Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Paella: A Taste of Spain!

Paella. Just the sound of it gets me salivating! Great paella is a symphony of flavors layered one on top of the other, the chorizo and shrimp and chicken leading the way, with supporting players saffron, Valencia rice, red peppers, onions, and garlic joining in to crescendo on your palate. Okay, had enough of bad symphony metaphors? How about if I just tell you that I've been looking for an excellent, easy-to-make paella to have at home for years. Thanks to a recent article on Leite's Culinaria, one of my favorite food sites, another culinary goal has been achieved. This recipe is remarkably easy, quick, and I think delivers one of the best paellas I've had. Plus I got to pull out the Cadillac of cookware, the Le Creuset! w and I had it last night night with its perfect wine foil, a chilled bottle of rosé. Yum! We were both supremely pleased, and best of all: Leftovers!!
*** *** ***
by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
from Cooking at Home with America’s Test Kitchen 2006
via Leite's Culinaria
Serves 6

This recipe is for making paella in a Dutch oven (the Dutch oven should be 11 to 12
inches in diameter with at least a 6-quart capacity). With minor modifications, it can
also be made in a paella pan. Cured Spanish chorizo is the sausage of choice for
paella, but fresh chorizo or linguiça is an acceptable substitute.

Soccarat, a layer of crusty browned rice that forms on the bottom of the pan, is a
traditional part of paella. In our version, soccarat does not develop because most of
the cooking is done in the oven. We have provided instructions to develop soccarat in
step 5; if you prefer, skip this step and go directly from step 4 to step 6.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
Salt and ground black pepper
Olive oil
8 or 9 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each thigh trimmed of excess fat and
halved crosswise
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut pole to pole into 1/2-inch-wide strips
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
2 cups Valencia or Arborio rice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
1 dried bay leaf
1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position; heat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
Toss the shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1
teaspoon of the garlic in a medium bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until
needed. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper; set aside.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until
shimmering but not smoking. Add the pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally,
until the skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the
pepper to a small plate and set aside.

3. Add 1 teaspoon oil to the now-empty Dutch oven; heat the oil until shimmering
but not smoking. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer; cook, without moving the
pieces, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces and brown on the second
side, about 3 minutes longer; transfer the chicken to a medium bowl. Reduce the
heat to medium and add the chorizo to the pot; cook, stirring frequently, until deeply
browned and the fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to the
bowl with the chicken and set aside.

4. Add enough oil to the fat in the Dutch oven to equal 2 tablespoons; heat over
medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the onion and cook, stirring
frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes; stir in the remaining garlic and cook
until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes; cook until the mixture begins to
darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the
grains are well coated with the tomato mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken
broth, wine, saffron, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return the chicken and chorizo
to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, uncovered, stirring
occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven; cook until the rice absorbs
almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes.

5. Remove the pot from the oven (close the oven door to retain heat). Uncover the
pot; scatter the shrimp over the rice, insert the mussels hinged-side down into the
rice (so they stand upright), arrange the bell pepper strips in a pinwheel pattern, and
scatter the peas over the top. Cover and return to the oven; cook until the shrimp
are opaque and the mussels have opened, 10 to 12 minutes.

6. Optional: If soccarat (see headnote) is desired, set the Dutch oven, uncovered,
over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot 180 degrees after
about 2 minutes for even browning.

7. Let the paella stand, covered, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not
opened and the bay leaf, if it can be easily removed. Sprinkle with the parsley and
serve, passing the lemon wedges separately.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hanging in the Park!

