Monday, February 19, 2007

I have to give snaps where snaps are due--to the Heathman Restaurant for turning out a dish that was by far, one of the best meals I've had in months. What was this mouthwateringly delicious, perfectly cooked and delicately textured dish, you ask? Black miso cod--the fish at the height of freshness, skin on top to further seal in the juicy flavor, large, silky flakes that were as smooth as butter on the tongue, in a miso-white wine broth. In this broth were halved sections of whole baby bok choy, steamed and soaking in the juice (with a slight firm crunch remaining in their cooked stalks). Four perfectly plump, shelled mussels sat surrounding the cod, straight from Willapa bay to the plate, via a little dip in a hint of white wine (the taste was just faintly present). I love black cod when it's cooked this way, I know they do it at Nobu, and a few other fine restaurants, and it is just SO GOOD. With a dessert of the Heathman's Chocolate Gourmandise (warm flourless chocolate cake, smothered in rich chocolate sauce), that's a meal that takes you to heaven and back. Seriously, I was by myself eating that cod, and I stopped between bites, to sigh and say "wow," looking at the plate in disbelief, in awe that something could be SO GOOD. Don't know how else to describe it. But that chocolate dessert--yesterday a man at the restaurant called it "better than excellent." You can't get more complimentary than that.

Friday, February 16, 2007

2-15-07

I trudged home through the rain today, carrying groceries in a bag and on my back. The weather was coming from every-which-way, and I got tired of getting wet inside the bus-stop. So I just started walking. No umbrella, I just let the drops soak my jacket and mat my unbrushed hair. At least I only live 8 blocks from the grocery store.

Anyway, I have a little sinus/cold thing, so I wanted to buy ingredients for a soothing soup. And for cornbread. I can’t seem to get cornbread right, ever, despite the fact that I love it—this time it was too metallic and dry. Maybe it needed sugar? Or butter? The soup I made was great however—perfectly brothy, hearty, and easy.

The origin for this recipe sprang from the necessity to use up a bunch of wilting arugula in my refrigerator. I bought it for salad, and was hesitant to cook it through, which I’d never really tried before, but I figured, “hey, it’s green, it’ll be good.” It turns out that when matched with a more powerful spice (like spicy sausage), the peppery-ness of the arugula just disappears and it becomes mild and soft like spinach.

Having the arugula, I naturally thought “Italian,” (I had some parmigiano too, which I ended up not needing due to how flavorful the soup turned out). I looked up some soup recipes, and found one for the Portuguese “Caldo Verde,” which is mostly just Portuguese sausage, broth and kale, or another dark leafy green. So, with that simple recipe in mind, here’s what I came up with:

Rained-out Spicy Soup

1. In a pot, brown 1/2 lb loose (or uncased) spicy italian sausage (I used pork, but you could use chicken, just put some olive oil in the pan first, just make sure it’s the spicy one). The sausage I get from my grocer has a lot of garlic in it, but if yours has none, add 1 large clove of minced garlic with your sausage.
2. When browned, remove sausage into a bowl (spoon out, leaving the grease in the pot), and set aside.
3. Reheat grease in pot, add half of a medium-sized onion, diced, and brown over medium heat. When browned, turn down and cook until almost clear.
4. Add 4 cups of chicken broth (one of those organic boxes), and raise heat
5. Return sausage to pot, along with 1 can of (rinsed and drained) Great Northern, Canellini, or other white bean, sea salt and pepper to taste (I threw in a whole teaspoon of alae`a salt).
6. Bring briefly to bubbling, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 more minutes.
7. Add chopped arugula (1/2 to a whole bunch, stems and all—1 inch pieces), and when that wilts, give it a stir, and your soup will be ready. Soothing, savory, spicy, and nutritious!
Serve topped with a little parmigiano if you like, and bread on the side (probably focaccia, or ciabatta, or cornbread if you get the craving like mine!)

*This recipe serves two for dinner with some leftovers.

Monday, February 12, 2007

2-10-07
Semi-sunny Saturday morning: I woke up with explorative energy, and decided to catch the bus to one of my favorite little Portland neighborhoods—Mississippi Street. I began with a perfect latte from Albina Press (you know, the kind they always used to make at all the decent coffee shops in Seattle), with the fern pattern on top. I want to learn how to make those, to master that technique of delicately swirling the espresso foam and the milk. (The guy who made this one apparently won second at the U.S. barista championships.) I stayed at Albina Press for a little while, people watching and then scanning the scraps of New York Times left behind by charitable subscribers.

After that, I strolled down Mississippi as it woke up, passing couples with dogs, running kids, moms pushing strollers, and hipsters freshly rolled out of bed. Moxie Rx was open, and I could not resist the temptations sitting in this kitsch little food trailer’s window: homemade muffins, pastries, rolls with brie and apple. It was all laid on vintage plates with 50s linen and doilies—picture perfect and delectable. The woman who runs the place also has a couple of made-to-order specials listed on cute little plaques, and drinks like berry smoothies and steamers (spiced apple cider, orange-chili-Mexican cocoa, spiced maple milk).

