Sunday, July 29, 2012

Doing What Chickens Do

  Connie and Foggy getting ready for a dirt bath in the yard.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Triplets

 Our "new" girls. They are growing up in our second coop, waiting for the day they get to meet their new sisters.
 The new Buff Orpingtons are just about five months old and nearly ready to start laying
 James hasn't decided on names yet.
So far they are "the triplets."

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Came Home To Find . . .

6 Days away and it's zucchini gone wild. There's gonna be a lot of zucchini bread round here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Kind Of Fast Food

 Crammed onto Denver's 16th street mall amidst the pedal cabs, horse drawn carriages and tourists and revelers excitedly looking for The Cheesecake factory is Mad Greens. It's basically a made to order salad bar with a variety of proteins. They also serves soups (with vegan a and vegetarian choices) and grilled sandwiches.
 It's not organic, which would make it even better for me -- and probably raise their prices (but organic suckers like me would pay the price for sure) but it's pretty delicious with a good selection of low fat and non fat dressings -- can't have the diet suffer too much while I'm away.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Savory Denver, CO

 I walked by the other night on my way to sushi and just had to come back. James loves a little za'atar, the middle Eastern spice blend which he insists on calling zanzibar, sprinkled on cauliflower or flatbreads or just about anything. We are all out at home and Boulette's Larder -- my favorite Ferry Building vendor isn't exactly a short walk away from home. It seemed like a good chance to stock up.
I wandered into the narrow store and felt right at home and completely seduced by the beautiful selection. I came away with not just za'atar but also lovely pink flakes of Murray River sea salt, organic Tellicherry peppercorns, citrusy piquin peppers, lavender, and beautiful black onyx Dutch cocoa powder. And the address of a Savory branch right near us (well not walking distance but better than ail order) in downtown Santa Rosa. I can't wait to refresh my spices at home.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Waiter To Remember

For some reason, walking the streets in Denver I was suddenly in the mood for sushi. Sushi far away from the nearest ocean. Sushi in a city not at all renown for Asian food. I stumbled into Sushi Sasa, a bright modern space on the downtown riverfront and was ushered to the last empty seat at the sushi bar.  I was nearly immediately greeted by a young man offering drinks and advice on the menu. He managed to occupy that all too rare space between friendly and obtrusive. He astutely notice the dishes I had ordered and suggested some I might like based on my selections. He clearly knew the menu and was enthusiastic about the food.
My waiter suggested a seared tuna roll (made by my very friendly and skillful sushi chef Jesus, pictured above). Honestly it was not my favorite and I left half uneaten. My keenly observant waiter inquired and I admitted it was not to my taste. Later when the bill came around he had taken the offending roll off my tab. I protested. There was nothing wrong with the roll, it just wasn't my thing.
"We have really good food," my waiter replied. "We don't need to sell you food you don't like."
I've long believed that the front of house -- restaurant hosts/hostesses and wait staff -- are just as important as the food. They set the mood, make customers feel welcome, and essentially create the lasting impression of the restaurant. The impression that keeps customers coming back. In truth the sushi was pretty good (the uni special was divine), but as good as some of the places where I've eaten in LA or Tokyo or even London -- no. But, my waiter made Sushi Sasa a place I'd happily come back to. I may go again before I leave town. He was a waiter to remember. I only wish I could remember his name.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Collards On Toast

It doesn't sound like much. Until you look a little closer. Spicy chicken sausage crisped in a pan with garlic, oregano and fennel seeds. Diced yukon gold potatoes, tender and buttery. Hearty red wine to deglaze the pan. Garden fresh collard greens sautéed in the robust sauce. Served on what we think may be the best loaf of bread in America, Meyer Lemon Rosemary from Della Fattoria, thinly spread with world class butter, McClelland Dairy's artisan organic butter.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Zucchini Soup

