from russia with love: zakuski party

IMG_3664When we think of Russia, we think frozen tundra, right?  Fur muffs, velvet, vodka to stay warm, mushrooms, ice fishing, big bearlike men with frost in their beards, hunkering down in a sleigh, etc.  But Russia in the summer flowers open and bloom, just as Oregon does, and Russians swiftly adjust to a lighter palate in the heat, just as we do.

Thus, it should be no surprise that there are wonderful specialties, all inflected with that particularly Russian kaleidoscope of assertive flavors.  One of these is okroshka, a mixed-vegetable cold soup based on the fermented rye beverage called kvass (pictured below).  There are as many version of okroshka as there are Russians; after making kvass earlier this month, I knew I’d have to try an adaptation of Sandor Katz’s recipe in Wild Fermentation, with apple, new potatoes, baby turnips, spring onion, cucumber, carrot and dill (above).

IMG_3596So what better way than to have a casual zakuski party?  Zakuski are small plates, served up as a buffet, usually as a prelude to a larger meal. Pickled and fermented foods are crucial: sweet-sour beets, sauerkraut salad, marinated herring, half-sour pickles, caviar.  And it’s not a Russian party if there isn’t sour cream — I made do with my homemade crème fraîche.  We suffer.  There are usually hot and cold dishes among the variety. But it was a summer night and time was short, so we went with cold salads, smoked fish, and the lovely okroshka.  Vodka cocktails and a dense chocolate cake with brandied cherries made by my fabulous neighbor bookended the meal.

IMG_3666IMG_3670And yes, my bowls do say “Hustle Cat.”  Translated in Russian, it means “Only The Finest China Used Here.”  I’ll drink to that.

Zakuski Party Menu

  • Black Cherry Vodka Shrub Spritzers
  • Half sour cucumber pickles and California wine-marinated kalamata olives
  • Okroshka cold kvass soup with apple
  • Dilled tiny new potato salad
  • Sweet-sour marinated beets
  • Sauerkraut and carrot salad
  • Creamy marinated herring
  • Lox
  • Crab and roe spread (thanks, Ikea!)
  • Bread from Noisette Pastry Kitchen
  • White Bordeaux, French rosé of some sort, Beaujolais, another bottle of red? It grows hazy at this point.
  • Chocolate cake with brandied cherries
  • Port
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impromptu june dinner

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All hail the food processor, who makes an impromptu summer meal something special in a flash.

I had steamed some artichokes earlier in the day, and invited friends over for razor clam pasta, which I was going to dress with razor clams, the artichoke bottoms, and breadcrumbs.  But since I was out in the garden anyway, I cleared out my garlic scapes, errant wild arugula, some ill-placed kale, and colonizing mint, which went into the food processor with olive oil, almonds, and parmesan to become a sturdy pesto sauce. I sauteed the razor clams in butter with capers and olives, then added the pesto and linguine.

The artichokes looked so tired; I thought they might want a pillow of homemade aioli, so I threw an egg yolk, salt, newly picked garlic, and mustard into the processor, then drizzled in olive and salad oil until the sauce thickened.

An arugula salad and some rosé and we were good to go.

slowly but surely: photos of the one field meal 2012

We had a lovely time at the Slow Food Eugene One Field Meal yesterday evening.  It was held this year at McKenzie River Organic Farm, a beautiful old farmstead out east of Springfield on Highway 126.  The farm, owned by Carol Ach, Sam Ach, and Jack Richardson, still has producing blueberries from nearly 70-year-old bushes.  I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to withstand the walking tour, but I am excited for the invitation to go back when I’m able.

Instead, I took pictures of the pig roast breakdown. That gorgeous layer of fat! Those brilliant blue gloves!  You’re welcome!

Take a look at the full set on my Culinaria Eugenius Facebook page.  I hope you’ll also get some pleasure looking at the local meal whipped up from PartyCart and Red Wagon Creamery.

