niblets: multicultural edition

So much to announce, and I just haven’t had the will to do it.  Started this post three times today.  Bad news, since it’s still freezing cold and wet and I have fullblown spring fever.  So I’ll keep it short.  Consider it the World Literature Survey of dining niblets from your favorite home town.

– Japanese.  Go to Kamitori on 11th and Willamette.  It’s worth every (inexpensive) penny. Go especially if you’re into real Japanese food, not just chicken teriyaki, even if they do have that, too.  And tell the chef how much you appreciate the authenticity (but it’s ok if you recommend axing the krab salad in the kaisen (left).  I’m actually ready to come to blows if someone ruins this place.

– Lebanese.  Go to the new Middle Eastern Deli at Plaza Latina on 7th a few blocks east of Chambers.  She’s still working out the kinks and setting the menu and prices, so go and defend your favorites.  I found the tabouli (top photo, with various pies, hummus and tahini) particularly good — the parsley is not smushed to soggy bits with a heavy knife and loaded down with bulgar wheat.  Just as it should be.

– Jewish.  Tomorrow night starts Passover.  Got my brisket in gear and am cooking it as we speak, a Joan Nathan recipe.  I hope this is a good compromise between my two recipes, one called “Traditional (If Dull) Passover Brisket,” and the other one, “Cranberry Brisket,” which I love but has been vetoed by the no-fruit-with-meat half of my relationship.  This half also absconded with one of the apples for the haroset, so I made apple-pear-haroset.   Yeah, I know.  But it’s supposed to be like mortar in texture and color, right?  Right.  I’m glad to hear that Humble Beagle will be serving matzoh ball soup all week, since it’s the one thing we’re not making due to the hilariously quirky mismatched dietary profiles of my guests.

– Thai.  I perused the menu and spoke to someone who had the authority of an owner at Sabai, a new “Pacific Rim” or “Thai Fusion” restaurant in Oakway.  I’ll be nice and just say these two terms make me shudder unlike any other.  The good news is (at least for fans of the popular American-style Thai Ta Ra Rin restaurant), is that the menu is very similar to Ta Ra Rin.  The authority figure told me that they were planning to introduce Indonesian dishes, which would indeed be a nice addition to our local ethnic cuisine.  I’d just really like to see 1) serious attention to reducing the sweetness of all of the dishes if the menu is indeed based on Ta Ra Rin’s; and (2) offering non-sweet dishes with a vinegar or even just dry-fried, salt-and-pepper profile.  All Americans don’t like Thai food that’s achingly sweet.  Indonesian food can be way too sweet too, so it’s going to be a rough ride.

– White.  White flour, that is.  Excellent article about Tom Hunton (right, at the Saturday farmers market) and Camas Country Mill in the Register-Guard today.  It discusses the mill engineering and Tom’s decision to diversify from grass crops to wheat and other grains, including teff.  The article acknowledges the liberal-conservative partnerships that can (and need to) happen with food system changes, and shows how Tom’s making it work with his partners. Way to go, Diane Dietz!  That was the best food reporting I’ve seen in the R-G in a while.  So why was it in the Business section?

– Mexican.  Still loving taco night on Sundays and Mondays at Belly, and hope the owners have a good time scouting out new menu items on their vacation down south.  The restaurant will be open only for taco nights this week.  But a small grump: I am sad the tortillas are now being served cold instead of nicely griddled.  Can we change that?  I fully realize that after a couple of margaritas I don’t notice anymore but still.  Shh.  And kudos to Belly for being mentioned in visiting LA food critic Jonathan Gold’s twitter — he was in town for a UO School of Journalism award and said the tripe and trotters on toast gave him “a lot of happiness for $8.”  I like a man who gets his cheap thrills in organ meats.

– Polish.  And speaking of organs, I bought my Easter kielbasa a couple of weeks ago at Benedetti’s Meat Market.  Fresh kielbasa is always hard to find in Eugene, so go check ’em out.  You can bet your dupa I’ll be making my Easter soup this year. Our cup overfloweth with fresh eggs, since the farm chickens have decided the weather be damned; it is spring!