It happened again. The boys got together for a night 0out last night and we had another phenomenal meal at Park Kitchen (422 NW 8th, 503.223.7275). There were six of us sitting to sup, which is the perfect amount to go through their chef's tasting menu. In taking that option, and if you go there with four or more you're crazy not to, we were guaranteed to taste almost everything on chef Scott Dolich's delicious November menu. It turned into a four course feast, washed down with a wee bit of grape based beverage.
We met at Gilt Club (306 NW Broadway) for a quick pre-dinner libation. This is a really nice spot for a drink, casually comfortable, and I have heard the food there is pretty well done, too. Might have to make that dinner stop soon. We then wandered a block and a half to PK, and settled in for a night of seriously serious food. Scott's menu, as always, is an exploration of everything fresh and seasonal, and in the 20 some dishes we sampled, there wasn't a weak note. The first course featured five different small plates, including stellar buckwheat crepes with duck confit and curried persimmon. And the salt cod fritters were fabulous...crisp balls of delicately fried fish and potato pureed together. He also sent out an amazing black eyed pea soup with foie gras! As Scott said afterward when we were chatting, "I love the foie". We couldn't agree more! And his flank steak with blue cheese, parsley, and sherries onions is not to be missed.
Then came the entrees, including fabulous venison dish, black cod with salsa verde, lamb, and more. After working our way through six different desserts, all of which were remarkable inventive and perfectly done, it was time to escape...to the bar for a quick after dinner sip. As I said we sat with Scott for a few minutes, and he said he loves doing the tasting menu. It allows the kitchen some creative space, and guarantees your meal will be well paced and varied. I've been through this twice now at PK, and it is again perhaps the best food, along with Castagna, going here in PDX. I was telling the guys that being just back from a San Francisco eating weekend, this was as good or better than anything you'll get down there. Major props to Scott and the kitchen crew for once again rocking our palates!!
here's some photographic proof of the food carnage (click on any picture to enlarge). Moving c from top to bottom: the menu, most of which found it's way into our willing stomachs; two of the desserts, including on the bottom a fantastically original carrot quince strudel with pumpkin semifreddo; the venison and lamb entrees...awesome with a super rich 2004 Juan Gil Monastrell; the silky smooth salsa verde sauce surrounding the black cod.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A voice in the wilderness?

In this day when it seems like everyone in the media is afraid to raise their voice and ask the tough questions, or make the tough calls for fear of alienating the "public" (read advertisers/ratings), bravo to Keith Olbermann of msnbc.com. Olbermann, as opposed to the shrieking heads of FoxTV News, actually has reasoned arguments to present. His latest commentary, which you can listen to online (click on his name to listen), needs to be heard and thought about. And if you don't come away outraged, listen again!
The Great Escape....Part 1!

On our quick 3 day getaway to the SF/Oaktown area, there was lots on my mind. Lots of food. Lots of drink. You know, the usual. So upon arriving at w's sis Jane's pad for a quick drop of stuff, we immediately headed out to "the best dim sum you'll ever have" according to the Chan sisters. Always eager to have the best of anything and famished from an early a.m. exit from PDX I walked through the door of East Ocean Seafood Restaurant (1713 Webster Street) in Alameda in a state of high anticipation. Let's see, what is the best way to say this...."incredible" comes to mind..."mind-blowing" wouldn't be bad..."fucking awesome" certainly. This place rocked, and there is nothing in Portland that can touch it. We stuffed ourselves, dish after dish arriving at the table, each one seemingly better than the last, finally finishing the meal with these incredible baked egg custard buns, crispy on top with sweet pastry dough surrounding this decadently delicious coconut tinged egg custard...god, thinking about it now makes me want to beeline back. And all that for the insanely low price of $35...for all of us! If you're down in SF, you HAVE to make the trip across the Bay Bridge and get some of this goodness!!

Part 2....Chasing a legend!

Ya know how sometimes you just have to go someplace you've always heard about? Last night was one of those gastronomic pilgrimages. Two words: Alice Waters. Two more: Chez Panisse. Okay, two more since we couldn't get reservations at Panisse: Café Fanny. Which isn't a bad way to settle, especially since lots of my PDX food pals have said they actually prefer the more casual ambience of the upstairs CF over the more formal prix fixe style CP. So anyway, w and I made the trip there on our Bay area sojourn, along with her sis Jane and her friend Peter. We had a couple of cocktails along the way, just to get in the right frame of mind. We enter the hallowed portal of CP and walk upstairs to Fanny, passing loads of people waiting for their downstairs tables at Panisse. We were seated right on time amid the bustle. Had some great apps, a bottle of Kerner, which is a super crisp northern Italian white. It went perfectly with our trio of apps, the highlight of which was the local Cannard Farm figs with jamon serrano. I had brought along a bottle of 2002 St. Innocent "Willamette Valley" Pinot Noir, which was opened and ready for our entrees arrival. And you know, they were really good. All the food here was really good. But when I come to a place like this, I have to admit to wanting more than really good. I don't know if it shows that maybe they need to ramp up the creative level here, or if we just eat so well in Portland now that it takes more to impress. Probably a little of both. But when we're shelling out pretty serious dough for a meal, all of us were hoping for more. Here's some pics from the night (again, click on any picture to enlarge)...
The dining room at Fanny.

The café menu.

