culinaria eugenius in taiwan: wait, what?!

Yes, I’m in Taiwan. These two pictures and the one above are of the Grand Hotel, once owned and run by Chiang Kai Shek’s wife, the infamous “Dragon Lady,” Madame Chiang.  See?

The trip was pretty much a surprise.  Just a few weeks ago, I was invited to visit Taipei and the surrounding countryside to learn about Taiwanese indigenous cuisine and regional Chinese styles as interpreted by Taiwanese chefs.  It was kind of bad timing, and kind of impossible not to go.

I’ve already learned much, and am thinking of ways to integrate the Asian diaspora into my classes.

So much to tell already.  I’ve only been here 12 hours and I’ve already been photographed for a local magazine and tried many new things to eat, including this delicious international buffet in the lobby of my hotel with fresh Taiwanese fruits,  Swiss pastries, congee, dim sum, a full Japanese breakfast, and bacon-sausage-eggs.  More soon!

she loved to do the wild thing: marché wild foods shaw dinner

In my last post, I recapped our foraging walk with our visitor, wild foods expert Hank Shaw.  The group was a nice mix of academics, chefs, and food industry people.  But one intrepid soul, Sous Chef Crystal Platt, and her team at Marché restaurant, stayed behind to prepare a wonderful meal as the rest of us combed the forest for rarities.

The wild foods dinner menu.

I don’t think Marché has ever been so on.  I’m so proud of Chef Platt for treating us not only to the area’s wild foods, but also her budding molecular gastronomy chops. I happen to know that she’s a fan of Alinea and similar restaurants experimenting with the intersection of science, food, and metamorphosis.  I love the flavors she chose to feature: fennel, rye, duck, orange root vegetables.  We got to see her passions in action.

And I’m not going to lie; one of my own passions, and one that grows more urgent by the year, is to facilitate opportunities for motivated people to express themselves creatively.  She’s going to be embarrassed, but just look at Chef Platt’s face in Dmitri von Klein’s photography of the preparation of the meal.  (Ugh, and here, I should take a moment to apologize for the yellowed quality of my own photographs.  The light was not good, my camera not the best.)

At its worst, molecular gastronomy is like spending an evening with tech geeks: it can occasionally be amusing, but often devolves into theatrics for the sake of the blast alone.

And to be honest, it often greatly benefits from a less aggressive (dare I say macho?) and less clinical touch.  It needs to have an element of play in it, of having fun.  And that’s just plain hard to do in these times.

But Chef Platt pulled it off.

We started out with an oyster on a celery purée with parsley oil (the very first picture).  That punch of GREEN works quite well with the briny shellfish, much better than the overpowering vinegar in a mignonette sauce and — ack — cocktail sauce.

Gougère with laurel butter and lardo followed.  Enough said.  

One of the more charming of the amuses bouches was the fennel flower dipped in tempura batter, served with “tea,” which was almond milk scented with fennel and honey.  Each fennel flower cluster formed a wonderful little bite of crunch.  The hors d’oeuvres were served with a Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Berlene 2007.

Next came a venison carpaccio.  A rye cracker (rolled cannoli style) was filled with buttermilk mousse(?) and topped by apple granita, shaved chestnut, and little sprigs of wood sorrel and yarrow foraged by our enthusiastic, competent servers, Aleica and Joseph (thanks so much to both of you!).

With this dish, the sommalier chose to serve a new Marché cocktail, a modified ‘Harvest Cocktail’ available at the bar.  With its calvados and allspice dram, and following the opening wine, it was a little strange, but I do like the cocktail.

The next two courses were filled with attentive details, and delighted us.  Roasted chanterelles and poached mussels, two very subtle flavors somewhat lost under a blanket of pinenut puree, got up close and personal with a mound of crispy pork. Dotted with new pine needles and pine nuts, rosemary flowers, and perhaps a pine oil, the dish was executed well, but crispy pork will steal the show every time.  Just saying.

