Monday, June 6, 2011


One of the fun things about my job is that occasionally I get to organize parties for the Creative Department and put 15 years of restaurant and catering experience to good use. The agency is growing, and with so many new hires in the last year we needed to throw a mixer. On a recent rainy afternoon I was craving hot fudge and thought an ice cream social would be a good excuse to construct the ultimate sundae bar.

I counted on a 60% turn out of about 100 people, but I was not factoring in a 78 degree afternoon and my co-workers' insatiable thirst for liquor when I decided to make 6 quarts of salted caramel sauce, in addition to suppling hot fudge, marshmallow sauce, pineapple and strawberry sauces, oreo and reese's bits, nuts, fruit loops and whipped cream. I'm not sure if anyone was as excited about the sundae bar as me, which is why I ended up bringing 4 of the six quarts of salted caramel sauce home to my fridge.

If I wasn't worried about how much of this I will end up consuming with nothing but a spoon and Real Housewives marathon, I would be excited for the challenge to use up these 4 quarts, 16 cups, 128 oz of this amalgam of burnt sugar, cream and grey sea salt. Well a challenge is a challenge. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Car Camping

This weekend I went camping, for the first time in maybe 5 years. As with many activities that require some forethought, it's easy to talk yourself out of going. There's always a social event or house project to talk you out of the planning and packing that going camping requires. And part of the hesitation is remembering how great it is to be out of cities and towns and in the middle of a forest or desert with no wifi or phone service, but rueing the fact that there's just not enough time in life to do this enough.

So the first really nice weekend of the year, my friend Jim turned 45 and 9 of us went to the Indian Henry Campground in the Mt Hood National Forest, exactly an hour's drive from my house. I brought a borrowed tent, a sleeping bag, a folding chair, some food, beers and Victor. They had arrived the night before but I had to stay in town for a work event. I missed the big hike that morning, but shortly after I arrived we walked to a beautiful bluff overlooking a swimming hole on the Clackamas River.

Eating while camping is always the best part, whether it's preparing fancy food in a rustic setting, or an excuse to eat the garbage you normally wouldn't buy. For dinner, we made toasted sandwiches, an ingenious invention of Jim's wife Jessica. This river of plastic (sad) represents about 20 different ingredients that we had to choose from to stuff rustic rolls from Little t Bakery. I brought some leftover brisket and chicken liver pate, but kept my own roll pretty simple with a variety of cheeses and brined cherry peppers.

Then they get wrapped in foil and thrown on the grill above the campfire.

Dessert was a decadent chocolate-orange birthday cake that Jess made for Jim.

The next morning, Jim, who roasts beans for Stumptown, prepared our coffee with the type of attentive precision you would expect from a group of car-campers from Portland. I made a scramble with onions, tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and saucisson d'alsace from Olympic Provisions.

Before I left Portland, I made hobo-packs for the morning campfire of red potatoes, onions, rosemary, olive oil and a touch of vermouth. Then topped with some mild chevre after they came off the fire.

Now, my only complaint is that I don't know when the next time I'll have a chance to pursue more campfire cooking.


I took this one awhile ago, it was the base of some salmon rillettes. I've been a bad blogger lately but when I see a photo like this I remember that this is merely an ongoing jornal/photo album about my eating/cooking habits, read by an small handful of people (Hi Mom).

Anyway, this is a great shot of butter. To make the rillettes you can't have it melted and you can't have it cold. Having the time to simply cream it by hand was what having free time is all about.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Clam Dip

