The beautiful fruit

Back when I was in college, for a few years I lived with a couple Mexican-American brothers. Let’s call them…Mark and Matt. Because that’s what were their names were.

Mark and Matt had a very large, extended family in Tucson, and sourced much of their food and methods from their nanas and nonas or whatever they called them. It wasn’t uncommon for them to show up with a half-dozen, huge ziplock bags of roasted and peeled chilies that we would freeze and eat over the course of a few weeks.

On top of the fridge there was usually a stack of fresh tortillas from the local, handmade tortilla purveyor — large as pizzas, made with delicious lard. You could eat these plain.

And there was constantly a crock pot full of seasoned pintos on a low simmer in the kitchen – something I could always count on after the bars closed. Being in college, this was a great way to stretch your food dollar – raw pintos, bought in bulk. I remember Matt, buzzed from cheap domestic beer and a few pulls from the tube, sitting in front of the coffee table, sifting through individual beans for rocks and assorted detritus while listening to the Jerky Boys. Yeoman’s work.

Now that I’m gainfully employed and able to set my sights on more highbrow culinary goals, I still go back to the food of peasants. There’s simply nothing more satisfying than eating how most of the world eats, using cheap, plentiful ingredients, carefully prepared with time and precision. And a pot of slow cooked pinto beans is still a (personal) crowd favorite.

Pinto Beans

  • 1 pound of pinto beans

Cover the beans in water, after you’ve picked through them to make sure there isn’t a rock or a hypodermic needle or anything you don’t want to swallow. Soak overnight. I recently bought Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday and he says most Mexican cooks do not soak their beans, but rather use lots of water and up the cooking times to 3 to 4 hours. You can do that as well. I’m not a fascist.

After soaking overnight, drain the beans. Put them in a pot big enough to hold them. If you couldn’t figure that part out, stop right here.

Cover the beans with water. The water should be an inch or so over the tops of the beans.

Add the following:

  • 1 white onion, quartered
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced (not lengthwise. or lengthwise)
  • 1 or 2 dried chili (gaujillo, pasilla, anaheim, new mexico, etc.) — depithed and torn into a pieces (some seeds are OK!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper (I like a lot. Your situation may call for less pepper — I don’t know you.)
  • Optional – Few “sprigs” of epazote1

Mix well, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for an hour and a half or two, stirring occasionally (you could use a crockpot if you are so inclined). Once the beans are tender and are starting to lose their individual shape, salt the beans to taste.

Then take out your potato masher, and do a rough mash. The idea here is to sort of mash some of the beans, and the others not so much. The final consistency should just begin to start to resemble a porridge of sorts.

You’re done! Enjoy the beans as a side dish with ribs or meat, in tacos, or, like here, on a delicious, completely vegan tostado, topped with Bufalo Jalapeno sauce, salsa verda, avocado, and shredded lettuce.

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This is like only one of the few times I ever eat vegan!

1Epazote is a Mexican herb that adds a subtle background noise. Mexican cooks often add it to slow-cooked beans, I’m told, to temper the legendary flatulent side effects of eating beans. But if you’re like me and enjoy ripping one, then this benefit is somewhat marginal.

Shroom fest at New Seasons

If you’re a mushroom lover like me, you’ll want to check out New Seasons this weekend. Their expo this week is devoted to the fungus, and this week’s flyer promises each store will feature Shitake, Crimini, Agaricus (nee white button), Portabella, Wild Lobster, Chanterelles, Black Oyster, Alba Clamshell(?) and Trumpets.

New Seasons demos run from 11am to 5pm on both weekend days.

According to flyer (“Did You Know?”), the largest living organism ever found is the honey mushroom — called Armillaria ostoyae. It was discovered here in Oregon in the Blue Mountains, covers 3.4 square miles and is still alive and growing. It is an estimated 2,400 years old.

If you could make a risotto out of it you could cure world hunger.

Wow. Hubris knows no bounds.

Christ almighty. I think his whole goal is to be the fucking American Apparel of food.

Bring your cocaine. I don’t think this asshole will share.

Via Food Dude’s site.

At underground dinners with communal tables, he said, food lovers have been “blown away by how cool it is” to talk with strangers they otherwise never would have met.

“In our daily lives, we don’t talk to each other anymore. It’s almost to the point of becoming dangerous to society, this level of isolation we’re doing to ourselves. It’s time to fight back.”

Despite those goals, even Vagabond isn’t open to everyone. No walk-ins are allowed. Advance reservations and e-mail contacts are required, meant “to keep it kind of pure, to keep it to the people who get it,” Claycamp said. “With every restaurant, there are some people that get it and some people who are there as tourists. I think both Michael and I are pretty resoundingly not interested (in the latter).”

REBEKAH DENN just won the award for “Most Ironic Subsequent Graf(s)” of the year award. Good job — if it wasn’t intentional I would then have to say it was an even more beautiful example of reporting.

Foie ban spreads like a virus

Foie Inanity Reaches New York (Megnut).

Michael Ruhlman is back at Megnut with a guest post on how the War Against Carnivores™ threatens to spill onto a new front — this time New Jersey, and by extension, the entire New York culinary scene.

