farm to table in this glorious fall

IMG_4266Planted garlic for next year, trying to keep my spirits up as the rain started to fall and fall started to reign. We must remember and celebrate the ways we put seeds in the dark earth so they’ll wake with time and water and love.  Because if we forget that, there’s not much point.

I’m going for ‘Keith Red’ and ‘Silver Rose’ again because they were all I wanted.  Keith continues to delight with his big delicious cloves, and Rose is a softneck that lasts longer and still tastes great.  Maybe I’ll remember the onion sets this spring, too!

Also hopeful: great meals this week at downtown Soubise and Grit Kitchen and Wine, a brand new farm-to-table place kittycorner from Ninkasi in the Whiteaker.

IMG_4268 I’m thrilled Soubise is open on Mondays, when most other restaurants in town worth eating at are closed.  It’s a good place for a quiet dinner, hopefully shared with someone who loves food, and it’s a romantic and sophisticated setting.  Perhaps the only one in town.  The combinations, as usual, were fascinating and subtle.  It’s really unlike anything else around, and I mean that to extend far beyond Eugene.  The fall menu is completely accessible and at a lower price point than earlier menus, too.  Definitely a place you can take your parents or a visiting speaker.  Standards like chicken with savory bread pudding and salmon with delicata squash.  Or their handmade smoked pasta with a poached egg and pecorino with green onion purée, above. There are still wonderful surprises, like perfect micro bits of celery leaf and pear on the oysters, and Japanese tamago omelette that provides a perfect sweet little pillow for the strong taste of seared albacore and slight bitterness of lemon cucumber in another small plate.  And ALWAYS order the farm vegetable composed salad, which features an everchanging melange of whatever produce is in season, served with simple buttermilk dressing.

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Grit is housed in a little historic cottage and they’ll need to get better signage at some point, so you might miss it, but it’s right on the corner of W. 3rd and Van Buren.  The kitchen is still experimenting and service is a little timid, but it’s fun to watch the chaotic dance as the staff gets to know the space and the flow and the clientele.  It’s all about the local and the warm and comforting: braises, soups, buttery custardy creamy details.  We opted for the prix-fixe four-course meal, with a stellar carrot and fresh turmeric salad, turnip soup with greens, duck over mash and chantrelles, and a fig tarte, above.  Corn chowder with pork jowl was good too; more pork would have been even better.  The charcuterie plate and gizzard confit app looked so good I almost regret I didn’t partake.  Oh well.  Another visit!  I expect this place will just get better and better, and I’m happy to go along on the journey.

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more rain

I took these pictures in June last year.  Too depressing even to contemplate. The good news is that the rain is watering newly planted ‘Parmex’ rolypoly carrot starts (hedging my bets), ‘Garden Grey’ sage, dill, and all the tiny lettuce and cilantro plants that are popping up.  I stuck in some late garlic, too.  My onion crop looks great and the peas are finally taking off.  How’s yours?

pickled cheese? czech.

I finally found a preparation for those anemic supermarket Camemberts, thanks to Czech bar food, which takes no prisoners. Nakládaný Hermelin is a garlicky Czech specialty I wish I had found in Prague last summer, but saw it on the internet instead.  Hermelin is a bloomy rind cheese similar to brie, and it is pickled in big ol’ jars of spiced oil made heady by garlic, peppers, and onion.

Of course, if you wanted to use an imported Camembert, my assistant and I wouldn’t say no.  Nakládaný Hermelin hails from the same class of bar snacks as utopenci (“Drowned Men”): fine-grained miniature sausages, pickled in vinegar.  See?  Take no prisoners.

Preparing Nakládaný Hermelin is quite easy: just take a wheel of Camembert, slice it in half horizontally through the middle, press slivers of garlic and dust each half liberally with top quality paprika and pepper, then put the two halves back together.  Slice in wedges so it will fit in your sterilized jar, then layer with onions, bay leaf, and pickled peppers, and cover in oil.

