Radishes, radish greens and compound butter.

Radishes, radish greens and compound butter.

In a break with tradition, we ventured out of our kitchen this Sunday evening to Old Salt Marketplace on NE 42nd Avenue. Sister restaurant to Grain & Gristle, Old Salt is rustic and neighborhood-friendly, a spot for a casual meal: spring radishes with miso compound butter; tangy beef tartare with thick-cut potato chips and piquant aioli; wood-fired duck egg on toast with chèvre; smoked half-chicken, roasted new potatoes and fiddlehead ferns; lamb, chèvre, sliced sugar snap peas and mint over linguini. Oh, and a couple of biscuits with sweet cream butter to sop up that chicken jus. Welcome, May, and happy Sunday.

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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.

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.

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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Warm and comforting meatloaf and spaghetti squash gratin.

I can’t say meatloaf was my favorite food growing up. By my logic, if you were going through the trouble of hand-shaping ground beef, why not make meatballs (with spaghetti, duh)? And, if I remember correctly, the meatloaf of my childhood was usually accompanied by some objectionable vegetable like broccoli, adding insult to my pasta-less injury. (No disrespect to my mother’s meatloaf, of course. It just did not appeal to young palate. People change. Love you, Mom!)

A few year’s back, in the midst a dangerous, experimental mac-and-cheese stage (old habits die hard), I was perusing my cookbooks for an accompaniment to what I considered the night’s gooey, cheesy main attraction. That’s when I ran across a recipe for old-fashioned meatloaf in my golden go-to, The Gourmet Cookbook. A departure from the meatloaf Mom baked in bread loaf pans, this version was mounded free-form into an oval dome on baking sheet and slathered with ketchup. It sounded interesting enough, so we gave it a try, and a few year’s later it’s now a wintertime staple. While I have served this many times alongside a creamy pot of macaroni, it’s a star in and of itself. On a recent Sunday, though, a spaghetti-squash gratin was the side to what I consider to be a magnificent meatloaf. Pasta-less and still craveable? Whoodathunk it?

Old-Fashioned Meatloaf (Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)

2 cups onions, finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
3 green onions, minced
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup ketchup

2 pounds lean ground chuck
1 pound ground pork
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
2 eggs beaten lightly
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, sautee the onions, celery carrots, green onions and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce and 1/3 cup ketchup and stir, cooking for one additional minute. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the the beef, pork, eggs, breadcrumbs and parsley. Incorporate the vegetable mixture into the meat, mixing with your hands. (Don’t over-mix.) Turn the meatloaf mixture onto a shallow baking pan, forming it into a mounded oval, about 10 by 5 inches. Spread the remaining 1/3 cup ketchup on the top. Bake in the oven for 1 hour or until the internal temperature reads 155 degrees. Remove from oven and loosely cover with foil. Let the loaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Spaghetti Squash and Tomato Gratin (Adapted from Cooking Light)

1 medium spaghetti squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 28-ounce canned whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 sprigs fresh oregano
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 15-ounce tub low-fat ricotta
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper

With a small, sharp knife, pierce the surface of the squash about 1-inch deep to prevent it from bursting. Put the whole squash in a microwave and cook on the highest setting for 6 to 7 minutes. Using oven mitts, turn the squash over and cook for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, until it feels slightly soft when pressed. Remove the squash from the microwave, and allow it to cool. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and remove and discard the seeds from the middle. Run the tines of a fork through the flesh creating long spaghetti-like strands. (Should yield about four cups.) Set aside. (This step can be done ahead.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, crushed red pepper, oregano sprigs and thyme sprigs. Add salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 20 minutes until thickened. Remove and discard the woody stems of the oregano and thyme. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the chopped oregano and thyme and season with salt and pepper.

In a 9 by 13 casserole, make a base layer of spaghetti squash. Follow with a layer of tomatoes, spreading evenly over the squash. Top it off with the cheese mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

(Alternatively, you can layer the squash, tomatoes and cheese in eight 8-ounce ramekins as called for in the the original recipe.)

Chinook salmon at Tina's

Chinook salmon with corn, zucchini hash.

