Wednesday, April 28, 2010


There is a motley parade out there of Food Network 'celebrities' that I can't stand.  Leading the pack shitty-food-first is Rachael Ray.  Her voice, a cross between acute laryngitis and choking on one of Izaboo's chew toys, is insufferable.  The recipes run a continuum of uninspired to inedible.  I hate all of her inane phrases that she insists on explaining in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE ("E.V.O.O., which is actually Extra Virgin Olive Oil"... "it's a Stoup - thicker than a soup, thinner than a chowder... Stoup!!!").  Calling her viewers kids, which I guess makes sense.  You have to either be extremely underage or extremely drunk to want to dive into Quick 'n Cheezy Hot Dog Cassabake.  Guy Slammalammadingdongajamma Fieri, mug-raping the camera in a relentless quest to steal the scene from a small town's local legend burgers and pancakes.  He too abbreviating everything in sight, believing in the charisma he doesn't actually have gives him license to do so.  The sunglasses-on-back-of-head, trashy bleached hair and smell of Axe body wash that can actually waft through the TV seal the douchebag deal.

But most unwatchable, most loathsome amongst a list that continues to go on (Alex Guarnachelli and her bitchface, Alton Brown's patronizing, Ted Allen's utter uselessness) is Sandra Lee.

The terrible food with no finesse.  The creepy tablescapes.  The concerning abundance of vodka.  The lllllllooong llllllll's  (llllllllllllllemon llllllllllllollllllllllipops you're gonna lllllllllllllllllove!).  Her perchance for comandeering her nephew for these ackwardly mimed family brunches. 

So, when I want to present a recipe that involves a few premade shortcuts, I refuse the Semi-Homemade label.  I will not, in any way, align myself with this glue gun-happy psychopath.

I will call it Scratch-Deficient.

I made these a couple nights ago, when I really didn't feel like making dinner.  My mind was doing an imagined inventory of the freezer contents, searching for something easy and not disgusting.  But, I had pork chops out and thawed.  It would be a waste.  So I threw this together, mostly upon my experience in the past and my growing ability to make a decent sauce.  Deglazing is my best friend.  I wanted to share, because its Scratch-Deficienty makes it good for weeknights.  Being able to add another level with the pan sauce makes you feel like you're eating something special, something that deserves to be eaten at the table.  Also, it makes Matt smile like this. 

Scratch-Deficient Pork Chops for Two <3

2 large, boneless pork chops
1 package of Stove Top, prepared in the microwave all white trash-like
2 tbsp dried cranberries
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1 tsp and 1 other tsp fresh thyme, minced (one's for the pork chops, the other is for the sauce)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp maple syrup

While hot out of the microwave, mix the Stove Top with the cranberries.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat a stainless pan with olive oil on medium heat.  Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, then add to the heated pan.  Allow them to develop a nice crust on each side, about 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from the pan, and take off the heat.  Allow the pork chops to cool slightly, until they are safe to the touch.  Using a sharp knife, make a pocket opening on a long side of each pork chop, careful not to puncture through to the other side. 

Stuff the pockets with Stove Top and cranberry mixture.  You can pack the stuffing in, so don't be afraid to press and stuff.  Place in a Pyrex dish, top with minced thyme, and place in the oven to finish roasting for about 20-24 minutes.  Don't let the things dry out.  There is nothing worse than dry pork.  Except maybe raw pork.  That can, like, kill you.

Meanwhilst, put the pan back onto the heat at medium-high.  Add the vinegar to deglaze, scraping up all the browned bits that the pork chops left behind.  Add dijon, thyme and maple syrup, and whisk together.  Allow to thicken, stirring very frequently.  After it is incorporated and seasoned with salt and pepper to your liking, put on low to keep warm as the pork chops finish. 