Not only would this put out of business or force the relocation of Ariane Daguin’s D’Artagnan–which would be a blow to the entire tri-state area and beyond and the countless restaurants that rely on D’Artagnan for foie-based products–but it would be a dangerous encroachment on the rights of New Yorkers and New York City chefs to eat what they want and cook what they want.

Ruhlman succinctly encapsulates how this issue is an extrapolation of our knee-jerk legislative tendencies…

The foie issue embodies the hypocrisy and corruption of so much of how our government operates. That our public officials continue to spend their time and our dollars on this is ludicrous. If they cared about their state and their country, they would address the catastrophe of how we’re raising agri-hogs. That’s truly inhumane. We’re trashing our land and water, growing crappy food, contaminated chicken, feed lot beef and creating lakes of sewage polluted with e coli that gets on our spinach and kills our kids.

Amen, brother. In other news, via Food Dude we learn that New York, like Chicago, is toying with a prohibitive trans-fat policy of its own.

Why don’t they ban something that would be legitimately beneficial for American culture, something, like, say, Screech force-feeding a young nubie, or Nancy Grace?

The Amateur Gourmet on fat

The Amateur Gourmet has a good post on fat in foods, which very closely mirrors my own views.

He even trots out that old axiom, one that has been so repeated by our elders so much that is almost cliche.

Cooking with fat, in many ways, is like sex. Sex in and of itself isn’t bad for you…But take it too far–meet a 70-year old hooker on the internet for a tantric orgy with the cast of “Eight Is Enough”–and you’ll be itching and burning ’til kingdom come.

Carl’s Jr saves Tacoma

My friend Corey (who lives in Tacoma) alerted me to the “slow news day” happening up north…

Hungry horde welcomes new hamburger in town.

If the Tacoma News Tribune is to be believed, the local kinfolk are all aflutter and excited like little school girls that a Carl’s Jr. has opened shop.

Donald Hedge, a Tacoma soldier, was the first to walk through the doors. He had waited two hours.

“I know Carl’s Jr. burgers from California,” he said. “The meat tastes like meat…”

Apparently, in Tacoma, that’s reason for celebration. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. It’s like holding a ticker tape parade each time a Walgreens opens.

Pok Pok update redux

No, I haven’t been back yet since Pok Pok reopened. I hope to head there soon.

But, while waiting for my Pad Kee Mao today at the suburban Thai place I hit (near where I work), I ran across this tidbit in last week’s Oregonion A&E insert:

POK POK UPDATE — Andy Ricker just reopened his terrific Thai take-out shack after a sojourn to Thailand to seek fresh inspiration for his anticipated expansion next door. Look for The Whiskey Soda Lounge, to open in October, a denlike daylight basement space with a low ceiling, tables, booths and a bar serving a large selection of Asian beers. Ricker’s tripled his kitchen space, so expect a larger Thai-centric menu with some dips into China, Vietnam and Myanmar. Meanwhile: That glorious rotisserie chicken is ready now. 3226 S.E. Division St.; 503-232-1387. Lunch and early dinner Mondays-Saturdays.

There you have it. If I read that right, the house next door will open as “The Whiskey Soda Lounge” and all the action will be in the basement. Sounds cool – a little rock and roll, a little pan-Asian, and most likely a lot of delicious. I’m particularly interested in items from Myanmar nee Burma.

The Indefensible Position: Rachael Ray Doesn’t Suck

Via The Gastronaut, we see Rachel Ray being a bit flippant in the pages of Esquire vis-à-vis the anti-Ray backlash that invariably materializes once a phenomenon becomes full on pervasion (see Macarena, The).

Oooohhh, talk to dirty to me, you insouciant little vixen. Anybody have a link to those Maxim (FHM?) photos that she tried to destroy?

The last days of disco

Well, it’s officially over. Summer, that is.

Here in Portland, the End of Summer happened some 10 days ago, on our last sunny, 70+ day. The sunshine gifted to us mortals over the past four or five consecutive fortnights has been replaced by rain and gloomy petulance. It may be just me, but the collective psyche of the region seems to discard its misbegotten optimism (of course it would not last forever), as we dig in and shruggingly accept the miasma of despair that suffuses the ether for the next half year.

(Really, it’s not that bad. We just don’t want anyone else to move here).

On this autumn solstice, what better way to give summer a 21-gun salute by harvesting some of the bounties from your backyard garden? In Portland, the long days of summer sunshine (precipitated by many a spring shower) lends itself to excellent growing conditions for the DIY green thumb. You don’t even need to possess any considerable growing chops — I certainly don’t — in order to grow and harvest prolific herbs and vegetables.

Here’s a simple and delicious pasta dish using the fruits from my backyard — grape, teardrop and cherry tomatoes from the vine, and fresh basil.

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Fusilli Bucati with Grape and Cherry Tomatoes, Capers, Olives and Basil

  • 1/4 Pound Fusilli Bucati (or bucatini, radiatore, or another short, squiggly pasta – I like the Colavita brand )
  • 1/2 Pound Grape, Teardrop and/or Cherry Tomatoes (I’m estimating the weight – around a couple dozen)
  • 10 Basil Leaves
  • 2 Minced cloves of garlic.
  • 2 Tablespoons Capers
  • 12 Pitted Kalamata Olives
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 Pinch Crush Red Pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano

In a large mixing bowl, combine tomatoes, capers, olives, garlic, salt, red pepper, and olive oil. Stack basil leaves and chiffonade, and add to tomato mixture. Using the back of a broad spoon (or a small paring knife), “smash” (or cut) at least 1/4 of your tomatoes to release the acidic juice. Marinate at room temperature for at least an half hour.

