Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eastern Bloc Breakfast

Last night, I had dinner at my friend Laura Ohm's. Laura directs all the non-bread related food operations for Grand Central Bakeries in the Portland area, and is without a doubt, the best cook that I personally know. Before leaving, she gave me a sample of their newest experiment, an artisan power bar known as the "bicycle bar" in its beta stage. From what I gather, it's an enhanced fig newton made with identifiable ingredients.

I joked that I would probably be eating it on my way home, but restrained myself enough to make it home and forget about the treasure in my purse. This morning, after the dogs (yes, dogs plural at the moment) awakened but before I had given up on staying asleep, I heard the distinct sound of papers rustling. "What could they possibly be getting into...whatever it is, it can't be that bad, it's just paper..." A little while later, when I was fully cognisant, and hungry, did I discover the half eaten Grand Central bag with no evidence of a bicycle bar ever existing. The offender, of course, was my dog Victor. I know this because like his mother he is food motivated and because he did the same thing with 4 donuts earlier last weekend.

So. Breakfast option #1 gone, I turned to breakfast #2. Remembering the summer I toured the then-Soviet Union back in 1988, I thought of all the cucumbers I was served for breakfast and my own cucumbers sitting idly by in the fridge. Cucumbers are a kind of gourd, of course, like melons and also squash. All of these pack a lot of water but little else in the way of nutrition. Still, I can enjoy cucumbers with salt, pepper and a splash of vinegar any time of day; why should morning be so precious? I hard-boiled my remaining egg and plucked some cherry tomatoes from the yard and, lacking only a wedge of some salty sheep's cheese, broke my fast Balkan style. A good reminder to consume as many vegetables as possible when fresh, local and in season...and that no food is safe around Victor.

Oh, and the spot on the left of the plate is a chip in my slowly disintegrating Heath Ceramics tableware collection, which I am also choosing to blame on my dog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Sunni Day

Sunni Liston is all the evidence I need that the world is still good. Yes, that is her real name, and yes, she is very sunny. Sunni is the proprietress of Dogpatch, a magical service that cares for dogs during the day, but is so much more than doggie day care. 3 days a week, Sunni roams through Portland in her Woof 1, a white Sprinter, and whisks lucky dogs away to her dog resort out in Clackamas. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, she is parked outside of work in the mornings and evenings for pick up of and drop off. And there is nothing more satisfying than kind of fatigue that comes from a day at the Dogpatch.

There are lots and lots and lots of things I love about Sunni. If she were to take a crazy young pointer and just bring him back tired, it would be enough. But she picks him up at home so that I don't have to drive into work, she takes pictures of him and posts them to facebook (tagged as me), she brags that he's the fastest dog at the resort and I suspect she gives superlative reviews to all her clients because we need it. Everything she does for our darling dogs is above and beyond the daily fee for admission. But in the last few weeks, Sunni and her husband Rick have trumped even themselves: they've started leaving salmon and crab in my fridge for no apparent reason.

The Listons have a home in Pacific city and it seems that Rick has himself a little dory boat and some crab traps. I have no idea how the mechanics of either of these work. All I know is that one day there were cooked and cleaned dungeness crab in my refrigerator. A few days later, there was more crab, and a 5lb King Salmon. Tonight, another 2 crab.

Apparently cooking at home has its rewards. "Everytime I drop Victor off there's some delicious smell coming out of your house, so I knew you'd appreciate fresh seafood" said Sunni, after I promised her I would never freeze any of the bounty she brought me. Despite my zeal for putting up for winter, I am happy to oblige and see no point in freezing what's by far better fresh.

So, when one comes into pounds of FREE, FRESH Dungeness Crab and King Salmon, what does one do?

1) pick apart a crab and eat over sink.

2) pick apart another crab and make a Vietnamese Crab Slaw

3) share bounty of crab with friends, butter.

4) have a good friend, who happens to be an excellent cook AND expert on all things salmon, barbeque to rare perfection.

5) turn leftovers from said perfectly barbequed fish into salmon cakes punctuated with capers and tarragon, but not too much of either.