Serve the pork chops with the sauce and whatever side dish you opt for.  Matt chose leftover Stove Top (that was not cross contaminated with a stuffing spoon!  Take out what you need if you want to eat the rest!).  I had wild rice.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Little House on the Prairie

I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was a kid.  They were part of my whole Oregon Trail Nerd persona.  PIONEERS ARE AWESOME!!  Who needs ninjas and pirates?  Kids these days.  My mom would read me at least a chapter at night before bed, but usually I could charm one more with my unbridled enthusiasm.  As much as I liked to follow Laura's adventures on the shores of silver lake and banks of plum creek, the most riveting chronicle, to me, was Farmer Boy.  I just couldn't get enough of the food porn descriptions of Almanzo's graphic farm breakfasts, prepared by women who must have never seen a light outside the kitchen.  Bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy flying everywhere.  Potatoes!  Slathering honey.  "Read it again!!"

I remember asking my mom, on at least one occasion, "how come we don't get to eat breakfasts like that anymore?"

"Back then, people worked hard all day long on their farms, so they needed all of that food.  We don't work like that anymore."

Hmm.  Hard labor, hardcore calories.  In my mind, it seemed like an almost-even trade. 

So, when I knew Matt and I were going to be working in the yard all day today, it seemed to make sense to create a rich and indulgent meal.  We might not be manning a plow and tilling a hill, but Matt had to carry 20 huge bags of topsoil into the backyard.  And I was going to dig some holes.  So, we totally needed Farmer Boy Burritos.  We certainly didn't want anyone to pass out from malnutrition out there in the wild prairie.

And they make Matt smile like this.  I don't get a grin like that from buttered toast.

Breakfast burritos aren't the most complicated or sophisticated things on the planet.  But like most things that aren't all that complicated or sophisticated, they taste really good.  I've been playing around with my recipe, and I think I may have really nailed it this time.  Unlike the time I used leftover Velveeta.  Ugh.  That was disgusting.  And please don't ask why I had leftover Velveeta in the first place.  It's all very embarassing.

Anyway.  The recipe starts out by using a potato blend I found at Costco.  It has red, Yukon, blue and sweet potatoes chopped into recipe-friendly chunks.  Sadly, I didn't find them again at Costco today.  What I DID find was the bastards switching out the food court Coca-Cola soda fountains with... Pepsi.  WTF!?!?  Of all the things in life I thought I could count on, I thought my Polish Dog and Diet Coke combo was a constant.  Pepsi is disgusting, third-world sugar swill. 

But I digress.  Kinda.

This particular potato blend may have been one of those fleeting, blink-and-they're-gone Costco finds that make you fall in love in the frozen aisle and break your heart two weeks later.  You can use another potato blend, or just buy some potatoes at the store that you fancy.  They just need to bake a little longer, that's all. 

To bring the FIESTA! to breakfast, I sauteed some bell pepper strips and onions together with Sauce Goddess Latin Heat Rub Rub and Red Robin Seasoning.  To keep them from getting too wilted in the oven heat, I mixed them in with the potatoes when they only had 8-10 minutes to go.  The color was so fantastic, I just had to take a picture.  This was definitely good enough to be eaten alone, which is exactly what you do - only a few potatoes actually fit inside the burrito.  The rest are enjoyed home-fries style on the side. 

Here is the recipe, which is easy to tweak based on your own needs and desires.  The Latin Heat Rub Rub is what really ties it together, though.  You should get some.

Farmer Boy Burritos

4 large, burrito-sized tortillas
1 bag of frozen potato medley, or 4 cups of your preferred potatoes, cubed into 1" pieces
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 medium-sized onion, cut into strips
2 tbsp butter
Olive Oil
Seasoning Salt
1 tsp plus 1 tbsp Spice Goddess Latin Heat Rub Rub, or fajita seasoning
6 Italian-style breakfast sausages, cooked and sliced into 1/2" chunks
6 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
Yet more butter, (like, 2 tbsp more)
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
Salsa that isn't super-chunky (Matt likes Pace, I like Trader Joe's)
Sour Cream
Chopped green onion, for garnish

Spread potatoes on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with seasoning salt to your taste and the tablespoon of Latin Heat spice.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes if frozen.  If using fresh potatoes, it's going to be more like 40-45.  Check with a fork for doneness.

