Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jeder Liebt Spaetzle!

I once had spaetzle in a German restaurant called Metzger's in Ann Arbor, on a high school German class field trip. I remember being singularly impressed with the subtle flavor and intriguing texture of this "somewhere between a noodle and a dumpling" concoction. In fact, it was the highlight of the meal. The sauerbraten, not so much... I find it interesting that spaetzle hasn't made more of an impression on the American culinary landscape than it has. As a side, it's a worthy competitor to both rice and potatoes, and it embodies the starchy goodness of pasta, with a less toothsome texture and a pleasingly eggy character. As a comfort food it's unparalleled and it stands up well to the microwave the next day. And yet I rarely, if ever, see it on menus or at potlucks.

Long story short, the stuff has been rattling around in my skull now for years, and I finally decided to do something about it a couple weeks back. A quick online search turned up a recipe from a restaurant in Mammoth Lakes, CA called Skadi. A few adjustments later, I've got something I'm pretty happy with. You'd be well advised to give it a try, so follow along if you will:

2 C all-purpose flour
1 C whole milk
3 large eggs, plus one yolk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Beat the eggs, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl, beat in the milk and finally, stir in the flour to form a thick, cakelike batter:

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, and use a spatula to push the batter, a small amount at time, through a slotted spoon into the water:

The batter will initially sink, but will rise to the top within a minute or so. Let it continue to cook for another minute before removing it to a bowl. Repeat this process until you've made it through all of the batter, and you'll be rewarded with a nice bowl of fresh, homemade spaetzle, as seen in the photo up top. At this point, I browned some unsalted butter in a large saute pan, threw the spaetzle into it with some herbs, and continued to cook it all for a couple minutes. This worked out well, although you could just brown the butter, toss in the herbs at the last minute, and then pour it over the spaetzle. Either way, some stone ground mustard makes for a nice addition, especially a variety with whole mustard seeds. This makes an excellent side to a nicely grilled pork chop. You could also toss it with a little vinegar of your choosing and perhaps some horseradish, or sprinkle it with olive oil and freshly grated parmesan, or press it into a cake and pan fry it for breakfast with some bacon... The possibilities are pretty much infinite.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amy Goodman Broadcasts From Stumptown!

While we PDXers are increasingly wary of all the media attention our fair city has been garnering of late (we've already been the next Seattle, and we're more than a little put off by the popularly held notion that we're becoming the next San Francisco), fans of the Rose City and independent media can't help but beam with pride at having Amy Goodman send Democracy Now! out to the world from our little corner of the Pacific Northwest. Goodman is criss-crossing the country on one of her frequent national tours, and stopped by Portland for a KBOO fundraiser earlier this week. While here, she broadcast Tuesday's show from what I would presume to be KBOO's studio. She interviewed local war protesters and tax resisters Pat and John Schwiebert, Reed College Political Science professor and torture expert Darius Rejali, and two of our esteemed local bicycle advocates: contributor Elly Blue and Scott Bricker of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. As if all this weren't enough, Goodman didn't once mispronounce "Oregon." Keep up the good work, Amy!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Arteries Hardening... North Carolina Style!

If you haven't been to Pine State Biscuits yet, you need to go. Now. Well actually, you shouldn't go now, as they're not open on Mondays, and even if they were, they'd have closed by this time (more on that in a bit). But you'd be well advised to head to this place for your next high fat breakfast binge, during their operating hours, of course. Many of you already know the story on Pine State Biscuits by now, but for those who don't: Three North Carolina transplants showed up in town a few years ago, set up a booth at the Portland Farmers' Market, and have been rockin' the place with country style biscuits over the past two seasons. I never checked 'em out at the market, not being one to stand in that half-hour line, but I couldn't help but notice the smell of their efforts wafting across the park blocks. A couple of months ago they opened a brick and mortar location on Belmont (mi calle!), in the seemingly cursed spot which formerly housed Ollie's Skate Shop. Cursed no more, apparently... PSB is doing a land office business. I stopped in for a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich to go a few weeks back. It was just portable enough to sustain me through the next five blocks to Freddy's without creating too much of a mess. On a subsequent trip, I tried their flagship sandwich, the Reggie, with a bottle of Cheerwine:

