Saturday, May 30, 2009

Memorial Day Stovetop Seafood Boil

Here in Portland we have some fantastic seafood markets, and my favorite is ABC Seafood on Powell and 65th. A family owned establishment, the store is filled with tanks of live fish, lobsters, crabs, and shellfish. I've been able to get the best prices on small steamer clams and some gorgeous shrimp. A few weeks ago I got 6 pounds of clams for less than three dollars a pound. That's half the price of New Seasons - and I know they're just as fresh. This is the kind of place where you point to a fish in a tank, a smiling man will reach in, grab it, and clobber it with a hammer and hand it to you in a bag. It does NOT get fresher than that. They also have a nice selection of fresh (and CHEAP) asian produce. I got four pounds of clams, two pounds of big beautiful shrimp, and three HUGE king oyster mushrooms.

We were planning on doing a Memorial Day BBQ, but decided what we really wanted was a clambake, or, in our case, a stovetop seafood boil. This is one of my favorite kinds of food for a crowd - steam up some potatoes, make a spicy broth of white wine and herbs (plus some requisite Old Bay) and steam up some fresh seafood before dumping it all out onto a tabletop covered with newspaper.

I steamed some red potatoes in water with a small handful of thyme, an onion cut in quarters, and a head of garlic cut across in half. These took about twenty minutes, and I took them out and drizzled them with olive oil and salt. Into the steam pot with the potato water, herbs, and aliums, I added another head of garlic, about two cups of white wine, a couple spoonfuls of Old Bay, a lemon cut in half, and a big handful of basil. This part made it - the broth had a really great herby kick - like Vietnamese broth - that went so well with the seafood. My dad likes to add a bottle of clam juice, which makes for great bread-dipping, but we weren't using the broth for this dinner (due to the whole dumping out on the newspaper business).

I added three spicy Italian chicken sausages - you could use any kind of smoked or spicy sausage, like a chorizo or smoked Italian. On top of these went the clams (I scrub them in my kitchen sink, and discard any that are open or look funny - better safe than food poisoned) and steamed these for 6 minutes before adding my shrimp - shell and talks on, which gives a much better flavor - and the dish was done after two more minutes. I strained out all of the shrimp, now bright pink, and the clams, discarding any that are still closed. They were probably dead before I cooked them, or they might have been "mudders", shells filled with sand, mud, and other inedible delights. I rescued the sausages and threw them on the grill for a quick smoky finish. We grilled some corn on the Weber, and I whipped up a quick saute of the oyster mushrooms and some adorable baby summer squash from the market, with a sliced onion, butter, the sliced mushrooms, thyme, and sherry. This was so good, so simple, and was a fun side dish.

We had some homemade pound cake and fresh market strawberries for dessert - a few hours later because we were so full!

This meal was heaven, not least because I got to share it with my family - my roommates, and some lovely visitors from North Carolina. If you guys are reading this, thank you for everything - I hope I can come visit you guys someday. Sharing food, wine, and stories with you was the PERFECT way to kick of the summer. You are in my heart for good.

The next time you want to feed a group of friends and family, consider a seafood boil. If you don't add lobsters, it's reasonably priced, quick to prepare, and results in a perfect opportunity to roll up your sleeves and dig into some great food around a shared space. And, of course, the cleanup is a snap. Just roll up the newspaper, toss out the shells, and keep the conversation going.

Eat well, and happy warm-weather weekend!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Weekend Market

The market was already packed when the opening bell rang at 8:30 this morning, and the wood-fired oven was already sending fragrant campfire scents into the air. In the mood for a bagel, I popped in line and checked out the offerings of the day. It was hard to pick which toppings I wanted - check out this selection: asparagus and bacon? hummus and radish? pork shoulder with jam? YES PLEASE.

There was a bit of a strawberry explosion, as last week one or two farmers had berries for sale - this week, the flats were out, the tables were piled high, and there was a definite smell of strawberry fever mingling with the Tastebud bagel smoke.

One farmer bragged that her strawberries were "Picked at 6 A.M.!" so I started off the morning with a fresh-baked sesame bagel with cream cheese, rhubarb, and fresh sliced strawberries.

I had just purchased a big bunch of basil, and snuck a few leaves onto my bagel. I'm a sucker for herbs in sweet foods - like the famous herb iced tea from last summer. Something about the fresh, complex flavor of basil, thyme, and mint set off fruit really well. I suppose it's a bit like when my parents put salt on papaya, mango, and melon, or the strawberry and balsamic phenomenon. Savory flavors punch up sweetness, and the result is an unexpected treat.

Speaking of herbs, a lot of farmers were featuring gorgeous chives, almost two feet long with pretty purple tops. I bought a bunch, along with my basil, and both are sitting in my kitchen in a vase of water - an herb bouquet. Beautiful and edible... the perfect combo.