Meanwhile, heat the first 2 tbsp butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add peppers and onion, sprinkle with seasoning salt to your taste and the teaspoon Latin Heat spice.  Saute until softened but still vibrant in color, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.  When the potatoes only have about 10 minutes to go, pull them out of the oven and mix in the pepper and onion mixture.  Bake the remaining 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to chill on stovetop until burrito assemblage.

Heat the remaining butter in a nonstick skillet over medium low heat.  Whisk the milk and eggs together, then pour into the pan.  Proceed to scramble.  If you need help with this, here are many more details. 

Microwave tortillas for 30 seconds to soften up a bit and prevent breakage.  Assemble burritos by adding 1/4 the eggs, a small scoop of potatoes (1/4 a cupish), and a liberal sprinkling of cheese inside.  Wrap, then place on an oven-safe plate.  Top with 1/4 cup salsa and additional cheese, then broil in the oven until the outer edges of the tortilla wrap are just getting a gold hue and the cheese is melted.  Remove WITH AN OVEN MIT!! (I have made this mistake before and lost a beloved Titanic reproduction dinner plate as a result), then top with sour cream and green onion.  Serve with 'leftover' potatoes, ketchup, and Tabasco. 

Here's the result of our burrito-fueled day!  A garden filled with peppers, heirloom tomatoes, lettuces, beans and herbs.  The makings of Burrito-Chapter 2?  Only summer will tell. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vintage Roots

There is a secret buried underneath the 4-bedroom, two-story home I grew up in.  And no, I'm not talking about the tortured love letter I wrote my crush and entombed when I was 13.  I'm talking about what lies beneath the pantry. 

You're not likely to find it.  If anything, you'll be stopped in your tracks by the beauty that is my mom's kitchen.  The spotless granite countertops, sparkling stainless steel appliances and impeccably perfect vintage decorations are what I imitate (poorly).  This sun-bathed studio is where I watched with wonder, and fell in love with the art.

I've never actually been into the cellar that my dad built under our house.  The spider stories are enough to keep me away (and scare me into smuggling the cheap, much more accessible garage vodka to my friends' dorm instead).  However, I have seen, and on occasion tasted, the treasure trove buried there. 

You probably wouldn't peg my dad as a seasoned sommelier if you met him in day-to-day life.  Just the way you might not see me, hunched over my desk and mumbling random numbers under my breath as I switch between Excel spreadsheets, as someone who could wax poetically for 5-6 double-spaced pages about brandywine tomatoes.  He's an incredibly charismatic postal carrier, who dresses up like Santa Claus every year at Christmas time to deliver letters from the North Pole.  He took me to meet a campaigning Bill Clinton when I was eight.  He's been a Seattle Sounders fan since soccer was lame, and there were about five people in the stands.  And his knowledge about grapes, growers, vineyards and varietals could kick any snobby Portland waiter's ass.

Shit, I'll put him up against the bastards in San Fran.  Bring it ON.

My dad doesn't just let other people tell him what's good.  He's out in the trenches, finding it for himself.  I remember camping trips up in BC and the Okanagan, dotted with trips to way-off wineries and tasting rooms.  He corresponds personally with winemakers, sending letters and getting added to distribution lists you can't even get on the waiting list for today. 

So when, a few years back, I heard my snooty bitch of a boss chatting with another stuck up prick in my office about the AMAZING wine he had last night at Clyde Common, I just had to set down my collated copies and inquire about what it might have been.  They looked at me like a 14th-century serf asking when I could expect the castle mutton feast to commence.  "This is a very rare bottle of wine," Mr. Bitchpants drolled. 

"Yes, you can't just find it anywhere," Prickface chimed in.

Snatching the label's name (Cakebread Cellars) from a few stolen scraps of conversation, I mentioned it to my dad.  Not two weeks later, this bottle arrived at my apartment leasing office (albeit an earlier vintage).  It was good, not great.  I've had better.  In my parent's living room.
Last time I was up there, I asked him to pull out a few bottles of note.  "I'll blog about them!"  I offered, hoping that some unwanted cast-off might end up in my overnight bag.  You know, because my blog is sooooo popular (FIRST HIT ON GOOGLE!!!  .... when you put in the most specific of searches). 