Cheerwine, incidentally, is a cherry soda which originated in North Carolina and is indigenous to the southeastern United States. Pine State "bootlegs" a special version of Cheerwine which comes in glass bottles and is made with cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup (reminiscent of the Mexican Coca Cola at Kenny and Zuke's). But enough about Cheerwine, and on to the Reggie: this biscuit "sandwich" is comprised of buttermilk fried chicken, local heritage bacon, Tillamook Cheddar and sausage gravy, piled inside of the eponymous biscuit. I should note that it's actually not their flagship item. That would be the Reggie Deluxe, which adds a fried egg to the madness. At any rate, this is a sandwich only in the nominal sense. You have to knock the Reggie over just to get a knife and fork into it. Surprisingly, it's not too difficult to make it through this thing. It's just enough for a hearty breakfast, as long as you're hungry (it also helps to be hungover). But if you order the Reggie, or its deluxe version, you might want to think twice about getting a side.

And while we're on the subject of sides, PSB has just two: hash browns and grits. I can't comment on the hash browns, but I did check out the grits on my last trip, along with the "Moneyball":

The Moneyball is fun to order if only because it feels like you're asking for drugs. It's a relatively simple sandwich, which comes pre-knocked over with a fried egg (perfectly runny yolk) and your choice of either sausage or mushroom gravy. I opted for the mushroom gravy, which was very tasty. Of course, it can't quite compete with sausage gravy, but I think that goes without saying. As for the grits, I can't comment with too much authority on them, not being from the South. My closest point of reference is polenta. But I will say that while good, they're no match for the cheddar grits at the Delta Cafe.

And now onto their hours: Pine State's open Tuesday through Sunday, from 7 am to 2 pm. Folks have been begging them to add dinner hours, which reportedly they're considering. I, for one, would really like to see it happen. I can't imagine a better bunch to provide P-town's food geeks with authentic vinegar-based Eastern Carolina Barbecue. But I guess we'll just have to wait and see...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Remembering the "Kitchen of the Future"

Out of the corner of his eye, he spied a comely young lass at the dairy case, pondering the implications of hydrogenated vegetable fats. Her saunter-hither gaze beckoned him, and he knew that she and her margarine must, at any cost, be his for the conquest...

Those of you who enjoyed Fluffy Mackerel Pudding will no doubt find this hilarious. I ran across the companion website to James Lileks' coffee table masterpiece, The Gallery of Regrettable Foods, which mines the ironic humor of the post-war food technology boom. It's as much a parody of the photography and illustration of the time as it is of the food itself. Check it out next time you're in the mood for some snarky commentary (just make sure the boss ain't lookin'). A few more pre-Photoshop era images for your perusal:

On a side note, I'd like to give a congratulatory shout out to local weirdo-country-rockers Blitzen Trapper for nailing down today's NPR Song of the Day. Check it out here. Huzzah to you, Blitzen Trapper!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Romancing the Swine II: Guanciale

Curing meats is something I've been wanting to try for a while now, but I haven't been particularly confident in my house as a suitable air-drying environment. I just don't think there's anywhere I could hang say, a ham, for a long period of time where mice or weird microbes or dog funk wouldn't eventually find it. Guanciale, however, takes only three weeks to cure and can do so in the fridge, according to both Ruhlman and Batali (either of whom I think it's safe to say can be taken as a reliable source of information on the topic of cured pork products). The first step in this project was to order up a couple of Carlton Farms hog jowls from the good folks at Viande:

The jowl, which is just what it sounds like: the cheek, is an unusual cut of pork by American standards, but it's also one of the tastiest (this is also true of beef and many types of fish). However, these do come with a lot of junk attached that you probably don't want to eat: skin, glands, etc, so have your butcher clean them for you if possible.

The method for this is pretty simple. For the cure, I basically averaged out Batali's recipe and Ruhlman's recipe, then quadrupled the amounts respective to the amount of pig:

2 hog jowls
1 C kosher salt
1 C sugar
4 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, milled fine
1 large bunch of thyme, leaves stripped off stems

Pack each of the jowls into its own gallon-size ziptop bag with half of the cure, distributed evenly on both sides:

Put the bags in the fridge and let the cure do its thing for a week, turning the bags and redistributing the cure every day or two. The salt and sugar will draw moisture out of the jowls (as this happens, you may want to drain it off and add a little salt and sugar in equal amounts), making them inhospitable to microbial growth, while the thyme, pepper and garlic, along with the salt and sugar, will infuse the meat and fat with their flavors. After a week has passed, pull the jowls out of their bags, rinse and dry them thoroughly, and make a hole at one end (not too close to the edge, mind you). Then clear a spot in the fridge and rig up some kitchen twine to hang them:

