Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas on the Coast

Just got back from spending the Christmas weekend in Manzanita, on the Oregon Coast, with old friends and new friends. So very pleasant and relaxing, I think I can finally appreciate Christmas' charms.

When not perched on a sofa looking at this...
I was sitting at a table eating this...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


A confession that may perpetuate my singlehood: I don't like sports. More specifically, I don't get sports. I was born without the gene that allows one to follow the movement of a ball through space and time by the force of human will and strength. I like the idea of sports and I like the conviviality that watching sports cultivates. I love foods associated with watching sports both in homes and in bars: nearly every year for the last decade I throw a Superbowl party and serve food based on the competing cities' cuisines. And since I do love commercials, the entirety of sports programming is not lost on me. But short of understanding the significance of when an orange ball flies through the air into a mesh hoop, or when a baseball lands in a mitt without hitting the ground, I am lost. And although football eludes me most, I have been faithfully watching Monday Night Football for the last 2 years, thanks to Laura Ohm.

Laura is probably the best cook that I personally know. She's a baker by trade, and a master of French, Italian, and Chinese cuisines as well as the gamut of everything that can be canned or otherwise put-up. But in my opinion her real gift is in the purest interpretations of American regional cuisines. And there is no better showcase for her talents than during the months of September through December, when every host city of a Monday Night Football game, whether friend or foe, is honored with a glorious supper. Last week, the Bears were at Minneapolis, though the menu of Polish Ring Sausage with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes:
There are probably 12 MNF suppers per season, and I try to make it to most. But here's the thing: after 38 years of life, after hosting at least a half dozen superbowls and after 2 years of spending nearly every Monday night in autumn at Laura and Fred's for MNF, I still have no idea how the hell you watch a football game. None. I sit there: I watch. I watch them move and stop and go back and move again in slow motion. I watch them huddle, watch lines and scratches come and go from the screen, watch coaches cover their mouths with playbooks as they talk into their headsets. I have tried to absorb the fundamentals of the game through osmosis, but it's useless. So perhaps my honorary seat in Laura and Fred's livingroom should go to someone who is football literate, but I won't abdicate without a fight. And there's always the possibility I will learn to love the game. I am a goddam American, after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I was in New York last week. Despite the freezing weather I loved being back there and I wish I had planned a longer stay. I did a poor job of taking pictures, most of them are of my friend Julia's dog, Mookie. The only food related picture I got was of this overgrown wasted elf mawing down his McDonalds after SantaCon 2010.

I didn't make it to most of my eating destinations, just let the day and whomever I was with dictate the menu (which I find to be infinitely less stressful or disappointing) and ended up eating amazing kimchi-tofu stew in Koreatown, prunes poached in red wine with mascarpone at Frankies, handmade sliders with American cheese at the soon-to-be RIP Stoned Crow, and overhyped but nonetheless tasty meatballs at The Meatball Shop. But the best thing I ate while I was in New York was at Gottino, a little Italian wine bar in the West Village. And that thing was crostini with a big knob of soft homemade butter beneath 2 fat oil-packed anchovy filets. Fat, salt, chew, cure, perfection. Please note that when I die, I would lie these served at my funeral.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Meat Party

My pig, rather, my pork arrived today. The chest freezer is a layer cake of beef, lamb, chicken necks, frozen dog meals, squid, and now pork. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to go about the process; I wish it could be organized with such randomness that whatever I grab when I close my eyes and reach in is what I'll be preparing next. But at this point it would take a concrete mixer to achieve that kind of variety. I believe this means I will be entertaining more...or else selling great cuts of meat out of my garage for cheap. Call me if you want a deal.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


On many Sundays, my friend David comes over for dinner at 6, and AVF at 7. AFV, in case you forgot, stands for America's Funniest (home)Videos. It's been on the air for 21 years. It's hilarious 67% of the time. I'd never watch it if it weren't for David, but now it's a part of what I consider to be the perfect Winter Sunday: wake up and go for a run, read the Times, plan dinner, take Vic to 1000 acres, cook dinner. David comes over for AFV, and when he leaves I watch whatever is on AMC or HBO (right now it's Zombies). Not all of these things get to happen on a Sunday (today I missed the run, the paper and the park), but if David and AFV happens, it's still a good Sunday.

Tonight we're still celebrating Hanukkah. I almost lit the candles, but I can't find the menorah (Yes I still have one, mom). I made braised cabbage (actually, pressure cooked then roasted cabbage), broiled lamb chops with parsley salsa, and potato-sweet potato latkes cooked in duck fat with sour cream and pear butter.