– Italian.  But if you’re not in the mood for Polish Easter soup, check out Sfizio for their Umbrian regional dinner on Easter Sunday.  I haven’t seen the menu, surely by some fault of my own, since they usually send ’em by now.  But it’s a good option to staying home and eating too many Cadbury eggs and jelly beans.

– Fermentation Nation.  Thanks to everyone for coming out to the Master Food Preserver class on fermented foods.  We had about three dozen attendees for the demo, and everyone was so enthusiastic and full of questions it really energized all of the teachers.  We really had a great time discussing kefir, yogurt, kim chi, sauerkraut, cider vinegar, chocolate, and sourdough bread.  The next class is on emergency planning and we’re offering a canning basics series this summer after the produce starts to come in to the market.  We’ll be teaching pickling, jamming, water bath canning (with tomatoes), and pressure canning in four classes for $40 (see a full schedule of courses here).  Yes, that’s $40 for four classes TOTAL, not each.  We’re also starting to connect with other MFP programs nationwide on our Facebook page.  Follow us and let us know what you’re interested in canning and cooking this summer!

So how’s that for short?  Don’t forget, I am a professor.  We don’t do short.

pomegranates market closing

I’m sad to share the news that Pomegranates Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Grocery on Willamette at 28th (next to the TrueValue hardware store) is closing their doors.  The owner, Julie, has decided to focus her attention and talents on catering, cooking classes, and home cheffing, which means she’ll still be very much of a presence in the Eugene culinary landscape, and perhaps in a more delicious form.

She expects the store will be closing at the end of August, so if you’d like to stock up on Italian, Spanish, or Middle Eastern groceries, including a fantastic olive oil and vinegar selection, cookbooks, dried beans and herbs, pastas and specialty canned goods, drop by the store as soon as you can.  Everything’s on sale at 30% off.  Check out their website for hours and other information.

I’ve seen some of Julie’s Persian menus and cooked a couple of her recipes, and I’d recommend her catering services for an unusual and delicious change from the usual summer party fare!

eating behind the orange curtain

Having survived in Orange County for three years and lived to tell my silicone-free, pudgy tale, I find the place mostly horrific and sometimes amusing. But is making fun of the nouveau riche ever really funny? I mean, it’s like poking fun at George W.’s butchery of our native tongue: shooting oversized, resource-wasting, born-again fish in a gilded oil barrel. But. Having grown up in a place where I doubted that the beach culture and Beverly Hills ridiculousness actually existed, convinced it was a TV fantasy, I feel obligated to share with the world that Southern California is real, and there are still plenty of guffaws to be had on every street corner.

I bring you Exhibits 1 and 2.

A Gucci suit and a Baccarat gazelle, to match your Baccarat chandelier, of course. In my triennial trip to South Coast Plaza, the absurdist-dream-come-true megamall in Costa Mesa, where I discovered to my great dismay that replacing my wine glasses, purchased 10 years ago from my wedding registry at Williams Sonoma, had jumped in price from about 7 bucks a glass to 18 with a proportionate reduction in quality, I snapped a few shots for posterity. My friend Miss C was surely mortified, and I’m sorry for that. I need GAUDY, I snapped, waving around my camera, work it, girlfriend, work it! We also managed to find similar-looking wine glasses to mine at Crate & Barrel, plain, sturdy, all-purpose balloon glasses that were made for breakin’ at 5 bucks apiece. The glass quality isn’t fine, but it also isn’t Ikea, either, if you know what I mean.

I called Retrogrouch to brag of my success. You didn’t buy varietal glasses, he warned dangerously, because I will divorce you if you wasted my money to buy varietal glasses. With a sigh, I stopped lustfully fingering the Riedel Riesling glasses, and reassured him I hadn’t. And decided to wait before telling him about the shoes.

But this is a post about eating behind the Orange Curtain, not the travails of being a Crate & Barrrel multipurpose glass girl in a Baccarat crystal gazelle world. And eating there, friends, is not at all bad. Sometimes it is even sublime.

Again with the Exhibits. The first is, without question, Thai Nakorn in Stanton (near Garden Grove) the best Thai restaurant I’ve ever patronized, except for well, maybe one vegetarian one in Bangkok.

