Sunday, April 30, 2006

EP - Wingin' It

EP met last evening.

First, the plan was to put together a dinner worthy of a photo shoot, as there was a chance Time/Life might show up. No dice this time.

Second was a plan to have a nice, simple cookout, burgers, pizza, sausages, asparagus, etc. The weather did not cooperate.

We met at 6 anyway, and drank copious amounts of Kenton mules (you know, my top shelf Moscow mule) and flaming lemon drops (a throwback to the postponed "EP On Fire" theme) while deciding where to eat. First choice was Aladdin's Cafe. They closed too soon for us to get over there. Also, too late to get into Simpatica.

We were all comfy, so the idea arose to get take out and eat at my place. We finally settled on Fire On The Mountain, an old favorite of ADC and mine, but new to everyone else. Scoop is writing up a complete report on the ep blog, but here's a little sneak preview, we consumed deep fried twinkies...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sunny Friday Afternoon

What an amazing afternoon. 4PM, April 28, 2006. The sun is shining in Portland. Temps way into the 70s (and a quick check at has us listed at 80)...

What else can a guy do but whip up a cocktail and sit on his back porch?!? I head home a bit early, a quick stop at the back to deposit my paycheck, then speed home and make a Kenton Mule... A Kenton Mule you ask? Sure, it's my variation on the traditional but long forgotten cocktail the Moscow Mule, renamed for the district of Portland where I live and with made premium ingredients...

Here's how you make on. Why not try it right now?
  • 1/4 cup kettle one vodka (or your favorite)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Reed's "Extra Ginger" Ginger Brew (or other ginger-ale) (approx 6 oz)

Place ice in a highball glass. Pour in well chilled vodka (mine's kept in the freezer). Squeeze in lime juice. Fill the remainder of the glass with ginger brew. Add a bit more ice if it's a hot day. Stir gently with a bar spoon. Enjoy.

The above photo was taken a mere 12 minutes ago. I had to work REALLY hard to not drink any before the photo was taken. Hard work indeed...

Cheers to the arrival of sun and warmth in Portland!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Oxtail - Sun, April 23, 2006

In attendance : myself, ADC, CC, NT, C and G.
Food : Divided into 5 courses...

1-Flamiche (leek tarte) - Homemade butter, flour, salt and water for the crust. Leeks sauteed in homemade butter, egg, cream, and Sublimity cheese from Oregon Gourmet Cheeses (usually I use Gruyere, but I thought I'd try to put a little local goodness in). Baked to perfection. Quite nice, if I do say so myself...

2-Potato salad - Baby red potatoes, boiled and sliced, drizzled with a mixture of olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and lots of shallots. Also pretty good.

3-Oxtail stew - The main event. I'd been working on this since Wednesday, so I had really high expectations. I spent 5 hours working on it on Sunday alone! More about the oxtail below, on with the meal.

4-Salade - NT brought a tasty salad, several types of greens, some wilted in bacon fat, avocado, tomato, red pepper, and bacon. Simply delightful. Somehow, I didn't get a photo if this course...

5-Tarte au Citron - CC made a tarte for dessert, Palestinian sweet limes, and a crust made from pine nuts. Although it didn't quite hold it's shape, it tasted great, and was a lovely end to the meal.

C and G brought bread (Pearl bakery) and cheese (Cyprus Grove's Humboldt Fog), and made butter (from Norris cream) to go with the meal. Integral addition to the grand scheme...

Wine : Sort of paired with the courses, but a bit looser...

  • 2004 J. Christopher Sauvignon Blanc - just to start with as people arrived. We had tried 3 different bottles of 2003 rose that were dead (I am going to have to dump 7 more down the drain that are still in the cellar!!), so Jay's S.B. sounded pretty good, and was already chilled in the fridge.
  • 2003 Francois Villard Condrieu "De Poncins" - with the leek tarte and potato salad
  • 2001 Tempier Bandol "Cuvee Special" - with the oxtail
  • 1999 Chateau de Perron Madiran - with the oxtail
  • 2000 Gros Nore Bandol - with the oxtail
  • 1989 Prince Poniatowski Vouvray "Clos Baudoin" Moelleux - with the lime tart (This was THE wine of the night. Astounding in it's balance of beauty and power.)