I know, I really have to work on my table settings: a lacey placemat does not a mis en place make, but I was tired of the white tablecloth. Working on it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Look What I Made!

Home-cured guanciale. For one week it steeped in a salt-sugar cure, for almost two weeks it hung in the fridge. Then, after the first frost, it went in the garage for another 3 weeks.

Tonight I decided to cut it down and try it out. It's pretty salty, and quite mineral-y, but after sauteing some with olive oil and garlic and adding it to braised brussels sprouts with sherry vinegar, butter, and a little honey, the salt and funk melded perfectly. What a great way to spend this 4th night of Hanukkah, enjoying my own cured pork.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


So, I hear it's the first night of Hanukkah or something. At least that's what Matt Lauer said this morning; the only thing I am religious about is my skincare routine. But as I was driving home tonight with a pit in my stomach, I remembered Matt's wish that I have a happy Hannukah, and suddenly an atavistic urge to commemorate the Macabee's triumph over their (OUR) foes by frying starches in oil overcame me.

In my opinion, there are 2 kids of latkes in this world: Temple Latkes and Home Latkes. Temple Latkes may be scratch latkes, but they're made in huge quantities and have a gummier consistency and a more institutional taste. I know people who prefer these, and they have a certain charm, but I am not one of those people. (These are the same people who prefer Stovetop stuffing to homemade stuffing. Again, I can appreciate the appeal, but you have to draw the line somewhere). Homemade latkes can vary, but they never get mushy like temple latkes. They are usually hand grated, or, at the very least, produced in small batches. This is how I make mine.

1 medium russet potato
part of a yellow onion
1 egg, beaten
some matzo meal
kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
fresh pepper
oil (I use olive)

First, get a clean tea towel and dampen it. you don't want it saturated with water, just damp. Grate your potato into the center of the towel and follow that with some onion--you only want 2 teaspoons or so of grated onion in all. Gather the ends of the tea towel together and start twisting the potatoes and onions into a ball, over a bowl. Twist out ALL of the liquid into the bowl. Twist again. You want to squeeze all the moisture from the potatoes. Let the water settle for a second, then carefully pour out the water. There should be some potato starch left at the bottom of the bowl. You want it. Incorporate the potato/onion mixture into this, add the beaten egg, and then add a teaspoon or 2 of the matzo meal. Season with a generous pinch of salt and grinding of pepper. Meanwhile, you should have been heating some oil in a pan. Preferably a good, seasoned cast iron pan. This recipe will yield 4 latkes and I recommend cooking the first one on it's own. The subsequent ones will come out better than the first. Drop some of the latke batter into the hot oil and use a spatula to flatten and shape the pancake. Turn it over when it's golden, and drain on paper towels when it's done. Serve with sour cream and apple sauce, or, in this case, homemade pear butter.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

CSI Thanksgiving

For the first time in my life, I bought my Thanksgiving turkey straight from the guy who bred, raised, and slaughtered the bird. It came with the neck still attached--a reminder that this form was a creature that walked upright and had a head. The first difference I noticed about this bird as opposed to all other organically raised, free range birds I've bought in the past is that, even uncooked, it smelled great. Within minutes of putting it in the oven, my house smelled like eau de Thanksgiving. This year, I'm not hosting but just making the bird and gravy, which makes for a pretty east holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Here we go again

2010's W+K Pie Contest. This year's entry: Chocolate Cream. It was one of the most consistent and popular recipes from Half & Half. I know if I was serving this at a party it would have folks rolling on the floor in ecstasy, but the pie contest is a different animal. It's chaos, and there's no real system for judging. Winning is pretty much a crap shoot. Still, it brings out a big, ugly competitive streak in me. And anxiety. All in all, it's about 3% fun, and that 3% happened yesterday as I was making the crust and filling.

Here is another pic of my pie, gazing out on a rainy 38 degree monday morning, bemoaning its fate to be devoured by a bunch of advertising gluttons. The world is beautiful and cruel.
UPDATE: I came in first in my category, but lost to a banoffee pie. And even though the grand prize (and the only prize) was a trip for 2 to New York, I truly was happy just to be in the winner's circle. Or by that time the xanex had kicked in.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The New Addition

Between my dog food production, my bulk meat purchases, the produce that I freeze in the summer, the frozen domestic squid I like to keep on hand for spontaneous calamari, the organic chicken I buy only on clearance, and the random hot dog buns that get left behind after a cookout that I can't bear to throw away, I had to upgrade to a bigger chest freezer. The one pictured above is my new model--8.8 cu ft and ready to party. Landing on this one was not an easy decision. Do I get a second 5 cu ft to match the one I already have? Go with a really ample 12 or 13 cu ft model, which could hold a few extra months of dog food or an additional elk? In the end, I made the conservative decision: upgrade to a model nearly twice the size of my original, and sell the old one.

