food year in review 2010

It’s the first annual Culinaria Eugenius year in review!  In sum, it was a delicious year, with much less home cooking than I had expected due to constant travel in the last half.  Still, I managed to learn more about baking and continue my pickle odyssey.  What was your favorite food moment in 2010?  Here are some of mine.

January with chicken drummette confit salad with frisée, beets, Rogue Valley blue cheese, and hazelnuts.  I wrote an article on casual, cost-efficient confit for our local newspaper, and, I confess, kind of overdid it at home and at Belly, resulting in a need to refrain from confit for many months.

February weekends were dedicated to breadmaking classes run by the Master Food Preservers, including these hand-rolled grissini (Italian breadsticks).  My plan to bake more this year lasted for about a month.  Terrible news of the year was that the MFP program didn’t last 2010, with the closure of Extension office in September, but a few programs rallied and regrouped, including the Master Gardeners and our new Food Preservation Associates, which will be actively pursuing commercial kitchen opportunities and holding a range of classes in 2011.

March took me north to the wonderful homestead of preservation maven Linda Ziedrich, whom I interviewed for another newspaper story.  There, I saw how it was done: a heated garage full of shelving units to store hundreds of jars of pickles and jams.

In April, our beloved farmer’s market opened up for the season, and hungry ghosts ravaged the tables for greens and sweet young roots.

May flowers brought travel east, a weather pattern that lingered until the end of the year.  We celebrated Retrogrouch’s father’s birthday in Baltimore, at which no crab was spared.

In June, we finished school and I jetted off to Prague for Joycean merriment, which, as always, included a great deal of beer.  I wonder if I would love being a Joyce scholar less if the powers that be would select crummier places for the conferences.  Or maybe it’s just a requirement for Joyceans to live in great cities.  In any case, I was introduced to the Czech liqueur Becherovka (left), provided gratis to the group as we boarded the boat for a river tour.  Very sensible people, those Czechs.

July brought me home, and I began the first of many canning sessions with our local tayberries.  I made Tayberry Old Bachelor (with homemade vieux garcon liqueur) and Tayberry Old Spinster (with rose geranium) first, then apricot, loganberry, mixed caneberry, blackberry brulé, and spiced red fruit as the season evolved.

In August, I attended a Joyce and food workshop in Zurich, and spent a week or so at the British Library.  At the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, we were inspired by Joycean totems (fetishes?): a Jacob’s biscuit tin, iron jelloid and desiccated soup tins, a bottle of Bass ale, and ceramic rounds that once contained Plumtree’s potted meat (without which the workshop would have been incomplete).

Pasilla peppers welcomed September.  My little forest of Central European and South American pepper plants grew well, yielding several dozen in various sizes, shapes and colors.  This was somewhat surprising, as the summer was cool and wet, and we lost most of our tomatoes in the valley.  I turned them into salsa, pickled peppers, and ajvar before school started at the end of the month.

October is mostly a blur, with about 75% of my photos comprised of a single shoot of the Norway maple leaves on my front lawn.  Rough month.  But I did make a juicy, tasty ma po tofu!

November in Victoria, B.C., is not at all bad when you’re a PNWer.  Didn’t even notice the rain and fog with such lovely tea at Murchie’s while I graded papers in between panels at the Modernist Studies Association conference.  Although I shot nicer images from the fancy tea at the Empress, I felt very cozy and perfectly indulged with a single scone and a pot of assam, so this is the memory I’ll keep of that sweet little town.  Well, that and the dozen oysters with mussels chaser and a bottle of wine I shared with a new friend.  (Hint: if you want to be my friend, shellfish is the way to go.)

December allowed me to cook again once I finished my article and classes.  Thick, mustardy pork chop with pickled prunes, I’m still thinking of you fondly, and will be long into the new year.