It's not just the greens that are taking over the garden. With plenty of water and sunlight every couple days I seem to have a zucchini the size of my arm -- oops, forgot to harvest that one.
Those big boys aren't much good for delicate sautés but just right for a simple flavorful soup.
I started a pot with some olive oil and sautéed onion and garlic (1 onions and 3 big cloves). Next I added in chunks of zucchini (I think I used 3 squashes) and let them soften just a bit in the oil. I covered the squash with a combination of chicken stock (a 4 cup package) and water and let everything simmer for about 17 minutes until the squash was soft. The next step is where the real favor comes in. When the soup in progress had cooled a bit I ladled it into the blender (I did half a batch at a time) along with a handful of basil leaves and a good sized chunk (about 1/4 cup in each blender full) of soft, fresh goat cheese, seasoned with S&P and a dash of chili peppers and topped with a quick sauté of tender smaller zucs for a little fresh veggie texture.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Back For A Birthday Burger

 After a week of computer crashes, genius bar appointments and general computing and electronic heartache I'm more than glad to be back at home and back on line.
A week like that called for comfort food. Old fashioned American. And since it just happened to be my birthday -- don't ask what number I can't believe it enough to say it out loud myself -- James thought lunch "out on the town" might be just the thing. With the choice completely up to me I opted for Marin Sun Farms in nearby Pt. Reyes Station. I've passed by many times but never managed to wander in before. This combination cafe and butcher shop specializes in burgers with local grass fed beef, pork, goat and lamb along with house cured ham and bacon.
I looked over the short menu and decided on the "black and blue" -- angus beef topped with Pt Reyes blue cheese and an arugula and red onion salad. Flavorful and juicy and the perfect birthday meal. Turns out MSF was out of lamb and goat today -- either if those would have been my choice if available. That just makes good reason for James to take me back for burgers again. A birthday lunch with a gift.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little Olympic Provisions at Home.

I love polenta. I love grits. I love Olympic Provisions.
Tonight I riffed off one of the Portland restaurant's entree plates to whip up this creamy polenta (well it was half polenta and half Trader Joe's new stone ground grits) for James' dinner. I mixed the grains ( 1 1/2 cups) with salt, butter, 3 cups of water and one cup of milk and popped them into the oven, uncovered, to bake for about 80 minutes. When the polenta came out of the oven I quickly mixed in a hunk of fresh goat cheese and ladled the creamy grains into a bowl topped with griddle sausages and -- because James is not a big tomato fan and our garden is still producing like crazy -- braised kale.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tom's Steak and Potatoes

With a skirt steak in the freezer I came across a Tom Colicchio one pan recipe from his Craft restaurants. I'm a big Top Chef fan (even after all these seasons I'm still watching) and I love when judge Tom cuts right to the chase with a frank, sometimes biting appraisal of a competitor's dish. How would his recipe fare with my favorite judge?
I started an iron frying pan heating on the stove over high heat and added 1 TB of canola oil. When the oil was shimmering hot I added in the steak, already seasoned with salt and pepper. After 4 minutes searing on each side I turned the heat down to medium low and added 3 TB (when the pan had cooled down) of butter and 2 sprigs of fresh thyme. I basted the steaks with melted butter for about 3 minutes more (turning half way through). After I took the steaks out of the pan to rest I poured off the extra fat, wiped the pan clean and turned the heat up to medium. In went 4 diced slices of bacon to render and crisp for 5 minutes. Then I nestled in potatoes sliced about 1//2 inch thick (Tom uses fingerlings sliced in half but I had yukon golds so I just used those instead). The potatoes crisped for about 4 minutes on a side and then I added in a thinly sliced onion and a few more sprigs of thyme. TC uses a red onion but all we had today were white. I can see where that red onion might add an interesting depth to the sweetness of the dish -- next time I'll be better prepared. The onions and potatoes cooked for about 12 minutes more until the potatoes were crisp outside and tender inside. For a final touch I turned the heat down and added 1 minced clove of garlic and after about a minute 5 TB of balsamic vinegar. I gave everything a good stir around to incorporate the vinegar, sliced the steak and laid it on top to heat through.
This certainly was a pretty and flavorful dish. I'd happily serve this steak for company. It's kind of hard to go too wrong with beef, butter, and bacon. I don't think Tom would take the big prize with this dish but he wouldn't be packing his knives either.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Garden Keeps Growing

