Bulgogi lettuce wraps

Marinated chicken and beef in the foreground, with the all-important Sriracha.

With the recent heat wave seemingly behind us, this Sunday’s dinner called for something light and easy. Jeff came across this bulgogi marinade recipe a few months ago, and it’s the third time he’s made it. Based on the popular Korean dish, this recipe comes from Mark Bittman and calls for beef. We’d done it with chicken one time and with beef another, and last night — what the hell — we did a twofer: round steak and chicken thighs.

On top of that, an afternoon trip to the farmer’s market brought an unexpected find for this time of year — baby artichokes. Unable to resist, even while knowing they had no cultural fit with our lettuce wraps, we grabbed a bag. And indeed, dinner would be a grab bag of a meal. Two very different, but very compelling components, and either would make for delicious and easy entertaining. (Just probably not on the same night.)

Bulgogi Marinade

1 bunch scallions

8 – 10 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 to 3 pounds chicken or beef.

Put all the ingredients except the meat in the Vitamix, and blend until smooth. Add water as needed (Jeff used about 1/2 a cup).

Reserve about 1/2 cup of the marinade to use as a sauce. It’s tremendous. You’ll want to put it on everything.

Pour the remaining marinade over your choice of meat and mix to coat. (Bittman slices his beef before marinating, but we feel that complicates the grilling. We cooked the meat pieces whole and sliced them later.) Marinate for up to two hours before cooking on a hot, hot grill.

Slice the meat thinly and serve with butter lettuce leaves, the reserved sauce, sambal (or Sriracha if you are out of sambal like we, sadly,

Baby artichokes with garlic and mint

Baby artichokes with garlic and mint.

were).

And now for something completely different ..I adapted this recipe from Mario Batali’s cookbook Simple Italian Food – Recipes from My Two Villages.

Baby Artichokes With Mint and Garlic

12 baby artichokes with stems intact

6 or 7 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed with the side of a knife

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup mint leaves

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes

Salt and pepper

Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichokes and shave the stems. Cut larger ones in half lengthwise and place in acidulated water.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and the garlic until it is just golden. Drain the artichokes and place them in the pan stirring to coat with oil and garlic. Add the red chile flakes and a splash of wine and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, adding a little more wine along the way to braise the artichokes and keep the garlic from getting too brown. Season with salt and pepper, and about halfway through, add the torn mint leaves.  Serve warm as a side dish, or as we did, as a first course. This would also be delicious tossed with fresh pasta.

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Minizo ramen

Happiness on a stick.

Minizo. Thanks for meeting me tonight. I know I shouldn’t … we shouldn’t. But the attraction is too great. It shouldn’t feel right — hot soup and steaming dumplings on a sun-baked August evening — but when that twilight breeze brushes my legs, well I can’t explain it. It just is right. It can’t be helped.

Stumpings

Tri-colored beauties.

You know I find you irresistible: your fresh handmade noodles boiled to order; the pinch of sprouts in the bottom of the bowl, awaiting the hot bath of broth; that soft-boiled egg, melting into the soup; the thinly sliced pork. Yes, I noticed it all. How could I not? All this cool confidence and yet you’re playful enough to display the plastic Godzilla on the counter. I’m feeling faint. Is it getting hotter? Or is it just me?

Stumplings, right next door, does not make this affair any easier. If I’m waiting, waiting for handmade noodles cooked to order, how can I resist handmade steamed dumplings? Yes, I am weak, but I am not ashamed. I am in love. It can’t be helped.

Eleni’s in Sellwood

August 18, 2012

Eleni's grilled calamari

Eleni’s grilled calamari. It’s a crime not to dip bread in that sauce.

One hundred degrees in Portland. The pets are wilting. The plants are panting. It’s too hot to breathe.

Our house lacks AC, so the only respite involves getting out, and on blistering nights like last Thursday, nothing beckons more than fresh, bright flavors and simple ingredients. In our minds, that means one place, so off to Eleni’s in Sellwood we went.

James and Zandra introduced us to Eleni’s long before we moved here, and we’ve been around the classic Greek menu a few times now, sampling appetizers, salads, pastas and mains. Decision-making impaired by the heat, we took the one-of-everything approach and assembled a feast of shared appetizers and a few larger plates mixed in: rice-filled dolmathes; giant lima beans sauteed with red peppers and onion; a generous triangle of spanakopita; moussaka thick with bechamel; flaky pan-seared halibut; a lamb gyro; plump tiger prawns sauteed with a zesty sherry sauce; and a bright Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, olives and feta in a light balsamic dressing.