I declined the $60 delivery charge and asked 2 muscular male friends, one with a van, to help me with the freezer transport. As with most things, I used food an an incentive and promised them a hearty breakfast if they would show up at my house on Saturday morning, head over to the Sears Warehouse, pick up and install the freezer. I got up early this morning and made this for breakfast:
Clockwise: Greens with ham hock, buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy. Not pictured: slow-cooked scrambled eggs.

As it turned out, David's van wouldn't start. Suddenly, my day was in peril, since I had to pick up a half lamb and 85 pounds of ground beef by noon, and no vehicle with which to pick up the freezer. At the moment when everything was falling apart, my friend Matt came by with his dog and kid. We looked up the measurements of the freezer and realized it would in fact easily fit in my Volvo wagon. Duh. The rest of the story is boring: I picked up the freezer, Matt helped me get it in my garage, I fed him the biscuits and gravy. In retrospect, I think I could have pulled off the entire thing by myself, it's just nicer when you can ask someone for a favor and repay them with something you make. Incidentally, this meal used up the last of my 2009 sausage, a ham hock from 2008, and a half-cup of homemade lard went into the biscuits. A pork trifecta.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dog Day Afternoon

It really shouldn't surprise you to know that I make my own dog food. I am equal parts proud and embarrassed of this, because it feels like something that someone who is unhealthfully attached to their pet might do. But the truth is, I am somewhat unhealthfully attached to my pet. Rather than spoiling him, I feel like I am simply giving him every opportunity to be immortal. It's selfish, really.
For about 6 years, he's been on a variation of the BARF diet, which essentially simulates what dogs would be eating without us humans around to dress them in funny outfits and teach them how to use toilets. As a result, his coat is soft and shiny, his teeth are clean, and, not to go into too much detail, but he's not the dog laying giant smelly turds all over your sidewalks. He's also a versatile eater and will let you feed him apple slices, but above everything he just wants to find and devour fresh cat shit. It's time consuming and expensive, but I do it because I love my dog more than you love yours.

This Sunday was a dog food making day. About 45 meals and 60 pounds worth of dog food making. Which meant that on Wednesday I had to call New Seasons and order a 40 lb case of chicken necks. On Friday I picked up the rest of my meat from Meat, the raw food pet store on E. Burnside. Sunday morning I went to Food 4 Less for the rest of the ingredients, and by 2pm I was not at all figuratively up to my elbows in raw variety meats. This is always torture for old Vic, who always gets to lick the bowl, but until that moment, drools underfoot with pained expression. Stupid dog.

Here's my recipe and method for 45 days of dog food:

4lb "green tripe" (I think this is uncured tripe--it's good for their digestion)
4lb "cow pie" (this is a combination of ground beef, heart, and liver)
5lb assorted chicken livers, hearts, gizzards, etc
12 lb ground duck
4 doz eggs
5 lb potatoes, baked, mashed
1 #10 can pumpkin (about 6 lb)
2lb frozen peas, thawed and processed
2lb frozen carrots, thawed and processed
2lb frozen green beans, thawed and processed
25 lbs of chicken necks

Put on some rubber gloves. I like to listen to Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet or Some Girls while I'm working. Mix all the ingredients but the chicken necks in a big bus tub. You're basically creating a loose, gross meatloaf-like concoction. Try not to smell, inspect, or think about it too much. Breathe through your mouth. Don't make on an empty stomach or a full stomach. Don't eat or drink anything while you're working.

Leave the mix for a moment, and set out as many plastic containers as you can fit on your counter. Place 4-5 chicken necks in each container, this is roughly 1/2 a pound. Using a scoop or your hands, follow up with your meat mix, getting about 12 oz or so in there. You want to end up with your meals weighing in between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 lbs. That's for an active, 50 lb dog. Less or more depending on your own pet.

Place lids on the containers and store in the freezer. This is where having a chest freezer comes in handy. Well, that and the 300 lbs of meat you should be buying every year for personal consumption. Every night before you go to bed, pull out a container. It will be thawed out by morning. It's a good idea to keep some high-quality kibble on hand in case you forget to pull a meal before you go to bed. Which happens more than it should for someone who is trying to make their dog immortal.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shepherd's Delight

Somewhere in the world, lamb neck is probably a prized cut of meat. That doesn't appear to be so for the part of the world I inhabit. You can find the occasional lamb neck recipe in a British or Canadian cookbook, more still for Persian or Middle Eastern cuisine, and probably a smattering throughout the Mediterranean regions. But there are no preparations listed in the Joy of Cooking or Bittman's How to Cook Everything, so when I set out to prepare my lamb neck, the last of 2009's lamb, I had to wing it. I went with the dish that always seems to taste best when prepared out of necessity: Shepherd's Pie.

