Friday, November 5, 2010

Konbanwa! Okonomiyaki! Grasshopper, do not dishonor me! Sayonara!

I've been fighting off a case of the flu for the past couple of days, and what is it they say? Starve a cold, feed the flu? I think that's it... Anyway, I first found out about Okonomiyaki, a specialty of Osaka, Japan, a couple years back by way of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Then, yesterday, I stumbled across a pretty funny YouTube video about making it, and decided this would be as good a way as any to try and knock the bug out of my system, and use up some of these eggs the chickens keep laying (aren't they supposed to be molting by now?) in the process. Some of the ingredients might be a little challenging to track down if you don't have access to a decent Asian market, but there's always the Internet, or in a pinch, substitutions can be made. Here's what you'll need:

One cup Okonomiyaki flour
Two extra large, or three large, eggs
Enough dashi to make 2/3 cup of miso broth
Two cups cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup green onions, finely chopped
Seafood, chopped, about one cup
Bacon, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
Nagaimo (Japanese mountain yam), grated, about 1/4 cup
1/2 cup Bonito flakes
Okonomi sauce
Salt and pepper
Canola oil

Okay, now for the substitutions, just in case you live in the sticks: For Okonomiyaki flour, you can substitute all purpose flour. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of tapioca starch or corn starch; If you can't find dashi, you can use water with a little fish, chicken or beef boullion instead of miso broth; If you don't have access to Nagaimo, add a tablespoon of tapioca starch or corn starch to the flour; For Bonito flakes, there isn't really any substitute, so just go without, it'll be fine; For Okonomi sauce, you can substitute a 2:1 mixture of A1 steak sauce to ketchup, with a little sugar added.

First, heat about a tablespoon of canola oil in a large fry or saute pan, and cook the chopped bacon over medium heat. Place the bacon on a paper towel to drain, and reserve the canola oil and rendered bacon fat. Now, put the flour in a bowl, add the miso broth, grated nagaimo (this stuff, by the way, grates down into a really nasty slimy paste that begins to oxidize and turn slightly pink almost immediately; just giving you fair warning...) and eggs and whisk together until smooth:

Add the bacon, cabbage (I used Napa cabbage, but regular cabbage is fine as well), green onion and seafood (I opted for a mix of shrimp, scallops and squid), along with a little salt and pepper. Continue to mix until everything is evenly incorporated:

Now, it's time to get that pan hot again. Heat one tablespoon of the reserved canola oil/bacon fat to the pan over medium heat, and pour in enough of the batter to make one pancake (the pancake, by the way, can be as big or as small as you want; I went a bit on the small side for ease of flipping):

Using a spatula, flipper or pastry blade, manage the edges of the pancake and form it into a round shape. After four minutes, flip it:

Continue to cook for another four minutes. Then, plate it and top with the Okonomi sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. And enjoy:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Caffe Vita Arrives in Portland

Rumors have abounded for several years about Seattle-based Caffe Vita opening its first shop in Portland. This has apparently finally come to pass. Caffe Vita is essentially Seattle's answer to Stumptown Coffee Roasters. They don't place quite the same emphasis on single-origin espresso as Portland's pioneer of coffee's "third wave," but they roast a mean bean and serve an extremely high quality cup of joe, be it of the drip or espresso variety.

This is a good thing, right? Well... not entirely. Because it turns out that Caffe Vita's arrival comes at the expense of what has long been my favorite coffee shop on the Alberta strip, the Concordia Coffeehouse, seen in the photo above with its name sadly absent from the windows. I first ran across Concordia several years ago while studying for my Polysomnography board certification test. I spent the better part of two years with my nose in a book in pretty much every coffee shop in Portland, and Concordia was the one to which I consistently returned, despite the fact that I lived in SE at the time. The coffee was good, the atmosphere pleasantly downscale but not quite dingy. The owners and employees, some of whom I got to know by name, were friendly, skilled and unpretentious. Basically, Concordia was the one place in town which most reminded me of where I got my introduction to decent coffee -first as a customer and eventually as an employee- at Saginaw, Michigan's Red Eye Coffeehouse. There was one other reason I was drawn to Concordia, which I won't mention here, but let it suffice to say that it has to do with a particular policy which is unusual for coffee shops in Portland. Anybody who's familiar with the place will immediately know what I'm talking about.