That was followed by a seared ling cod, shaved porcini salad (be careful with raw porcini at home), autumn greens, braised sunchoke, and braised mustard seeds, which immediately grabbed my attention.  A not-so-fragile sheet of smoked lardo was laid on top, creating a sweet little blanket. Atop a roasted onion jus and garnished with reminders that spring will come again, little mustard flowers, the dish was like opening a treasure box and having a bunch of jewels fall out and spill all over the floor.  Each little layer was worth careful examination.

These course were accompanied by an Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Rose Val de Loire 2010 (from an area in the Loire valley close to the sea, which lent a bit of saline that matched well with the seafood).

Then came the fun.  Our servers brought out a plate of compost, which was not compost at all but a shallow pasta bowl filled with singed hay, cinnamon stick, red maple leaves, pumpkin guts, and a wedge of apple.  Yes, a fall potpourri, made somewhat fragrant by hot water.  I wish the scents had been strong enough to balance the hay, but it was nevertheless intriguing.

“Autumn inspired whole duck,” our main course, was the star of the meal.  It had a brilliant yellow duck egg yolk dip; duckfat-poached purple carrot; little dots and swaths of carrot puree, quince gel, and quince paste; duck pâté rolled in essence of Eugene, curried granola; seared duck breast; and a duck sandwich with confit layered between crispy duck skin.

The wine?  Ah yes, a Domaine Notre Dame des Pallieres Gigondas Les Mourrue 2007 from the foothills near Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

And last but not really last was dessert: huckleberry sorbet logs with malt crumbs; a soft cinnamon meringue which may have been the only evident technical failure; “pumpkin & chocolate chips,” which I think was pumpkin puree and little chocolate dipped dried pumpkin slices.  Delicious.  This course was followed by mignardises: a beet and rosehip macaron and a cocoa nib brioche with a pear and ginger filling.  These yumyums were paired with an AlexEli Muller Thurgau 2010 from close to home in the Willamette Valley.

Then we repaired to le bar where we had fernet branca.  If you haven’t yet checked out Marché’s new bar, do go.  It’s a very warm and welcoming place, and I think you’ll like it.

Well, I’m full again writing about this.  Time to toddle off to new ground or a nap or something.  Thank you, Chef Platt, Ryan, Jessica, Aleica and Joseph, and the entire Marché crew for making this happen.  And thanks to Hank Shaw for being such a good guest — we loved having you in Eugene and you’re welcome any time!

mushrooming with hank shaw and peg boulay

Part of Hank Shaw‘s recent visit to UO was a mushroom foray to the coast with local wildlife ecologist and co-founder of the Cascade Mycological Society Peg Boulay.  Though Hank and Peg were able to score some fascinating edibles, beginners like me foraged for chanterelles and king boletes (aka porcini), very common in early November, as it was a tad too early for matsutake. Sadly, we struck out on all but the last, elderly kings and a few chanties.

We did find some rather lovely non-edibles, like these purple coral mushrooms that spring up from the soil and the poisonous red spotted Amanita muscaria, also known as the fly agaric, also known as every single kid’s picture of a mushroom.

Hank and Peg were great guides: Peg made sure we all had a good lesson in mushrooms from the samples we found, and Hank pointed out edible wild plants we might use in the future.  I have to say, too, that our group was rather dapper.

It’s thrilling to experience our unique and diverse ecosystem in Lane County, which stretches from east of Eugene to the coast.  And I have to say I’m rather enamored of these little strange fungal growths.  There’s something anthropomorphic about them, no?

The thrill of the hunt also unexpectedly brought out the bargain shopper in me, scouring the floor (literally) for the jackpot find.  It also reminded me that life surprises us when we least expect it with a tiny bit of hope that keeps us going.  For you never know what you’ll find.

removing our president just before thanksgiving? no, thank you.

UO faculty, staff, and students: please sign the Faculty Senate’s petition in support of President Lariviere by Tuesday at noon.

The small potatoes at Culinaria Eugenius are appalled by the sudden decision to oust University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere.