But why is it that I’m always eating Thai with vegetarians? Although my companion generously offered to share a meat dish (if I recall correctly, she was drooling over Thai sausage), I told her to preserve her chastitity; I could deal. So we ordered Pad Thai and Chinese Water Grass with Bean Sauce, and I partook in the Crab Egg Roll, which was a fresh crab stuffing inside a tofu skin roll. So much yum. I’m only devastated that I’m just now discovering I lived so close to such a wondrous place.

But we couldn’t stop there. We also ate at Felix’s Continental Café in Orange for breakfast, just because we couldn’t fit in one more dinner, one more lunch. Felix’s has terrific roasted meat, one of my raisons d’être, but the breakfast isn’t bad, either. We were able to sit outside on yet another beautiful day, right smack dab on the circle in Olde Towne Orange, looking at the peaches, er, oranges growing impossibly on the trees around the central fountain. Soon enough we stopped noticing the people, and dug into our carbohydrate-laden grub. That’s me with the Eggs Hussarde, with not only Hollandaise but also

Marchand de Vin sauce. Oddly, Felix’s replaces the latter with their bittersweet, orange-marmaladey white wine interpretation, but it was still good, and the fried potatoes and eggs were divine. For dessert was a picture-perfect fruit fritter with some kind of red berry glaze, but not being much of a sweets girl, I only nibbled at it. My lovely companion chose smartly: Cuban huevos ranchero with black beans, rice, and extra sauce. And dear heavens, did I mention the price?

And I can’t forget to mention Taco Rosa in Newport Beach, for that Cali-Mex upscale cantina taste you (inexplicably) can’t find anywhere but Cali. Carnitas Baked in Banana Leaf with Pibil Sauce and a corn tamale, Portobello mushroom quesadillas, and a trio of bocadillos (marinated carrot, a tostadita with beans, a mini beef chimichanga) sure do go down easy with a few margaritas.

But believe it or not (o ye who knowst me), I didn’t eat at my absolutely favorite Orange County fine dining establishment, Wholesome Choice Supermarket. If it weren’t for my adorable ex-roomie and departmental homegirl sublettor who made me dinner in the ‘hood, Irvine’s graduate ghetto, I would have. (My ex-roomie, a Chilean, is a fantastic cook, and one of the main reasons I survived my return to The OC last fall. We ate Chilean comfort food — a type of shepherd’s pie and homemade bread, and a big Greek salad, and I got to spend an evening with two beautiful ladies, so who’s complaining? )

But I must speak on the wonder that is the Persian hot food deli counter at Wholesome Choice. I have eaten so many kebabs from the Persian deli there that I swear to you that at least 50 lbs. of my body is made of fillet mignon seasoned with a juiced half-lemon and sumac, topped with yogurt-cucumber dressing, and snuggled up next to buttered Basmati rice pilaf with a crust of fried Persian bread and rice.

This time, however, this last time I might ever be in Irvine, I merely took a longing look and said my goodbyes with a bag full of citrus salt pistachios, Persian pistachio-rosewater ice cream, and a big jar of Morello cherries in syrup. Could there be a better way to say thanks to my last, best graduate school? I think not.

dining with Porkchop and Meatball

My husband had two imaginary friends when he was little: Porkchop and Meatball. I decided to give them an honorary banquet yesterday. Or rather, eat them at an honorary banquet yesterday.* Inspiration is a treacherous thing. And yet, it all looks so normal, donnit? The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.

dscf7022.jpgLe Menu

Moroccan carrot purée and pita

Harissa spiced meatballs with lemon sauce

Green herbed couscous (kale, dill, parsley, scallions)

Pan-seared brined porkchops over white Russian kale with Noris butter and garlic

Retrogrouch’s salad with lemon mustard dressing

Store-bought cookies, Dagoba chocolate, and Coconut Bliss vegan ice cream

 

 

 

(Not pictured: Meatball.)

We had over a colleague from his work, and the evening was full of wine. I’m now feeling too full and lazy to post recipes, so I won’t.