That large monstrosity on the far left was my favorite, for the name and the story.  The Calera Jensen is not only my maiden namesake, it's a spectacular Pinot.  I was lucky enough to have been given a little, mini half-sized bottle of it as a gift.  Drank, loved, and then gone.  My dad wrote to the winemakers back and forth for several years, trying his charmingest to get them to sell him this uber-magnum (the equivelant of 4 regular 750-mil bottles).  Finally, they relented, and his persistence was rewarded with this 1994 treasure.  It's difficult to find a 750-mil '94 Jensen Calera.  This size is simply not seen in the open or snooty market. 

Dad has been an A-list member of Red Car's distribution list for quite a while.  I think I slipped off the back of the D-list wagon after being unable to purchase my allottment 2 years ago.  Ah well... it's too bad, this is another accessible yet dynamic example.  I'm still hanging on to dear life with my Sea Smoke bottom-totem-pole allottment, which hasn't even been announced yet.  My dad's several cases and magnums from the A list are already ordered and slated to ship in November.  Anyway, this Trolley magnum auctions for $100ish, when you can find it. 

I'll end with this treasure, a short list allottment of 2007 Scarecrow, a "California Cult Cab."  If you're not on the list (and I certainly am not even in the list hemisphere), you're not going to be.  You can fill out a little form on the website for the mammoth waiting list, but otherwise... well, clicking your heels isn't going to do you much good.  It arrived in this whimsical, wonderful packaging last week, treasures unassuming on the countertop.  Unfortunately they were already spoken for, flipped for several times their purchase price.  So much for sneaking a taste.  To put it in perspective, here's a little press I dug up on Scarecrow's popularity amongst the Naparatti:

Perhaps you’ve known people who’ve spent $80,000 on a car. This past Saturday, I watched someone spend $80,000 (U.S.) on five cases of wine. New wine; not a dusty, ultra-rare stash exhumed from the long-forgotten cellar of a Scottish castle.  That works out to slightly more than $1,300 a bottle, $50 an ounce, $20 a sip. Crazy juice. 
The 60-bottle lot of Scarecrow that sold for 80 Gs last week was the top auction item at Premiere Napa Valley, a sort of annual “bake sale” held by top wineries, which donate small batches of still-maturing wine, in this case from the 2007 vintage, as part of a fundraising drive for Napa Valley Vintners, their non-profit trade association. Waving the winning paddle was Ichizo Nakagawa of Nakagawa Wine Company, a wine broker in Tokyo.

One of the auction’s biggest bidders each year, the Calgary-based Willow Park Wines & Spirits, paid $8,000 for 60 bottles of Cakebread Cellars Syrah, among other lots.

Moral of the story: be nice to your office minions, and your mail men.  You never know who's on the list.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bake It Off

I feel a bit guilty because I haven't been devoting as much of my brain, keystrokes and energy toward my beautiful blog.  I've been working on the very beginning of my book, which I need to submit to school by the middle of May.  It's super-exciting (the prospect of school, not necessarily the beginning of the book, although I really hope so), but I miss my food.  I've been working on a great post about my dad's unbelievable wine collection, but I'm still not done.  So, I'll talk about meatballs for now. 

Meatballs can be kind of tricky, especially if you follow most mainstream recipes like the one in the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook.  That's my first cookbook and the one I learned to cook with, bought during a school book fair while I was still living in the dorms.  Not a whole lot I could do with it when I only had a microwave, mini-fridge and contraband hot plate, but I tried my best. 

I remember my first round of Swedish Meatballs, created in the laughably small kitchen inside my first apartment, about the size of my current bedroom closet.  Carefully following the directions, I put each little ball in a skillet to brown on each side.  The end result?  Completely charred balls with cool, pinky insides.  The Swedes would not have approved, nor rewarded me with tulips and wooden shoes.

Or is that the Dutch?  What would the Swedes give?  Pickled herring?  Maybe it's a good thing I pissed them off.