As much as I support local products, we don’t live in a small, hermetically sealed valley in the middle of nowhere; we live in a state that needs better universities and more funding for excellent faculty and programs. Yes, indeed, we live in a community that extends over the Cascades, over the Rockies, over the Appalachians, the Alleghenies, the Adirondacks and the Alps.  It’s a community of internationally competitive universities and internationally significant research that needs to be fostered and cultivated.

Take food studies, for example, since the CE editorial team demands food news on this channel. My new interdisciplinary food research group, one of many sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women in Society, has participants from about 25 departments/units on campus, and it continues to grow.  Just this year, we’ll be sharing work that ranges from Africa to Italy to the native people of Southern Oregon.  If we were to have a food studies program at UO, it would have the potential to attract even more excellent scholars who would serve the entire OUS system by forging links to existing food/ag programs at our sister universities.

But a program like this — again, one of many in the works at UO — takes institutional support in the form of money, yes, but also vision and the reputation to cultivate and underwrite the research of active, competitive faculty in a relatively new area.

I’ve never talked to President Lariviere about my own work, but I know that as someone deeply invested in the Humanities, he’d listen.  He has a background unusual in university administration — he’s a public intellectual with a doctorate in Sanskrit, the ancient language used in Hindu and Buddhist religious texts. He gained much respect when he introduced the food justice activist Vandana Shiva at last year’s Food Justice conference on campus, not merely because he showed interest in the groundbreaking conference, but because he welcomed her in her native tongue.

President Lariviere doesn’t stop at academic studies, though.  He fearlessly jumped right in and started tackling some of the toughest issues that face academic funding in our state, problems that have been compounding for many decades.  This may have made him unpopular.  Losing him now because of squabbles in the university system is a devastating blow to higher education.  He sees those proverbial mountaintops far from Oregon.  In the Willamette Valley, we sometimes lose sight of them.

If you are as upset as I am about this decision and don’t want President Lariviere’s only Mt. Pisgah to be the Biblical one, email or call Governor Kitzhaber’s office (they have been receiving an earful) or click here for Board email addresses and commentary at UO Matters to let your voice be heard.  He has until Monday to make a formal decision about resigning or being terminated.  Let’s hope it will be neither.

Edited to add:  A new blog supporting the President, We Love Our Pres, is up and running; it has ongoing information for rallies, teach-ins, and letters to send in support.  A student Facebook page, Lariviere for UO President, is here.  The Faculty Senate is circulating a petition here.

Thank you.

turkey leftovers part two: united nations style

And since I’m on a roll with turkey leftovers…I’ve got a few more tricks in the bag.  Turkey is the traditional fowl in several brilliant and homey international dishes.

Check out this gorgeous version of fesejan, a Persian pomegranate-walnut sauce for turkey.  It features a homemade pomegranate reduction in lieu of the more modern pomegranate syrup.

Taiwanese Turkey Rice, which looks like rice stir-fried with turkey drippings and sometimes ground pork, is served with shredded turkey and a slice or two of bright yellow takuwan radish pickle on top.

And let’s not forget Sichuan cold chicken salad, a dish of shredded chicken with a bold dressing made from Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, and ginger.  I will often toss leftover chicken in the dressing, but it is terrific with turkey breast.  Here is a recipe adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop:

Hot-and-Numbing Sauce for Leftover Turkey 

6 scallions

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated

2 teaspoons of preserved red chiles* or chopped red peppers

2  tablespoons white sugar

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

4 tablespoons chili oil

4 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper

Shred your leftover turkey.  Slice the scallions on the diagonal thinly and chop ginger and jalapeño.

Thinly slice the green onions diagonally.

Mix together the ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and oils.

Toss shredded turkey with dressing immediately prior to serving, then add scallions on top.  Grate Sichuan pepper and add to taste with salt.