This weekend my brother and sister-in-law visited from New York. As is typical, the weather forecast for Memorial Day Weekend was pretty dismal, but I rented my friends' house in Gearhart, OR anyway because the Oregon Coast is pretty great any time of the year. We arrived on Friday and the weather was crappy from start to finish, but when I woke up on Saturday morning the sun was out and the sky was clear. Victor and I headed out for an early morning stroll on the beach; there was a full day planned of breakfast making, seafood mongering, and a trip to Canon Beach. The beach that morning was gorgeous. No wind, low tide, and great sand for jogging. About 2/3 of a mile into our run, Victor got on the wrong side of a testy lab mix and suddenly I was looking at a dog (mine) with a large area of exposed flesh over his rib-cage. We checked Victor into the animal hospital in Astoria and had to leave him there for most of the day to receive anesthesia and stitches. Out plans suddenly abbreviated by the trip to the hospital, we went to the Bell Buoy to buy for fish for dinner, plus for Ken and Jen to try Dungeness crab for the first time. Me, all I wanted was to get the clam dip, which I have been eyeing at the Bell Buoy ever since I started coming there. The traumatic events of the day necessitated comfort food. As soon as Victor was safely back at the house, and while the rest of the guests were taking one last stroll on the beach, I opened up a bag of ridged potato chips and let the mixture of minced razor clams with scallions and cream cheese take me to a happier place. It did not disappoint. Until the moment that I had eaten too much, which was to my regret, many moments before I actually stopped eating it. It was a hard day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fuck You, Gravity

Further evidence that I should not be allowed to own nice things.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Flavor Slab

I guess I am now that person who always has home-cured pork belly on hand. It started out innocently enough: I had a 12-month old pork jowl that needed curing so I made guanciale, taking advantage of the winter weather and using a pretty fool-proof recipe. It lasted a couple months and I finished it off before it had a chance to go off. As soon as it was done I realized I should have started a new jowl already, but lacking any, I found a 13 oz slice of belly in my freezer and gave it the same treatment. Now, I have always intended to make my own pancetta but always lacked the time, or a whole belly, or the motivation to learn the proper tying of the thing. But guanciale and pancetta are basically the same thing: cured, unsmoked pieces of fatty pork, used sparingly in pastas, braises, soups or anything else that would be improved with that distinct combination of salt, meat and age.

Tonight's dinner was parsnips and onion slow cooked with "my" pancetta and tossed in linguine. My homemade pancetta is more minerally than anything I've bought at the store, but allowed to mingle with heat and sugar and fat, it turns everything it touches into succulence. It also lasts longer than any commercial pancetta I've used, despite the fact that it's only cured with salt and spices, no nitrates.

Here's my recipe, which is basically Mario Batali's, with my own modifications based on absent-mindedness:

For every 1 lb of fresh pork belly--or jowl (skin removed),
1/4 C. Sugar
1/4 C. Salt
15 black peppercorns, crushed (or a mixture of black and white)
2 bay leaves, crushed
leaves from a couple branches of thyme

In a shallow bowl with lid or plastic container rub the salt and sugar all over the belly, then the spices. Cover and refrigerate for a week. The salt and sugar will melt into a brine, and you will want to turn the pork once or twice in the week. I've gone over 10 days in the brine as a result of totally forgetting about it.

After a week or so, remove the meat and shake off the liquid. If it's fall, winter, or early spring (days are below 60 and nights are colder) and you have an unheated garage, hang your meat to cure. I have no good advice on how to do it, having struggled with threading a piece of kitchen twine through the meat using a metal kebab and narrowly avoiding stabbing myself in the process. I'm sure that you will be smarter than me. I hang my meat from the bicycle that hangs from the hooks of the rafters of my garage. In the warmer weather, I will make some kind of pork hammock in the fridge. The meat needs to hang for about 4 weeks, until it is firmer and a bit darker than when you began. Again, you may end up forgetting about the meat and letting it go for 5 weeks instead, but trust yourself that you will know if has gone bad by the evidence of mold or an intolerable smell. But since I've experienced neither, you'll have to tell me about it.

Jowl Before
Jowl During
Jowl After

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Passover Tacos

Nothing about these are remotely kosher (starting with the unholy union of meat with milk) but they were uncommonly good: brisket, slow cooked in the Jewish style, with sour cream and the homemade chrain I had made for the previous evening's Passover seder. I knew these were going to be good, but I didn't know how good. Very, very, very good.