The secret I've found to perfect meatballs is - baking them in the oven! 

They cook evenly, stay moist, and taste delicious when tossed into some spaghetti sauce.  If you're concerned about excess grease, just remove them from the sheet after baking and place on paper towels to drain.  For these beef meatballs, I used lean ground beef from the farm near my parent's house.  They were delicious.  For me, I used ground turkey.  Healthier, but not as good.  The story of my life. 

If you don't want to use them in spaghetti, Matt's trick is to squeeze some sriracha sauce and eat them straight off the sheet.  I have absolutely no objections to this method. 

Better-Than-Schwan's Meatballs
1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 egg
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup minced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Heavy shake of worchestershireshehshchrereiopure sauce
1 teaspoon Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle, or Italian seasoning

Put all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Mix them together with your hands - spoons are worthless for this!  After well combined, roll into 1" balls.  Place on baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until well browned on the outside.  After that, toss with warmed marinara/spaghetti sauce, or eat straight off the sheet with sriracha.  Oooh, you could make a meatball sub too!  Or, if you used chili powder instead of Italian Seasoning, these would be great warmed with some BBQ sauce as an appetizer.

Whatever.  They're juicy balls of meat.  You really can't lose.
Salt and pepper

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Brid(al shower)zilla

In December, I found out my best friend was getting married, my first thoughts were of detail-oriented questions and squeals and congratulations.  But at a very close second was, "can I throw a shower?  PLEASE?!"

Being the great friend she is, she didn't put up much of a fight. 

This was my first shower, and as I may have indicated before, I go a little crazy when it comes to events and entertaining.  My ideas, which get stuck rigidly in my mind as required absolutes, are usually a combination of unique, hard-to-find, time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive.  Typically calling around to five stores in the Portland metro area to find one stupid detail (chocolate turkeys at Thanksgiving, merlot-colored tissue paper for my wedding, in this case - chocolate seashells for the beach-themed shower).  Inevitably hardly anyone even notices said detail, but in my head, the day would have been ruined without it.  This may classify as, oh, I don't know.  Psychotic.  But as tiring and maddening as it looks and feels, I love it.  I could not, and would not, have it any other way. 

This was all infinitely easier when I didn't have a job.  It was actually during this time that I turned my food-and-presentation fanaticism semi-pro.  I did several private dinners for a rich couple in Stafford that loved to entertain and didn't like to leave their house, and catered a dentist office's grand opening.  I'd make my sprawling lists in my groupie-esque Food Network notepad, travel to five different stores for five different categories of ingredients (Costco, Trader Joe's, Fred Meyer, Whole Foods and the local produce stand), color-code bags according to course and plate design, craft remarkably reliable timelines as guides - my abundance of time and untapped energy more than supplied the resources I needed to pull it off.

The difference now is that I have a full-time, complicated and brain-demanding job.  Not the kind that allows you to sneak in an errant thought about when you should start marinating the ceviche, let alone jot down a quick list of what you'll need for the salsa.  So when Friday came around, I found myself in a zombie haze at Bridgeport Village, with no notes in hand to guide me.  I had made one for Matt, who'd graciously volunteered to take over the Safeway run for me.  Uhhh.... well, I had to go to Crate and Barrel to get two extra appetizer-sized spoons for the cucumber salad that was going to be served in miniature martini glasses, because I only had four spoons and six glasses and... yeah.  I needed to go get those chocolate seashells from the chocolate shop.  What?  No white chocolate?  I was really hoping they'd be white.  Seashells are white.  Oh well, I guess they'll work.  Yes, I'll try a sample.  I need to remember to pick up balloons and tie them to the tree as the party-house marker.  That'll have to happen tomorrow. Well, they're brown, but they taste good.  A HONEYDEW MELON COSTS $7 AT WHOLE FOODS!?  Bastards.  I hope I'm not forgetting anything.  This has to be all the produce I need. 

First thing I did when I got home, after realizing I had forgotten a tomato, chips for the dip, rolls for the sliders and napkins, was start the cupcakes.  My plan was to make Martha Stewart's homemade lemon cupcakes with buttercream icing, topping them with the chocolate shells and an icing-sugar scheme to mimic an ocean. 


