Enchiladas Suizas

Enchiladas Suizas with Spanish-style barley.

We are lucky to be prepping for a trip to western and southern France soon, and in doing so we are immersing ourselves in all things French: beautiful wines, delicious cheeses and of course the language. Having had only a year of French classes way back in high school, I’ve been practicing with some nifty software I bought, but I’ll be damned if my Spanish doesn’t keep intruding like a jealous friend I’ve been ignoring.

Le bâtiment, c’est près d’ici?
Sí, está muy cerca. Sólo tres minutos, más o menos.

Bah!

So it’s perhaps not surprising that, while our heads have been in Provence, our Sunday dinner menus have been on a little south-of-the-border tour recently. We should be priming our palates by cooking coq au vin or cassoulet, but instead we’re drawn to delicious frijol con puerco and enchiladas Suizas. (At least Switzerland is next to France.) A recent Saveur magazine — the Mexico issue — is partially to blame; that and we have a soft spot in our hearts for Mexico and its food.

Heating tomatoes and habaneros

Tomatoes and peppers for the magic sauce.

frijol con puerco

Frijoles con puerco, aka pork and beans.

A week ago Sunday we bought a pork shoulder and made the black bean stew, a richly flavorful dish augmented by a zesty puree of tomatoes and onions that tastes very similar to Thomas Keller’s soffritto, except with a snap of habanero that lingers on the tongue. The frijol dish is simple: browned cubes of pork, garlic, onions and black beans, all stewed together. (It’s especially simple since we used canned black beans.) The magical sauce I mentioned is made by blistering a pound of Roma tomatoes and habaneros in a hot pan, then transferring them along with half a cup of white onion and a couple of cloves of garlic to the Vitamix to puree. Afterward, the puree is fried in a quarter-cup of canola oil until slightly reduced. I can’t stress it enough: This is a marvelous sauce that serves as a soffritto would, bringing beautiful flavor and a bit of heat to just about any dish.

Chicken enchiladas in the pan

Delicious enchiladas. A whole pan.

Last Sunday, tempted again by Mexico and by the fact that it’s tomatillo season, we launched into enchiladas Suizas. This too is a simple recipe once you get past the basic prep. The ingredients list calls for three cups of shredded chicken, expedited by the availability of grocery store rotisserie birds. Somewhat labor-intensive is the charring of the tomatillos (husks removed) under the broiler and then, without losing any juices, removing the thin skin to reveal the gelatinous membranes within. (Hint, do this part over the blender, ’cause that’s where they’re going.) There they are joined by two poblano and two serrano peppers (also blackened and peeled), 3/4 cup of sour cream, a cup of boiling water, garlic, cumin and cilantro, then blended until smooth. Mix a cup of the enchilada sauce with the shredded chicken and you’re ready to assemble.

The earthy bitterness of the tomatillos and peppers with that hint of cilantro make for a light-tasting, refreshing sauce, so different from red enchilada sauces prevalent in many restaurants, and definitely more intense than the mild, creamy enchiladas Suizas I’ve encountered. Once the prep work is done, this is an easy-to-assemble meal that would be ideal for make-ahead entertaining.

France, you are a flirtatious distraction for us these days, and we cannot wait for our upcoming date. But deep down, our first love is Mexico. Ahora y siempre.

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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.

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.)

Small plates at Olympic Provisions.

Smoked rockfish (front) and tesa with egg.

The goddess Athena walks into a restaurant and says to the bearded waiter, “Is that a house-cured salami in your deli case, or are you just happy to see me?”

OK, I confess: Comedy is not my calling. Eating, however, is one of my talents, and so on Saturday night the gang (James, Zandra, J and I) ventured into Southeast Portland’s industrial district for a feast at Olympic Provisions.

Turns out the restaurant’s name was not derived from the 12 Greek Olympians as I had fantasized. “Food of the gods,” and so forth. Rather, the restaurant is named for its warehouse home, the landmark Olympic Mills Commerce Center located next to the tracks, in the shadow of the I-5 freeway.

Inside, the industrial feel endures with cement floors, subway tiles, dark wood-topped tables and exposed light bulbs dangling from rustic cords. Iron-and-wood shelving showcases a variety of wines and pickled items. A deli case displays salami for sale along with mounds of chicken and potato salad, with old-school meat-counter price cards — you know, the kind with the exchangeable red numbers.

For drinks, we started off with a slightly effervescent rosado from the Basque region of Spain on the recommendation of our server. Her enthusiasm in describing wines and their origins proved her passion for the topic. We were in very good hands as she paired wines with our courses as we explored the menu.