The lamb neck recipes I did find call for it in slices. Not feeling curious or ambitious enough to hack away at this particular part of the anatomy, I decided to braise the neck the same way I do shanks: first browning in hot oil in a cast iron vessel, then cooking slowly in an oven with mirepoix, wine, stock and herbs.

My buddy David Neevel has been showering me with the best Chanterelles that Oregon has seen in years, and so I wanted them to be as much of a component of the dish as the lamb. So instead of a chicken or beef stock for the braise, I reconstituted some dried porcinis. The lamb braised for about 2 hours at 300, and then it was late so I turned it down to 200 and went to bed. Somewhere in the night I shut the oven off, and then after work the next day, I processed the cooking solids and liquid through a food mill and then set about reducing it by about half.
Meanwhile, I pulled the fat and gristle (and spine!) from the neck and chopped the meat into chunks. Then, I sauteed my chanterelles at a pretty high heat, added salt to seep out the liquid, then reconstituted the saute with lamb and white wine. At the last minute I decided to add some large chunks of carrots to give the dish a little sweetness and texture. When the cooking liquid, now gravy, had reduced, I lazily thickened it with a little cornstarch slurry (I'm not eating wheat right now! Fodder for another post!) and incorporated it into my mushrooms. Let this cook long enough to take the crunch out of the carrots, and poured it into the bottom of my casserole.
Meanwhile, I had boiled up a couple of russets along with a big, knobby parsnip. Passed this all through a ricer and incorporated an unhealthy amount of butter, and spread it over the top. She baked at 375 for about 30 minutes and came out better than I even imagined. I feel like lamb always has to get the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Provençal treatment, and it was nice to give it the Autumn in Oregon treatment, worthy of my friend David, the Fungi Shepherd (he got the leftovers at lunch today).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


My best friend got married over the weekend. I played the Maid of Honor, which in this case meant helping with a few extra errands, giving a toast, and having permission to spend too much money on shoes. And organizing a bachelorette party. While the men roasted a pig on a spit and shot-gunned beers for 10 hours, about 17 of us had a really nice family-style dinner at clarklewis and, for dessert, indulged in an edible, nude effigy of Heather's fiancé Michael:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pretty Excited About This Right Now

Home-cured guanciale, one of the jowls from last year's pig. Bathed in a salt-sugar cure for a little over a week, needs to hang in the fridge for 3-5 weeks. I am hoping to move it to the garage as soon as the temperature stays in the low 50's. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Meat Hoarding

This time of year, I feel just like Indiana Jones in that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where he's running for his life behind a giant boulder, trying to escape the sacred temple from which no one has ever left alive. In my case, the boulder represents the 2011 half-pig and half-lamb slated to arrive any day now, in the wake of an already well stocked larder. It's the odds and ends like ham hocks and lamb necks, and even the really choice cuts like spare ribs I'm now desperate to cook, share, and consume as the inevitable day approaches that Laura Ohm calls to tell me our 2011 supply of meat is ready for pickup.

Hi, my name is Robin and I am a meat hoarder. I believe in conscious consumption of meat, and supporting sustainable farming, and value, so I purchase my animals in bulk. Aside from chicken, I rarely by meat at the grocery store, and I love the indulgence of walking into my garage, reaching into my deep freezer and playing Russian Roulette with a dinner party menu. But in committing to buying a half lamb, half pig and 1/8 of a cow every year, I'm biting off more than I can chew, literally speaking (as well as figuratively). Yet, I can't stop. The thought of not having an endless supply of ground beef for impromptu sloppy joes, or pork chops to marinate in kim chi and sear in a cast iron skillet gives me anxiety. But, in an ironic twist, so does the reality of having to buy a supplemental freezer this year because I have too many quarts of frozen lard from 2009 to make room for the new supply.

Yesterday, I pulled out a pig jowl and started the 5-8 week long process that will result in guanciale, Today, I decided to conquer the pork belly, or at least start a management plan for it. Last year, I opted out of having my belly turned into bacon at the butcher's in lieu of taking a whole, uncured slab--my naked canvas, if you will. Well for all of my excitement to make my own bacon, Chinese red-cooked pork and rillettes, a 7lb pork belly stayed in my freezer for 11.5 months. So a cold, rainy Sunday gave me the excuse I needed to consult some cookbooks for ideas.
Then, I made a list of the pork belly recipes I was interested in and the corresponding weight of pork belly I would need.