I passed the Polysomnography exam about a year and a half ago, and my trips to the Concordia Coffehouse became less and less frequent, until I moved to NE last summer. It's not my regular place, as it's not in my immediate neighborhood; that honor goes to the Gold Rush Coffee Bar. But I've made a habit of heading over once every week or two to spend some time with a cup of coffee and a book. I did so today, and immediately noticed that the place had undergone a pretty significant renovation, not a bad thing when all is said and done. Then I noticed that the retail cabinet next to the bar had been entirely restocked with Caffe Vita merchandise, and assumed that they'd brought Caffe Vita on as their supplier (not unusual among PDX coffee shops; the Gold Rush gets their beans from CV as well). Then I noticed that the words "Concordia Coffeehouse" had been removed from the windows, and a twinge of dread came over me. I brought this up with one of the (previous) co-owners, and she confirmed for me that they had in fact sold the business, and while the Caffe Vita sign has yet to be installed, they are now the managers of Portland's first Caffe Vita location.

While I welcome Caffe Vita's entry into the local coffee landscape, I'm not going to lie to you... I'm more than a little bummed about this. Caffe Vita is a fine company. They run a small chain of great cafes in Seattle and Olympia, and provide top-notch beans to coffee shops and restaurants all over the northwest. And I don't for one second begrudge the owners their decision to sell the business (and thank God it wasn't to Starbucks!). But I will miss Concordia. So long as the aforementioned unusual policy remains in place, however, I'll keep going back.

Many thanks to Larry, Jason, Craig and all the rest whose names I never learned, for making this one of my favorite coffee spots in town. I wish you all the best of luck in the transition.

Friday, September 24, 2010

He Can Cook, But He Can't Spell...

Nor can he conduct himself in a diplomatic manner... I had an absolutely bizarre exchange with local chef/pig lover Morgan Brownlow on Facebook last night. Being a fan of his cooking, I sent him a friend request on a whim a few months ago, which he readily accepted. Which was cool, no biggie, I've got a handful of relatively well known people on there, they appreciate the attention, I guess... whatevs. Then last night, for some reason, totally out of the blue, in the comment section of a perfectly innocuous post I put up about eating carrot sticks and listening to music, Brownlow took issue with my pumpkin risotto. Apparently, "riso" (his word), "should always fall flat on the plate" (and if it doesnt [sic] than [sic] you are an idiot or a [sic] effing hack - his words) rather than be contained in a "ramikin" (his spelling). Wish I'd known that ten months ago when I made the damn stuff, which, by the way, was tasty enough to get me laid, but never mind that... He then went on to call into question the quality and execution of my "riso," even though he's never tasted it (and never will). And then, get this, he went *off-wall* and PM'ed me (bear in mind that this guy is a big wig in the Portland food scene, and I'm a nobody) to tell me a few other things, such as... "If you pick a fight over food be prepared" (I didn't, but was); "I make my money by busting my fucking ass" (no doubt); "I don't know who the fuck you are" (despite the fact that he accepted my friend request; but true enough, and he's not likely to anytime soon); "Just because you have a blog doesn't mean you know what the fuck you are talking about" (again, true enough) and "I'm a doc of pork and fucking food." (this was in reference to my having mentioned my work in the field of sleep medicine... apparently he assumed I'm a physician, which I'm not, and felt it appropriate to compare his line of work - butchering pigs - to that of those who spend eight or more years in medical school and then go on to save the lives of strangers). Oh, and when I responded to his hubris with a reference to Icarus, his response was... wait for it... "Fuck Icarus."

You heard it here first, folks: Morgan Brownlow is a doc of pork and fucking food.

How this guy even knew about my blog, which I've neglected for at least the past four months, I have no idea... And why he was up berating me at 3:00 in the morning, I can't quite work out either (I work graveyard, so I have an excuse). Perhaps he'd just gotten off work and had a few beers in him? Who knows... But I'll tell you this: Michael Hebb is looking a bit less douchebaggy this morning!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It's Indian, and it's green: Saag Aloo Murghi

"Saag Aloo" means spinach and potato curry, and "Murghi" means chicken. Spinach is a great vehicle for curry, as it pairs well with the spices and has a great deal of antioxidants and Omega 3s. And as the final product turns out pea-soup green, it looks kind of gross, which adds greatly to its appeal, if you ask me. I pulled the idea for this one from a recent on-line interaction, and looked to a recipe in a book I picked up not long ago called 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking by Raghavan Iyer. I also found a saag recipe online, wound up averaging the two and made a few changes and additions of my own.