We started off the evening with Territorial wines, Ninkasi beer, and pickles, always a good idea: eggplant, cantaloupe, and zucchini.  The pig, raised to a fat beauty on the farm, was finished with sea salt and dressed at table with PartyCart Chef Tiffany Norton’s and Chef Mark Kosmicki’s harvest gold sweet-sour ground cherry barbecue sauce.  My waistline said thank you, PartyCart, for many delicious vegetable sides instead of the ubiquitous potatoes — we ate splendidly of vinegared greens, chow-chow blackened green beans, and corn maque choux, which is like corn on her prom night, bedecked and jeweled.  The evening ended with an unusual peach leaf and brandy ice cream made by the brilliant mind of Emily Phillips at Red Wagon Creamery, and served up with Chef Emily’s gluten-free blueberry teff cobbler.

The meal was a fundraiser for the Farm To School Program, the School Garden Project, and to send delegates to Slow Food’s Terra Madre annual conference.

Yes, a delicious fall evening in the field of apple trees, flanked by strawberry and blueberry fields.  The farmstand was open after the meal, so we were able to take home cherry tomatoes and carrots.  I regret not picking up a few pints of ground cherries for more of that barbecue sauce.  Thanks so much for such a pleasant experience to all the chefs, McKenzie River Organic Farm, and Slow Food Eugene!

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!

our big fat alpine birthday bbq

We recently celebrated our joint 40th birthdays, so had what we thought was going to be a small party that turned into a large party.  The theme was “alpine barbecue,” a term I invented because I’ve been deeply inspired by the alpine turn of events in Portlandia.  The invitation quoted Grüner restaurant:

an adventure through the Alps and along the Danube River which begins in the Black Forest and ends at the Black Sea. As it passes through Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania, an alternate Europe emerges, with a hearty, earthier culinary tradition favoring savory, dill, caraway seeds, crème fraîche, horseradish and paprika as opposed to the more familiar southern flavors of garlic, basil, olive oil and tomatoes. This rich variety of cuisines is woven together by seasons and mountains and rivers—much like the Pacific Northwest.

Yes, it was as good as it sounds.  Maybe even better. We rallied the neighbors for their tables and chairs, and I cooked my lowlands off, using wild elk and smoked trout captured and prepped by my brother-in-law in Montana. I adapted Hank Shaw’s moose meatball recipe for a slighly more saucy and less photo-perfect version.

The wheatberry salad above was a big hit.  It was as simple as could be, too, just fresh red cabbage mixed with wheatberries simmered in a vegetable broth, apples, a host of complementary pickled vegetables, and a homemade cider vinegar vinaigrette.

OK, there was a tiny bit of cheating, since the meatballs were technically Swedish, plus I wanted to drink Czech Becherovka and that’s not exactly alpine, and the summer pudding was pretty much straight out of England, but no one complained.

…and there was only one small container of leftover bean dip, and another of about a dozen (out of 150) meatballs.  That’s a sign of a good party, I think.

MENU

Alpine BBQ

Chez Levin

Noshes

Cannery Eugenius pickled vegetables and fruits

Pickled cherries and pickled prunes stuffed with foie gras

Three Ghostly Sisters: Smoked Montana trout paté, Liptauer cheese spread, Ayers Creek Farm tarbais bean dip with savory

Assorted crackers and breads, dill potato chips for the decadent

Bevs

Featuring

Alpine wines (Austria, northern Italy, Alsace)

The Concrete (in Czech, “be-ton,” Becherovka & Tonic)

Sour cherry shrub

Main Stage

Open Oak wheatberry salad, pickled beets and chard, red cabbage, apple

Montana wild elk meatballs in prune gravy

Grilled Benedetti sausages

Wild Chinook Salmon, mustard and dill glaze

Warm slaw with Riesling & Riesling vinegar, caraway

Grilled summer squash, lemon, mint, walnuts

Grilled peppers

Romano beans beurre liptauer

Dill potato & zucchini salad with buttermilk dressing

Dessert

Summer pudding: blueberries, tayberries, sour cherries, vieux garçon liqueur

Cheesecake with choice of loquat or sour cherry sauce

of mortar, sandwiches, and feline elijah: passover 2011

Chag sameach, happy Passover, and all that.  Yes, that’s a knob of ginger standing in for the shank bone.  It’s brown and elongated, no?  For bitterness, we have a slightly mauve maror, since I added a bit of pickled beet as filler to the hand-harvested horseradish, and arugula flowers.  Karpas is from my healthy parsley crop. The haroset is a properly leaden mortar (oops).  Still, not bad for a relatively quickly organized pseudoseder.