Part 3....Sublime pleasure!

This is the deal on a super sunny, warm SF day....pre-noon fresh oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry Building overlooking SF Bay. I love the Ferry Building and the mecca of food it has become. The views across the water are fabulous, the Hog Island oysters fresh and briny.
w and I tucked in to the Hog Island dozen.....six each of their Sweetwaters and Atlantics, plus an added half dozen creamy, sweet Kumamotos that were amazing. Add a couple of glasses of vin blanc and we were set!

Yum! Fresh tomatoes, plums, & pears at the Ferry Building markets.

Part 4....Bring it on!

One of the most highly regarded restaurants in the SF dining scene is Delfina (3621 18th Street). For years it has been a regular stop for people in the local food biz, and has satisfied hordes of "discriminating" palates for years. We made this our Saturday stop after a long afternoon of wandering around town, browsing, relaxing and having a wonderful afternoon snack at Frjtz, which I think is a great, slightly gritty little joint in Hayes Valley.
They also have a spot near Ghirardelli square, but this tight, cramped spot is right up my alley. Sitting out back on their patio with some great fries and amazing dipping sauces, a delicious salad, and a cold Chimay was the perfect afternoon refresher!

Okay, so then on to Delfina, where we once again hooked up with Jane and Peter. To cut to the chase, we had an exceptionally good meal. Better than Café Fanny. In fact Jane was threatening to weep on several occasions! Our starters of fresh-stretched mozzarella with caponata and tomato crostini and a soul satisfying salt cod mantecato with house made flat bread were heavenly, especially washed down with a crisp chioretto rosé from Italy. Oh yeah, we also had a dish of creamy polenta with fontina that made Peter (and the rest of us) very happy. I have a funny feeling this paragon of Italian comfort food may make its way to his dinner table soon! We shared a wonderful salad and an amazing plate of rosemary tagliatelli with duck giblets and aged balsamico that was a sensual treat...we all LOVED this! Our fabulous waitress, who was fresh, funny, and very attentive popped the cork on a bottle of 1998 Ugo Lequio "Gallina" Barbaresco that I brought along. This was awesome nebbiolo, still fairly young and just starting to reveal its greatness. Man, it was so good! The entrée highlights were a Niman Ranch flatiron steak that w and Jane had, and Peter's Wolfe Ranch quail. My roasted chicken wasn't in the least bit disappointing either. And then we had to have a couple of desserts. What were they? I hate to say I can't remember right now, but they were excellent, especially with a sweetly fizzy glass of moscato d'asti to wash them down. With very full tummies we meandered to the car for the cross bay trip home and a welcome night in bed.
The ethereally good duck tagliatelle!


Part 5....So this is what heaven looks like!

We woke up to a brilliantly sunny, warm morning. So nice when you know it's pouring down rain back in PDX. After a morning walk with coffee and delicious pastry, the ever-present subject of what to eat next was foremost on our minds. After two nights of pretty intense dining, it was time to get our casual grub on, and Jane had the perfect thing on her mind. There's a street in Oakland called International Boulevard, aka the "Comida Corridor" that is crowded with a mind bending number of taco stops. You may or may not know about my taqueria/taco truck addiction. It's there, I admit it, so it's not a problem! And apparently Jane shares this same lust, because she took us on a tour of some killer chow. She led us on this carnitas crawl on a beautiful 75 degree afternoon. We stuffed ourselves, spending at most $1.25 a pop for these awesome taste treats. Below a couple of shots of true bliss!

Clockwise from top left: the Chan sisters awaiting fish taco nirvana at Tacqueria Sinaloa; your intrepid eater digging into and digging the stupidly good carnitas at our favorite stop, El Grullo; the line at Mariscos La Costa.

Nothing to do after this but lounge around Jane's pad with a magical, never-ending shaker of pomegranate cosmos, having a bit of social intercourse until it was time to head to the airport.
Wow....All in all a great trip. beautiful weather, mostly stupendous food and most excellent company. My favorite food pick was East Ocean. I can't wait to get back. w and Jane thought Delfina really hit it, and of course the Monday afternoon taco spree was right in my wheelhouse. Major props to Jane for being a perfect tour guide and host....I can't wait to see what happens next trip!!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Día de los Muertos

A couple of days ago w and I were fortunate enough to snag the last 2 seats at the annual Por Que No "Día de los Muertos" dinner. This is held on November first, and is a celebration that takes place across Mexico (and now in PDX!) to celebrate and remember the lives and deaths of friends and relatives who have passed on. Bryan Steelman, who is the owner of Por Que No at 3524 North Mississippi Avenue, put on an exceptionally delicious and also touching dinner. The food from his right hand man on the stove Josh was awesome. Four courses plus dessert that left us gasping with pleasure. There was an altar where you could bring in photos/artifacts of anyone you wanted to remember. It was a very cool event, and I felt fortunate to be able to partake of the scene. If you haven't been to PQN, then you need to get by SOON, because their food simply rocks! Here's a few pics of the event.....