*Available in jars in Chinese markets with other condiments.  Mine are from Sichuan province but any will do, really.  Just be careful with the Thai ones, as they are much hotter.

skip the turkey dinner and head straight for the leftovers: mole verde

Thoroughly exhausting week, but many accomplishments.  Had a great time interviewing Hank Shaw on Sunday and Monday, then spent the week trying to catch up on some of the many things piled up awaiting my attention while life threw new dodgeballs at me for fun. So:

this is just to say

there’s no turkey in the icebox

and nothing I’m saving for breakfast

so forgive me for the lack of deliciousness

so tired and so old

Could this be the year we finally go out for Thanksgiving dinner?  I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. Tempting, but it just seems wrong. After all, we have a scrumptious chicken from Sweetwater Farm somewhere buried under a hundred or so pounds of beef, and good root vegetables from Open Oak. And now that I think of it, frozen sweet meat squash for a pie.  Somewhere.  And cranberry sauce I made a couple of weeks ago and froze.  Also somewhere.

But as ambivalent as I am about making Thanksgiving dinner, I am not hesitant to give you a delicious recipe for the leftovers: turkey with mole verde, a pumpkin seed-green tomato sauce from our neighbors to the south. I made a bunch and froze it about a month ago (are you sensing a theme here?).  You can see it above, served with a yucky sprouted tortilla, but rather surprisingly appetizing tempeh, crookneck squash, and cauliflower à la Retrogrouch.

Mine is a rather traditional mole verde recipe, but it uses the rest of our stubborn Northwest green tomatoes instead of tomatillos, and garden herbs.  Since tomatillos are more acidic than green tomatoes, I’ve added a slug of fermented chile juice to mine.  You might try lemon or lime juice.  Or you might just like the mild nuttiness of the sauce.  The lettuce leaf and herbs are added for color as well as flavor, as the green tomatoes and green pumpkin seeds will turn the palest chartreuse.

Can’t be bothered to cook any more?  Cheat shamelessly with a local product I bought on a whim at Market of Choice, Enrique and Dolores Riquelme’s Barcelona’s Finishing Sauces out of Bend, OR.  Haven’t tried the red mole yet, but it looks great.  They also have a seasonal green pipian sauce, similar to the mole verde, and a nogada sauce.  Yum.

Mole Verde

Makes several cups, good for freezing.

  • 2 lbs green tomatoes, cut in half or quarters if especially large (substitute tomatillos if you have them, either canned or fresh)
  • 1 cup pepitas (Mexican unsalted, shelled, green pumpkin or squash seeds)
  • 1 handful of new crop filberts if you’re from Oregon and proud (WV represent!)
  • 3-4  cloves garlic, left whole
  • 1 small white onion, sliced thickly
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable or a nut oil
  • 1 romaine lettuce or green mild chicory leaf
  • handfuls of parsley, epazote (lamb’s quarters), wild arugula, marjoram, fennel, tarragon or whatever leafy green herbs you have left in your garden.  If you don’t have a garden, try 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, a half of a small fennel bulb with the fennel greens, and a half-cup of parsley.
  • 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • fresh lemon juice or pepper vinegar or green, vinegar-based hot sauce
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  Place the onions, garlic, green tomatoes or fresh tomatillos on a baking sheet and toss with the oil.  Roast until softened and the skin is deep brown in places and the onions and garlic have a bit of char.  This isn’t an exact science; it’s just to add more flavor.  If you’ve opted for canned tomatillos, dry char the onion pieces and garlic in a cast iron pan to lend the flavor.

While roasting, toast the pepitas over medium heat in a cast iron pan until they lighten in color and start to smell toasty.  Be very careful not to let them burn.  Low and slow is preferable to higher heat.

Let cool a bit, then pulse the pepitas in a food processor with the herbs and lettuce.  Use a bit of the chicken stock to thin enough to process effectively.

Add the softened, charred green tomatoes, onions, and garlic to the food processor.  Add enough chicken stock to make a consistency you like.  Add an acid (lemon juice or fermented pepper juice) if you are using tomatoes instead of tomatillos, and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, heat about a cup of the sauce with a bit more oil and chicken stock, then add about the same amount of cooked shredded chicken, turkey, or tempeh.  Serve the stew with fresh, soft corn tortillas.  You might garnish with more cilantro and pico de gallo.

Freezes beautifully, too.