I don't know how it happens. We walk out to the garden everyday. But every now and then I seem to miss a zucchini and before I know it I've got a bright green squash bigger than a kid's arm. No sense sautéing or babying these monster sized marrows. Giant zucchini calls for fresh loaves of sweet zucchini bread. Perfect for toast and an easy treat to keep in the freezer. Honestly I always start with a different recipe. Today I actually followed one by Bill and Cheryl Jamison willing travelers and, at least as far as this loaf goes, pretty good bakers. Mix 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 3/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt in a bowl. The Jamisons say to sift but I just skipped ahead. Stir in 1 cup of rolled oats (a terrific addition I have never used before). Then make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add in 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 tsp vanilla extract (all heated together before adding in) and mix your batter together lightly. Stir in 2 cups of grated zucchini (that was only half of today's monster) taking care not to over mix. This is basically a muffin recipe and too much mixing can make your bread too dense. Pour the prepared batter into a greased and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pan and bake at 350º for about 65 minutes.
The Jamisons suggest cooling for 10 minutes in the pan and then another 10 on a rack (covered with a towel they say to prevent indentations -- poppycock!). We didn't wait that long and cut our breakfast bread into thick slices topped with creamy fresh butter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More Gifts From The Garden

Time to tackle the spawning bundle of chard in the fridge. 
Chopping, washing, chopping, washing, chopping, washing. Soup.
I started cooking some lentils in water and chicken stock with thyme, fresh oregano and salt. As the lentils simmered toward tenderness I started some olive oil in a pan and sautéed diced carrots, celery, onions, and garlic until almost soft. I added in the chard and a good sized bunch of chopped green onions. When the chard had just wilted I added the contents of the sauté pan to the lentils, gave everything a good stir and let it simmer for 15 minutes more. added a splash of hot sauce and a dash of balsamic vinegar just before ladling James' soup into a bowl topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese.
Summer soup for a cool July night.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rustic Collar Green Pie

The garden is still turning our armloads of collards, chard, and kale so I'm on the lookout for new recipes. I found this rustic style tart on Sara Moulton's web site. I took her initial idea, combined it with the ingredients I had on hand for this dinnertime specialty. First I made up a flaky, Italian style (with egg yolks) pie crust. For the filling I mixed sautéed collards, garlic, and onions, ricotta cheese, 2 eggs and cubed mozzarella. I added oregano, S&P, and a dash of chili peppers with a couple small yukon gold potatoes I peeled and mashed into the filling. I poured the filling in to the rolled out crust, folded over the crust edges for a rustic look and popped the whole thing into the oven. After 40 minutes at 375º we had a new way to use the garden's bounty and a new dish for dinner.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ribs Aidells' Italian Style

Some days the idea of a sticky, delicious, home bubbled barbecue sauce and the myriad of dirty dishes it tends to require is just too much to face. Yet it was a perfect day for ribs -- beautiful weather, a welcoming picnic table in the yard, and a friend coming to spend the afternoon. So I dug up a recipe I had been saving from meat cooking superstar Bruce Aidells and started to tinker. Like Aidells I made a seasoning paste of rosemary (2 TB or so), thyme (about 1 TB), fennel seeds ( 1 1/2 TB), sage (2 tsp), chili peppers (almost 1 TB), oregano (2 tsp --my addition), all spice (1/2 tsp), coriander (1 tsp), salt (1 1/2 TB) and pepper (2 tsp) mixed with fruity olive oil. I rubbed that mixture over both sides of the ribs and let the meat sit at room temperature for 2 hours. I wanted to make sure our oven-cooked ribs were nice and tender so after the marinating time I splashed half a bottle of red wine over and around the meat, sealed the baking tray with aluminum foil and placed the ribs in a 300º oven for 2 hours until the meat was just about falling off the bone. I uncovered the ribs, poured off the pan juices ( I would usually add at least some of those into my sauce) and brushed the bone side of the racks with good quality balsamic vinegar. I broiled the ribs, bone side up, for about 4 minutes until the balsamic formed a crusty glaze, then flipped them over, brushed the meat side with more balsamic vinegar and broiled for another 4 minutes. Crispy, lightly sweet oven-barbecued ribs. No one asked for sauce.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Garden Gone Wild