Labor Day weekend: Three gloriously lazy days lay out in front of us like a well-fed housecat on a hot day. And what better way to start a long weekend than a leisurely day of sipping local wines, followed by an intimate dinner with family.
Saturday was warm and windy, and wildfires in Central Oregon and near Mount Hood made the already-soft September light that much more hazy. The views promised by the latest edition of Portland Monthly were sure to be obscured by smoke. Undeterred, we — J, Zandra, James and I — met in Tualatin and started our excursion. We headed first to Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, with sweeping views of the Chehalem Valley from the patio overlooking the well-tended garden. We sampled Viognier, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Rubeo, and toasted our good fortune at living in such a beautiful place. Next, it was on to Trisaetum (pronounced tri-SAY-tum), an elegant winery/art gallery with a stunning barrel cave in the basement. After that, we stopped at Lemelson and Anne Amie wineries, picking up more Pinot Gris, dry Riesling and Pinot Noir  along the way. Happily we bumped down the dusty gravel roads, our wine-laden trunk weighing heavily behind us.

Not the most strenuous activity, wine tasting nevertheless piques the appetite, so at 5:30, we headed to Tina’s in Dundee for an early supper. The cozy dining room has a cottage feel with soft yellow walls, sunny windows  and a central fireplace. Crisp white table linens add a refined note to the otherwise casually intimate space, which fills up fast, even early in the evening. The menu showcases local and seasonal products, of course, so in keeping with our day, we started off with a Cristom Estate Pinot Gris to complement our starters: grilled calamari on a bed of greens; a glorious, generous slice of country duck pate; and pan-fried Yaquina Bay oysters with sorrel sauce, the oysters so tender they dissolved on the tongue.

The next course offered a choice of the house salad or corn soup, a sweet, creamy burst of color that tasted like sunshine, and evoked the childhood memory of creamed corn.

For entrees, Zandra and I ordered the Chinook salmon, seared crisp and served atop a corn, zucchini and pancetta hash with silky fennel puree beneath. Summer … Pow! James had the tenderloin with roasted fingerlings, porcini and a darkly rich demi glace — delicious flavors, but unfortunately the beef arrived cooked beyond the  requested medium rare. For J, it was the roasted duck breast, cooked perfectly medium rare (in your face, tenderloin), and accompanied by a cabbage and jicama slaw and a crunchy, savory-sweet walnut cornbread.

And dessert: bubbly blueberry cobbler a la mode and, for the chocolate fiends among us, chocolate mousse cake with chocolate truffle ice cream.

Dragging our full bellies and heavy trunk, we headed back to Tualatin where we divided the day’s booty. Family, good food, good wine. One memorable day.

Baked beans.

Oven-baked beans, just simmerin' away.

An unusual summer Sunday: J was on call all weekend, and I had signed up for a daylong sewing class in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, J’s mom, Margaret, was scheduled to arrive in the afternoon. And, to top it all off, we had invited James and Zandra over for Sunday dinner. Our Sundays are typically far more relaxed, but this was the exception, and with J being tied to work, the shopping and other dinner preparations were up to me. So, when planning the meal, the mantra was: Keep it simple; make it ahead.

Taking inspiration from the mid-summer edition of Saveur — BBQ Nation — we decided to employ the grill for dinner.  And after debating the various grilling options, we landed on sausages made at our neighborhood grocery store, New Seasons. When I told the eager-to-help man at the meat counter our plan to offer a variety of sausages, he said he’d hosted his own sausage feast just a few days earlier, and it was a huge success. Upon his hearty recommendation, I choose the chicken, feta and spinach links (he admitted he didn’t think he’d like them, and was surprised when they turned out to be his favorite). Then I grabbed a couple of basic bratwurst and a few spicy Polish sausages. The main dish was set, and next it was onto sides.

Saveur had featured a lovely summery cucumber salad in the barbecue edition that intrigued me. Thin-sliced, peeled cucumbers and red onion tossed with sour cream and sherry wine vinegar dressing. I made the dressing the night ahead, leaving the cucumber slicing for the last minute. This was easy enough, but in retrospect, I should have sliced and drained the cukes the night before as one does for tzatziki. Noted for next time.