I disrobed the belly. Leaner than I was expecting. There goes the homemade salt pork.

And then, I took out the old Foodsaver, weighed and labeled my pieces, and voila, several manageably-sized slabs of belly, ready for braising or curing or larding.

And then they went back in the freezer, because I'm still working on a defrosted hock and a pound of sausage in the fridge. But now, I have it all at the ready, as soon as I want them, whenever that may be. It's progress.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Frittatas Are The New Sandwich

Thank god for a frittata. Until recently, my frittatas were whimsical and almost always centered around a breakfast milieu. Then, I became the organizer of the Egg Club at work. Every Tuesday, Mark from Farms comes and delivers eggs to about 20-odd customers. My reward for receiving, paying out and distributing the eggs is a free dozen each week. Some weeks, the eggs are gone fast; a baking project or a deviled egg plate will make quick work out of 12 eggs. But generally I have a surplus of organic, pasture-raised chicken eggs on hand and frittatas have become a way of life.

In the early summer when I was on the East Coast, I shared an incredible sandwich with my friend Kelly at Saltie in Williamsburg that basically changed my position on potatoes (previously: indifferent). It was a thick piece of oily focaccia, halved crosswise, sandwiching a Spanish tortilla, slathered in a romesco/aioli concoction. Eggs+potatoes+bread+condiment=a lunch to remember. As my understanding goes, fritattas and tortillas cousins from Italy and Spain, respectively. Both are deep-dish omelets, though fritattas are deeper and may contain a kitchen-sink list of ingredients including meats and leftover pasta. Tortillas, I believe, are strictly potatoes and onions. I have yet to make a tortilla because, frankly, I think there's too much technique involved for my patience at the moment, and I usually have too many ingredients on hand to allow me the luxury of focusing only on potatoes. Frittatas, or at least the ones I make, are versatile and forgiving. The filling-to-egg ratio is never the same twice, the stovetop-to-oven times will vary, but I always end up with a dish that can cover breakfast and/or lunch and/or dinner and/or standing in front of the fridge looking for something to eat.

I cannot tell you how to make a frittata, I can only tell you how I make mine. I start with a 6" seasoned cast iron pan. It can feed one to four people, depending on how many eggs you're using and what else you're serving (a lettuce salad is always a good idea). I pour a good measure of olive oil in the pan and give it medium heat. Soften some onions or leeks (1/4-1/3 cup) and slowly add the rest of your ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go: sliced or diced cooked potatoes, sweet bell peppers, cooked greens, steamed broccoli, pancetta, smoked trout, etc... I've never measured the volume, I just use common sense. It hasn't failed me yet. It's not a good idea to rush any part of this. Keep the heat low and let the filling ingredients cook slowly. Whisk your eggs in a bowl (3-5 eggs, depending on how much filling) and instead of adding milk as you would with scrambled eggs, add a tablespoon or so of water. I don't know why I started doing this but I believe it adds a little volume. Add a pinch of salt and if you're using cheese, incorporate it and/or fresh herbs into the eggs. Pour into your pan and take this one opportunity to quickly and gently incorporate the eggs with the filling. Not too much though. Then, turn the heat to low and let it cook. This is when I turn on the oven to 350 and clean up the kitchen, or take a shower, or (sigh) check facebook. If you keep the heat low, this frittata can stay on the stove for up to 20 minutes. What I love most about frittatas is how much time they buy me to do other things while they cook. Occasionally tilt the pan and release the edges of the omelet with a dull knife, letting the uncooked eggs occupy the vacancy on the sides. When there is still some uncooked egg in the center but it's too viscous to move, place it in the oven: center rack. Then, turn the oven off. Then, turn on the broiler. The radiant heat of the oven will continue to cook the frittata from its peripheries, and the broiler will, well, broil. Don't burn it, just let it finish cooking and give it some burnish if you wish. The frittata is done, but I prefer to let it cool significantly. I don't think there's any better way to eat one than at room temperature, with a salad or in this case, an heirloom tomato and basil salsa. The pic below pretty much sums up the all too short summer and getting up with the early light just so that I have more time to do nothing in particular.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor Day Visit

Labor Day weekend I was visited by my mom Betsy and her husband David on the tail end of their RV trip cross country. They left Florida back in July, drove across the states and into Canada, over to Alaska, back to Canada and then down through the Pacific Northwest. I have to say that they make the prospect of retirement look somewhat appealing, provided you can share every waking moment with someone in a confined space with zeal, which naturally, I could not. I am instead looking forward to sharing my twilight years in a barn with all the cats and dogs the County will let me legally possess--provided the barn is up to code.