Start to boil pasta. Get the largest non-stick frying pan (or wok) you have, and heat over medium heat. Test pasta and make sure it’s a minute “underdone” — if it is barely edibly al dente you’re in good shape. Crank up the heat on your pan to high, and drain pasta.

Throw in the tomato mixture and sear over extremely high heat for 30 seconds. Add pasta, and fry for one minute, flipping and stirring constantly. The skins on the tomatoes should just start to blister from the high heat.

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Plate, top with shaved cheese and fresh ground sea salt and pepper. Enjoy the last vestige of summer, and fill your Welbutrin prescription.

Two Portland restaurants make Gourmet Top 50

I just received the latest issue of Gourmet in the mail today — “The Restaurant Issue.”

They run down “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” and, lo and behold, two (count ’em, two!) Portland eateries crack the Top 50. Paley’s Place (1204 N.W. 21st) clocks in at #46, and Higgins (1259 S.W. Broadway) scores impressively at #28, putting it ahead of such stalwarts as New York’s Gramercy Tavern (#34) and Zuni Cafe in San Francisco (#37).

Gourmet sings Paley’s praises thusly, “The Paley’s artful little bistro is a genuine celebration of place.” Regarding Higgins, “A passionate local and national spokesman for a sustainable food supply, (Greg Higgins) makes the case persuasively at Higgins, a Portland treasure.”

Kudos to these two Portland establishments and their national recognition. I have yet to visit either, so I can’t comment on whether the praises are well deserved, but from what I’ve heard it’s justified.

But they are on my radar screen. I especially have been dreaming of the escargot and bone marrow appetizer at Paley’s for some time — ever since I read a review in the Oregonian earlier this year. It sounds like the perfect comfort food, especially on a cold rainy night.

Spinach FUD?

Guest blogger @Chez pim explores bagged spinach FUD.

By fingering any spinach as suspicious, even bunched fresh spinach, the F.D.A. isn’t educating anyone, or solving the problem. They’re just spreading fear on a national scale.

I was thinking along the same lines the other day, especially considering you CAN’T FUCKING FIND SPINACH ANYWHERE NOW. Why would it have to do with spinach? It grows from the ground – IS E.COLI FESTERING IN AMERICA’S SOIL OHMYGOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON AAAAAAAHHHHHHH?!?!

I’d like to take my chances. I like spinach. I almost always cook it, too.

A conversation with A. A. Gill

The recently relaunched food magazine Chow (from the good folks at cNET) has an interview with London Times restaurant critic A. A. Gill, and (like
Jim Kunstler), he proves himself to be my kind of irritable crank.

When A. A. Gill trashed Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s New York restaurant 66 in Vanity Fair, the London Times food critic, famous in Britain, got famous in the United States as well. “How clever are shrimp–and–foie gras dumplings with grapefruit dipping sauce?” he wrote. “What if we called them fishy liver-filled condoms? They were properly vile, with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital.”

Brilliant. As his take on that safely homogenized vacuity we call Starbucks.

Everything I don’t want is absolutely embedded in everything about Starbucks. I think the whole deal is cynical and unpleasant. It’s positioning itself as being the comestible equivalent of Friends. It’s slightly green, people friendly, grown up, sensitive. It’s a franchise that’s built in stock exchanges and not in kitchens. Starbucks is everything that I despise and dislike about chains. The product is vile; the marketing is terrible. There has been far more energy put into the matter and the means of actually selling you something and making something to sell you. The service is slow, unforgettable; the whole place is nasty, the layout looks ugly, and everything about it is against all the things I like about hospitality and about eating out.

And on “organic” starfucking…

What I mind about organics is that it’s become a label used to make as much money as possible out of the process. The whole process has been hijacked and laced with guilt. You have people who can and will eat organic, but it’s not because they’re leading healthier or better lives—it’s a style statement about the people they are.

He has many interesting views that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I’m happy to have discovered another droll dickhead who makes me laugh.

Scoville prison break

Chillies aid Sumatra jail break.

Fuck fashioning a shiv from a bar of soap. Smuggle in some habaneros.

Prisoners at Pematang Siantar jail in Sumatra mixed hot chillies with water in plastic bottles to spray at guards.

The fiery liquid temporarily blinded the guards, allowing prisoners to grab their keys and make the break for freedom…

…A prison warder, Harianaja, told the Jakarta Post newspaper that the guards could not fight back because they were outnumbered.

“The is the first time chilli has been used to get out of this penitentiary,” the daily quoted him as saying.

The $25 hot dog

Hamptons $25 franks are a ‘hot dog’.

A restaurant in the Hamptons is serving a $25 hot dog made from Wagyu beef. No mention if lips and assholes are included.