2 lbs. of chicken (1/2 lb. pictured)
1 large red onion
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
8 oz. spinach, stems removed
1 bunch of watercress, stems removed
7 oz. coconut milk (about half a can)
7 oz. plain Greek style yogurt
3 oz. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups of water
3 small to medium potatoes, cubed (yellow, red or Yukon Gold)
8 oz. paneer,* cubed
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
Ghee, or canola oil and butter, for sauteeing

*or substitute any non-melting white cheese such as queso fresco

You probably want to see the mise on that... Here ya go:


Begin by cutting the chicken up into bite-sized chunks and sauteeing over medium-high heat in a large saute pan with a generous amount of ghee or oil and butter until it just begins to get some color (again, what you see here is a half pound of chicken, in a medium fry pan. When sauteeing two pounds, you'll want to do it in stages, as two pounds of chicken will be way too much for even the largest saute pan; the chicken will end up steaming instead of browning, which will compromise flavor development):

Set this aside, and clean out the pan. Saute the onion, with the spices, over medium heat until translucent, five to ten minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to saute for another five minutes (here's that large saute pan I mentioned):

Add the salt, spinach and watercress to the pan, along with a half cup of water. Simmer for fifteen minutes. The spinach and watercress will fill the pan when you first add them, but as they simmer, they'll wilt and decrease greatly in volume:

Remove the pan from the heat, and allow to cool. Transfer the contents to a blender or food processor, add a half cup of water and puree. Set aside, and clean out the pan. Saute the potatoes over medium-high heat until they begin to get some color, about fifteen minutes. Add the paneer and let it get some color as well (stirring or shaking the pan occasionally), about another ten minutes:

Add the puree back to the pan, along with another half cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for another ten minutes:

Add the coconut milk, yogurt, tomato paste, carrots and broccoli and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for another fifteen minutes (if it starts to look like it's getting a little too thick, you can add another half cup of water):

Add the chicken back to the pan during the last five minutes of simmering to bring it back up to temperature. Serve with some naan, roti or similar flatbread. Or serve it over rice, as I did (I like long grain brown rice, cooked with a mixture of chicken stock, water, butter and salt). This will serve about six. It's also a good recipe to do in advance and freeze in individual containers. If you do this, cook the chicken separately when you thaw and re-heat the saag.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

And defeat is mine...

I'm humbled to report, friends, that I have lost my title of chili champion. What I lost with is what you see above, the "Chilly Mary," my entry into this year's meat category. It's chili re-imagined as a cocktail, basically a chili flavored version of the bloody mary: Bacon infused vodka, tomato puree with a splash of pickle juice and worcestershire sauce, and chipotle syrup, shaken with ice and served in a martini glass rimmed with a mix of salt, cornmeal, oregano, cumin and smoked paprika and garnished with a cocktail onion and a square of bacon on the rim... An interesting concoction to be sure, but not enough to beat my good friend Matt, who won the contest handily this year with his latest iteration of chili pie (what won it for him this year, I believe, is that, with the help of his better half Shannon, he finally nailed his crust; built of butter, flour and cornmeal, it truly kicked ass). I wasn't able to fend off Matt's pie this year, but I did my best, starting with the martini glasses, rented from a local catering company:

The first step was to rim these glasses with the chili spice mixture:

Which led to the first rough draft of this project:

The final product, of course, fell short of winning, but was eagerly consumed by the crowd, as evidenced by the aftermath:

And now for some shots of my friends enjoying the evening:

Here's our gracious host, Greg (on the right; that's Ray Belt slouching on the left), getting ready to announce the winners...

This year's winner of the cornbread category, Kristy Orbitschkewitch:

And the meat champion himself, Matt Svaglic:

Here we see Tim Scott enjoying a frosty can of Hamm's (you PDXers will no doubt notice the sign and remember then 19 year old Jake Okenberg's run for mayor back in the early aughts...):

And here, just some of the mess to be cleaned up by Greg and Bonnie in the morning:

A good time was had by all, even the losers, for whom I am now qualified to speak. Thanks again, Greg and Bonnie, for putting on the eighth annual chili cook-off. Here's looking forward to the ninth, and more importantly (Greg...) the tenth...