The altar with a picture of my pop who passed on a couple o0f years ago. i thnk he was digging the party!

A fabulous first course....with more to come!!

An amazing avocado/chanterelle soup...wow!!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Disaster averted!

It all seemed so promising. The table was set, it was a beautiful,, 70 degree shirtsleeve late autumn early evening outside. Our friend Denise just walked in with an incredible platter of appetizers. w's signature cocktails were going down deliciously easily.
Digging the deck and digging in @ w's!

The soup was made, the late season caprese was ready, then.....then.....the main course of eggplant lasagna made it's unfortunate appearance out of the oven. Now I'm not saying everything I make is great. But I have to admit this is the first time I have ever thrown the main into the trash before it even made it to table. I will accept some responsibility here. But when the girl at Pastaworks tells you that their fresh pasta doesn't need to be cooked in water before you use it, maybe take that with a grain of salt and use your best judgment. Had I done that, dinner would have been a little more complete. As it was, the soup course became the main, along with some pasture-raised lamb off the grill that I had marinated ahead of time that originally was going to accompany the...ugggh, lasagna.
But as always, that little disaster was overlooked in the course of other good food, great conversation, and a wee bit of delicious wine. My friend DOR brought an excellent 2001 Bierzo from Dominio de Tares. You heard it here that Bierzo, a tiny appellation in the northwest corner of Spain where the wines are made from the mencia (pronounced men-thia) grape is going to be the next star Euro appellation. We also popped a 2001 Vietti Barbera d'Asti "La Crena", which is simply a stunning, incredible barbera. One of those reds you want to check in on in about 8 years...wow!
The night, which was spiraling, ended up being fabulous. We even had an early season pumpkin pie courtesy of w's baking skill. More good food, good wine, good friends. It just keeps getting better!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Life is good!
Not to be redundant, but how lucky am I? Two dinners out in the last two days, both absolutely spectacular!! Following hot on the heels of Wednesday's stellar meal at Autentica, w and I celebrated her birthday last night with dinner at Le Pigeon (738 E. Burnside, 503-546-8796), a cozy little bistro just off the east end of the Burnside Bridge. The buzz has been hot and heavy about this joint, and based on my experience it is all too true! The food from beginning to end was fresh, new, and exciting. We settled in to a couple of seats at the counter, always my preferred choice. The seats look right at the cooks who are working it hard, and allow some give and take and timely advice from the ones who are going to be kicking out your food, never a bad thing.
We started with three appetizers, in order:
-Trotter cakes with a creamy, intense aioli: shredded pig foot meat in a potato cake that was crisp and delicious.
-Duck Nuggets, which were as good as they sound, with a plum dipping sauce...so sublime.
-And foie gras on a crostini with a peach topping that was everything I could have hoped for. Decadent, rich, perfectly seared foie gras that had me silently blessing that goose and his fatted liver...yum!
Then on to dinner, in w's case a fabulously savory dish of monkfish medallions, in my case an amazingly creative combination of prawns and pork belly on the best, sweetest creamed corn that had me swooning. We reluctantly passed on dessert, but you can bet I'll be back to tackle that portion of the menu.
This place is a great spot, cute, cozy, great vibe, and the food is among the most creative, satisfying, and well prepared in town. One visit and I'm hooked...you will be too!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Authentic? You bet!