In a frantic phone call to my mother moments before leaving the office, I begged the question, "do you think it would be horrible if I (deep breath) used a cake mix for the cupcakes?"

"NO," she insisted, a little too far away to stage a physical intervention.  "It's OK to cut a couple corners on the things nobody is going to notice.  Nobody is going to notice cupcake mix." 

So, instead of carefully measuring out baking soda and flour and two types of sugar and extracts into my Kitchen Aid at 8:30, I was putting eggs and vegetable oil into abhorrent yellow powder, betraying all my airs of authenticity.  Terrible, dirty cheating. 

I didn't cheat making the ceviche, but I did want to throw my fucking mandoline out the window by the time I was done.  I also mixed up the base for the hot shrimp and artichoke dip, but due to a very sticky jar of artichokes, had to wait and finish until today. 

At about 10:30, after frosting, sprinkling, sea-frosting and chocolate-seashelling a dozen cupcakes, I stood back to admire my work.

They look like turds on a beach. 

Dear god.  Hopefully nobody WOULD notice the cupcakes. 

This morning, after a run over to Safeway to pick up those missing pieces of the puzzle (but still forgetting balloons, a detail that no one ended up caring about again, as everyone found the place just fine), I started hardcore food prep.  I had the foresight to clean and decorate the house earlier in the week with the mountains of shells and sand borrowed from my mom (hmm, I wonder where this all comes from??), so it was down-and-dirty kitchen time.  Got the artichokes finally open, put together the cold cucumber salad, mixed together the dill mayo for the salmon sliders, prepped and baked the fish, cored, peeled and chopped the highway-robbery honeydew and lesser-offender pineapple, pureed all of the fruits for bellinis. 

I felt like a challenger on Iron Chef, moving in a trance from one task to the next, with one eye on the clock and another on the burner.  When Heather arrived early to hang out before the crowd arrived, I could barely form a sentence.  Everything was going smoothly and ahead of schedule, but it was so... consuming.  By the time it was all out and ready to go, and everyone began to arrive, I felt like a terrible hostess.  All the food and drinks were there, in the presentations I'd conceived and insisted upon, but my brain was still in the scallops. 

Hopefully whimsical plating could make up for my lack of entertaining cognizence. 

A Japanese-style cucumber salad with red onion and rice vinegar.  I actually got the adorable little martini glasses at my bridal shower, and this was the coolest use I've put them to yet.  Well, the second use.  And it was cooler than the first.  Anyway, whoever tells you you've registered for something stupid and impractical, just wait a few years.  THEN YOU'LL BE LAUGHING!!  Bwahahahah.

 The scallop ceviche, served in seashells on a bed of "sand" that's actually breadcrumbs and a little sea salt for sand sparkle.  People actually did notice this not-so-difficult detail, which was a warm fuzzy feeling of awesome success.  With the fresh tomato-and-tomatillo salsa, they were light and fresh.  Great for this post-lunch not-exactly-mealtime. 

Salmon sliders, being served on a salmon-shaped plate.  This was another (supposedly!) impractical registry item that is now idespensible!  Matt doesn't eat fish, so I've been waiting quite a while to let this thing shine.  These may have been a hint too heavy, since we weren't having a luncheon.  Next time, I may do less substantial sushi rolls instead.

Yes, next time I throw a seafood-centric bridal shower at 2:00 on a Saturday.  I will definitely do the sushi instead.

As the first-bite barrier was broken, it became exactly what it was supposed to be - cheesy games, dirty jokes about corkscrews, present porn and toasts to a girl we love finding love.  Because, as I forgot in the haze of crackers and glassware, it's not about that.  It's about the bride!  And we could be just as happy for her over a bowl of Velveeta Con Queso and Ritz.  Which is what Rachael Ray would have done. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fateful Ravioli

I've been (kinda) trying to eat a (little) better (sometimes), because I really do miss that skirt.  So, even though I know they're not good or very good for you from a processed food and chemical additive perspective, frozen baby-size healthy lunches do help control portions and such.  I have a few buried deep in the freezer, and I unearthed one that I faintly remember picking up a month or two ago.

