J's signature chicken chile verde.

People constantly buttonhole me: “Robyn, the name of your blog is Chile Verde Chronicles, but you don’t have a single chile verde recipe: What’s up with that?”

OK. I exaggerate. It is a fair question, but no one has asked. Well, hold onto your hats, friends …

First, a little bookkeeping: I contemplated filing this under “Tradition” as this dish pops up frequently enough in our rotation. It could also fit naturally under the header “Sunday Dinner” as that’s the standard CV feast day. At the same time, it could just as easily fit under “Refrigerator Staple” because we always seem to have a batch of leftovers. But to me this dish deserves its own header, and perhaps some day a series of posts.

Safe to say that J’s chicken chile verde has evolved dramatically over the years. In one of the first versions, back in our early dating days, he used canned jalapeños instead of milder green chiles. The result was fuego — liquid fire — which he declared “practically inedible.”  Coming from him, that’s saying something.

Today the basic ingredients remain the same (chicken thighs, lots of veggies and chicken broth), but there’s always a tweak here and there. One batch he’ll use roux as a thickener, the next it’s barley. (Can you imagine?) At times, he’s rubbed and grilled the chicken first, finishing it in the stew, and other times he’s poached the chicken to make the broth base. Every time he makes it, it’s slightly different, and a little better.

So, without further ado, I give you his latest version which involved rub-seasoning and grilling the chicken:

J’s Chicken Chile Verde

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

2 strips bacon cut into 1 inch pieces

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 large jalapeño (or more to taste), chopped

3 7-ounce cans whole green chiles, 1 can chopped, 2 cans diced (will be divided)

1 green bell pepper, diced (will be divided)

3 small onions, diced (will be divided)

6 cloves garlic, chopped

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 chicken bullion cube

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon cumin seeds (less or more to taste)

8 to 10 black peppercorns

1/3 cup barley, rinsed

Pinch of chile flakes

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

Fresh lemon or lime.

For the rub: In a plastic storage bag, combine the paprika, granulated garlic, chipotle powder, salt and pepper, and shake to mix. Add the chicken, give it a little rubdown, and refrigerate for at least one hour while you start the stew.

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, crisp the bacon, rendering the fat. Add the carrots, celery, 2/3 of the diced onion, 1/2 of the diced bell pepper and cook in until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, barley, cumin seeds and peppercorns and stir to mix with the vegetables. Add 1 can of chopped green chiles and half the jalapeño. Stir. Add the broth and the bullion and simmer, covered, for 1 hour to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After simmering, blend the mixture until smooth, not grainy, using an immersion blender (this could take a few minutes — you don’t want whole peppercorns).  Add the remaining onion, bell pepper, jalapeño and diced canned chiles and continue to simmer while you grill the chicken, making sure to mark it well. When done grilling, let the chicken rest for a few minutes, then dice.

Add the chicken to the chile verde and stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Season to taste with chile flakes, salt and pepper. If you feel so inclined, add a squeeze of lemon or lime, to taste, for a bit of acid.

That’s it. The barley adds a rich nuttiness, the grilled chicken a smoky undertone and the peppercorns, well, a nice pepper flavor. Serve with warm tortillas, beans, shredded or melted cheddar, crumbled Mexican cheese, shredded lettuce, minced onion, habañero salsa, cilantro — whatever combination floats your boat. Hell, it’s good in a bowl eaten with a spoon. It’s better the next day, and the next.

Phone us on a Sunday night and chances are we’re drinking wine and cooking up a big batch of chile verde. Pretty nice tradition, I say.

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Clarklewis on SE Water

January 14, 2012

Grilled lamb with rapini, farro and sugo.

Friday the 13th.

Among the superstitious, it’s a discouraging black mark on the calendar. Now, I am not without my quirks, but I’m not one for extreme superstition. I do approach the day with some amount of caution, however —  just in case. But when my workday ended early, J unexpectedly got the day off and Zandra suggested dinner out, I knew the stars had aligned in our favor. The night’s destination was Clarklewis on industrial SE Water Street.

A few steps lead up from the street into a boisterous, loft-style dining room. Walls and pillars are painted a sleek, dramatic black; the bustling kitchen and a cracking wood-fired oven occupy the large corner facing the entrance. Opposite stands a wall of garage doors that, in warmer months, open onto the street.