The wieners come complete with a jumbo grilled bun (no charge for ketchup or mustard). With tax and the customary 20 percent tip, the hot dog actually costs $32.16 – but anyone who can afford dinner in East Hampton probably isn’t counting…

…The other day, Engle said, a group of diners ordered ribs, burgers and hot dogs — along with a $275 bottle of Krug champagne. “We have an eclectic menu,” he said. “Something for everybody.”

For the record, the hot dog costs more than the restaurant’s hamburger ($17) but less than the dry-aged prime steak roasted with Cipollini onions, thyme and cracked black pepper with a wild mushroom fricassee ($44).

Pimientos de padrónes

A few years ago in Gourmet, I read an article by the great Calvin Trillin about pimientos de padrónes. He recounted his time in Portugal, in a small town during the yearly Padrón festival where he spent days eating fried peppers. Upon his return he sought out these divine chilies, eventually hooking up with a guy in Jersey who grew them in his backyard. The article greatly piqued my interest in discovering for myself the allure of this spicy Iberian jewel.

Fast forward to my birthday last month. My wonderful sister visited the farmer’s market in San Francisco (just down the street from her office) on a Tuesday and bought me 3 batches of these pimientos de padrónes. Two days later, FEDEX dropped off 3 pounds of beautiful peppers from Happy Quail Farms (who are located in Palo Alto) on my doorstep.

I immediately broke out my wok, heated a few tablespoons of olive oil, and blistered close to a half pound of these on the stove. I sprinkled kosher salt about 30 seconds before I thought they were done, and then transferred the beautiful little suckers to cool on a plate lined with paper towels.

The vendor told my sister that the larger peppers promised more Scoville units than the smaller, which flies in the face of most chili pepper conventional wisdom. For the most part, I discovered this axiom to be true, but it was far from absolute. In fact, eating padrónes is like playing Russian roulette — I felt like John Savage in “The Deer Hunter”. The mildness of 5 or 6 straight peppers will lull you into a false sense of comfort, and then the next one will seriously blow your socks off, and suddenly you’re sweating and panting with delirium from simultaneous pain and pleasure. It’s an intoxicating experience I found to be quite enjoyable, with its peaks and valleys of deliciousness and discomfort.

I did end up using these peppers in various prepared dishes. Purists might scoff, but there are only so many straight peppers (and rounds of Russian roulette) one can stomach over an entire weekend. Are pimientos de padrónes delicious in the following?

  • Mushroom, Cheddar (and Padrón) Omelette – Check
  • Black Bean Chili – Check
  • Japanese Shoyu Ramen – Check
  • Asian Stir Fry – Check

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Here’s THE simple recipe for padrónes, with directions lifted verbatim from the Happy Quail Farms website.

Pimientos de Padrón

  • A bunch of Pimientos de Padrón
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Take a pan and pour enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the frying pan. Turn the heat up on the burner. When the olive oil starts to sizzle throw the peppers in whole. When the peppers start having small white blisters they are ready. Take the peppers out of the pan, place on plate with a paper towel. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Hold the pepper by the stem and BITE. Enjoy!

Grass fed? Eh, not so much.

Ranchers Decry Grass-Fed Beef Rule Plan.

From the gang that brought you “No Child Left Behind” and the “Clean Skies Initiative”…

Meat-eaters usually assume a grass-fed steak came from cattle contentedly grazing for most of their lives on lush pastures, not crowded into feedlots. If the government has its way, the grass-fed label could be used to sell beef that didn’t roam the range and ate more than just grass.

The Agriculture Department has proposed a standard for grass-fed meat that doesn’t say animals need pasture and that broadly defines grass to include things like leftovers from harvested crops.

Critics say the proposal is so loose that it would let more conventional ranchers slap a grass-fed label on their beef, too.

That’s exactly what’s intended — allowing erstwhile cow factories to slap that grass-fed label on a hunk of flesh and participate in Wal-mart’s “organic” gourmet revolution.

That proof is in the pudding, according to one Thom Fox.

Grass-fed beef is a leaner meat; fat tends to form around the muscle. With conventional corn-fed beef, the fat streaks the muscle in marble-like patterns.

“When you eat steak that is corn-finished, there’s a mouthfeel that you get specifically from the fat; it hangs there in the palate for quite awhile,” said Thom Fox, the chef at Acme Chophouse in San Francisco and a member of the Chefs Collaborative.

“Grass-fed beef tends to have a much quicker finish. The taste lasts for a few minutes and cleans itself off very fast,” Fox said.

If I can go forever without being subjected to the brutal strength of Thom Fox’s creepy distinction-making powers again, even that wouldn’t be long enough.

K2 Kabob

K2 Kabob is a new Pakistani/Indian restaurant on the south side of Hawthorne, just east of 39th. I stopped by a few weeks ago and picked up some to go.

The gentlemen running the floor were very gracious. I ordered two Seekh Kebabs ($4.00 each), Bhuna Gosht ($8.50), and order of plain Naan ($1.50).

As I waited for my order, I helped myself to free chai. Though it was a hot summer day, I enjoyed this extra detail. When the rainy Portland doldrums return, this will be quite welcome.

