With the demise of my favorite website for Pączki Day, which consisted of polka music and a single pączek with red and white light emanating from it that squawked /PUNCH-key/ every time you clicked on it, I’m sorry to say the day is a bit glummer. I celebrated the past 7 years by punching that key dozens of times every Pączki Day morning, and celebrated it by sharing with you. There’s this song, a joyful romp down the main street of Hamtramck, the Polish neighborhood in Detroit, but it just fails to compare. And since I teach on Tuesdays, I can’t even spend the day in mourning by making pączki with my newfound zest for yeasted doughs. Oh well. All good things must come to an end. Buy a donut, Eugene, and poke it for me. Pączki! Pączki! Pączki!
Spring is here, and with it my mineral longing, my complex bitter plant craving. It’s the only time of the year I like salads because I can populate them with dark and tender baby leaves that burst with vitality. And I gorge myself on raab and the similarly budding fresh new tops of flowering brassicas like kale, brussels sprouts, and collards.
I was turned on to charred broccoli by Chef Jeff Strom at Koho Bistro and then my friend Karen as we noshed while waiting for our bread to bake in her ovens. The char adds something special. It accentuates the bitter undertones and crisps up the little buds up top. If you can manage to pull off perfectly cooking the broccoli until crisp-tender but not sulfuric, chocolate brown but not thoroughly blackened, you’re good to go.
I use broccoli raab, or rapini, or flowering broccoli in this recipe. If all you have is the regular stuff, just slice it longways very thinly, so it will cook relatively quickly, instead of breaking it into little florets.
The blood orange juice adds a tiny bit of sweetness, as blood orange is really not the most flavorful of citrus, but the zest is absolutely wonderful and crucial for the recipe to work. More bitterness, more brightness, sunshine in February.
Charred Broccoli Raab with Blood Orange
- one decent-sized bunch of raab or broccoli
- a tablespoon or two of olive oil
- finishing salt to taste (something with large flakes like Falksalt or grains like Jacobsen or Maldon)
- one small blood orange
Preheat broiler to high. Rinse vegetables if necessary.
If using raab, separate stalks and trim any tough stems. Leave the little leaves, as they char nicely. If not using raab, slice broccoli thinly lengthwise.
Toss with the olive oil and finishing salt in a mixing bowl, then arrange on a foil-covered cookie sheet.
Broil until there are spots of dark char all over the raab, especially crisping up the tips. This may take from 3-7 minutes. The raab should be crisp tender.
Zest the blood orange and juice one half of the orange, reserving the other half for garnish or another use.
Remove from broiler and add the orange juice to the raab, then sprinkle on the zest. Toss to combine, making sure the zest is evenly distributed, and serve as a side with creamy savory dishes, like potatoes au gratin, or pork chops.
Instead of cookies, I made Christmas cheez-its, powered by Crossroads Farm’s pasilla, esplette, and Hungarian cherry pepper powders. They were a hit. I may never bake cookies again. Especially good served with smoked whitefish dip. So my present to you is the recipe. Merry Christmas!
Christmas Cheese Crackers
Yield: 2-3 dozen, depending on how thick
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices when cold
- 2 cups white wheat flour or wheat/rye combo
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces extra sharp cheddar, or a cheddar/stronger cheese mix like aged gouda
- 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- Smoked paprika or esplette or pasilla powder and sesame seeds for topping
Cut butter into pieces and let sit on counter to soften. Grate cheese. Add an ice cube to a bowl of water to chill.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a food processor bowl; pulse to combine. Add the butter and cheese and pulse until mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the dough falls away from the sides of the bowl and can be formed into a crumbly ball, adding a little more water if necessary.
Divide the dough in two, forming it into a disk if you plan to roll it out, or a log if you’re lazy like me and just want to slice it. Chill for 1 hour to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Either roll the dough out or slice your log into pieces 1/8-inch thick (no more!). You may need to let it warm up first on the counter a bit if you chilled overnight for easier rolling. You are aiming for thin, crisp crackers, so take care to make thickness even and consistent.