The kitchen is all about fresh, local ingredients with French and Italian notes. Divided into starters, salads, fresh pasta, entrees and of course dessert, the daily changing menu is well rounded with three to five options under each header.  We started with Quinalt steelhead caviar — briny medium-sized yellow eggs served with potato croquettes — and grilled Monterey Bay calamari with an irresistibly soppable onion broth. If you’re lucky enough to snag the calamari, order extra bread.

We each ordered salads, covering all three on the menu. James and Zandra both had the Oregon Dungeness crab salad, a fresh mix of crab, endive, avocado and citrus. J ordered the baby greens with pomegranates, feta, apples and candied walnuts. Yup, good. But among the salads, my beet terrine was the standout: a beautiful cross-section of layered beets and goat cheese with a drizzle of balsamic. Trying that at home for sure.

Succumbing to the siren’s call, my mates all chose fresh pasta as the main course. Available in two portion sizes, pasta can precede an entree, or be an entree in and of itself. Knowing I likely would be making pasta this weekend, I skipped the noodles, but lucky for me I had bites from each of their plates. James’s rigatoni was a creamy concoction of butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, Oregon black truffle and Parmesan cheese. J had a glorious mound of spaghetti with duck confit, hedgehog mushrooms, egg, creamy bits of roasted garlic and Parmesan. Zandra, in my opinion, had the night’s winner: tagliatelle with lamb ragu and Pecorino Toscano, fragrant with rosemary. My entree: beautifully medium-rare grilled lamb  atop farro and a rich lamb sugo (a tomato-y meat sauce) with preserved cherries for a bit of tart-sweetness.

Desserts were chocolate profiteroles for J; bright citrus panna cotta for Zandra; and a cheese board for James and me.

Full and happy, we headed out into the chill toward home, where later I sneaked a forkfull of J’s leftover pasta. One bite led to another, and, well, (sorry, sweetie) I ate the whole thing. Thank goodness he wasn’t too mad. I guess it was just my lucky day.

Mushroom Swiss burger and fries. And fry sauce. Wait, fry sauce?

A bleak, cold, rainy, winter weekend in Portland. Logical activities for this kind of weather might include curling up with a warm dog, diving into a good book or perhaps organizing a sock drawer. But this is the Northwest, and neither rain, nor wind, nor sleety cold deters any self-respecting PDXian. So what do we do? We head out for one of our epic walks, followed by a late-afternoon lunch. This time, our target is Skyline Burgers on Broadway.

Outside, it’s an inconspicuous storefront with an almost miss-able sign. Inside, a rather unexpectedly cavernous diner displays what I can only call a creative assortment of entertainment and aesthetic choices:  sparkling red and grey vinyl booths, a wall mural of what could be a pair of “Happy Days” characters (if Richie Cunningham had insanely bulging forearms), a gigantic projection TV, and a handful of arcade video games. It’s perfectly quirky, and therefore perfect for us.

We sat down at one of the booths next to the front windows and ordered a couple of drinks — a full bar is always welcome during or after an epic walk. The meaty menu comprises apps, sandwiches, burgers, dogs, salads, soups, classic diner entrees and fountain drinks. We knew going in what we were going to order. If “burger” is in the name, that’s what we’re eating, by golly. For me, a mushroom Swiss burger. For J, a giant cheese burger with bacon. To start, mac-and-cheese wedges (can’t put something as wacky as that on a menu and not expect me to order it) and a cup of split pea soup.

So, the mac and cheese wedges. You’ve got your basic box-style mac and cheese, formed into triangles, deep fried and served with ranch dressing. Oh, and celery and carrots, if you care a whit about vegetables. They were good, not amazing. More of a novelty than a great dish, but a great idea. (I would try a version at home.) The soup: good, hearty and pea-green. Just what you crave on a wet, cold day.

Now for the burgers. These are of the skinny-patty variety, and not a bad example at all. Despite being skinny patties, mine was medium rare — a pleasant surprise. The bun was a decent sesame seed kind. Good bun/patty ratio. Critical. The fixins were lettuce leaves (not shredded), dill pickles, sliced red onions, sliced tomatoes and mayo, resulting in a pleasant flavor combination. In our experience, the skinny-patty burger is as much about the accoutrements as the burger itself. Skyline Burger’s version had a good mix. French fries accompanied the burgers: lovely flavor, could be crisper. But what what’s this? Fry sauce? Why, Skyline, we didn’t expect to see this home-state (Utah) standard here. And is that a hint of horseradish? Well played. We ate. We sipped. We were pleased. And full.