I hear a lot of restaurant recommendations from a lot of different people. One place where the buzz in my ear has been loud and clear is Autentica (5507 NE 30th, 503.287.7555), a newish Mexican joint a couple storefronts north of NE Killingsworth Street. All I kept hearing from my foodie friends is that this place is the real deal and the food is crazy good, not your typical cheesy-AmerMex blend of stomach binding ingredients. Well, last night after a terrific wine tasting at my friend Whitney's cute little bungalow in NE, I had the opportunity to check out Autentica on my way home. Um, how to say this? How about "Holy shit this place is rocking!" If you haven't been there yet, get your appetites going and get over there, because based on a somewhat frustratingly limited exploration of the menu (frustrating only in the sense that I can only eat so much by myself!) I am hooked. I mean, everything that owner/sous chef Oswaldo Bibiano was rolling out of the kitchen was absolutely knock out grub, and my tastebuds were loving every last morsel. Okay, to start, I ordered 1/2 dozen oysters that were a deliciously fresh, briny beginning hopped up with a drop of hot sauce. Then came a dish of Queso Oaxaca con Chorizo, which is basically a bubblingly hot melted dish of Mexican cheese with bits of chorizo, served with their silky smooth housemade corn tortillas. Here's a graphic representation of this bowl of goodness.....
Yum, so good and on a cool, damp PDX evening so satisfying. And it comes with a trio of homemade salsas that are to die for. I also had to try, to satisfy my taqueria/taquito fetish, their Tradicional Taco al Pastor which is probably the best $1.50 appetizer in town. Now with the whole Large Plates side of the menu open to me, it was getting tough to make a decision. But since a real mole is kind of the litmus test of true regional Mexican cuisine, I went with the Pollo en Mole Teloapan. A half chicken blanketed in a chocolatey brown Guerrero style mole. Wow!! It's made with eight different dried chiles and nuts. This was by far the best mole I've had in Portland. Complex, rich, silky smooth with a nice spicy kick. Absolutely sensational and the flavors truly explode across your palate. I was sittng at their kitchen bar, and asked Oswaldo how long it took to make. He said he starts on Monday and basically spends an entire day prepping, mixing, slowly simmering this magical concoction. Here it is, before my knife and fork made a mess of it....
The object in the upper right is a beautifully presented serving of rice in a corn husk. They also serve it with another helping of their perfect corn tortillas, which you can stuff with the succulent meat or use as a mop to clean every bit of this saucy deliciousness off your plate. The whole meal was exceptional, and incredibly affordable. I barely scratched the surface of the menu, and can't wait for my next trip!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Give a man a fish......
.....and he can make a decent small bite to eat. Give a man three fish and he can make a pretty mean meal for unexpected friends who drop by.
I had plans to make a quick trout dinner before w and I went to the Mississippi Pizza Pub to see our friend Andrew Field play some music. Never having roasted a whole fish, I planned ahead and picked up one extra of our scaly meal-to-be in case things went off the tracks and I needed a backup up plan. Then came a late call from my friend Amy Ruppel, asking if we were going to see Andrew and if we would want to have a drink before hand with she and her hubby Randall. Not wanting to pass up the chance to hang with two of my favorite people and since I live a mere three blocks from the Pizza venue, it only made sense to have them come by for a quick pre-show drink and snack. Out came plan B in the guise of fish 3, some quick prep on he and his two piscene brothers, in this case a few well placed knife slashes on both sides of the fish, a rub of olive oil and a sprinkling of S&P, some fresh thyme and lemon stuffed inside, 15 minutes in a 475 oven with some thin sliced russet potatoes (also w/olive oil and S&P), a deliciously crisp bottle of 2004 J. Christopher "Zoot Allures" Blanc, and voila.......
......an incredibly satisfying, clean, fresh, and best of all super easy-to-make nibble to send us out onto the street with four very happy tummies!

Friday, September 08, 2006

It was a perfect night out at Edgefield last night as w and I drove east to see someone who came west to entertain us, that person being Matisyahu with his joyous brand of Hassidic Jewish/Reggae/Hip-hop music that had the crowd on their feet throughout the show. Matisyahu comes at us from White Plains, NY, and his music is awesome. The moon was full, the beers were cold, and M's backing band Roots Tonic was rocking...guitarist Aaron Dugan was especially tearing it up! Matisyahu's recent cd's "Youth" and "Live at Stubb's" are both deserving, and maybe mandatory additions to your iTunes collections.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lamby goodness and other delights!