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As soon as I ordered my Seekh Kebab, the kitchen was notified and immediately started the prep. It’s an open kitchen, and I could see the chef forming a fresh lamb mixture onto a very long skewer. At $4.00, this is an absolute steal. Extremely delicious, flavorful, and savory. The lamb is mixed with red pepper flecks and chopped herbs (parsley, mint?). It is topped with sliced onions and sprinkled with red chili powder. A squeeze of the lemon wedge and this was dynamite.

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The Bhuna Gosht was chunks of lamb (leg or arm?) that is simmered in tomato sauce with herbs and spices. I could taste coriander, garlic, and some other usual suspects. I would have preferred it a bit more aggressively seasoned, but I think this is meant to be a mild dish. What you see here is a thin veneer of oil on top of the stew (in the take out container itself) — this gave it an unctuous quality that was not unwelcome. Lamb is pretty fatty, afterall. I enjoyed sopping up the stew with my order of naan.

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The naan was delicious – charred and not too fluffy. It was different from naan I’ve had at conventional Indian restaurants, more like the pita at Alladin’s on 33rd actually, but I loved it. I used it like injera at an Ethiopian restaurant, tearing off a piece at a time and using it as a utensil to pick up and envelope chunks of lamb.

I still had half of the Bhuna Gosht and entire Seekh Kebab leftover, so I fired up the rice cooker and steamed a cup of basmati and took the leftovers to lunch the next day. It was very good.

I will definitely be back. For more information, check out the thread at PortlandFood.org.

Keep your laws off my fatty pork

Asian delicacies stir L.A. political pot.

Two Asian delicacies are the subject of a simmering debate pitting merchants who like to store them at room temperature for hours against food safety regulators who worry the practice could allow bacteria to build up.

One is a rice cake filled with fatty pork and beans, wrapped in banana leaves and served during the Lunar New Year. Another is a baked pastry consisting of lotus paste and a duck egg yolk.

If this had been Chicago, they would have simply outlawed it altogether without debate and just out of spite declared Tet a threat to public safety. But give credit to Orange and Los Angeles County, which are taking a more methodical approach before deciding a potential public health nuisance.

This week, state lawmakers came to the aid of the delicacies by ordering state health officials to determine whether the treats can be safely kept at room temperature for much longer than four hours. When the tests are completed, officials would set new standards.

“The contention … is, ‘We’ve been eating these foods for thousands of years, and nobody is getting sick. Why the stringent requirements, then?'” said Assemblyman Van Tran, who proposed the legislation which won overwhelming approval in the state Senate and Assembly.

“You have to find a balance between public health and history and culture. It’s a classic American story,” said Tran, a Republican who represents Little Saigon, a large Vietnamese enclave in Orange County.

I think that’s a telling statement. Whereas Chicago (or any American city for that matter) doesn’t necessarily enumerate foie gras worshippers in amounts to effect a groundswell of opposition, the Vietnamese population in Southern California is huge.

When my sister was in town in May, she picked up a Bánh Chưng (the aforementioned rice cake with fatty pork) from Phat Hung and it sat on our counter for hours after it had sat at room temperature at the market. And she ate only half of it, wrapped it back in the banana leaf and saran wrap, and I think finished the rest the next day. Maybe she stuck it in the fridge, I dunno, but my point is the same as Van Tran – people have been doing this shit for years and the legislation of personal behavior has gotten out of control. Though, Mr. Tran is a Republican, and I assume is for strong drug laws and penalties?

Would you like fries with that virgin?

Virgin Mary Spotted In Foreman Grill Tray.

A St. Louis man claims to have seen an image of the Virgin Mary, but you’re not going to believe where he says her face appears.

John Milanos was cooking a hamburger on his George Foreman Grill last week in Missouri.

After he was done, he said the Holy Mother’s face appeared in the leftover grease.

The grease was in a small plastic drip pan that catches the grease and other fluids that run off the grill.

That’s nothing. I once created a corned beef sandwich in my panini press that looked like Burt Reynolds circa Smokey and the Bandit. How come I don’t get my name in the news?

Who’s down with OCD? Every last homey!

As part of my life long pursuit to osmotically absorb as much OCD as possible from my lovely but clinically insane wife, I recently underwent a weekend hajj to the suburbs. Namely, The Container Store, located at Bridgeport Village. If you’ve never been, Bridgeport Village is an outdoor mall in Tigard/Sherwood that essentially exists as a vacuous, reductive, pre-fab microcosm of everything for which the Terrorists™ hate us for, replete with an Apple Store with a brushed metal facade which oozes Brand® smegma (penetrating your every orifice), a Talbot’s emporium of tweed and sueded satin for the alcoholic Botoxed soccer mom set, and a Sweet Factory candy island featuring gummi colas priced per pound at a greater clip than hangar steak from my local natural food mart.

But I digress.

My spice and dried herb situation was getting quite hairy, and I reached deep into the bowels of my own forthrightness and decided, damnit, I was finally going to do something about it.

I present you the fruits of my labor.

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I must say that cooking is now a much more organized affair, and I’m much more apt to not wing it as I go along. I can now assemble my dry mise en place with such aplomb that my exhalted sense of self-satisfication has led me to other obsessive-compulsive dallies such as forever reorganizing the meat and produce drawers of my fridge and constantly pruning my Mac desktop using a myriad of ambidextrous keyboard shortcuts.