While I was out of town our garden, with James' faithful watering, went wild. It is positively overflowing with collard greens, chard and kale. Today was a big harvest day and dinner just had to be based on our backyard produce.
The collards were a little bigger (and probably tougher) than I generally like, so I figured a good long stewing period would help tenderize them. I started a pot with olive oil, garlic and chopped onions and added in the just washed (and still a little wet) collards. I covered that pot and let the greens steam tender a bit (about 8 minutes). Then I tossed in a can of crushed tomatoes (from last year's garden), a little water,  a good sized splash (or more like a glass) of white wine, crushed chili peppers, a couple dashes of hot sauce, and because our collards were a little bitter, a splash of balsamic vinegar. I brought that up to a bubble and added in some sliced fingerling potatoes. When the potatoes were tender we had flavorful, spicy collards ready to ladle over fluffy brown rice.
I started out to make a vegetarian stew but mid way through thought maybe those collards -- as they often do -- could use a little crispy, fatty pork. I pan-fried a link of hot Italian sausage to top James' almost vegetarian dinner.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Stepped Off The Plane And Into The Kitchen

Stumbling in the door with luggage, I started a pot of water going for pasta. No matter what is in the house I can always come up with spaghetti.
Rustling through the fridge I found odds and ends in a couple packages of prosciutto, a container of big creamy Corona beans I left for James to eat while I was gone, and a piquant Italian cheese coated in rosemary I brought home from Costco a little while back.
I started heating the prosciutto in a pan with garlic, olive oil, chili peppers, and oregano. When the pork started to crisp I tossed in the drained beans and a splash of white wine. I left that mixture simmer while the spaghetti cooked. I added the drains pasta to the bean mixture along with knob of butter, a splash of cooking water, and plenty of that grated cheese and stirred everything around to a make--shift sauce and tope fit all with a lightly fried egg (Foggy's been busy while I've been gone).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Olympic Provisions, Portland

Olympic Provisions is the tonic for all ails. It's exactly what I need. It's the kind of restaurant I wish I owned. Simple, delicious, easy to serve food carried out by super friendly food-loving people. OP is first and foremost a salumeria -- they make a staggering array of salamis, patés, terrines, olives, sausages, and cured meats (I spied lomo being sliced behind the counter). The house specialties are served in sandwiches, salads, tasting boards, and simple rustic entree plates.
Creamy, cheesy warm polenta topped with crisp girdled sausage and robust tomato sauce -- delicious and perfect.
The selection of salamis touches down in a few of the great cured meat eating and making regions of the world. From France there are several versions of saucisson (we went for the warmly spiced Alsace). The menu also offered, Italian style finocchiona, cacciatore (delicious with a hint of caraway), nola, and sopressata. Spain was saluted with several varieties of chorizo and a paprika and clove flavored salchichon. The salami of the month (now there's an idea I love) was a Greek inspired Loukanika, rich porky meat and chunks of fat flavored by garlic and a hint of orange. After lunch I bought one to go from OP's tiny store counter.
Sitting at the attractive counter watching the pastry chef roll biscuits for strawberry shortcake and happily munching cured meats to the pleasing hipster soundtrack peppered with Lucinda Williams and George Jones I can't think of a place I'd rather be.
Meat is the real star here accompanied by tasty snacks like house cured olives and fried almonds. You can order a round of cheeses to go with your meaty tasting boards, and OP offers a nice but predictable  selection. In fact if there were anything I would change about Olympic Provisions it would be the cheese offerings. While tasty the cheeses on offer don't have the same hand-crafted special feeling of place the meats enjoy. A few more carefully chosen American artisanal cheeses would be a better pairing. Don't skip the compote that comes out with the cheese though -- ours was strawberry and literally bursting with flavor of the rainy Northwest.
In any other city a place like Olympic Provisions would literally reek of elite food snobbery. In new York you'd have trouble catching a server's eye, in LA questions about the menu would likely be met with a sneer and a blank stare. In friendly, easy going Portland it's just a place to eat meat with friends -- new and old. I love this place.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Portland Food Carts