But there’s one dish that brings us back repeatedly: marinated, grilled calamari finished with lemon juice and fruity olive oil. We always get two orders — truthfully, we could get four or five and not have enough. So simple, fresh and cooked to perfection, it transports you to a taverna on a Greek hillside overlooking the Mediterranean.

To put it plainly, we love Eleni’s, and the grilled calamari has no match in town. That we don’t hear much buzz about Eleni’s strikes us as odd because the food is consistently strong and the service is warm and prompt. But for now, it is our under-the-radar gem and the ideal destination no matter the temperature outside.

Tomato sandwich

J + R + T = Love.

Some couples have their song. (“This is our song! We danced to it at our wedding.”)

Some couples have a place. (“We are going back to Cabo in the spring. It’s where we met!!”)

Jeff and I, we have a sandwich.

Ok, to be fair, it’s a sandwich and a side. So it’s really a meal. Our meal is the tomato sandwich and “dry” ramen.

Of course I’d had BLTs before, and everyone knows how I feel about ramen, but this combination is special. Early in our relationship, Jeff introduced me to this glorious partnership, which he and his brother had perfected during their college years. The sandwich requires juicy, sweet, still-warm-from-the-sun, vine-ripened tomatoes, which are so plentiful in Salt Lake. It’s not worth making if you don’t have this component (and I’ve griped about the lack of decent tomatoes since leaving Utah).

The focus on the tomato makes this sandwich different from a BLT, where bacon steals the show. This is a T sandwich all the way, and the other ingredients are supporting cast: Two pieces of toasted wheat bread, one topped with a leaf or two of lettuce (I like either iceberg or butter lettuce). The other piece of bread has a slather of mayo and Dijon mustard. Call in the tomato. It should be plump, sweet and juicy, not like the anemic grainy flavorless imposters you find in the supermarket. At home we grew Early Girls and Beefsteak, and both made lovely sandwiches. Lay two, three or four thick slices on the lettuce. Grind a little black pepper over the tomato and put a couple not-too-thick slices of cheddar on top. The other piece of bread sits on top of the cheese. (You’ll notice the cheese and the lettuce insulate the bread from all the juices from the tomato. Ingenious, I know.)

While one of us assembled sandwiches, the other started a little pot of water on the stove for the ramen, which is drained and dressed with a dash of rice wine vinegar, a drizzle of soy sauce, several good shakes of Tabasco, half the flavor packet and five or six grinds of pepper.

Sandwich and ramen

Beautiful.

Sandwich on the plate. Ramen on the plate. Nothing could be more beautiful.

During the summer in Salt Lake when the tomatoes were bountiful, Jeff and I would eat tomato sandwiches for lunch at least a couple times a week. We even considered serving it at our wedding, only half-jokingly, before we decided that Log Haven likely would not tolerate Top Ramen in their kitchen.

Every once is a great while we come across the rare tomato that is sandwich-worthy, like the ones Jeff found last week. We pounced and went through the delicious summer ritual of so many years ago. Hunched over our plates, tomato juice dripping down our chins, we thanked our lucky stars that we don’t have a song or a place. We have a sandwich.

Cubano

Hello my friend, hello.

This sounds overly dramatic, but I mean it when I say a good sandwich can elevate my day. A bad one can ruin it. It’s a simple matter of good ingredients in the right proportion, and when I find a beautiful sandwich, it brings joy.

On a recent hot Saturday afternoon, we — Julie, J and I — set out on a walk that would lead us to Bunk Bar on SE Water Street. Bunk has earned a reputation of being the Mecca of Portland’s sandwich seekers, and that reputation has catapulted into the national spotlight through coverage on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. Bunk Bar, an outpost of the original, serves the same sandwiches but is open later, has a full bar and a music stage. Though we arrived in the afternoon, Bunk Bar still had a lively crowd and we barely avoided a mini rush that lined up after us. I grabbed a booth by the  window, while Julie and J placed our order: three pork belly Cubano sandwiches and mole tots.

A well-made sandwich strikes a balance among all its ingredients, and Bunk’s pork belly Cubano does that with casual precision. The ciabatta bread has the perfect chewy-to-crunchy ratio, enough to envelop the sandwich and add flavor and texture, but not overpower what’s inside. And what’s inside can best be classified as “oh my goodness”: salty slab bacon, melted Swiss cheese, tart pickle, a good slather of mustard and silky pork belly that dissolves on the tongue. Each bite deliciously proportionate. The tots, bathed in rich dark mole sauce, were a tasty accompaniment, but entirely unnecessary. The sandwich was more than enough on this trip.

Bunk gets it right. We knew that going in, but we were happy to have tried it ourselves, finally, and we can’t wait to go back. Sandwich joy. Is there anything better?