For Cheez-It-like bits, cut into 3/4-inch-wide squares and poke a hole in the center of each square with a skewer.
Place crackers on parchment-lined baking sheets and brush with egg white, then dust with paprika or the like and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake until the dough is not shiny/raw and barely golden on the bottom, about 20-22 minutes. Store completely cooled crackers in an airtight container.
*Note: I forgot to brush with egg white, so the toppings slid off for the photo. Follow me at your peril!
Looking for a roundup of restaurants open on Christmas? I’m so thankful that Eugene Cascades and Coast continues to gather up a partial list of some eateries open Christmas and Christmas Eve 2014. This year, I noticed more Florence and Junction City places on the list, and fewer places listed for Christmas. Please note that these restaurants are also open on Christmas, among others:
- Kung Fu Bistro
- Sizzle Pie
- Izakaya Meiji
- SweetWaters on the River
- House of Chen
- Sixth Street Grill
- Empire Buffet
- Centennial Steak House (Springfield)
If you’re looking to volunteer or have a low-cost meal, see this useful handout from 2012. Some info will have changed, but it’s a good start.
I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post. I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters. These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).
If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:
- Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur. It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
- The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking. As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
- The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
- James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian. One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
- Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast. She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
- Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce. Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books. I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
- Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home. This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook. It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.
And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:
- Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine. She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone. The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
- The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim. The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.
And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:
- Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender. Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
- Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
- Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes. Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
- Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
- Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.
Disclaimer: Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it. Doing it wrong, as usual. But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.
Just a few tidbits you might want to consider for last-minute, local, food-and-bev- oriented gifts. Or, you know, start your shopping NOW. I’m saying this kind of gloatingly from my high horse of Canning Nirvana Christmas Presents. Actually, I’m sitting on a mountain of frozen food and gloating. Ouch. It’s chilly up here. For those reasons, I’m always late on the food blogger giving buyable Christmas present lists. Sorry. That doesn’t mean these things aren’t worthwhile.
1) A blown glass golden pierogi ornament, as pictured above on my mantel. Forget those German pickle ornaments as so last year. There are also golden ravioli, if you are so unfortunate as to not be Polish.
2) A couple of bottles of O Wines chardonnay, which is an initiative to raise scholarship funds for young women, owned and managed by St. Michelle Wine Estates. Read more here about the story and wine. I received a sample of the red table wine and the chard, and both are pleasant and food-friendly and budget-happy, perfect for a gift for any family holiday party. Also, the logo looks like our ‘O’ for University of Oregon, so sportsfans would dig it. Their website notes that many of our local groceries (Albertsons and Safeways, Fred Meyers, and the Market of Choice on Green Acres) all carry the chard; not sure about the Red Blend.
3) Silicone goodness at Hartwick’s, if you can’t afford that sous vide machine or the Vitamix
you’ve your loved one has been craving. These perfectly square ice cubes are oddly satisfying; the trays are often used by high-end bars. I’m not sure who else uses the silicone spatulas but me, but I wholly endorse them as one of my favorite kitchen items. You can use the business end or the handle for stirring and scraping various-sized projects, and high heat is ok.
4) A gorgeous wood pasta board or cutting board, custom-made by Bill Anderson in Eugene. Chef Rosa Mariotti‘s partner, Bill Anderson, is a retired engineer and woodworker, and he’s been making these lovely pasta/pastry boards and smaller cutting boards from various hardwoods, some exotic like the striped tigerwood. I have an entire album of samples here. They’ve kindly offered to sell the boards as a fundraiser for the Master Food Preservers of Lane County, OR. The pasta boards go for $90 and up (with the tigerwood being on the higher end), and Rosa can fill you in on the price of the smaller boards. I bought one of each, and they’re spectacular. For inquiries, send a message to Rosa on Facebook! 5) Tomato-scented candles at Marché Provisions, because it’s almost summer again, right? I like the scent of the tomato leaf one better than the prettier tomato one, but it’s up to you to choose looks over talent. Or just buy any beeswax candle ever. They’re so sweet and slightly honey-sticky and that butterscotch color. Yum.