Portland has become rightfully famous for it's food carts. Unlike food trucks in LA or street vendors in NY, Portland's carts are basically trailers gathered onto the sidewalk edge of city parking lots into what Portlanders call a "pod." These carts don't move from day to day but gather together to form semi-permanent food courts. And there are a lot of carts and pods to choose from.
Amid Thai and Lebanese and BBQ and salmon burgers and specialty soups, I somehow was drawn to Sonny Boy where two friends Portanders mix up vegan dishes like brown rice bowls with a seemingly endless list of possible toppings, shakes, and the tofu veggie scramble I opted for. It was breakfast after all.
Certainly not the prettiest dish I've ever been handed but chock full of flavor. Instead of zeroing in on one ethnicity or style of cooking, Sonny Boy, like many vegan and vegetarian restaurants take stem most flavorful parts of several styles of cuisine and blends them not one dish. My sautéed tofu, cabbage and squash (with spicy warm potatoes on the side) was topped with a cashew sesame sauce they called "cashew cheese" and another that seemed almost to carry a hint of curry and paprika. On top a dollop of "herb chorizo". I honestly have no idea what was in that "chorizo" and I certainly would call it by another name but it was delicious. Well seasoned, flavorful, vibrant  -- a scrumptious paté with no need for labels.
Throughout the city Portland's carts are serving up high quality food at fast food prices. There always seems to be a pod within walking distance and yet sit-down restaurants, micro-breweries, and casual cafes flourish on the same blocks. What a lucky city.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Portland Farmers Market

Another city another cute little farmers market. Portland's downtown market was filled with berries, bakers, cheese . . .
and this fellow selling smoked salmon. After he handed me a taste I went right over to the zip-locked bags with sides of pink fleshed, super smokey salmon. I snatched up a bag for $10, sure I had made the best deal of my trip. I'm gonna bring it home for James if I can keep from eating it before.
Fresh currants and gooseberries -- we don't see much of those at home, especially not for $3.50 a box.
All in all a nice stroll through a nice market filled with nice people -- just like the city itself.

Monday, July 2, 2012

VooDoo Donuts

VooDoo donuts in Portland gets so much publicity and is so well know it almost veers from a must visit to a must miss. But, I could't resist. The line stretching nearly around the block clearly said I am not alone.
VooDoo's most renown specialty is the maple bacon bar, a yeast raised glazed donut topped with super sweet maple frosting and strips of crisp cooked bacon. Other flavors top yeasty donuts with a mango tang glaze, rice crispies chocolate and peanut butter or  Cap't Crunch cereal.
In the end VooDoo is fun. It's brightly colored location and irreverent flavor combinations are certainly appealing. Did I swoon like Guy Fieri when I bit into that maple bacon bar? No. Tasty and probably the pit-stop of choice for many drunken mid-night rambles through quirky downtown Portland? Sure. But, it's just a pretty good (just fine), eccentric, yeast donut. Just a donut. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Dark Restaurant With Bright Food

 Lincoln in North Portland is the kind of restaurant everyone wishes was their neighborhood place. The service is friendly, the wine list well chosen with several affordable bottles, and the food is inventive and delicious.
I might have missed this little gem but chef owner Jenn Lewis was recently named of one Food and Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs for 2012. When I read the magazine I had no idea I was on my way to Portland. Since I am here I couldn't miss a visit.
Lincoln is one of those restaurants that takes mood lighting to an extreme. Generally that turns me off a restaurant -- when I cant read the menu -- but the staff at Lincoln is so cheerful, charming and genuinely pleased you are there it's kind of hard to be bothered by little flaws. Don't judge the quality of the meal by the quality of the photos. Lewis is clearly an ingredient focused chef. She produces unique dishes that treat her high quality ingredients with inventive respect.
 For starters the menu offered fried fava bean pods. For some reason I still expected beans. What arrived were crispy, light, additive strips of fava bean pod in impossibly light batter. A tangy aioli brought out the grassy fresh flavor of the pods  -- an ingredient I've never thought to use on its own -- and the crisp salt of the batter.
 Secreto Iberico. A specially cut from the same acorn-eating pigs used to make Spain's Jamon Iberico. The cut was lightly seared and rubbed with a delicious seasoning I can't even behind to identify that perfectly complemented the rich, almost rare meat. Lewis is a chef who is not afraid of salt and this meat literally danced with flavor. A stand-out dish in any restaurant in any city that only a supremely bold and confident chef would ever attempt.
Fresh and light, a simple salad of thinly sliced summer squashes. A bracing, herbed dressing and seared chunks of ricotta salata elevated this summery salad from similar versions.
Barely a photo but this duck confit was worthy of a mention. The best part? A bed of earthly Borlotti beans sautéed with ultra-flavorful bunching onions.