And I’m so full of CSA love right now…I had never prepared Russian kale before, just regular, and it’s much more tender and pretty, with ruffly, small leaves. I used CSA dill in my couscous, their carrots in my purée and in the meatballs, their garlic and their kale, and their lettuce for the salad. Yay for local vegetables! Yay for nutritiony goodness!

The Russian kale was fantastic. I seared the pork chops, then sauteed the kale in the same pan, so it picked up the drippings. If you’re not going to simmer greens in pot likker with ham hocks, this is a method I would absolutely suggest.

*Hey, my imaginary friends were cats. It could be worse.

 

couscous for the slow cooker, in desperation

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I make couscous frequently. It’s one of our favorite meals. It can be vegetarian or carnivorous, depending on what’s at hand. One can make bountiful substitutions and it still tastes good. In fact, every time I make it it’s a new dish. The bright colors and root-veggie goodness are fantastic pick-me-ups in the dreary PNW late-winter, like little chunks of sun we’re promised will come again.

Last year, after we bought our fixer-upper house, a cute little post-WWII cottage with great bones but needing a major face lift, I discovered that the worthless previous owners had been cooking on a stove that had caught on fire. The wires connecting the burners were frazzled and burnt. The electrician advised not using the stove, wisely, so I waited for a couple of months until we could afford todscf3137.jpg convert to gas and buy a new unit.

This was the middle of a cold winter, so, with trepidation, I bought a slow cooker for my winter stews. The crock pot was a major feature of my childhood. We had crock pot meals all year ’round, at least twice a week. Sometimes the reek of sauerkraut and kielbasa would be so bad that I’d get a headache, because there’s nothing quite like cooking sauerkraut all day long, even if you live in a large two-story house. I still associate crock pot smells with nausea. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that I actually felt a bit sick when the odor of my couscous permeated the house. Ah, le temps perdu. Proust had his madeleines, I get crock pot meals.

Anyhoo. The couscous turned out pretty well, and I’m far more sensitive now to those with compromised kitchens. For those of you who are similarly compromised, or if you just like the crock pot, the adjusted recipe follows.

I’ll have to admit that I like couscous better on my new stove, so I give notes that allow you to cook this recipe on the stove, as well. Lately, I’ve been forgoing the meat and simplifying the spices to only cinnamon, salt, red pepper flakes and cumin. We also had a version adding ground lamb and green beans that was good. See? Flexible as can be.

Slow Cookin’ Couscous Stew

Note:  I usually cook this stew on the stove, so you can easily modify it for stovetop cooking by browning the beef and onions, then adding stock/water and seasonings.  The root vegetables should be added after about an hour (if you’re using chuck beef) and the other vegetables near the end of cooking (about two hours or so).

2 lbs. cubed beef chuck (or pork shoulder, or lamb, or chicken thighs…)
1 large onion, chopped

Seasonings: 1 T. cinnamon, 2 t. salt, 1 t. coriander, 1/2 t. turmeric, 1 t. cumin, 1 t. allspice, 1 t. onion powder, ground pepper.

At least 3 root vegetables, 1 each, cut into largish (2-inch) chunks. I use turnip, rutabaga, yam, white potato, winter squash, leeks, carrot, parsnip. Cabbage works too, cut into 3-4 inch wedges, but it isn’t very pretty because the wedges fall apart. Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes will dissolve and make broth thicker, which is fine, but may be disappointing if you want chunks.

1 andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 can chick peas, drained
1 cup large raisins (white ones if you can get them)
3-4 dried red hot peppers

1 zucchini, cut into 2-inch long fingers
1 red pepper
1 green pepper (Retrogrouch likes these — I’d rather use roasted pasilla peppers I keep in the freezer or nothing at all)

harissa

about 4 cups chicken stock or water

In a 6-quart or larger slow cooker, layer beef, onion, seasonings, root vegetables, sausage, chick peas and raisins, in that order. Don’t mix. Add enough chicken stock or water to cover most of the vegetables (about 1/2 full?). Cook on high for first hour or so, then cook on low for 5-6 hours.