Summer dinner parties...is there anything better? Okay, you'll hear the same thing during fall and winter "braising" season, but for this night, it was as good as it gets. I love the planning and executing, and luckily my partner in culinary crime Wendy does as well. I hadn't done a grilled leg of lamb for over a year, and I have a foolproof recipe in the repertoire from epicurious that is SO good and wows the crowd every time. The rest of the main course was pure farmer's market, with roasted fingerlings from Rossi Farms, and a beautiful Caprese salad W put together with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozz that was the epitome of summer. Not to get ahead of the starters, which besides some cheese we picked up at Pastaworks (still the best cheese shop in town) was highlighted by the craziest appetizers ever from our friend Denise, who brought in FOUR platters of sashimi (tuna/salmon/scallops/squid) that she and K did themselves at home with some killer fish from Uwajimaya out of Beaverton. Wow!!! I forgot to take pics, but trust me when I say the fish was off the hook fresh and clean. Paired with the refreshing delight of G&T's and rosé, this was a most auspicious beginning. Dinner, and several bottles of red wine (including a fab 1995 Peter Michael "les Pavots" Cali red GKT brought...thanks!!), ended with another really awesome homage to farmer's markets and summer in the form of fresh peaches and blueberries bathed in a blueberry balsamic syrup that was incredibly easy and stupidly delicious. Here's some photos of the happy event...yummy memories!!
Hail to the chefs!

Somewhere a three legged lamb is smiling that we are all so happy!

"Eat me!"

Reinforcements on the way!!

W's dog Chopper, dreaming of lamb dinners yet to come!!

Monday, August 07, 2006

What a fantastic night! Craig Carothers at VINO for two sets of his funny, touching, and brilliantly played music. Craig is an ex-Portland singer/songwriter who now resides in Nashville. I saw him here in Ptown a few months ago at a house concert, and broached the idea of a concert at VINO. He was up for it, so last Saturday it finally came together and it was amazing. Thanks to all who attended for your enthusiasm and support, and it makes me anxiously await the nest show September 9th featuring Hood River's Django's Cadillac and their swinging gypsy jazz, fronted by my friend Kat Baker's incredible voice. Hopefully Craig's show was the first of many here at the wine shack!

And if you haven't seen it in the theatre, I recommend you checkout (or put on your "to rent" list) The Devil Wears Prada, a very entertaining flick starring Merle Streep and a cast of .....um, others. No, this movie won't change your life, but it is a very well done piece of Hollywood lightness, and with Streep's deliciously wicked Anna Wintour-like character leading the way, this slice of fashion life is a great escape!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

OK Go - Here It Goes Again

Not that I have too much free time here at the wine shack, but in the course of some "serious" research, I came across this amazingly fun video on youtube. OK Go is a great band who does some crazily choreographed videos. This is a totally fun diversion. I would suggest cranking up the sound on your speakers!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Proving once again that it's not what you know, it's who you know, I am giving my deepest thanks to my good friend Jake and his lovely wife Sarah for whisking Wendy and me and two other couples away from this wretched Portland heat over the weekend and sharing his families mountain cabin on Penland Lake in eastern Oregon. Not that I don't like sweating in my sweltering Portland bed while I'm trying to forget how freaking hot it is, but there is no better way to beat the heat than spending a weekend with friends eating, drinking, hiking, swimming in a mountain lake and just generally lazing about. w and I left after work Saturday afternoon and made the four hour trek, driving through the beautiful Columbia Gorge, past the farm and wheat fields around Heppner, then into the Blue Mountains, delighting in feeling the temperature drop as we wound our way up to the lake with visions of refreshing adult beverages dancing in our heads. Arriving at the cabin, the first order of business was making cool and fizzy Tanqueray and tonics, not only the perfect summer cocktail, but perhaps the ultimate vacation beverage. Jake had already been cooking all day, getting his famous lasagna ready, and the smell of Marcella's Bolognese sauce had permeated throughout the cabin. If you're asking "Who's Marcella?", then do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking....you'll thank me later! Jake and Sarah , having much food credibility, had also been busy making fresh pasta and a wickedly rich béchamel to layer in the lasagna. What a scene to walk into!! Here's Jake busy assembling so that we might eat better:
Not a bad kitchen view, huh? Well, the lasagna was off the hook, incredibly rich and satisfying and washed down by a few bottles of vino rosso, among them the lipsmacking 2003 Zenato Valpolicella Ripassa and the head banging 2005 Owen Roe Abbot's Table....what a way to go!
After a game of Apples to Apples (an amazingly fun group game), it was off to bed full, happy, sleepy and ready for more!