6) Also at Provisions, some truffles with local spirits (Bendistillery, Clear Creek, House Spirits, among others); a “Sniffle Slayer” lolly with lemon, ginger, honey and cayenne; and Hott Smoke sauce, which would kick those truffles’ and lollies’ asses. 7) Any number of fascinating little kibbles and bits at Sequential Biofuel, our loving local gas station with all kinds of healthy, sustainable, and gluten-free-friendly stuff, like a bison “candy” bar.
8) An independent food magazine. So important now that media publishing has gone to hell.
9) But the reason I’m really here is because I want to talk cookbooks. If your loved one cooks, these are the ones that grabbed me this year:
- Molly Stevens’ All About Braising, an essential addition to your collection, even though you think you know all about braising. I just got it and I love it. Pair with her book on Roasting.
- Tartine No. 3, the famed bakery’s new all grain baking book. Probably not for the beginner, but you could try. The recipes are thrilling for anyone who is struggling to perfect the no-knead technique.
- Jeffrey Morgenthaler‘s The Bar Book, also via Chronicle Books. It’s pretty fab, unsurprisingly, as one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender. Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
- Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, shellfishy — embody perhaps the epitome of PNW cuisine.
- Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some recipes. Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen, but be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher.
- And two hyper-local farm-to-table cookbooks: Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry, and a great collection of local recipes for Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England.
10) Aaaaand, for the ridiculous person on your list, one of the silliest things I’ve seen this year: costumes for your wine bottles. Available alongside many more reasonable gifts at Cost Plus. Or consider the leather cooler I saw on a clickbait site for gifts for the adventurous eater, or that damned “aroma fork” thing that makes your fork smell. WHY. Why not?
Do you remember that odd bag of pancakes in my freezer? Well, I lived the freezer packrat dream for one glorious moment when I used them to test a new recipe. Yet another from the oeuvre of Linda Ziedrich, whose work I rely on time and time again to inspire great Oregon canning recipes, the inspiration was sirop de Liège. It’s a long-cooked, caramelized, thick, dark sludge made traditionally mostly of pears, with a little apple thrown in for good measure and pectin, traditionally eaten with cheese like membrillo.
Eugeniuses may find the Belgian city of Liège familiar, as it’s home not only to my syrup but also the waffles made locally famous by Off the Waffle.
What I love about the syrup is that it uses great quantities of fruit, perfect for those of us with pome trees or neighbors who want to get rid of pears, Asian pears, and apples. You can make the syrup two ways: deliciously burnt-sugar dark sludge, or light peach-colored pourable butterscotch. Since we don’t have our own source of maple syrup in Eugene, I thought it might be a good addition to those seeking local pancake enhancers.
Pear and Apple Syrup, Two Ways
Use a 6:1 ratio for weight of pears and/or Asian pears to apples. Cut the fruit into quarters, leaving the peels and cores on, and cook it down on medium low until it liquifies.
Once the fruit releases lots of juice, carefully remove the fruit and strain the liquid into a large bowl. (You’re after the juice, not the fruit, so save your fruit to make applesauce with a food mill.) Press the fruit in the sieve to get as much liquid out of it as you can, then add the liquid to a clean pot.
Cook down the liquid on low heat for a few hours. After an hour or so, it should be the consistency of maple syrup with a slippery mouthfeel and a slightly caramelized color and buttery taste. Perfect for pancakes. Stop here if you want to be able to pour it.
If you want a darker, richer, slightly bitter caramelized flavor (and more traditional version), cook for longer, being sure to watch as it gets thicker and more liable to burn.
The yield will be minimal for the fruit: warning. Using 6 lbs. of Asian pears and 1 lb. of apples will yield about a pint if thin and as little as a 1/2 pint if thick. As I said, it’s great if you have tons of fruit. Not so great if you are buying at premium prices.
Variation: I recently came into a bunch of Asian pears, and thought I’d give it a whirl with a few apples and a handful of cranberries to make the color pretty (above). The cranberries release some ruby redness and better yet, stay intact in the light syrup, so they become candied and really wonderful.