"Lobster ravioli," I mused aloud, thinking of the same product I'd had from Cucina Fresca.  Hand-cut, impeccably stuffed pasta bundles oozing with character and flavor.  Well, this just had to be comparable.

According to the Healthy Choice Naturals web copy, it totally is.

Our all-natural ravioli is stuffed with real lobster and ricotta cheese. It's topped off with the garden-fresh taste of yellow and green zucchinis, roasted garlic, and a savory vodka sauce, and lightly finished with Parmesan cheese for a meal that's anything but ordinary.


Anyway.  I throw it in the microwave at work, let it cool for a few minutes as my eyes glaze over into Complicated Report Numberland, come back and take a bite.


Oh my god that is horrible!  Whatever "lobster" and "other seafood friends" they ejaculated into these things tasted like salty, fishy garbage.  I don't usually find things absolutely inedible, one of the two cases I can remember being A. a Rachael Ray recipe before I knew better and B. a Smart Ones Asian pineapple beef abomination. 

Straight into the garbage it went, along with my lunch plans to finish the last chapter of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle so I could move on to books my writing profs have published before school starts.  Where to go for lunch?  My favorite answer is Burgerville, but it was more than hunger that pulled me in that direction.  It was also curiosity.  Yesterday was the last day for my beloved Pickled Pepper Cheeseburger.  Had they replaced it with another entree?

As I drove into the parking lot, I saw a poster hailing the arrival of a new sandwich.  It was a turkey burger!  Hurray!  I could still be (kinda) good. 

Inside, safe and not trying to keep myself from being sideswiped by some Lake Oswego bitch trying to get her strawberry milkshakes home, I got to see the newcomer's collateral close enough to read the enticing copy.

A little bit of turkey and a whole lot of burger!  Introducing the Crispy Onion & Spinach Turkey Burger! This delicious creation pairs quality ingredients such as a Diestel turkey burger patty, fresh spinach, onions dusted with Shepherd's Grain flour and fried golden brown, and two types of pestos, all on a French bun! ...Try one today! You're not just making your stomach happy but the community as well! A portion of the proceeds benefits Zenger Farm.
Well, that was easy.  Ordered along with a side salad and Diet Coke.  The best thing about it was the full turkey flavor that came through, despite the other assertive flavors.  The patty really did stand up to the pesto and provolone, bouyed by a subtle but supportive roll.  Definitely better than that overbearing ciabatta that was weighing the Pickled Pepper Cheeseburger down.  And the bites with a crispy, salty onion (not too many, which kept it from being heavy or greasy) were heaven. 

In conclusion, I am again so thankful for the tiny slice of sanity 4.35 minutes from my office.  Plus or minus crazy Lake Oswego bitch maneuvering time.  Tomorrow, I will try another processed lunch in the name of slimming.  But this time, I'll stick with "chicken."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Back to Basics

If I could have somehow harnessed and bottled the angst I had for my parents moving me to the country at age 12, I could have powered a modest city through at least a moderate winter.  I hated everything about my forced new hometown, and took every opportunity to express my passionate feelings.  Diary scrawl.  Vocal put-downs.  Melancholy sketches in freshman art class.  This sleepy, lifeless town was a prison, and I was itching from the inside out to leave.  I wanted the city full of friends I hadn't yet made, cocktails I wasn't old enough to drink, and an apartment I would never be able to afford. 

By the time I finally did move down to Oregon for college, I couldn't imagine ever wanting to come back for an extended stay again.  My family, separate from the soil on which they stood, was missed dearly.  I've always been incredibly close with them, and so my heart broke the moment they pulled away in the Elizabeth Hall dorm parking lot.  Any kind of longing for "home" the physical, geographical spot has taken the better part of a decade to develop. 