On Monday evening I prepared a somewhat eclectic mixed grill featuring lamb ribs and grilled pouisson. I decided to do a rub on the ribs and because I never remember to write anything down, I just took a photo:
Clockwise from top: nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, tumeric, coriander, chiles and a couple of clove right in the center. I toasted everything just till the coriander started to pop (no idea, really, if this is blasphemous in the world of curries and rubs) and ground down with a good measure of salt, then rubbed them on my lamb ribs and let it all sit for the better part of a day. Later, I put the ribs in a shallow baking pan with about 1/2 cup of water and cooked them, covered tightly, in a 325 oven for 1 1/2 hours. Which was how long I needed to figure out what to do for a glaze. Had there been some pomegranate molasses in the pantry I'm sure I would have tried something, but instead I made a simple sauce of honey, yogurt, lemon juice and, at the last minute, preserved lemons.

I tossed the cooked ribs in this and then finished them on the grill, which, incidentally, was being occupied by my spatchcocked pouissons. The birds had been seasoned with salt in the morning and spent about an hour marinating in black pepper, garam masala, yogurt and some other stuff (this, I did not capture on camera). I also smoked a small eggplant that became a puree with walnuts, cilantro and yogurt (yes, I bought a huge thing of yogurt at the store earlier that day, ok?). I don't remember eating it, but was told that it was good by my mother, who I can recall licking the bowl while making inappropriate noises.
We also had a bi-colored (purple and red) potato and yellow bean salad dressed in a mustard vinaigrette and a simple cucumber and dill salad (cucumber, dill, white vinegar, sugar, salt, yum). Betsy ate everyone's bones, as is customary. We all had a bit too much to drink and the night ended with mom dancing to Pet Sounds and lamenting that she was born to dance, although she had been too much of a nerd to ever listen to Elvis, or the Beach Boys or the Beatles. But now that she's hearing songs like "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" in fitness class, for the first time, perhaps there is some hope.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

happy birthday to me

Birthdays are usually an easy set up for disappointment. Every year after you turn 21 is a battle between not wanting to make a fuss and basking in the illusion that special birthday magic belongs to you. I have, more than once, intentionally eschewed plans because I was convinced someone was going to throw me a surprise party. This year, 38, was on its way to fitting perfectly in synch with the past when the opportunity to combat apathy came in the form of a crab feed.

A week ago, I got a call from Sunni Liston, who runs the Dogpatch Resort and whose husband, Rick, spends weekends trapping crabs and catching halibut. It has been another banner year for Dungeness off the Oregon Coast, and Rick and the boys have been catching more crabs than they know what to do with. Sunni wanted to know, if Rick were to bring in say 60 crabs over the weekend, would I like to have a party on the roof at work on Monday the 30th? Well yes, of course, but no, because it's one thing to throw a party at work with a giant surplus of crabs, but another thing to throw such a party at work on your birthday. At least it is to me, who vacillates between seeking and avoiding attention on a minute to minute basis. And I see my non-work friends too little as it is. So to hell with the W+K roof: I told Sunni to bring the crabs to my house on Monday, invited 50 or so of my closest friends and co-workers, and announced we would raise money for Sunni's Angel Fund: veterinary care for the animals of the homeless.

At first, it was just going to be crab and wet-naps. Then I remembered that I still had quite a bit of ham in my meat freezer, so it was simply a pork-and-shellfish menu: right up my alley. At the last minute I decided to round the meal with corn on the cob and coleslaw (Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc recipe: flawless). People brought beverages and desserts. We ate, we drank, we raised over $300 and we were all asleep by 11pm. Could not have planned a better way to spend my birthday, even if it meant making plans.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

they just don't make them like they used to

I bought a new refrigerator this week. Despite years of living with a noisy, dirty fridge that froze 40% of my vegetables and beverages, I'm not 100% joyful about the purchase. Sure, I can hear myself think now. And it's nice, while it lasts, not to find any pet hair on my mustard jars. Since one of my "deli" drawers was broken on the old one, I have a lot more space for actual storage and I can even chill wine in the door, vertically. But let's face it, modern appliances are pieces of shit. Remember your first one bedroom apartment you moved into, after graduating from having roommates? the Mission Style post-war one, with the cute built-ins and the deep porcelain kitchen sink? That little 12 cubic foot one, though no, the freezer did not work, was built to last. The interior had stainless steel, and glass, and heavy duty polymer shit. My brand new 2010 Amana is full of crappy plastic drawers and shelves that I fear will break if I even look at them with suspicion. Can't they at least line the track of the drawers in some reinforcing stainless? I guess that's what the $4000 jump between "standard" and "luxury" appliances buys you. I give this fridge less than a year before something breaks, which is why I bought a warranty (which, inevitably, will not cover what inevitably breaks).