So, the oxtail. Wednesday night, CC and I begin to assemble the dish. Since I am running late at work, CC buys all the ingredients. Oxtail, red wine (I used 2003 Coupe Roses Minervois "Bastide"), onion, cloves, shallots, thyme, carrots, and bay leaves. The mix then goes into the fridge to marinate for up to 5 days (and I do let it go all 5 days).

Sunday at 11 AM, I pull the mix out of the fridge, remove the chunks of oxtail, let them drain. In my grandmother's cast iron skillet, I brown cubes of salt pork, then brown the oxtail pieces. The contents of the skillet then go back into the mix with some new carrots and some salt and pepper. Simmer over medium heat for a few hours, let cool slightly, skim off fat, and the heat up again to serve.

All together, this was a really really good meal eaten with really really good friends. I can't wait until we can all share food again.

Monday, April 17, 2006

WW's Cheap Eats Pt. 1

Aqui Mexican Cafe

The ADC and I have decided that, when hungry and indecisive, we should consult the Willamette Week's 'Cheap Eats 2006' guide for help. The plan? Hit every place in the guide in alphabetical order, no matter the location, no matter if we've been before. The only thing that can stand in the way of progress is a 'closed' sign. In which case we move onto the next restaurant, and jump back to the closed place on our next night of indecision.

Night one. Apizza Scholls is closed. Man I love Apizza Scholls. Well, there's always next time.

Next in line? Aqui Mexican Cafe. I thought it was going to be new for both of us, but it turns out I had been to an EP happy hour field trip there before.

We order happy hour priced 'house margaritas,' on the rocks with salt. I find it tasty and refreshing; ADC reports that it 'was not all that.' Also, chips and salsa (which they will charge you $2 for). The chips are wildly salty. I find them almost inedible, and end up having to shake the salt off of each and every chip before eating. Three salsas, one fresh chunky salsa, one smoky red salsa, and one tasty green salsa. Again, I cannot emphasize how overly salty these chips were.

Then for the main courses, ADC gets a fish burrito, which she says "is really good." It is massive. She takes half of it home in a box for lunch the next day. I get the tamale of the day. It's pork verde. Pretty good. Side of rice is spicy.

We end up spending about $30. Not totally cheap, but reasonable. Will I go back? Maybe for cheap happy hour food, but I will ask them to hold the salt on the chips.

[photo note: not an actual photo of Aqui's tamales]

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter '06 - Bloody Marys and Cheese Grits

Easter greetings!! I'm heading over to an ADC's house today (noon-ish) for brunch. Good size group of folks heading over, too, I gather. Some vegan. I've offered to make Bloody Marys and Cheese Grits. As usual, I am a stickler for the best, freshest, organic ingredients possible. Here's the rundown...

I decide to make one big batch as opposed to preparing them when I get there... 2 cups Ketel One Vodka, 2 quarts R.W. Knudson organic unsweetened tomato juice, the juice of 2 organic lemons, 2t Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce (vegans beware), 2t Tobasco brand pepper sauce, 1/2t celery salt, and 36 grinds of pepper. All mixed up in a pitcher, chilling in the fridge. Before I head over, I am going to grate some fresh horseradish, in case anyone wants any, I've got kosher salt for the rims of the glasses, and lemon wedges and celery stalks (washed and cut) for garnish. Mmm.

I really want organic yellow grits, but I have no luck at New Seasons (Bob's Red Mill is supposed to make them, but the store didn't have 'em). So, my options are some crappy instant brand, or Arrowhead Mills "All Natural" White Corn Grits. I get the later. I hope the recipe I am using can handle white instead of yellow. We shall see.

These are going to be creamy, buttery cheese grits (again, vegans beware). I'm feeling ambitious, and knowing how easy it is to make butter, and how much better homemade butter tastes, I take on that task. I need 1 cup of butter (which is the approx. yield of a pint of cream after the buttermilk is removed). I get started. Again, in a quest to use only the best ingredients, I get a pint of Norris Farms organic whipping cream (pasturized). I use one of the two quart jars from the tomato juice as my 'churn.' Cream goes into the jar. Lid goes on the jar. I shake and shake and shake. The contents transform from liquid cream to whipped cream, and finally, the separate into butterfat and buttermilk. I pour the contents through a sieve, and the squeeze any excess liquid out with the help of a swath of cheesecloth.

And then I wait. Brunch has been postponed until 1. I need to begin prep for the grits at around 11...