Riding the Tubes

Quick note on some of the culinary going-ons currently happening on these here Internets. These are blogs I like to frequent due to their writing style and breadth of content.

On the Portland tip:

USA Today highlights food blogs

Insatiable appetite for gastronomy fuels weblogs.

USA Today provides a run-down of the food blog and food porn phenomena.

Good: Highlighting some of the best food blogs on the Interwebs and providing links to their respective homes.

Bad (and immeasurably tacky): Tying up the Tubes of the Internets with the preposterous notion that one must register in order TO CLICK ON A LINK and follow said link to its logical conclusion. Thanks for vasectomizing the spirit of the web in order to satiate your blood-thirsty data mining operatives, USATODAY.com. I almost forgot how to CUT AND PASTE.

One thing we can all agree on

I don’t care who you are or where you stand ideologically. If you think Islamofascism is the threat of our generation, if you’re a soccer mom or a NASCAR dad, or even if you believe supply-side economics is inherently flawed. I think we can all agree on one thing: A monkey riding a dog is good times.

 I Swopa Whiplashmonkey

The pleasures of emulsified forcemeat

In last month’s issue of Gourmet, Michael Ruhlman — who recently guest-blogged at Megnut’s place and whose writing I respect — penned an ode to hot dogs.

He claims the best hot dogs in the world are Vienna Beefs, and having had a Chicago-style dog last year at O’Hare on my way to Rochester, I can’t say I’d put up a firm argument.

Hot dogs, he explained, are part of the meat genus we call “emulsified forcemeat”. I’d never heard of that term before, and in addition to conjuring images of a Nordic death metal four piece (or a gay S&M fetish flick), this reductive term sounds a little less than appetizing. But as every professional athlete inevitably says in the course of a cliche-ridden press conference (and as Pope John famously pronounced when asked about Mel Gibson’s Jew-baiting movie), “it is what it is.”

I ran across an article (via Ruhlman via NYTimes and I made a short post here previously about it but I’m too lazy and thick with enchiladas to bother linking to) about how the organic franks from premier beef producers were making a splash on the hot dog scene. Instead of the pessimistic nitrates used to artificially preserve the meat, they used celery juice. See, nitrates also give the dog its nice, pinkish hue, and nitrate-free dogs have a really nasty brown tinge to it, like cardboard. Celery juice to the rescue!

I stopped by Trader Joes shortly after reading the article and picked up what I consider to be the best hot dogs in the world – Niman Ranch Fearless Uncured Beef Franks.

Hotdog

They come four to a package, and each one weighs in at a hefty quarter pound. I checked the ingredients list, and lo and behold celery juice was listed. If you haven’t had these hot dogs and consider yourself a hot dog fan, pick up a package next time you’re at Trader Joes (I’m not sure where else to buy them). They are actually leaner than many 1/4 franks I’ve seen – with 19 grams of fat – I’ve seen other dogs such as the Sinai Kosher’s at Costco run 30 grams. For post-cooked weight, that’s actually less fat than a raw 80% ground beef burger.

Here is a full metal jacket Chicago dog I’ve recently had, starring a Niman Ranch uncured.

Hotdog2

Haute quee-zine

Good-bye grits, hello quinoa.

Creative chefs across the country are reinterpreting the greasy spoon. Sleek interiors and inventive cuisine define a new crop of diners.

How come no toro tuna casserole made with cream of truffle soup, topped with crushed taro chips?

CNN tells you how to round out your faux haute trash experience with a stay in a vintage Airstream trailer, whereupon you’ll sip MD 20-20 cosmopolitans and beat your mistress while watching an episode of Project Runway.

Bánh mì

I’ve always loved a good sandwich on a crusty french roll.

Lately, Vietnamese sandwiches, aka Bánh mì, have been becoming more institutionalized in American culture (as evidenced by the Wikipedia entry). A large immigrant population, combined with how ridiculously cheap these sandwiches are — and of course how tasty they are too — have helped bánh mì to become part of the culinary landscape of many North American cities.

When eating at a deli, I tend to stick with the predictable — bbq pork, grilled lemongrass pork or grilled beef. You can go nuts and get paté or other strange spreads and offal bits (as my mom and sister are wont to do), but those things sort of freak me out. Part of it I think goes back to when I was 8 years old, visiting relatives in Paris. I was holed up in a hotel room (because as a young kid I was complete prick and never wanted to do anything), listening to Blondie with nothing to eat except a baguette and various tins of paté. That same trip I ordered a steak at a sidewalk bistro and it came out so bloody rare that I swore the heifer was still chomping the cud, and was subsequently pretty freaked out about the entire Franchophilia thing in general.

At home I’ll make my sandwiches with pork meatloaf, which is sort of like an emulsified forcemeat, a Vietnamese bologna. Growing up, we called this stuff “Hong Kong meat”, which I presume was a vaguely pejorative term coined by mom to refer to its erstwhile status in comparison to “real” meat, Hong Kong being at the time the origin of her Louis Vuitton knockoffs.