I’ve adapted the recipe adapted from a blog called Northern Table and variations on this Czech food message board.  I’d warn against any of the versions that suggest leaving the cheese on the counter to ripen at room temperature for several days or longer, however, or reusing the oil.  You can get pretty sick by eating soft cheese left on the counter under any circumstances, and Camembert doesn’t quite have the acid one needs to stave off botulism in anaerobic (i.e., under oil) environments.

What you’re losing is the ripening and oozifying of the cheese.  By using pickled peppers you’d be lowering the pH even more, so, um, maybe…but I really don’t trust those garlic slivers in the center of the cheese.  It’s just not worth the risk.  And it’s still pretty darn good, all garlicky and spicy, after being refrigerated for a week.

I wouldn’t waste your best, raw milk Camembert on this preparation either.  Use pasteurized cheese, both for safety and budget.  The garlic and oil will kill any subtle nuances of a good cheese, believe me.

Rawr!!

Before serving, I’d suggest taking out the wedges you’d like to eat and letting them sit at room temperature for a while (and I’ll let you decide how many hours is “a while,” with the food safety proviso that 2 hours max is the limit for prepared foods).

As for the size of the jar, well, that’s up to you.  A quart canning jar for two small rounds of cheese seems ideal to me.  I managed to squeeze a small wheel into a pint jar, just barely, for my first try, and had a hard time getting the oil to fill all the air pockets (also important for food safety reasons).

Be sure you sterilize the jar by washing it well, then letting it go through the heat cycle of your dishwasher or boiling the jar for 10 minutes.

Dobrou chut!

Nakládaný Camembert

This recipe is easy to scale up or down, and Czechs experiment with the spices to their own taste, so you can’t go wrong.  The proportions here are estimated, since I made mine in a pint jar.  I’d advise using more paprika than less, and less garlic than more.  I’m not sure that I’m happy with using vegetable oil, since it didn’t add anything to the flavor of the cheese, but that’s what they use.  You might experiment with olive oils.  Other suggested spices are mustard seed, whole coriander, fresh rosemary (make sure it is completely dry), or dried hot peppers.  You could also just add 2 tablespoons of pickling spices for a slightly different taste.

  • 1 jar, quart-sized
  • 2 small rounds of pasteurized Camembert (about 8-10 oz. each), not too ripe
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, slivered as thinly as you can
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly in rounds
  • 2 cups pickled peppers (try a mix of pickled jalapeño rings and pickled roasted red pepper strips if you don’t have your own canned)
  • 2 tablespoons good quality sweet paprika (smoked would also be good)
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • black pepper
  • 3-4 fresh bay leaves (if you wash them, be sure to dry them completely, since moisture in anaerobic preparations encourages clostridium botulinum growth)
  • 1-2 cups vegetable or a light olive oil (you’ll need enough to cover the cheese completely)

Prepare a clean, sterilized quart jar (see notes above) and a lid/ring combo or a plastic cap.  Refrigerate the cheese so it is as stiff as possible.

Slice the onion thinly into rings, and slice the garlic thinly, then cut it into slivers.  Thoroughly dry your bay leaves.  If you have a mortar and pestle, crack the whole spices to release the oils.

Prepare the chilled Camembert by slicing each wheel in half lengthwise, so you expose the inside of the wheel. Work fast and with a confident hand, because it is sticky and may fall apart if you mess around with the cut too much.  Press the garlic into one of the exposed halves for each cheese.  Sprinkle both halves of the interior with the paprika and lots of fresh black pepper.

Rejoin the two halves of the cheeses, then slice into wedges that will fit neatly into the jar in layers.

Layer the ingredients in the jar.  Place several onion rings and some spices at the bottom of the jar.  Use onions, pickled peppers, and bay leaves (and dried chiles if using) to separate the wedges, filling the gaps with more pickled peppers. Press the cheese down so it is firmly packed, but don’t pack too tightly.