OK, waiting over. Boil 6 cups water in big pot. Add a teaspoon of salt (coarse Kosher). Add 1.5 cups grits. Stir for about 6 minutes, simmering. Add 2 cloves garlic, about half pound cheddar (in this case, Grafton Classic Reserve Extra Aged [2 yrs] Vermont Cheddar), some ground pepper, and about a cup of my amazing homemade butter. Stir until cheese and butter are melted and integrated. Add a mixture of 1 cup milk and 3 eggs, lightly beaten. When incorporated, pour into 9x13x2 in baking dish. Sprinkle a bit more cheese on top. Place into a 350 degree preheated oven for 45 min to 1 hr.

When the 45 min buzzer goes off, I am grating the horseradish, so the grits actually bake for more like 50 minutes. There is a little toasty beautiful browned cheese on top, and the smell is fabulous! This photo looks a little washed out... They looked better in real life, promise...

I put everything into a New Seasons double bag (except the grits). I carry the bag with one hand while the other hand (in a protective oven mit) balances the pan of grits. I walk to the ADC's house without dropping anything.

Everyone seems to like the drinks and the grits. I'd make 'em both again with little or no alteration...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pok Pok/Pix

I'd been hearing about Pok Pok for a while now, but it's way down in SE, and I hadn't yet found the right time to get down there. When the opportunity presented itself in the form of an invitation from Miss Tasty, I knew it was sign from the gods that mustn't be ignored. In preparation for my visit, I did a little homework...

The Facts-

  1. Owned by Andy Ricker, former sous chef at Zefiro, and bass player for local band The Quags.
  2. Pok Pok focuses on the cuisine of north and northeast Thailand (esp the Chaing Mai valley), whereas most Thai places in Portland focus on the more Chinese influenced cuisine of central Thailand.
  3. The food at Pok Pok is 'modeled' after street food you might find in Thailand.
  4. Andy has visited the Thailand (especial the Isaan region and the Chaing Mai Valley) every year for nearly a decade.
  5. It's pretty much a take-out cart. There are a few tables, 3 or so are covered, another 4 are uncovered.
  6. Pok Pok is named for the sound of a mortar and pastle clanking together.

So, I get there first, followed shortly by Miss Tasty, and then, a touch later, by Smooth Melon...

Here's what we got (items and descriptions from Portland Food and Drink dot com)...

  1. Kai Yaang - Charcoal rotisserie roasted game bird stuffed with lemongrass and garlic, served with a spicy sweet and sour dipping sauce.
  2. Khao Soi Kai - Chiang Mai-style chicken noodles in a milk coconut soup topped with crispy yellow noodles, shallots, pickled mustard greens and served with a hot chili paste.
  3. Khao Man Som Tam - Papaya Pok Pok served with steamed coconut rice, sweet shredded pork and fried shallots.
  4. A special dessert, whose name is escaping me right now, but consisted of mango, rice, and coconut milk
  5. Cha Manao - Thai iced tea with fresh lime juice

Wow! What else can you say. As has been reported above, this is unlike most Thai in town. Not too spicy, certainly no curries, stir fry, or Pad Thai. Simple, honest, good food.

The Kai Yaang was great. We got a half bird (whole bird also available). The skin was crispy and flavorful (I like skin. Anyone remember picking off and eating crispy, charred, spicy lamb skin in the early days of Bastille Day?). We used out hands to break the game bird up into bite sized chunks, then dipped the chunks into the sauce. The flavor and aroma of lemongrass was present and lovely on the meat itself. Outstanding. And, as good as it was, we all agreed that this was the least of the dishes!

Khao Soi Kai was just as described, although we also added some fresh cilantro and lime juice. We tried it first with no hot chili paste and it was fantastic. We ate half the bowl like that. We then added half of the small container of chili paste for a bit of heat. Half was plenty... This was Smooth Melon's favorite of the 3 main courses.

Khao Man Som Tam was the favorite of both Miss Tasty and myself. Great shredded pork, slightly sweet, somewhat caramelized, with a plate of sticky rice and that fantastic Papaya salad (I didn't even mind the dried shrimp). I had considered buying another order of this to take home with me as a snack, but they closed up shop as we were finishing our food. This dish was magnificent.

The dessert was good. A half mango at it's optimal ripeness with sticky rice and coconut milk. Not too sweet, just right, and VERY tasty. The interplay of the mango, rice, and coconut was mesmerizing. But, we agreed this wasn't enough like a real dessert so we headed down to Pix afterwards (see 3 paragraphs down...)