So why even make these sandwiches at home, when they are ridiculously cheap, sometimes even only $1.75 per sandwich? It’s all about the quality control. First of all, you’ll notice the meat to bread ratio of bánh mì is pretty low. You’re getting mostly bread – I don’t think you’ll ever confuse a commercial Viet sandwich as being “overstuffed.” Second, you can really go crazy and load on the garnishes – unless you know the language and the person making the sandwich, you’ll have a difficult time cajoling extra peppers or cilantro. It’s not Subway.

Assembling a sandwich is fairly simple: slice the pork loaf, top with daikon radish and carrots, julienne jalapenos peppers, sliced cucumber, and toast. After toasting, garnish with lots of cilantro (if you’re like me), and douse liberally with Maggi. That’s another bonus of making these at home — if you are so inclined you can really make the sandwich a veritable salt bomb by soaking the surface of the toasted french roll.

Hong Phat market (NE 99th and Prescott) sells cartons of pre-marinated, julienne daikon and carrots for $2.50, and it is enough to dress probably a half-dozen (or more) sandwiches. Keep in mind, this stuff smells like ass and will commandeer your entire fridge, not to mention probably imbue its nasty ass perfume to a few of the less sturdy items in your freezer as well.

The french rolls used for bánh mì can be picked up at pretty much any Vietnamese market in town (Hong Phat, Than Thao on Sandy/65th, Fubonn), and are usually around 5 for $1.50. Untoasted, these can be a bit too fluffy and doughy, so make sure you toast them, as they will become much more palatable. You are even better off picking up a mini baguette from New Seasons, as that has a better crust.

Bahn-Mi1

This is the brand of pork loaf I commonly buy – it’s available in most Vietnamese markets. It is one of the few brands that has nutritional information, and also appears to be the leanest. Keep in mind that there are a couple other variations, with pork skin added, if that’s your thing. For me it’s a little too weird, with a ring of translucent, gelatinous fat that runs the length of the loaf.

Bahn-Mi2

This stuff smells like ass, but is essential for a good bánh mì. Maybe I should make my own to try to temper the ass out of the smell.

Bahn-Mi4

Ah, good old Maggi, liquidized vegetable protein and potent MSG delivery vehicle. Abide by the firm suggestion on the label – a few dashes. It’s much saltier than soy sauce. This is the bulk, Americanized bottle – the gold standard is the actual Swiss brewed nectar that comes in much smaller bottles yet is twice the price.

Bahn-Mi5

Fully dressed bánh mì.

Bahn-Mi6

Bahn-Mi7

FUBAR

This has nothing to do with food. In fact, this is the first post that portends that this blog will no longer be about just food alone.

We are currently mired in the worst war…ever. The worst foreign policy blunder our country has ever stumbled upon. This piece of meat is burned, beyond repair, charred beyond palatable.

I was never for the war in Iraq, and I never really suffered the fools who thought there was any tenable argument for this war. I grew up in the region, but I don’t even pretend that I could have foreseen what a complete clusterfuck this piece of shit would have become. If you have even half a sense of where your asshole is in relation to your eyeball, you would have known this was a bad idea.

Anybody on the fence should just jump the fuck over. It is clear who is responsible. No more pussyfooting, no equivocal arguments.

Throw the bums out, all of them. Starting with Mr. Enabler himself, Joe Lieberman. Fuck that dick.

Rehearsal dinner

A few months ago my sister-in-law was married in downtown Portland, at the Treasury Ballroom, which is just across the street from the Benson hotel. The ceremony was very nice, and as usual I got drunk and started to break dance in my suit, only to shown up by one of her 6-year old former students (the sister teaches kindergarten at a Montessori school in Lake Oswego).

The night before I put together a very informal rehearsal dinner buffet at my home in North Portland. I went with a Greek/Meditteranean theme, as that cuisine tends to appeal to a wide variety of people and is very veggie-friendly. I spent a couple days shopping and prepping, and took a Friday off from work to pull it all together.

There were about 25+ people at the dinner. Nobody retched or become violently ill the next day, so I assume it was well received by the groom’s family and our out-of-town guests. Here’s the menu:

Menu

  • Roast Leg of Lamb scented with Rosemary, Preserved Lemon and Garlic. Served with Lemon Tahini
  • Pork Souvlaki with Tomato, Orange Peppers, and Red Onion
  • Greek Salad of Romaine, Cherry Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Feta, Kalamata Olives, Cucumbers, in Red Wine Vinagrette.
  • Tabbouleh with Tomato, Cucumber, Parsley
  • Orzo Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Peppers, Feta, Red Onion, Artichoke Hearts
  • Dolmathes stuffed with Rice and Herbs with Egg Lemon (Avgolemono) Sauce
  • Lemon Garlic Tzatziki with Pita
  • Hummus with Pita
  • Assorted Baklava

And the photos:

Spread

Partial view of the spread…orzo and tzatiki. The pita I actually purchased from Alladin’s restaurant on NE 33rd (around Ainsworth). I don’t know or want to know how to make good pita – I’ll let those guys do what they do best.

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh. I bought the bulger wheat from the bulk bins at Fred Meyer. I like a higher percentage of wheat to parsley than what you’d find at some Middle Eastern restaurants. Lots of lemon juice – when steeping the wheat to make it tabouleh-ready, I use the juice of half a lemon and a few tablespoons of olive oil in addition to hot water. I saw that breathy vixen Ina Garten (from TV’s The Barefoot Contessa) use this technique.