In last hour of cooking, mix in zucchini, red pepper and green pepper, plus a spoonful of harissa and some chopped preserved lemon, if you have some. Taste for salt and heat. Serve with couscous. If you want to be fancy, mix couscous with cilantro and chick peas. Makes a huge pot.

pomegranates market: harissa for your carrots

What with the announcement of a new Moroccan restaurant planned for Eugene, I knew I had to go buy some harissa at our local Middle East market, Pomegranates, to celebrate with a big pot of couscous. I don’t have anything against musty, dusty ethnic grocery stores with bottles of mysterious sticky rat-chewed-labeled substances that no one has bought in at least 10 years, and I patronize them frequently. But Pomegranates is a different game. Owned and run by Julie Lenox-Sharifi, this clean, bright little store has lines of products that are clearly lovingly hand-selected. It has dry goods from Lebanon, Israel, Spain and Italy, among other places, and a full line of Persian packaged goods, plus Middle East-inflected spices from abroad and domestic companies, sweets from a variety of places, and a nice selection of Middle East cookbooks. Offered for tasting when I went last week was Turkish delight, Persian tea, regional Italian olive oils at excellent prices, and a pomegranate vinegar highly recommended by the delightful Ms. Lenox-Sharifi.dscf6583.jpg

Now, on to the complainin’.

New Moroccan restaurant = good. The owner of Adam’$ Place running it = not $o good. When I look at a menu and see uninteresting dishes I can easily make at home with a few trendy geegaw garnishes and buzzwords ensuring price points that exclude academics from any more than an occasional evening out, I don’t have any interest in the place. Adam’s Place makes that mistake, and thus misses the opportunity to grab the market share for the university community.

But if the food is unusual, we’ll part with our coins. Moroccan food is always expensive, so that will keep the crowd in the economic bracket they seem to want, but I’m excited that the new restaurant is unusual enough to make US see the need to go out to eat there. I just really, really, really hope that the folks in charge will make good on their promise in the Register-Guard that it will aim to be authentic Moroccan, and not a mishmash of Middle Eastern cuisine “inspired” by the strong flavors of that huge, diverse area.

In any case, it will drum up an interest in Middle Eastern cooking, so I hope that Pomegranates will become more well-known and patronized in Eugene. So I’d advise you to get in on the action early. On March 15, at 6:00 pm, Ms. Lenox-Sharifi will be offering a Persian New Year (Na Rooz) cooking class at the fabulous kitchen in our local kitchen superstore, Hartwick’s. Call Hartwick’s at (541) 686-0126 for reservations. Classes fill up quickly and the price is great, so don’t hesitate if you’re interested.

At the market, I purchased Mustapha’s Moroccan harissa, highly recommended by Ms. Lenox-Sharifi, who also gave me her recipe for Carrot and Harissa Purée. This harissa is unusual in that it contains preserved lemons, and it isn’t nearly as spicy as other packaged harissas I’ve tried (e.g., the stuff in the tube they sell at Newman’s and Marché Provisions). If you try the recipe below and have a different harissa, please be sure to taste for spiciness and adjust accordingly.

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Moroccan Carrot Purée with Harissa

(adapted from Julie Lenox-Sharifi’s recipe)

I hate carrots. They are one of the only foods that I actively dislike, and the only vegetable. I’ve searched long and hard for a carrot recipe that I like. This is it. I can’t get enough of this stuff. The carrots are bright and spunky, their natural sweetness counteracted by the lemon and chile in the harissa, and made smooth by the olive oil base. I used half a bag of old, leftover grocery store carrots, but I’m sure it would be even more brilliant with fresh garden carrots, especially the varieties good for roasting, such as Atomic Red.

1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch slices

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling on carrots before roasting

1 T. Mustapha’s Moroccan harissa (or substitute 1 t. other harissa plus 1 t. chopped preserved lemons or 1 t. lemon juice plus some zest), or to taste

1/4 t. cumin

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place carrots and garlic in baking dish, and drizzle with some olive oil. Roast until you see some dark brown spots, about 30 minutes depending on the water content in the carrots.

Let carrots cool to warm, then process them with harissa, cumin, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pour in 1/3 cup of olive oil as you process. Adjust seasonings. Serve at room temperature on slices of baguette, crackers, pita bread. Also would work well as a side dish or as a stuffing.

Yield: about 2 cups.