The menu itself is a smallish affair, belying the big flavors it foretells. The list of small plates is divided into small bites (olives, pickles, etc.), vegetables, meat, and charcuterie. We started with the chef’s choice charcuterie (salami, pork rillettes, a terrine) alongside house-pickled veggies. An early standout was the silky, not-too-dense chicken liver pate spread on crostini and topped with shaved ribbons of sweet asparagus, to which Zandra declared, “I could have ordered 10 of those and called it good.” Amen, sister. But variety is the name of the game here, so like the feasting Olympians we strive to be, we ventured deeper into the menu: fork-tender squid in a brothy, sop-worthy harissa; chicken thigh, smoked sausage and delicately tender beef tongue in an herbaceous salsa verde broth redolent of mint; crisp roasted tesa (pork belly) atop pea shoots, all crowned by a fried egg, dissolved deliciously on the tongue; deeply smoky rockfish came served alongside fried potato squares and topped with a creamy horseradish sauce — the dishes kept coming.

Finally the dessert menu appeared, from which we ordered a trio of cheeses and a sticky, delicious caramel walnut tart. Nearly too stuffed to leave, we sipped our port and dessert wine and looked back on the meal we just devoured. Food fit for gods, indeed, but certainly no laughing matter.

Pork belly and braised cabbage.

You might be thinking, “Really. Out to dinner two nights in a row?” Believe me, it’s not the norm. But after having moved to the neighborhood, J and I feel a responsibility to contribute to Alberta Street’s success. And if that means eating out two nights in a row, so be it. It had been a few months since we visited del Inti, our neighborhood Peruvian bistro, and we could not stand the guilt if, god forbid, it closed its doors.

Not that it needs our humble contribution. By the looks of the steady clientele, this spot is a local favorite. Del Inti’s welcoming patio with its piped-out Latin tunes and roaring fire pit mark the spot on Alberta and 23rd. Inside, the open space contains a bustling exposed kitchen, a lively dine-in bar, and a comfortably spaced dining area. Colorful artwork, globe lighting, cork flooring and a garage-type door that opens from the bar onto the patio complete the sleek neighborhood vibe.

A half-dozen colorful ceviches open the menu, and choosing presents a challenge. We selected the ceviche mixto with cubed mahi, whole shrimp, thin-sliced octopus, red onion and a fiery rocoto leche de tigre sauce, all capped by a jaunty dime-size slice of habañero. Sweet potato provided textural contrast and cooled the palate.

From the small plates, we chose the empanada, a flaky, deep-fried turnover stuffed with beef, potato, raisins and olives served atop a mild, nutty ocopa sauce. Next, the “chancho,” a pork belly confit, crisped top and bottom, served atop braised purple cabbage and finished with crunchy green apple chimichurri. The cabbage and apple provided sweet-tart crunch to contrast the salty pork, which disappeared on the tongue. Beautiful.

For entrees, J’s soy-glazed hangar steak cooked to a tender, pink medium rare, complemented by portobello mushrooms, fried potatoes and rice. For me, a pan-roasted corvina with manila clams, pork sausage, tapenade alongside buttery carrot “pasta” cut into pappardelle-like ribbons, cooked to al dente. All delicious.

Apple crisp with carrot-lemon ice cream (yep, I said carrot and lemon) rounded out our Saturday night meal, and we walked home, satiated and so grateful to be living in this neighborhood.

Del Inti, you continue to surprise us with your flavors and unexpected contrasts. Nos gusta mucho y hasta pronto.

Pork au Coke

March 13, 2011

Pork au Coke

The star of this evening’s meal was a J production. He felt like cooking a barbecue-style Southern meal, and the rib recipe was improvised. First, he marinated pork ribs in a dry  “Memphis rib rub” (in a tin) and a half  cup of kalbi marinade overnight.

Next day, in a large cast iron pan, J caramelized red onions and green cabbage (salt and pepper to taste) in oil till golden. Then he added an 8 oz bottle of Coca-Cola, half a cup of apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons soy sauce, one teaspoon of red pepper flakes and good squeeze of sriracha.

Simmer, simmer, simmer.

Meanwhile, he seared the ribs on a hot grill, then braised ribs in sauce for about four hours. Low and slow.

He removed ribs. Let ’em rest in a warm oven while the sauce reduced until it was a rich, brown cola color. (About an hour.)

Ribs went back into the sauce for a bath. The result: fork tender, tangy, spicy, slightly sweet deliciousness. We served it up with greens and mac and cheese.

This recipe, it’s a keeper.