Tzatziki

Tzatiki. I used half plain non-fat yogurt and half that creamy whole milk greek yogurt you can score at Trader’s Joes. The non-fat stuff needs to strain in cheesecloth for at least a few hours. Lots of raw garlic.

Dolmathes

Dolmathes. See recipe for lemon egg sauce below.

Greek-Salad

Greek salad, with simple vinagrette of equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil drizzled on top after tossing. I usually like huge blocks of feta, but went with a pre-crumbled bulk brand I found at Costco.

Hummus

Hummus. Simple and creamy. Dusted with Spanish paprika and garnished with parsley and a single, oil cured olive.

Orzo

Orzo pasta salad, served slightly warm.

Lamb

Boneless leg of lamb, from Costco. Marinated with rosemary from my garden, lemon, olive oil, kosher salt, coarse ground pepper, and seared on my grill and finished by roasting in the oven.

Meat-Platter

The platter o’meat, including lamb and souvlaki. The tahini sauce is simply whipped sesame paste and lemon juice. It was disappointing as the consistency was more like peanut butter instead of saucy.

Souvlaki-2-Lamb

More meat.

Souvlaki

Pork souvlaki, grilled on skewers.

Backlava

I suck at desserts, so I didn’t even try. I simply bought Baklava from Trader Joes. I heated honey, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a cinnamon stick in a sauce pan, dipped the bottoms and arranged the baklava pieces on a couple platters.

Here’s a recipe for Avgolemono sauce I found while surfing the tubes of the Internets. I can’t find the link for the source, but it is pretty simple (outside of technique) and is how I remember it when I used to work in a Greek cafe in college.

Egg Lemon Sauce (Avgolemono Sauce)

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
A little over 1 cup hot (not boiling) chicken broth

Whisk the yolks until they start to become frothy, and slowly stream in the lemon juice. Continue whisking for a minute or so, and start to pour in the broth in a steady stream, constantly whisking. Pour everything into a saucepan and heat at low. Continue to whisk while heating until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Mmmmm…female cochineal beetles

Few people know that the food coloring listed as cochineal extract comes from female beetles. Food activists want to spread the word.

When you dig into a strawberry Yoplait yogurt, take a moment to contemplate where the beautiful pink color comes from. Strawberries? Think again. It comes from crushed bugs. Specifically, from the female cochineal beetles and their eggs. And it’s not just yogurt. The bugs are also used to give red coloring to Hershey (HSY) Good & Plenty candies, Tropicana grapefruit juice, and other common foods.

Other surprises: Wild salmon is pink because it eats krill – a luxury farm-raised salmon don’t have. So they are fed chemicals that lend them their color. And Betty Crocker icing is not white because of egg whites or cream or even Peruvian flake cocaine – its lustre is only achieved with the same titanium dioxide you used to paint your utility room.

Grilled Lemongrass Beef

Lemongrass beef is one of my all time favorites. It was a go-to staple in my household, and I ate it often and graciously growing up. Thinly sliced beef, marinated in lemon grass, garlic, chili, ginger. My mom used cheaper, lean cuts such as london broil or eye of round – it was a good use of leftover pho tai meat – though you could certainly use a cut with more marbling.

Grilled Lemongrass Beef

1 pound london broil
2 stalks lemon grass
2 cloves garlic
1 knob of ginger (I like to grate the ginger using my microplane)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (or so – i just sprinkled a few on)
1 tablespoon tumeric
1/2 tablespoon dried lemongrass
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sweetened chinese black vinegar
1 teaspoon maggi or soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
Optional – add a couple smashed thai bird chilies (or crushed red pepper flakes)

Freeze the london broil for 30 minutes. Slice in thin slices (1/8 inch or so).

Cut off inch or so off the tip of lemon grass, slice off bottom nubs. Slice in half, and then in half again, and mince stalks as fine as possible.

Combine with all the ingredients and marinade overnight.

Last year at Uwajimaya I ran across this stovetop griller for use with gas stoves.

When the stock stove grates are removed, the surface area becomes one large cooking canvas, and slots allow direct flames to shoot up and kiss your food with searing hot, adoring lashes.

A concentric drip pan sits under the cooking surface and straddles your stove’s gas conduit, and you fill this with just enough water to vaporize the drippings. You don’t want to much water in here or it will bubble over and prevent flames from escaping.

You can grill pieces in a mack daddy Japanese grill pan like I did recently:

Or you can certainly use the broiler or a conventional grill pan. But an open flame is the key for getting some good char and caramelization. Here’s beef from the same marinade batch, threaded on a skewer and grilled outside.

What to eat with grilled lemongrass beef? I ate this with broken jasmine rice, but you could also enjoy the beef on top of rice noodles, garnished with cucumber, mint, cilantro, and julienned red leaf lettuce, and tossed with nuoc mam cham and finished with crushed peanuts. Or you can put all the aforementioned garnish ingredients in a softened rice paper sheet and roll it up like a hand roll and dip in nuoc mam cham or a peanut hoisin sauce.