I hope to have more delicious meals to share with you in 2011.  Thanks to all my readers for your support and shared joy in cooking and dining in a place I love to bits.  There’s no place like home.

ma po tofu for people who don’t eat tofu but enjoy stuffed peppers…with no rice

Don’t tell my Eastern European forebears, but I don’t really like stuffed cabbage or stuffed peppers or anything that includes that mixture of rice, ground meat, and tomato sauce.  I even have a hard time with dolmas, unless they significantly flavored with tart lemon juice and the rice-otherstuff ratio is leaning way on the side of the otherstuff.

This weakness has come in handy while rethinking stuffed peppers for my darling Retrogrouch, who has recently decided to cut out all grains, legumes, potatoes, and sugar in his diet.  He’s done quite well for himself, but it makes dinnertime a challenge if we’re not eating salad and a piece of meat.  I often make stuffed peppers out of Chinese stirfry or fried rice, mixing in the rice and some raw egg, and then baking it.  But it occurred to me that I could omit the rice altogether.

To use up a block of tofu we had in the refrigerator from his regular diet days, I thought I’d make that old Sichuan standby, ma po tofu.  I’m almost satisfied with Fuchsia Dunlop’s version, but I only had ground pork, not ground beef, and a head of savoy cabbage that wasn’t getting any younger, plus some crimson chard.

So I did my version of Ivy Manning’s Adaptable Feast, a cookbook with facing pages for adaptable recipes for mixed households (vegetarian/carnivore).  I made ma po for myself, and made no rice, ma po-flavored pork and brassica stuffed peppers for Retrogrouch.  I should write a cookbook series for all kinds of couples containing one normal and one crazy-ass person. Think of the possibilities! What would be excellent — not identifying which person in the couple is supposed to be the crazy-ass one.  In theory, it would be a cookbook wholly devoted to de-normativizing diets.  But we could still feel smug about our own niche.  Then everyone would be happy and dinnertime would cease to be a cesspool of argument.

Ahhhh…

The stuffed peppers turned out really well, actually, and I even managed one appetizing photo in a group that all looked like two Buddha-bellied gents in jaunty hats vomiting up vividly colorful insides.

And p.s. I also figured out the secret of ma po tofu: a big handful of cubed, raw savoy cabbage tossed in just prior to serving.  The crunch breaks up the monotonous softness of the tofu and mince.

There’s no reason you couldn’t substitute the ground pork for ground beef, or even chicken.  The green peppers can be swapped out with red peppers if you prefer that flavor, too.  This is a casual recipe, meant for adaptation based on what you have on hand.

Sichuan Stuffed Peppers, Ma Po Style

  • 2 small green bell peppers that can sit upright
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, divided
  • 6 oz. ground pork
  • 1/2 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 cups chopped leaves of any leafy brassica: chard, cabbage, bok choi, etc.
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped in one-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan bean paste (douban jian) or substitute another chili bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
  • a few Sichuan peppercorns (optional)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup stock or water
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • light soy sauce, white pepper, chili oil to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash the peppers.  Slice off the tops of the peppers carefully, leaving a little hat for baking.  Clean the insides of the peppers, removing seeds and the inner ribs.  Rub the insides of the pepper with the sesame oil and a little salt.

Place the peppers in the oven (upright without the lids) while preparing the stirfry. Don’t forget about them!  You only want to soften them up a bit, no more than 10 minutes.

Brown pork until deeply brown on med-high heat.  After pork has lost its pinkness, add onion, garlic and ginger.  (For the rest of the browning period, watch so aromatics don’t burn.)  If at any time it seems the stirfry is burning, add a small amount of water or stock to cool down the pan briefly.  It will heat up again once the water has evaporated.

Turn heat down to medium, add the Sichuan bean paste and fermented black beans, and Sichuan peppercorns, and saute until they release a nice, fragrant smell.  Add cabbage or other greens with a quarter cup or so of water or stock to deglaze the pan.   Saute until cabbage is softened but not completely limp. This might take longer with cabbage than a softer green like chard.