Although I had already resolved not to eat a heavy brunch this weekend, I could not resist her Cheddar Biscuit—a handmade buttermilk biscuit baked with a cheddar cheese top, sandwiching applewood smoked bacon (or smoked salmon), fluffy herbed and scrambled eggs, folded over a little slice of provolone. It was a bundle of heaven, wrapped perfectly in a piece of waxed paper. All buttery and savory, wrapped up like that, the breakfast was reminiscent of a McDonalds breakfast biscuit. Truly, I mean this only in the most complementary of ways, because, growing up, the “bacon egg and cheese biscuit” was one of my most favorite things. I eagerly anticipated the days (about once a week or so) when we woke up early enough for my Mom to take us through the “drive-thru.” And, with my whip-thin frame and insatiable adolescent appetite, I always ordered two breakfast sandwiches (an Egg McMuffin to accompany the biscuit). I played a lot of soccer then.
2-6-07
There’s nothing like an orange in the dead of winter. A bright, oily, firm one; full of color and heavy with juice. Especially right at this moment, when everything is dry, dry, dry, and cold. When the trees are brittle and skeletal, and there’s a thin layer of gray dust on the sidewalks. When the sky looks that way too, and my own skin feels as if it’s cracking like shale.

This is the time that I appreciate an orange like no other. Never before in my life have I particularly cared for oranges, I suppose because I previously just took them for granted, like apples or milk. But here in the Northwest, I’ve begun to take notice of them—on menus, in the market, and have slowly been filling my fridge with them (I’ve been fortunate, because of my renewed employment with an organic produce company, to obtain a variety of freebies).

While home on Kauai in January, one of the things that I most looked forward to and enjoyed, were the tangelos off of the tree in my Mom’s front yard. My favorite fruit, the tangelo. Nothing is juicier. And with very little acid, it produces the most mouthwatering juice. I swear that they taste better the closer to the time that you pick them too, so I’d walk out and pick them in my pajamas in the cool air of the morning before I juiced them for breakfast. Never have I felt bitterness towards the strict agricultural laws that keep plant species out of, and in, the state of Hawaii, until I left Kauai without any fresh fruit in my bag. How I would have enjoyed those tangelos up here in Portland...

The first citrus to come into season on the mainland (I assume that all of this fruit is coming from California) were the Meyer lemons (used on menus in a sauce, or a dessert like cheesecake), then Satsuma oranges on salads. These days, I’ve seen and tasted blood oranges, minneola tangerines, and just plain old navel oranges, which, when organic, are positively bursting with flavor right now. In the winter, their juice is so life giving—just the perfume that explodes while peeling them awakens dulled, doughy senses.

Because of their vibrancy, I think, citrus is abuzz on many tongues around here—I’ve heard of friends returning from road trips to California with gifts of treasured fruit from southern farms. And someone recently mentioned a new fruit in the market here, called the “citrus cocktail”—some hybrid that takes the most desirable elements from lemons, oranges and grapefruit (thanks to a hard working Willy Wonka of the plant world out there).

The other evening, no doubt after eating some snack accompanied by orange slices (slices of orange are so perfect with or after anything heavy or fatty—meat, cheese, etc. I’ve heard of them being brought out unadorned as the closing course to a hefty Italian meal), I picked up my copy of “A Moveable Feast,” and found that even Hemmingway deemed citrus fruit worthy of writing about. He wrote of his experience living in Paris in the wintertime, “The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chesnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds into the fire when I ate them and roasted chesnuts when I was hungry...sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the little sputter of blue that they made.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I thought that I should note that the very DAY after writing that last blog, I ate a cheeseburger. I had a craving for one too—must have been the repeated description. The burger I had, while decent, was probably the best meal of the 5 slopped in front of my friends and I at the Roxy diner on Southwest Stark Street late that night. Well, not THAT late, since the Roxy is one of, I think, only two 24-hour eateries in this “city.” And a bad one. The group I led there were my friends and their two kids, who were probably too young to be in the company of the Roxy’s clientele. Basically, it’s a place where street rats go to sit for a couple of hours once they’ve scraped enough together for a bottomless cup of coffee. Smelling more like a soup kitchen than a diner, the scene would have fit in somewhere in the movie Beetlejuice. At least the place is wise enough to be too dark to see the food (unfortunately not the cook), and who knows what else. It took about 45 minutes to get our food, with about 3 other tables in the place, and when it came, the waitress spilled half of the gravy off of one of the plates onto my friend’s jacket. Next time I'm hungry late, I best just go to Safeway. Well, enough of that.

I had a bistro burger at work today. It was exceptionally juicy. I have to admit, a hamburger is pretty tasty when the bun soaks that in. But I think I’ll keep my burger quota to one every 3 months, since they seem to fill me up for that long.