6) Do not feel like you're obligated to go crazy with your crab or eat only with monastic accompaniment. Returning to the Vietnamese theme, improvise a rice noodle stir fry using the remnants of your CSA for the week:

Stir Fried Rice Noodles with Leek and Crab
serves 1
1 oz rice noodle, medium width.
1/2 leek, sliced thin on the bias
1 Aneheim chili or frying pepper, seeded, sliced thin on the bias.
1 dungeness crab, cleaned and picked (about 2/3 c. crabmeat)
2 T fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp soy sauce
grapeseed oil
black pepper
(optional, or, use if you have: scallions, serrano chilies, garlic...)

mix the fish sauce, lime and soy sauce and set aside. Cook rice noodles for about 3 min. under a rolling boil, shock with cold water. Drain when cool. Heat oil in a wok. When sufficiently hot, add leeks. Saute for about 20 seconds, then add the pepper (or hotter chiles). Do not let brown. Add noodles and crab in close succession, after about 30 seconds of stir frying then add the liquid. Continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed in the noodles, take off heat and toss with more cilantro, and scallions if you have them. Season with more lime, fish sauce or chili sauce, but careful not to lose sight of the fact that the crab is a very special guest and deserves lots of attention. Remember that a gifted crab is a rare treasure to be enjoyed any way but previously frozen or with too much fuss.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Not Bad for a Monday

I love it when I'm broke and have a smattering of ingredients between my refrigerator and deep freezer, and have the forethought (a nice word for obsession) to start a night ahead. Tonight's meal: Chicken Tikka, carrot and sesame seed salad, pan-fried potatoes with indian spices, cucumber and cherry tomato raita, grilled summer squash and Patak's Lime Pickle. All brought to you with the help of some lemons, limes, yogurt and a hard working spice collection. Mustard and cumin seeds, you guys rocked! I can't wait to see you all again at lunch.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Omelet School

My mother was the chef of the family but it was actually my dad who taught me how cook my first dish, scrambled eggs. He showed me how to use a little bowl to crack and stir the eggs, and how much milk to add. We melted some fleischmann's in a little faberware saute pan and when the butter just started to sizzle we poured in the eggs. With the help of a stool, I hovered and stirred with a little wooden spoon that could not have been more than 6 inches in length. I learned to make my eggs over a moderately low heat, that stirring often but gently would produce large wet curds that still retained a little definition between white and yolk. We finished with salt and pepper and ate with Home Pride wheat bread. The mis en scene, down to the blue kik-step stool and tupperware mixing bowl, is as vivid as the margarine-smeared toast that picked up the last few bits of scrambled egg on my plate. I think because this dish is still so visceral, I don't like to eat anyone else's scrambled eggs but mine.

Omelets are another story. Both of my parents could make them, but the preparation wasn't sacredly handed down to me. I learned at an early age that I disliked the big fluffy omelets of a breakfast-chain restaurant and I preferred mine to be a little runny in the middle. The thing I liked the most about omelets was the fact that you could put extra food inside of them, like cheese and mushrooms, which were both good vehicles for getting more butterfat into my diet. But I could never make a decent one. I always overestimated the amount of filling that 2 or 3 eggs could hold and ended up with an awkward scramble of over and undercooked pieces. Or let the eggs cook too long undisturbed, dry out and burn to the bottom of the pan. It wasn't until recently, after years of reading about proper french omelet preparation, and storing Julia Child's omelet demonstrations in my memory vault for many years, did I decide to forget everything I thought I knew about them and just start over.

Start small; 2 eggs are plenty. whisk them in a bowl just before you're ready to pour them in a heated and buttered pan, preferably a small seasoned cast iron pan you use exclusively for omelet making (which you will also never want to wash with soap but simply wipe clean and continue the seasoning process). The heat should be a solid medium, warm enough to make the butter froth but not sizzle. For a 6 inch pan I use only about a teaspoon of butter, but more is fine, of course. Pour in the egg. Now you can probably add salt and pepper. Using your wrist and the pan's handle, swirl the egg around a bit. I have a great tool. I don't know where I got it or what you call it but it's a single piece of wood beveled at both ends. I guess it's a kind of spatula. I use this to gently lift the cooked edges of the omelet and allow uncooked egg to occupy the vacated surface next to the pan. Continuing to pivot and swirl, gently lift and cook the bottom of the omelette until there is no more liquid running forth. At this point, you've got your base and you can add filling. I put no more than 2 tablespoons of whatever in the half of the pan closest to me. Then, I raise the pan, pivot, and begin to let the omelet fall unto itself. I can't yet accomplish the perfect turning of the omelet with my wrist alone, so I use my stick to help it along.

None of this will probably help you make an omelet. I think about reading Dostoyevsky: you have the story down and you know what you're supposed to get out of it. But you can can get through page after page without knowing what you just read. It's not until the third or fourth pass--the second if you're lucky--that the meaning reveals itself. At some point, everything you've learned about omelets from other people, whether they be a cookbook writer, television personality or the guy impatiently training you and breathing down your neck, will flow into your wrist, for it really is your wrist that is having that "a ha!" moment.