w and I woke up remarkably early the next morning, sneaking out of the house while everyone else was sleeping to embark on an ass-kicker of a hike up Little Bald Mountain. A five mile round trip through some beautiful high forest with an elevation gain from 4300' to 5300', this was just the thing to sweat out the previous night's indulgences. Chopper, w's trooper of an Aussie shepherd, kept the pace, and we were all out of breath by the summit. Here's a shot looking back at Penland Lake way-y-y-y below us (that little speck in the middle of the picture...again click on the pic to enlarge).
After a quick trip back down the mountain, we spent the afternoon swimming, eating, talking, and drinking rosé. Unfortunately w and the other couples who were there had to leave late Sunday afternoon, but with more eating and drinking ahead, Jake, Sarah and I bravely soldiered on. I for one had to get busy because it was my turn for edible payback, and the kitchen was calling. There are few things more satisfying in my personal food world than a roast chicken on the Weber, so that was a must. Along with the perfect fowl, I made up a batch of farmer's market risotto with summer squash, fresh corn cut off the cob, wild mushrooms, and fresh chopped basil...all in all comfort food defined! Another very restful night's sleep, some quick cleanup in the morning, then a conversation and music filled drive back to "reality" with J&S, with wonderful memories firmly etched in my food memory bank!!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

7/20/2006 4:30pm
Yeah, this 90+ degree weather is a bit harsh, but there is as always a silver lining. Because nothing puts the chill on an evening like some great rosé wine, especially when it's paired with some killer chow. Luckily my pals Monique and The Handsome One who have Castagna restaurant over on SE Hawthorne understand the simplicity of this equation and have instituted a series of rosé dinners over the next few weeks, featuring different rosés from various Euro wine regions, and pairing foods from these areas to match the pale pink deliciousness filling our glasses with refreshment and our heads with thoughts of a Mediterranean nature. Last night was the kickoff dinner, focusing on Spain. And it was, as expected from one of the two best restaurants in Portland, outstanding. Three courses paired with one white and two rosados.
I was joined at table by my friend and confidant DOR, plus my sister Kathleen sporting her newly broken toe, bro-in-law Dave, and nephew Brendan. I got there a bit early and was treated to my favorite cocktail, a beautifully balanced negroni, by Monique who wanted to try out this fancy-schmancy new sweet vermouth she stocked their bar with. Quite good, but then again when your drinking future is in the hands of the queen of cocktails and one of the nicest bartenders ever, the lovely Suzanne, then how bad can anything be?!
Here's a peek at the menu of the night's delights.....
If you can't see the above, click on the image to enlarge it!

We settled in, and were treated to a first course of four different tapas plates, all supremely delicious and taking my mind and stomach right back to Spain. Everything was so simple, yet so satisfying, exactly the way truly good food should be.
DOR showing off some way too good Mejillones con Azafran

We moved on through a few glasses of chilled grape juice, onto our stunning lamb chop entrée with an exceptionally intense romesco sauce that had us swooning...crazy good!!
the lovely Kathleen and her even more lovely lamb chops and romesco ...yummmm!

DOR doing his best "oh my fucking god this lamb is so good" expression!

We were having so much fun, enjoying Monique's hospitality and The Handsome One's stellar edible creations, plus the waitstaff at Castagna and their adjoining café are probably the nicest in town (right up there with the crew at Three Doors Down...btw: the other best restaurant in PDX!). Later on Dawn, DOR's vivacious wife, joined us, and then my friend Wendy put in an appearance just in time to help finish the last glass of Mesoneros de Castilla Rosado. A most fulfilling night, with good friends, family, and of course awesome food. Talk about your holy trinities!!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A quick shout out to those who love their sangiovese's dark, rich, complex, and delicious. I went to Gino's (8051 SE 13th, 503.233.4613) just down the street from VINO with Melissa after last night's rocking tasting of northeast Italian red wines to grab a bite to eat and have some refreshing beverage. Eric was in fine form behind the bar, offering his usual blend of helpful advice and withering commentary. After a pint each of hoppy goodness in the form of Walking Man Brewing's IPA, I ordered the lamb on fried polenta because Eric strongly recommended it as the deal. It was delicious, but the best thing was the 1999 Felsina Chianti Classico Reserva off of their wine list at the ridiculous price of $40 a pop. This was awesome Chianti. It can't get much better than this guys. A couple years of bottle age have smoothed out those rough edges, making this pure pleasure and the perfect food partner. And they don't have much left, so get in there and grab your share while you can. You'll love it! Oh, memo to Washington winemaker guy who thinks his sangioveses are worth $30+ per bottle: how dare you when the new and crazy good 2001 Felsina CCR that kicks your overripe, over-oaked bottles to the curb can be had for less than thirty bucks per.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Well, managed to come back with all ten fingers intact from Suzanne and David's wedding/fireworks extravaganza, and not too much other physical damage from all the indulgences! The wedding took place at The Lazy Bastard Ranch which is about 12 miles northeast of Astoria in Washington. Great spot. A guy who had a restaurant on Vashon Island sold that place, bought the ranch to do some sustainable farming and pasture fed cattle growing (or whatever they call it). It was a great ceremony, very relaxed, full of joy and informality but very touching, and Suzanne and David couldn't have been happier. I can't remember if I've ever cried at a wedding before, but this one got me! Of course, being restaurant people (they're both bartenders at Castagna), the food was off the hook. Nate from Castagna was in charge of the edibles, and he was rocking it. The beverages were flowing in abundance, the crowd was so fun, and Suzanne's fireworks show was the perfect finale.
To Suzanne and David...here's to long lives and lots of love together!!