Remove from heat and add the green onions.  Toss to combine.  Remove the peppers from the oven and let cool just enough to handle.

Taste the stirfry.  If it lacks salt, add some light soy sauce to taste.  Add white pepper if you’d like a little more spice.  Chili oil is another option.

Lightly beat 2 eggs with the sugar.  Add the egg mixture to the stirfry and combine well.

With a soup spoon or small serving spoon, spoon the stirfry into the peppers, packing tightly.  Add a little hat to each pepper.  Leftovers can be eaten as is with leaves of lettuce as little wraps, or you could quickly blanch extra cabbage leaves in water and make little cabbage wraps that bake alongside the peppers.

Bake for another 10 minutes or so, just until the eggs are fully set (peek under lid to see if egg has solidified and turned opaque).

To serve, suggest that the diner cut the pepper in half while still upright, then cut off pieces of pepper and filling from the two halves that result.

eugene restaurants and bars open on christmas?

This post is from 2010.  For 2014 restaurants open in Eugene, click here!

Any restaurants or bars worth visiting open in Eugene for Christmas?  Please let us know by posting a comment.

Edit:  via email, I was told El Torito at VRC is open.

I think it might also be appropriate to post what’s open Christmas Eve.  I see that King Estates, for example, is featuring a special Christmas Eve supper of goose with orange and chestnut that looks absolutely wonderful.

Eugene restaurants and markets, please, for goodness sake, update your websites with holiday info!  I went through a bunch of restaurant sites and see stuff that hasn’t been updated since April.  You’re missing a great, free marketing opportunity here!

olympic provisions pickles are alive in portland

Everyone is posting links to the new comedy show, Portlandia (dear producers, pls. send check for my part in viral advertising now, thanks!), and joking about the “dream of the nineties” still alive in our big sister city.

I am, instead, dreaming of a pickled Portland Christmas, where hipsters demonstrate they are way ahead of old fashioned LA in charcuterie.  Sorry, Cali. Our hipsters may sleep in ’til 11 and unicycle around town, but they craft artisan sausage and pickles before their two-hour shift at the copy shop.  Eat it and weep!

We had a delightful lunch at Olympic Provisions a few weeks ago. Above, two views of a salumi platter from a sushi-style check off menu: black pepper sausage, liver mousse, and pickled cauliflower, zucchini, onions, rhubarb, and cornichons alongside.

We also gobbled down all the vegetable dishes on the lunch menu.  Above, roasted beets and sweetly sour cipollini onions with walnut sauce, and an unusually vibrant brussels sprouts salad with sunchokes and bright green castelvetrano olives.  You can just barely see the braised leeks with pepper-red romesco in the background.

The only unpleasant experience at OP was, indeed, a Portlandia moment, when we were treated to the castanet rhythms of the dude with tree branch ear plugs seated next to us.  I’m not sure if he had pulled them out of a hole in his body, and I didn’t want to know, but repeated clicking is not an appetizing backbeat in any decade.  But we forgive you, Portland, for being so hip, if hipness means pickles.

And Eugene, take note!  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Pickles, not plugs.  We’ll make it out of the eighties yet.

victorian holiday punches

Though most of my research last summer in London involved dirty books, I couldn’t help but notice a charming little column in the threepenny weekly newspaper Society.  Amid almost incomprehensible snippets joking about long lost references to British social butterflies, spicy lawsuits, perfidious massage parlours, correspondence about the discipline of schoolgirls, and ads for liver pills, I found some delightful holiday punch recipes from December 31, 1898.

The “newest things” of the late Victorian “convivial bowl” will amuse and delight your chums, encouraging one and all to think of the good olde days.  Make these at your own risk, American puritans — they aren’t foolin’ with the alcohol or raw eggs.  But what’s a Victorian party without a whiff of danger?