Proof of participation, Ikea miniature whitefish dumplings.  Guess who was seduced by the idea of EZ cocktail gefilte fishies?  (Alas.  They tasted slightly better with the carrot salad on top.)

And my friend’s almond torte wasn’t bad at all, and not the least bit dry with a sauce made of last year’s frozen sour cherries.  And yes, that’s a meat-based white dollop there.  Shh. Don’t tell Elijah.

Actually, this year was a little bittersweet.  One year when we lived in a tiny house in Berkeley where the dining/living room opened up to the front porch, we opened up the door for Elijah at the appropriate time in the seder.  And lo, there sat our beloved cat Sylvia, who made the grand entrance of her life, to the delighted exclamations of everyone present.  This is the first year she hasn’t been with us in person, as she passed away in November.  A little part of me thought she might be there when I opened the door this year.  So indeed, she was.  And will be next year, too.

Passover Menu 2011

  • Bitter tears and spring greens
  • Deviled eggs
  • Bread of affliction (with and without freshly ground horseradish)
  • Hillel sandwiches with pear-date-almond and apple-pear-walnut-pine nut mortars*
  • Miniature Scandinavian gefilte-fish disks d’Ikea topped with carrot salad**
  • Braised beef brisket à la mode de Joan Nathan, tomatoes and red wine
  • Roasted fingerling and butterball garlic rosemary potatoes with crunchy potato croutons***
  • Asparagus with caperberries and bay leaves
  • Foraged arugulas, fennel fronds, and pine nuts with apricot vinaigrette
  • Almond-meal torte with local sour cherries****
  • Evesham Wood Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Coffee

*why is it on this night only do we eat Hillel sandwiches?

**why is it on this night only do we serve garbage fish from cans and jars to complement those delicious sandwiches?

***why is it on this night only do we gild the lily?

****why is it on this night only do non-practicing Jews omit the crème fraiche?

thanksgiving action shots

Since I’m not furiously cleaning the house for guests for the first time in a while, I’m very happily available for photo opportunities, so I thought I’d share some of my No Turkey But None of that Vegetarian Crap Thanksgiving For Two preparations.

This blog, unlike my kitchen, is a no schmaltz zone.

Brining chicken with lemon and herbs de Provence that are actually de Langedoc (thanks, Rama!)

My counter after the brine bag opened and spilled all over it, necessitating an emergency clear and bleach and reoiling of the cutting board (o what tasks can be tasked if you aren’t having guests on Thanksgiving!).  Hm, maybe we should consider a vegetarian No-Turkey Day after all…

Freezer yields reserves for the gravy stock.

Counter back in business, guest-starring two ruby pears picked and delivered by my neighbor, who requested only a sheet of parchment paper, four cloves, and 1/2 cup of corn oil in return.  Vinaigrette by Retrogrouch.  Defrosting fresh cranberry juice for my Thanksgiving vodka-cran…come to Mama.

Oven in action: wild rice stuffing with wild mushrooms, chicken leg confit, chestnuts, hazelnuts, and wild mushrooms; bratwurst that I am pretending is kielbasa, and butternut squash with truffle butter.

Eating kabocha wild rice soup for lunch.

Spinning mesclun mix.

Masses of Brussels sprouts yearning to be free.

Bread and wild rice stuffing with local dried cranberries, chicken confit, and leeks waiting for the oven.

Testing pumpkin pie.

Thank you for your participation in our Thanksgiving meal, and hope yours was delightful!