Now just let 'em hang out for three weeks, making sure not to let them touch each other or anything else. When they're done, they'll be firm to the touch and will appear noticeably drier than before (although in this photo they look pretty much exactly the same):

At this point, they may have developed some white mold on the surface. This is fine, just trim it away. If the mold is green or black, or fuzzy, something's gone horribly awry and you should probably cut bait and throw them away. You should also clean your fridge... But assuming it hasn't turned toxic, the guanciale can be cut into lardons, as in the photo at the beginning of this post, sauteed and used in any number of ways (this is a traditional ingredient in Spaghetti alla Carbonara). It can also be cut into 1/8 inch strips and cooked like bacon, or sliced paper thin and eaten without any cooking at all:

Eaten this way, Guanciale is similar to prosciutto, but more flavorful. It's a sublime, if polygamous, marriage of salty, sweet, herbacious and meaty flavors with a meltingly fatty texture. I should reiterate: it has to be sliced really thin (a mandoline or meat slicer would help here), or it can be a bit chewy, but I think this is the best way to experience it.

The guanciale, wrapped tightly, will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks, or for a matter of months in the freezer (double wrap in plastic wrap and put into a freezer bag with as much of the air sucked out as possible). Next time around, I may throw in some additional herbs, a little oregano and rosemary, perhaps even some tarragon. But for the first go, I consider myself lucky just to have avoided giving myself food poisoning, so I'm not going to split hairs.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hawthorne's Espresso Ante Has Been Upped!

Well, the wait is finally over! Billy Wilson opened his second coffee shop a couple weeks ago, to the jubilation of coffee lovers all over southeast Portland. Like the original location, this one's called The Albina Press, despite the fact that it's on Hawthorne rather than Albina. Of course, keeping the name consistent is almost mandatory from a business standpoint, but still, Hawthorne Press would've had a nice ring to it. Regardless of the name, it's a more than welcome addition to the neighborhood. I used to head up to the Albina shop from time to time, but I haven't been getting up to North Portland much these days, so it's nice to have the Press within walking/biking distance.

The Albina Press crew have attained near rock star status for their espresso skills, which have won them a slew of awards in recent years. Fool that I am, I only order the French Press when I'm there, a situation I'll have to rectify soon. They did a pretty nice job with the space (which is actually two combined storefronts next door to the Sapphire Hotel). Perhaps this is why it took them so long to open. Here's some eye candy to tide you over until you can make it in for a shot:

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tagged: The Six Word Memoir

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone asked me to write my memoir... This meme's been circulating through the Medieval Literature arm of the blogosphere, and came to me by way of a friend from way back name of Dr. Virago over at Quod She. So without any further ado, my six word memoir:

"Something seemed askew about it all..."

The next order of business, of course, is to pass it along. So... the following bloggists are hereby ordered to sum up their complex personalities and meandering life experiences in six words:

Patrick and Holly at Hen Waller
Jesse at Corduroy Orange
Nina at Sweet Napa
Shuna at Eggbeater
KAB at Good Stuff NW
Food Dude at Portland Food and Drink and last but not least...
The anonymous freak responsible for Guilty Carnivore (his photo and profile serve only to suggest that he may or may not be a Vietnamese-American pimp with dodgy taste in pop culture and a monkey named Macanudo on his back)

Forthwith, the instructions for the meme:

1. Write your own six word memoir.

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere. (Note: I have no idea who the originator was, but Dr. Virago was tagged by New Kid on the Hallway, who was in turn tagged by Dr. Crazy. You can follow it as far back from there as you like.)

4. Tag five more blogs with links (Okay, so I tagged seven; I didn't want anyone to feel left out).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

They're Made Out of Meat!

This rather amusing and cleverly noir-ish commentary on our species, an adaptation of Terry Bisson's 1991 short story/play of the same name, has been kicking around the internet for a little while now. I just ran across it the other day and figured some of you might get a laugh out of it. Ben Bailey's facial expressions are priceless. This even won the Grand Prize in 2006 at EMP's Science Fiction Museum Film Festival in Seattle, so it comes vetted for your viewing enjoyment...