Here's a few pictures of the festivities....
Nate feeling it beforehand!
David overseeing the action....
Monique and the Handsome One awaiting the arrival of the bride....
....and here she is, arriving in style!
Suzanne and mama alighting....
Doing the deed
Isn't he cute? And delicious, too!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What do I love more than giving dinner parties, besides nothing?? Last night, another happy collision of great friends and great food at the pad. I've always loved the whole process. The planning, the shopping, the set up. Even the cleaning before hand...I mean if I didn't have dinner parties, how much motivation would I have to clean this mess?! So it was with much anticipation I looked forward to tonight's soiree. Shopped at the Hollywood farmer's market Saturday...which I love (more next week on that subject)... to grab a few things. Fresh cut peonies at crazy cheap prices, favas in all their prep-demanding goodness, and a 5# bag of fingerling potatoes from the angels of the earth at Rossi Farms, which ironically I didn't get to last night....warning to anyone coming over in the next ten days: get ready to have your solanaceae feed bag on!
The table awaits!

Before I share my menu, one very fortunate disclaimer: I will almost always let my friends bring something over when they offer. Because not only am I blessed with there most amazingly talented, creative, interesting group of dining companions I could ever hope for, and I love them dearly, but they also share my healthy obsession with all things food related and are fucking incredibly talented cooks. So not only are all dinner invitations eagerly accepted, but dinner party donations are most welcome! They thoroughly get that whole "live to eat" versus "eat to live" attitude....I'm guessing you know which side we fall on. Okay, enough of that, here's the menu:

* Appetizers provided by J&K, delicious cantaloupe wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma resting on and surrounded by a garden of nasturtiums, and then M shows up with a fabulous plate of pork short ribs and crispy chicken from one of her favorite Chinese restaurants. Memo to the handsome one: you still owe me deviled eggs!!

The main course, waiting for the application of heat

* Main course of two roast chickens off the Weber, a fava bean/pancetta risotto, and roasted asparagus off the 'que.
* A quick cheese course of something I was recently introduced to by a friend, which consists of the sensually decadent flavors of truffle honey (mind-blowing stuff!) smeared on a small piece of artisan bread, and topped with St. Agur blue cheese from France by way of Pastaworks on Hawthorne. The cheese is one of the best blues I've ever had, and the earthy/sweet truffle honey and the moldy, soft blue cheese together are like eating sex...crazy!!
The wines we had for the above were various rosés and whites, of which the 2004 J. Christopher "Croft Vineyard" Sauvignon Blanc was once again just insanely intense and confirms my opinion that Jay Somers is making the best sauv blancs in America, and some of the best anywhere...no shit!! Also had a bottle of '95 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino Riserva and a 1997 Panaretta Chianti Classico (did I mention my friends hollow legs....very odd we all share that trait!!).
Some of last night's libations: Giving their all so that I might sleep better

* Dessert of fresh strawberries to dip in various bowls of flavor enhancers provided by my über-talented sister, served with glasses of refreshingly low alcohol, slightly sweet, and ticklingly bubbly moscato d'asti, one of my favorite things in the wine world.
All in all most satisfying. The wine and conversation flowed all night, hugs and kisses were exchanged at the end, I even managed to clean everything up and wash all the dishes before tumbling into a very contented slumber. Sweet dreams indeed!!

And now today...off to Suzanne and David's wedding in Astoria, where there is promised great food, beverage, and a cart of illegal fireworks. Ah, once again the scary and exciting confluence of alcohol and gunpowder. Hopefully will be back with all my fingers to let you know how it turns out tomorrow!!!