Scanning the market, it was a pleasure to see summer veggies starting to appear. Amongst the standard spring fare of rhubarb, greens, and beets, farmers have been laying out baby summer squash, broccoli, and of course, strawberries. It's funny to hear little gasps of disbelief, along the lines of "Isn't it too early for strawberries!?" before grabbing a flat of fragrant Oregon reds. Groundwork Organics had a huge selection of berries and both spring and summer veggies, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the line stretched away from the booth about a hundred feet. At least it gave me a good chance to snap a bunch of photos.

My roommate Greenbriar's parents are in town from North Carolina, and we're planning on having a BBQ on Monday. They are a pair of die-hard foodies (and loyal Lemonbasil readers, too!) so I'm sure it will be incredibly blog-worthy. Until then, have a great weekend, and eat well!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shitake Quinoa Salad with Roasted Fennel, Asparagus, and Broccolini

Well, for as much as yesterday felt like summer, today feels like a cliche dreamscape of Portland rain. Reputable sources claim this is the only day of rain in the 10-day, but I have my suspicions. While the rain is bad news for my battle against rickets and pale skin, it is good news for the blog, as I was able to brave turning on the oven to roast some spring veggies, and my mint plants perked up in the downfall after a weekend of droopy herb syndrome.

Anyway, now that school is over, all I have to do all day is read, cook, and prepare for my Big Adventure. If you don't remember, I received an art grant to travel Oregon this summer, painting and tromping about in the wilderness with my golden retriever. Yes, life is hard. I've got to gather art and camping supplies, plan my route, and generally psych myself up for a few months on the road, all of which can be done, happily, in the rain. The psyching-up, not the actual camping. I can foresee a bit of a problem with plein-air watercolor paintings in a summer storm, but hey, I'm not there yet.

I spent this morning drooling over aisle after aisle of art supplies at Columbia Art & Drafting Supply on 15th and Burnside, and walked out with a bunch of shiny new brushes, papers, and fancy paint. Hey, that's what grants are for, right?

For lunch, I whipped up a tasty warm Quinoa salad, with roasted fennel, asparagus, broccoli (baby broccoli), with mint, feta, and gorgeous shitake mushrooms. I chopped and roasted the veggies (everything but the broccoli tops) in olive oil and salt at 380 degrees for about twenty minutes. While I cooked my quinoa, I sliced and sauteed the mushrooms with the broccoli heads and about a tablespoon of chopped mint in some butter, and mixed everything together, still warm, with some olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon juice, and more fresh mint. I finished it off with a sprinkle of feta.

As I was shooting these photos, my roommate Weasel walked down the stairs, heard the clicks of the camera, and said "I hear blogging." I served her a mouthful of the salad, and she smiled. My friends may tease me, but hey. It's my summer, they eat well, and I'm happy.

Until later!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yes, Mom & Dad, I'm a Gastrosexual.

Hey there! It feels like summer in Portland - and I can already feel the food blogger's dread of cooking in a hot kitchen. While I procrastinate and refrain from turning on any and all heat-producing devices, I thought I'd give you an update on a few foodie finds.

For starters, it turns out I am a finalist in May's "Gastrosexual of the Month" Contest over at The Splendid Table, of Public Radio fame. What is a gastrosexual, you ask? It's a bit goofy, but TOTALLY true... it's anyone who uses their culinary skills to impress their friends and potential love interests.

And, well, if you know me at all, that is me, to the letter. Here's a sample from my entry... and if you know any nice young men looking for a SOLE food dinner, send them my way.

Sexiest culinary tool: A Well-worn Wooden Spoon

Greatest all-time "success" dish: Raspberry and Blackberry Cinnamon Truffles

"Sexiest food": I'm going to have to split this answer into savory and sweet. The sexiest savory food has got to be artichokes! The process of eating a steamed artichoke, fresh from the farmers' market, is intrinsically sensual. Think about it: pulling, leaf by leaf, the pieces of artichoke, submerging in golden melted butter, and sliding them into your mouth before stripping the delicious artichoke meat with your teeth... Plus, eating an artichoke is time consuming, which means more time for eye-contact and flirtatious conversation. The sexiest sweet food has to be ripe, Oregon blackberries, warm off the vine. The way the plump, juicy berries pop in your mouth with the slightest pressure, not to mention how perfectly they go with that famously sexy food, chocolate. Come summertime, I'm luring in the men with blackberry truffles, blackberry fudge cake, blackberry brownies, and whole, fresh berries with a thick, custardy homemade ice cream. Works every time.

Ha, well, by every time, I mean... well... I'm single but my friends eat well! Anyhow, you can read this and other entries over at the Splendid Table website. And please stop laughing at me. I'm just tickled that Lynne Rossetto Kasper thinks my food is sexy.

In other webby news, The Atlantic (née Atlantic Monthly) recently launched a new Food Channel, filled with really great, well-written foodie facts and news. They have a whole sections called "On the Farm", "Sustainability", "Artisans", and so much more. I am going to waste SO. MUCH. TIME. I've already subscribed to the feed and perused the site for an hour. Beware, this is going to be as addictive as Tastespotting, hands down. Apparently, the new portal will also showcase experts from the worlds of health, nutrition and science -- the people most food journalists go to as authorities, speaking for themselves. Rad.