When you are about half full, add some oil and more spices.  Press lightly with a spoon to release air bubbles.

Keep adding cheese and other items until the jar is about 3/4 full, then top off with oil, again pressing down and checking for air bubbles.  Add the rest of the spices.  Make sure the cheese is fully submerged in the oil.  Close with a canning lid/ring or plastic cap.

Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks, checking after the first few days that the cheese is still submerged.  When you’re ready, enjoy thin slices with traditional rye bread or a baguette, and some Czech lager.  The cheese should taste very garlicky and cheesy — if any off flavors or odd colors or mold are present, don’t eat.

while the cat’s away, the mouse will eat garlic chicken

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When I eat garlic, it lingers on my breath for days. For some reason, I am extra sensitive to its effects. It oozes out of my pores. I leave a faint (or not so faint) whiff of garlic as I breeze through a room. Because this is unpleasant to my close associates (read: my husband), I am forbidden to indulge in some of my favorite binge eating. Do other people do this, too? I wonder what the taboo foodstuffs are in other relationships.

Sometimes, I dream of being single again. When I lived alone, I used to roast a head of garlic or two and spread the creamy, carmelized cloves on hunks of baguette. Now I just save these gloriously gluttonous moments for when Retrogrouch goes away for several days. I’m very responsible about it, too. I plan for mid-week, so I’ll have a couple of days to clear the stuff out of my system.

This week, I decided to binge like a mofo. I started planning for a Thai garlic pepper chickenfest. I haven’t had much chicken since I taught the food politics class in the fall. The articles we read, and the papers my students wrote, really made me re-evaluate eating cheap chicken. But suddenly, I wanted good chicken, and I wanted it with garlic, and I wanted it NOW.

One of the miracles of Thai food is garlic pepper squid — squid flash-fried with white pepper and a bit of coating, then mounded over lettuce leaves with a huge pile of fried, chopped garlic. A friend took classes with the celebrated Bay Area Thai cookbook author and teacher, Kasma Loha-Unchit, and then he practiced on us. My eyes nearly rolled back in my head when he introduced us to this dish.

I soon discovered you can make this with any seafood or meat, but chicken is particularly good. I think tofu would work as well, but since it takes a longer time to fry up golden than meats, be sure that the pieces are small. And by all means, check ahead to confirm that your dining companions and loved ones are ok with garlic eau-de-cologne.

And sorry, sweetie, I know you’re in England, where the food is not exactly jolly good, and I know you love this dish, too, but believe me, I’m doing it for our relationship.

Love,

me

Thai Garlic Pepper Fried Chicken

(adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s recipe in It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking)

4 chicken half-breasts (i.e., one small package)

2 heads as-fresh-as-possible garlic, chopped

2 t. ground white pepper, or more to taste

2 T. fish sauce

2 t. cornstarch

3 T. white flour

vegetable oil for frying

Slice chicken breasts into thin strips. Chop all the garlic by hand into small pieces. Smashing the cloves with the back of a cleaver first will help make this process easier. Add to bowl with chicken. Add rest of ingredients to bowl, and mix thoroughly, being sure that each piece of chicken is coated well. The chicken and garlic will look dry. If it looks wet, add a bit more flour.

Fry chicken in several batches to avoid over-crowding in a wok with about a cup or two of vegetable oil. Watch carefully, since the garlic can burn. When chicken and garlic are golden brown, remove to dish with paper towels, then transfer to platter lined with lettuce leaves. Between batches, be sure to remove ALL stray garlic pieces with a fine strainer so they don’t burn in the oil. The oil can be cooled, strained and reused in stirfries, since it will pick up a nice garlicky odor.

Serve with other, more reasonable dishes with vegetables and jasmine rice. Or, if you’re completely alone and without hope for future alliances, half the recipe and serve with kimchi radish pickles and rice. I like to wrap up the chicken pieces in the lettuce with bits of garlic. Heaven.

Serves 2-3, if you can restrain yourselves.