But back to the bright side, it's quiet. And I finally have that coveted bottom freezer I've been dreaming about so long. I wonder how long it will take for me to hate that too...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

La Musette has come and gone. We fed about 120 people in 3 nights, 720 plates in all. Yet I still managed to end up with 8 quarts of leftover pickled beets. As a reward, I bought myself a new camera: a Canon S90--as far as I can tell, THE point and shoot for food photography. I have yet to read the user's manual, but here's what I'm doing with my tuesday night:
The recipe is pretty basic: equal parts white wine vinegar and water, salt and sugar. And some onions. To the jars I added some bay leaf, peppercorns and coriander and caraway seeds. Guess I've taken care of my Christmas list.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Buyer's Remorse

This will teach me to look twice when purchasing cheese on sale at QFC. Next post: what NOT to do with Fat Free Feta Cheese.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

La Musette

Oh boy. I've done it again. I've let days become weeks become almost months. My commitment to not over-committing myself in the wake of Half & Half's closure has resulted in a moratorium on writing and a very basic diet of fritattas and pasta dishes inspired by the markdown aisle of my refrigerator, which is to say, not very inspired. Portland's shitty weather combined with an impulsive order for 3 cubic yards of compost has had me toiling in the garden when it's not raining, and not doing much of anything when it is.

But all that is about to change. For one, the weather has finally turned a corner and it looks to be fairly safe to grill for the next few months. Also, my CSA from Gathering Together Farms has started back up again that means every week is like a game show where the challenge is to get through to the bottom of the vegetable bin without a wilted cucumber. Thirdly, I am partnering up with Laura Ohm and John Grochau for the third annual La Musette.

Laura and her husband Fred launched La Musette in their backyard 3 years ago. The premise was thus: serve a 6 course French dinner, with wine pairings, whilst watching highlights of Le Tour de France. The evening's menu would be based on what particular stage of the race was happening at the moment. La Musette ran 3 weeks in a row and one could choose a dinner based on convenience or province. This year, Laura asked me to cook with her and we quickly decided to do a 3 night blowout rather than a 3 week marathon. Also, rather than choosing a regional menu we decided to let Le Tour itself be our menu: starting in the Netherlands and ending in Paris. I'm excited. I'm also nervous. It's been so long since I've cooked for 50, and I've never pulled anything like this together before. But it's been too long since I've done anything out of my comfort zone so let's go.

Pre-dinner: Amuses-bouches

First, Rotterdam to Brussels (Stage 1): Mussels in ale with mayonnaise and grilled baguette.

Second, The French Alps (Stages 7-10): Shepherds' Board--chicken liver pâté, deviled eggs with smoked trout and lovage, pickled beets, carrot salad, mushroom pâté, Peasant levain and butter.

Third, Drôme, the mountains above Provence (Stages 11-12): Grilled ratatouille with niçoise olives, anchovies and sauce vert.

Fourth, Haut-Garonne/Pyrennnes (Stages 15-17): Summer Cassoulet--grilled pouissin, braised and grilled pork belly, salad of wilted greens and flageolet beans and piquillo pepper stuffed with potato-olive oil puree.

Fifth, Bordeaux (Stages 18-19): Roquefort, candied walnuts, stone fruit

Sixth, Paris (Stage 20): Croquembouche

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bird Under a Brick

Serves 1-2

3-4 days in advance: when someone gifts you a heritage breed petite chicken, accept with gratitude. Even though you have no idea when you're going to cook it, with how busy you are these days, you will find a way. Decide that instead of your usual sunday supper of popcorn and parmesan cheese, you will grill this bird. The forecast bodes well.

12 hours to one day in advance: pull the 2 1/2 lb bird out of the bag. Whack off the neck, which is still attached. Call the dog, who is napping, in for a treat. Admire the way he politely accepts the neck and takes it into the yard to enjoy. Liberally salt the bird and return it to the fridge.

1 hour ahead: Take the bird from the fridge and spatchcock it. That is, remove the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears (which you don't own) or a large chef's knife. The easiest way is to hold the bird upright and slice down along one side of the backbone, and then repeat with the other side. Remove the backbone and hand it over to the dog who is sitting attentively, drooling. Be self-satisfied that you feed your dog heritage breed chicken parts because he is worth it and will live forever as a result.

Mince 2 fat cloves of garlic with a length of fresh rosemary and rub it over the bird. Liberally anoint with olive oil and black pepper and let the bird marinate while you start the grill.