The menu lacked something. We discussed pasta salad  and potato salad  before finally landing on oven-baked beans, also from the magazine. I’d never baked my own beans, and hadn’t contemplated how making them from scratch would improve the flavor. Of course I should have known. My adaptation adds more onion, less sugar and a touch of bourbon.

Oven-baked Beans

8 to 10 slices bacon, cut into chunks

1 diced large yellow onion

4 15-ounce cans navy beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups barbecue sauce (homemade or store bought)

3/4 cup beef stock

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup bourbon

1/8 teaspoon clove, finely ground

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon dry mustard

6 to 8 whole, peeled canned tomatoes, hand crushed

Preheat oven to 350. Sautee the bacon in a Dutch oven or deep oven-proof skillet until soft, but not crisp. Add the diced onions and cook until translucent. Add the sugar, molasses, bourbon, barbecue sauce, stock, tomatoes, clove, mustard, salt and stir until mixed. Bring the mixture to a boil to thicken slightly. Add the beans and bring to a simmer.

Cover and bake for 2 hours. Let cool before serving.

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be made ahead, and re-heated either on the stove top or in the oven before serving. In fact, making the beans ahead only intensifies the flavors.

Yep. File this meal under easy, rich, slightly sweet and sublimely summer.

Greek salad, a Sunday tradition.

It’s part of the Sunday ritual, so deeply ingrained that the weekend hardly feels complete without it. Every weekend, we make our shopping list, and every weekend, the same few ingredients appear: cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, feta, black olives.

After the groceries are put away, and before any other dinner-fixing starts, the chopping commences. Uncomplicated, and delicious in its simplicity,
our Greek salad serves as a side dish on its own, but more commonly I use it to top my chopped lettuce during the week. Every night. Yes, I eat salad every night during the week. I think of it as a calorie bank: I save up calories during the week that I can in turn spend on weekend splurges.

The essential component to our Greek salad is English cucumber, peeled. I find the seeds and skins of traditional cucumbers to be bitter and generally horrible. In fact, for years I detested cucumbers until I realized their problem could be fixed by peeling and seeding them, and I always question restaurants that slice cucumbers on salads without taking these extra steps.

Grape tomatoes are the other important component of the recipe. During the summer, if large, flavorful tomatoes are available, I’ll use them, but grape tomatoes are usually delicious, if a little expensive, year round.

So, peel, quarter and chop the cucumber, add a little salt. Halve the grape tomatoes lengthwise and add to cucumber. Finely mince 1/2 red onion and give the salad a toss. Though I buy pitted kalamata olives, I chop them to detect any lingering pits. In they go. Cube or crumble the feta and pile it in. Season with salt and pepper keeping in mind that the olives and feta add some saltiness. A drizzle of olive oil is the final touch. If I have a lemon, maybe a squeeze of juice, but I don’t go out of my way to buy lemon. Stir it up, and it’s done.

Pork roast and farro, arugula salad.

After our decadent weekend of dining out, Sunday dinner was a welcome break.

Just before we embarked on our afternoon walk, J rubbed pork leg roast with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and a generous sprinkling of granulated garlic. He first browned it on a hot grill, giving it a nice crust. Then it went into the oven with a can of beer to maintain a bit of moisture. Four hours at 250 degrees yielded flavorful, tender meat (J thought it was overcooked, I thought it was delicious).

To accompany, we improvised a earthy, peppery salad of farro, mushrooms and baby arugula.

1 pound mixed mushrooms (crimini, shiitaki, oyster and enoki) sauteed in leftover soffrito oil  until softened. Cooled.

1 cup farro cooked in 5 cups broth for 50 minutes until al dente. Drained and cooled.

1 package baby arugula. Washed and dried.

Lemon vinaigrette (fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, pinch of sugar, minced onion, fruity olive oil.)

In a large bowl, I mixed the cooled mushrooms and farro, salting to taste. Then I tossed in baby arugula until there was an even balance, half and half-ish. Spooned on some vinaigrette, then using a veggie peeler, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano into the bowl and tossed. Garnished with more Parm on the plate.

A simple recipe with balanced textures and flavors.  This one’s a keeper.

Farro, arugula, mushrooms, lemon vinaigrette and cheese.