Warmed from the insides, and just numb enough to not care about pulling on already-soaked coats, we headed out, up the hill. Toward the warm dog, unread books and a completely messed-up sock drawer.

Dates stuffed with chevre, wrapped in bacon. I could eat 20 of these.

The first Tuesday in January, and we had tickets to “West Side Story” at the Keller Auditorium — a Christmas gift from J to me.

“Get cool!”

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Afterwards, we shish-ka-boom-ba’d (jazz hands!) over to Veritable Quandary to have a late-night supper from the bar menu, and were pleasantly surprised to find a lively crowd sipping cocktails and ordering food at 10:3o pm — our kind of people.  What an awesome little spot this is. The vintage fixtures, high-ceilings, exposed brick walls, milk-glass light globes and high-backed wooden booths reminded me of ancient bars commonly found in Chicago. And the late-night menu doesn’t default to the fried and frozen. Instead, it’s bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with creamy chevre, crispy duck confit spring rolls, grilled flatbread pizza topped with fresh mozzarella slices and a bevy of salty Italian meats.

Though we were tempted, we resisted stuffing ourselves with rabbit pate, the Dungeness crab cake or that seductive burger, and we didn’t even consider looking at the dinner menu. Great excuse to come back, of course. “There’s a place for us … somewhere a place for us …” I think it’s at the VQ bar!

Fagioli alla Fiorentina

Speaking of traditions

This year, New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday, which means our most recent pork-centric Sunday dinner took on a familiar, annual theme. Why I started making this Italian pork-and-beans dish to celebrate the new year, I do not remember. I think at one point I may have claimed New Year’s Eve or Day as my holiday to spend in the kitchen preparing a fabulous dinner. At some point, I also may have claimed — hoping on some level —  that I simply must be part Italian, though none of my ancestors were from anywhere near the Mediterranean.  I do remember making fagioli for the first time on a cold a New Year’s Eve in Salt Lake City, and I’ve made it many years since, in Chicago, in Venice and now in Portland. My recipe combines two versions I found in Saveur magazine (November 2000), and while the ingredients are few and simple, the aroma from the oven is comforting, warming, homey.

Why we have not made this for any other occasion is beyond me; it’s the essence of a one-pot meal, and incredibly easy to prepare. In the past, I’ve used only sausage as the accompanying meat, but this year we decided to braise pork shoulder with the beans. Next time we make it, I’d love to play with the ingredients and perhaps substitute pork with  lamb, and sage with thyme or rosemary.

Fagioli alla Fiorentina

1 pound dried cannellini beans (or any dried white beans)

5 ounces prosciutto cut into wide strips

Generous drizzle (1/4 cup) fruity olive oil

4 to 5 canned plum tomatoes, quartered

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 spicy Italian sausages

1 pork shoulder (about 2 pounds)

Sprig of fresh sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the beans in an earthenware pot or a dutch oven, and cover with cold water. Set aside and let soak overnight or at least 4 hours. Drain and add cold water to just cover the beans.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a skillet drizzled with olive oil, lightly brown the sausages. Remove and set aside. Salt and pepper the pork shoulder, then using the same pan, brown it on all sides. Remove and set aside.

Add the prosciutto, tomatoes, garlic and sage to the beans, and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Place the pork shoulder in the center of the beans, gently working it into the liquid until it’s partially submerged. Place the sausages atop the beans as well.

Cover and bake until the beans have absorbed all the liquid and are tender, about two hours. A meat thermometer placed in the center of the pork should register 160 degrees. Remove the pork shoulder and the sausages and cut into slices. Serve beans and pork in bowls or deep plates with perhaps a good crusty bread to sop up any juices.

Favoloso, no?

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Now Open (Again): Aviary

January 1, 2012

Kerr canning jars with a sprig of rosemary are part of the table settings at Aviary.

Aviary is finally open again, months after a July 4th roof fire shuttered the chic small-plates eatery on Alberta Street. The space looks basically the same except for the addition of a sleek bar in back, much appreciated if you must wait for a table. Just as before, the menu features beautifully composed dishes with nicely balanced flavors. As before the fire, our only complaint is the sometimes-spotty service.

Nevertheless, we consider ourselves lucky to have Aviary back in the neighborhood, and we look forward to many more dinners. Here are some photos from our New Year’s Eve prix-fixe dinner.

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