Start the grill: Fill your chimney up with hardwood charcoal and get a fire going. Let the coals heat for about 30 minutes in the chimney before you pour them into the kettle. Replace the grill grate and lay a brick, which you purchased at Home Depot to raise your fireplace grate and then stole from the fireplace, on the grill to warm up. Also, throw those last 2 potatoes that have just been hanging around on the grill; when else are you going to eat them? After a few minutes there, get your chicken out. Place the butterflied bird, skin side down, on the hottest part of the grill and lay your brick right on top of the chicken. Cover the grill and set your timer for 12 minutes.

At about minute 4, after you've prepared some asparagus (tossed some spears in the garlic/rosemary/olive oil pan that the chicken was sitting in), check in on the dog, who is probably being cute somewhere in the house. Notice he's not in his usual resting spots of your bed or the guest bed, and that the house has been very quiet for the last half hour. See the cat, sleeping on the couch. Check. But the dog is definitely not in the house or the yard, and that should be starting to cause some significant concern.

At this point, you are at minute 6 or 7 and you should probably put some real shoes on instead of the flip-flops you're wearing from the pedicure you got an hour ago. Also, you probably don't know what to do about the chicken at this point. There's nothing you can do, you have to go find the dog. Go across the street to the school yard and call him for awhile. See some teenage boys playing basketball and ask them if they've seen him; they will have not. Go over to your neighbor's, who is having a bbq with friends, and ask him. He has already brought the dog back once today, which is unusual because the dog never escapes from the yard, ever, and now he's done it twice in one day. Panic a little bit. This is your dog, your boy. He's the only good thing in your life. Who can you call? Should you call the ex, who was once his master? No don't. Who can help you? Go back home in case the dog has suddenly returned. Notice that the gate to the fence looks secure, but isn't. At this point 12 minutes have passed. Remove the lid from the grill. Remove the brick from the bird. Quickly flip the bird and move away from the direct heat. Grab your cell phone and get in your car. Realize that the heritage breed bird is ruined and that will either make a good story if all of this has a happy ending, or you will never grill anything or eat chicken again if it doesn't. Curse yourself for not having air in your tires because a bike would be the best way to look for the dog. Call a neighbor, call your close friend, hell, call the ex: he can't help you but you might as well distribute the panic. Roll around the neighborhood for a while, think about the fact that you live 5 blocks from a busy 4 lane thoroughfare and remember the last moment you shared with the dog. Think about how handsome and healthy he is and how anyone with the chance to steal him probably would. You, if you saw an amazing looking dog like Victor wandering the streets with no tags (because they came off), would probably just want him for yourself, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you?

The chicken, at this point, is a lost cause. Right before you head back home because it really does seem pointless to be in a car, remember Mt. Tabor. The dog park. Head to the dog park which is about 8 blocks away. Go into the park and ask a couple of people, but when nobody has seen him, remember that his favorite part is the meadow that is not off leash. Go there. See some teenagers on a swingset and ask them if they've seen a dog. When one of them raises their hand and points over yonder, at that moment, slip on the very steep slope you are trying to walk down and fall on your ass, hard. Be humiliated, and then see about 100 yards away, a 50 lb bird dog, the perfect specimen of wellness, the dog you took hiking earlier that morning, the dog you make homemade fucking food for, playing fetch with a couple of 10 year old boys. The dog will ignore you. After you hear that he followed them from your house to the park, thank them for taking such good care of him while you really want to ask them why didn't they look for his owner. Trudge back to your car holding the dog's collar tightly but not abusively. But firmly nonetheless.

It's now been a good 30 minutes since the chicken went on the grill, maybe more, since you've lost all track of time. Maybe less. In any event, you have no appetite. Think about the obedience training you're going to need to get as you remove the chicken from the grill and put the asparagus over the last remaining hot coals. Rip a piece of the charred wing off the bird before you remember to take a photo. Cook the asparagus until just tender. The potatoes will have ended up absolutely perfect. Smash them with the back of a fork and give them some butter. Cut the spatchcocked chicken in half, lengthwise, and sit down to eat though you are unable to enjoy anything because you're still angry. Notice that the chicken, though yes very dark in places, is actually not dried out. The legs and thighs are still moist. Huh. In any event, eat only the vegetables and leave most of the chicken.

An hour later, your dog should be passed out cold. Go back to the room temperature chicken, which has now become one of the best things you've ever cooked on the grill. Imagine if you turned it over at 12 minutes. You would have ruined it. Occasionally, the dog will stretch, moan, and moisten his mouth, which makes your heart melt. Know that if you go over to him to snuggle, he will growl and nash his teeth; he does not like to be disturbed after 8pm.