Hotpot seems like an excellent recipe for all you urban chicken keepers and home brewers.  Watch out for that nutmeg, though.  A Famous Christmas Punch makes my mouth water, but even *I* don’t have two spare bottles of soused raspberries and strawberries lying around.  I can’t imagine wasting the “best champagne” we recently tasted at Marché Provisions for Prince of Wales Punch, frankly. And as for the eggnogs, the White House eggnog is similar but less creamy than Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s famous egg nog , but the Kentucky eggnog, with its eggwhite float, will probably make its modern partakers dream less of paradise than salmonella.

But above all, just remember: “in the concoction of these ambrosial compounds strict attention must be paid to the prescribed proportions.” This seems particularly bad advice to me, especially when malnourished children are toasting with the Hotpot, but who am I to be a Scrooge?

Reprinted below are the recipes exactly as they appear in the clipping, for your cutting and pasting pleasure.

Navy Punch

Take one quart Jamaica rum, one quart American champagne, the juice of eight lemons, the rinds of four, one and one-half pounds sugar, one quart hot tea, made from eight teaspoonfuls of tea.  Upon the lemon rinds and sugar pour the tea and allow the mixture to stand half an hour, stirring it often.  Then add the lemon juice and rum.  Place in the punch bowl, and when iced and ready to serve add the champagne.

Hotpot

Take one quart of old ale (not lager beer), five well-beaten, new laid eggs; one small teaspoonful of ground ginger, one-fourth of a nutmeg, grated, one-fourth of a pound of sugar, half a pint of Old Tom gin.  First, put the ale in a saucepan and heat until hot, but do not let boil; second, beat together the eggs, sugar, and spices; third, pour the hot ale into the mixture, stirring all the time; fourth, add the gin; fifth, put the concoction on the fire again, in the saucepan, heat until hot (be sure not to let it boil), and serve hot, in tumblers.

A Famous Christmas Punch

Take one bottle of raspberries and one bottle of strawberries, each in liqueur, one bottle of cherries, brandied, six bottles of Saint Julien claret, three bottles of good rum, three dozen oranges, one dozen lemons, one pound of sugar, four quart syphons of seltzer.  Cut two oranges and one lemon into small slices or cubes and extract the juice of the remainder.  These slices are to float in the bowl with the cherries, strawberries, and raspberries.  The liqueur (Maraschino or Curaçao) and brandy of the berries and cherries give tone to and help sweeten the beverage.

Prince of Wales Punch

Take one bottle best champagne, one bottle Burgundy, one bottle San Cruz rum, ten lemons, two oranges, a pound and a half of sugar.  Squeeze the oranges and lemons into the bowl, add the sugar and let the mixture stand thirty-six hours, stirring often.  Then pour in the liquor and let the whole mixture stand twenty-four hours.  Ice and serve in the usual way.

White House Eggnog

Take eight eggs, two quarts of milk, eight tablespoonfuls of sugar, eight wine glasses of brandy, and three wine glasses of rum.  Mix as follows: Beat the yolks of the eggs and the sugar together, and then pour in slowly the liquor.  To this add one-third of the beaten whites of the eggs, next add the milk, and then the remainder of the beaten whites.

A “Half-Dozen” Punch

For a small party the number above mentioned here is a delicious punch: —

Take one pint of claret, one glass of rum, one whisky glass of whisky, one petit verre Benedictine, three lemons, one pint of seltzer (possibly a quart), half a cup of sugar, a few brandied cherries, or a brandied peach, coarsely chopped.  Serve ice cold.

With the rum and whisky omitted this is a very nice light punch.  Lettuce sandwiches are suitable to serve with it.