Eat well and stay cool!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Market Day and Castagna with Elias Cairo

Yesterday's market was gorgeous. The weather floated around 80 degrees, lovely old-time music was provided by local group Boy and Bean, and the first strawberries were out! What's more, the Sol Pops guys and The Ruby Jewel gals (local, organic popsicles and fresh-made ice cream sandwiches) were set up in the sun, making kids and big kids really happy.

I had the pleasure of emcee-ing the Chef in the Market demonstration, with Elias Cairo of Castagna and Cafe Castagna (rhymes with lasagna). We made Asparagus and Morel tarts, with duck eggs from Deck Family Farms, crème fraîche from Jacob's Creamery, and smoked Gouda from Willamette Valley Cheese, Co. We had a good crowd - about forty people watching the Chef Du Jour make delicious pastry and the bumbling emcee ask silly questions (and be a tiny bit starstruck).

I had a lot of fun feeling a bit more on the in-crowd of chefs and farmers, and look forward to returning to the stage after a brief trip to California. The demonstrations start at 10 am, and feature a new chef each week. Come check us out, if for nothing than to meet me and get some awesome samples at the end.

In an exciting turn of events, I was able to eat dinner at Café Castagna, one of Eli's restaurants on 17th and Hawthorne. My roommate Dragonfruit is graduating from college this weekend, and her parents are in town, which means one thing: Dinners we can't usually afford! Ok, well it means a lot more than that, too, but nice food ranks up there. I didn't bring my camera, because I'm not hardcore enough to pull out a giant lens and snap photos of my appetizer in front of the chef I tried to impress that morning, and the parents I was trying to impress sitting across from me. Maybe some day I'll be able to get over that embarrassment, but for now I'll just have to describe the food. I love Castagna because their menu changes almost daily, depending on the availability of ingredients from their farmers. This keeps things über-Seasonal, super fresh, and exciting for the chef and the diners.

Here's what we had:
mâche and beet salad
marinated olives
monterey bay calamari with fideos (small bits of pasta) and aioli
fried cardoons (a member of the artichoke family)

roast chicken with herb butter served with chard-potato gratin and roast asparagus
lamb-almond meatballs in a chickpea stew
galacian white bean stew with rapini and house-made chorizo
halibut with asparagus and fingerlings

bread pudding with caramel sauce
chocolate pavé, a chocolate soufflé cake
chocolate pot de créme

And, of course, good beer all around.
My favorite of the appetizers was hands-down the calamari. Perfectly grilled in garlic, served with spicy arugula... Oh, this was a winner. I'd pass on the olives and cardoons. The former were nothing special, and the cardoons were far too salty, a bit like brined deep-fried celery. The beets were delicious, but if you have to pick one, go for the calamari. Looks a bit daunting (these aren't the deep-fired calamari rings you'd find in a bar, but pieces of exactly what they are - squid) but the taste and texture was meaty and sumptuous.

Bites of all the mains were passed around, and Eli's homemade chorizo certainly lives up to its reputation. I'm not a fan of rapini, but it set off the stew nicely with its astringent flavor. The meatballs were interested, really comforting, but the stew was oddly floral - I couldn't figure out the exact flavor, but it overpowered the intrigue of a lamb-almond meatball. The halibut was simple and pretty - the star of this was their tarter sauce, creamy and perfect. My chicken was good but not great, I'm a pretty tough judge of a good roast chicken, and it had an interesting smoky flavor that I couldn't fall in love with. The gratin was a wedge of mashed potatoes and greens, lacking in texture and arrived a bit cold, but had a fantastic flavor.

The desserts were great. Get the bread pudding. Don't consider anything else. Just get it. It's a brioche-based, custardy pudding with a crispy, caramelized top. Amazing. The chef came out and shook my hand, thanking me for the morning's adventure, which made me grin non-stop for the rest of the night.

All in all, a fantastic end to a great market day. Here are some more pictures from the market. Until next time, eat well!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ubiquitous Blog Excuses Time!

Hi guys!

Just thought I'd pop in and explain my brief hiatus - it's Finals Week, and I'm wrapping up my penultimate year of school. My school's big ol' end-of-the-year celebration was last weekend, so I didn't get to the Saturday PSU market, AND I missed the opening of the Eastside market tonight due to tremendously frustrating essay-writing madness.

Have no doubt, I'd much rather be cooking, mixing, baking, frosting, and eating things to show you, but it will have to wait another week. I've been eating a lot of beans and rice, which is having quite a toll on my food-boredom radar, and the moments that I indulge in "Real Food" are so precious that I haven't been willing to bust out a camera and document them. So, that's all the complaining and excuses for now. I'll be back at the market this weekend, unless I get permanently trapped in the development of nationalism in the Rhineland in 1862.

Eat well, and do some de-stressing for me. That works, right?