of the butter, and when the butter begins to foam, add the rock shrimp. Saute the shrimp until they've just turned pink. Transfer them to the bowl with the shallots and garlic. Wipe out the pan once again.

If you're using dried pasta, bring some heavily salted water to a boil in a large saucepan or a stockpot. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta. Now you can turn your attention to the sauce. Melt the rest of the butter over low heat in the saute pan. When the butter is nearly, but not completely, melted, add the cream and stir to combine as the butter continues to melt. Raise the heat to medium high and bring the butter and cream just to a boil. Reduce the heat back to low, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Using dried pasta will give you just enough time to work the sauce while the pasta cooks. If you're using fresh pasta, which will cook much more quickly than dried, drop it into the boiling water after the cream and butter have come to a boil and the heat has been brought back down.

When the pasta is done (I used dried whole wheat fettuccine, which takes about 10 minutes), strain and transfer to the saute pan. Toss the pasta with the sauce, bring to a boil, and immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Add the reserved shrimp, shallots and garlic and simmer until the sauce has thickened a bit, maybe a minute. Whisk several spoonfuls of the sauce, one at a time, into the egg yolks to temper them, then stir the yolks into the pasta and sauce. Remove from the heat, sprinkle in 3/4 of the cheese, and toss.

Plate and garnish with the chiffonaded basil and the remaining cheese. Serve five minutes ago, and enjoy!