The Thai iced teas were a revelation. No cream, only slightly sweet, with fresh lime juice. Very refreshing. Just the right thing to accompany the food.

Overall, Pok Pok is not to be missed. If you haven't been, you MUST go (and when you do, call me, I can't wait to go again...)

Smooth Melon, Miss Tasty, and I then strolled the 3 or 4 blocks down to Pix, where I hadn't been since last summer (and I still haven't been to their new location in N. Portland. Criminal!). We grab a table after glancing at the cases. Here's what we consumed...

  1. Tart Citron ~ A French classic-luscious lemon curd in a crisp, buttery pate sucree (damn blogger for not allowing accents!) shell. (Hungry T's order)
  2. Queen of Sheba Truffle Cake ~ Moist chocolate almond cake with bittersweet chocolate center. Warm slightly for molten chocolate center. (Smooth Melon's order)
  3. Coconut chocolate ice cream in a cone with a passion fruit macaroon on the side (Miss Tasty's order)
  4. Moscato d'Asti (for T)
  5. Port (for SM)

All were great. The Moscato was a little less than fresh, which I had expected. Not flat, just not fresh. It happens sometimes with Moscato by the glass. I considered asking how fresh the bottle was, but opted not to.

Miss Tasty's macaroon was delightful, and I knew they made rose macaroons too, so I tried to order one, but they had just sold out. I got a grapefruit one instead, and it just didn't live up to the reality of the passion fruit or the promise of the rose. Live and learn, I guess.

All in all, a great night for food in Portland. And the weather held up all night too. Clear and crisp. Lovely.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Nostrana with CC

CC and got together last night for the first time in weeks. Really good to see her again. We wanted to hit somewhere with a patio for drinks and food since the weather was so fine, but after cat feeding, gas getting, and mail checking, the light was waning, and we decided to hit Nostrana instead. CC hadn't been before, I had been once with G, but hadn't gotten the pizza. And pizza is what they are known for. It seemed like something we should do.

I get there before CC, and, although the place isn't full, I have to wait at the front. No, not because there is no table or because my party isn't all here (both valid reasons), it's because there is no one there to greet us. Two employees (one, I'm pretty sure, was owner Cathy Whims) stood right in front of me and the people who were waiting in front of me, talking to one another, without even saying 'hello,' or 'someone will be right with you' or anything. Odd.

So, when someone finally arrives to greet and seat me, I get two seats at the bar. On my last trip to Nostrana, the service was dismal. I hope that by sitting at the bar, things will be a bit better. CC shows up slightly after I am seated. She ordered lemonade and I get a Moscow Mule. Now, I know the Moscow Mule isn't the most common drink, but you'd think a place would have a drink book of some kind behind the bar. I have to explain what it is, which is again fine. But, they don't have ginger ale. Would ginger syrup and soda work? Sure, a I say, and it seems to.

We order a salad (radicchio, Parmigiano-reggiano with rosemary and sage croutons in a Caesar dressing) which CC and I agree has too much lemon in the dressing, but is overall OK.

We also order the large plate of Salumi meats, which seem very dry, as if they had been cut days ago, and simply arranged on our plate when we ordered. The meats tasted good, but the moisture issue was hard to overlook. Even a little splash of olive oil would have helped, but no dice.

We also order a pizza (spicy sausage, herbs, and brocolini). Good, but in my opinion, it has nothing on Ken's or the unbeatable Apizza Scholls. The charring is nice, and the flavors are OK, but it didn't really seem to gel into a complete whole.

And then we had to wait forever to have our empty plates cleared, and the ANOTHER long wait for the bill (which we only got after making obvious eye contact with the staff and them asking 'Do you want to hang out for a bit, or are you ready for the check?' I mean, who hangs out with no food and no drink at a restaurant bar??)

Overall, disappointing again. I'm not sure I'll go back. I've had friends rave about this place, but I just don't get it...

Oh, and if anyone is interested, here is a link to my post about the first time I visited Nostrana...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mogwai, New Age?

Can anyone explain to me why the Multnomah County Library has Mogwai in the New Age section? I mean, yeah, they are mostly instrumental. Yeah, their songs are meandering and liquid. But they can totally blow out your speakers, too. Last I checked, Yanni was not a member of Mogwai.

I don't have their new record 'Mr. Beast' yet. Maybe I'll pick it up when I'm downtown today...

By the way, Mogwai are playing live at the Wonder Ballroom on May 25, 2006. I've got my ticket... Anyone want to tag along?