Kentucky Eggnog

Here is an eggnog that will make its partakers dream of paradise.  Ingredients: Two dozen eggs, two quarts of rich milk, one quart of brandy, half a pint of Jamaica rum, a pound and a half of sugar.  Mix as follows: Separate the yolks of the eggs from the whites, add one pound of sugar to the whites, and beat until stiff enough to float.  Add balance of sugar to the yolks and beat thoroughly.  Into a large bowl throw the Jamaica rum, the brandy and the milk, and stir in the beaten yolks, float the beaten whites on top, and serve with a little nutmeg grated over each glass, or not, as preferred.  Will serve twenty people.

edible buckeyes: the candyman can

I roast chestnuts every year, partially out of masochism and partially because they’re so beautiful when they’re fresh. We have some old, lovely chestnut trees in the Willamette Valley, and I always love it when I see a basket full of chestnuts that someone has collected for market.  No, not horse chestnuts, sometimes called buckeyes, which you can’t eat and are recognizable by their palmate leaves and distinctive nut cases, but regular chestnuts.   But most often, I buy Korean chestnuts at an Asian market, where they’re almost always fresh because of the high turnover, or the Italian chestnuts Market of Choice stocks in November.

Chestnuts in December, however, are a rather dicey proposition, because they’ve been sitting for a while, and probably have begun to dry out and mold inside their tender little shells.  You can still roast them over an open fire, but you may not get what you want.

Every year, I try to figure out ways to prolong chestnut season, or at least mitigate some of the pain of peeling the stubborn shells and the even more stubborn inner fuzzy skin.  The photo above was part of my campaign to compare nuts frozen in their shells and then roasted (top nut was frozen: the outer shell was fine but the inner skin stuck like glue).  The picture below shows a somewhat more successful experiment to sprinkle the shells with water before roasting (easy to remove part with water on it).  I haven’t yet tried soaking then roasting, but I can report that boiling didn’t work very well.

I can also report that I own a chestnut scorer, perhaps the only single-purpose gadget I own. It doesn’t even work that well — you can’t just press an X with the thing in one or two punches.  You have to make four little cuts.  A knife is faster.  Then again, you don’t slice your finger with the chestnut scorer.

Perhaps the only easy way to eat chestnuts is a non-chestnut product made famous around Christmastime by many a happy housewife.  We used to call peanutbutter balls half-dipped in chocolate ‘buckeyes’, because they look like buckeye nuts, which look like horse chestnuts, which look like real chestnuts.  Following my line of logic here?  No?  Well, that’s ok.  My point is that you should make these easy candies called buckeyes as part of your Christmas cookie repertoire.

I’ve been searching for a recipe like the one we used to make in the Midwest, but they’ve all been weirded by adding healthy things like real peanut butter and malt and god knows what.  Look, if I’m going to eat something crappy, I’m going to eat something crappy.  Especially if it’s named after a poisonous nut.

Finally, at the Food Preservation Associates holiday sweets class a couple of weeks ago, I tasted what I had been searching for.  Buckeyes!   Most people called them peanut butter balls and completely enrobed them in chocolate, but I turned mine into that half-dipped memory.  Sure, you can drizzle them with more chocolate, but then you’ll just be adding to the confusion. Whatever you do, though, don’t use the nasty shelf-stable dipping chocolate for the coating, unless you were one of those people who ate wax soda bottle candy for fun.  Who am I to ruin your childhood experiences?

Either way, enjoy.

Buckeyes!

Adapted from our FPA class recipe, source unknown. Makes about 35 candies.

  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 12 oz. or more chocolate for melting (chips, chunks, or “chocolate-flavor candy coating” if you must)

Line a tray with parchment or waxed paper.  Mix together peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar, with a fork.  The original recipe suggests using your hands if the mixture resists.  Taste, and add a bit of salt, if necessary.  Chill until easy to handle, then roll mixture into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter and place on tray.

Once balls are rolled, in a large bowl, melt chocolate chips/chunks at 15 second intervals in the microwave (follow instructions on bag if you are using the waxy stuff).  Once melted, dip the peanut butter balls in the chocolate about halfway up the side of the ball, then let harden on the tray. Other options are to drizzle chocolate on the uncovered portions, or dip the entire ball in chocolate, as pictured.

Store in the refrigerator or freezer until gone.