In the last few years, as college and early twenties came and went in a dizzying haze, I've become fond and familiar with my former "penitentiary" in a way I never imagined.  I catch myself gasping as I crest the hill on a clear day and Mt. Rainier is so spectacular and close it's as if I could just drive right up to its sailing peak.  I plan my routes and timing to hit the corner beef farm, the exceptional Puyallup Farmers Market, and crowning Metropolitan Market.  I scheme about the things I could possibly pick up at Marshall's, since they keep the Bonney Lake version ten times neater and nicely stocked than the ghetto locations in Portland metro.

So, when I finally get past the Friday afternoon clusterfuck that is trying to cross the Interstate Bridge into Vancouver at 5 pm, the 3ish-hour drive from Portland to Buckley, Washington seems a little less like a road trip and a little more like a long, extended commute back to real home.  I know the gentle curves of Kalama, I know where traffic likes to bunch before Chehalis, and by the time I'm passing South Hill the route is so natural and ingrained in my psyche it's more familiar than driving up and down past Wilsonville twice a day. 

Normally there is a purpose to the time, gas and money inevitably sacrificed to spend the weekend "away", whether it be a structured event or too far a stretch of time wtihout my mom and dad's physical presence and company.  This weekend it was my good friend Brynne starring in a Tacoma production of Noises Off.  With the show on Saturday night, this left us all day Saturday to enjoy the highlights of the region. 

I didn't have too much I absolutely had to do on this trip.  But there was one nagging obsession that needed to be fed. 

I wanted Taco Time.

Oregonians, you may be saying, wtf.  We have Taco Time right here.   But this is where you are WRONG!  We have THIS Taco Time:

This Taco Time, found throughout Oregon and the Southwestern United States and Canada, is a conglomerate whore owned by the same corporation that runs Coldstone Creamery, Blimpie, and some other shitty counterparts. 

Only in the relatively short stretch from Longview to Bellingham will you find THIS Taco Time:

Split off from its evil twin in the 70's, Taco Time NW dba Taco Time is a completely different restaurant.  Different menu.  Different marketing collateral.  Another example of elevated fast food, where the dollar menu is traded for fresh options that cost more, but leave you not hating yourself after you've gone through the drive-thru.  It's a northern (yet paradoxically southern) counterpart to our Burgerville. 

You can't really go wrong ordering from the Washington Taco Time menu, which features an array of taco salads, low-fat but full-flavor white chicken chili and vegetarian options.  My favorite, classic standby that I crave, however, is the simple Beef Soft Taco combo with Mexi-Fries and a Diet Coke.

There's so little to it.  Lean, liberally-seasoned and finely ground beef.  Lettuce, tomato slices, and grated cheddar cheese.  Drizzled with their unique sour cream, which is thinner than normal sour cream with the faintest kiss of ranch.  I don't know exactly what it is, or who invented it, but it melds the meat and the cheese and the crisp vegetables into a creamy, tortilla-hugged heaven.  Letting the flavorful little drips that fall as you dig in soak into your waiting Mexi-Fries (uh, they're just tater tots)..... yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 

At first, it looked as though my craving might go unfulfilled.  We passed the Bonney Lake Taco Time at around 10:00 in the morning to do some shopping and head into University Village for more consumer recreation.  By the time we were starting to get hungry, we were approaching downtown Seattle and there were no signs of a friendly cactus to guide out way.

"There's a Taco Time on Marginal Way," i.e. the ghetto, my dad read via cell from the internet (we don't got no iPhones, so yes, so 2006), "or in Wallingford." 

"I don't know Wallingford very well," said mom, preparing me for the worst: "you might have to wait until next time you're here to have Taco Time."

Then, as I was just beginning to lose hope, a miracle happened:


Yes, the 4th Avenue Exit on I-5 through downtown was closed for four men to stand around  staring at a hole.  I mean construction.  Faced with a gnarly backup stretching as far as we could see, she quickly exited to get on the back way over the lake.

After winding through industrial South Seattle, past the cruise ship and waterfront and under the tunnel, we emerged in an uber trendier-than-thou street - 42nd.  We passed Seattle culinary behemoth Chanlis, oft-writ Tilth, and arch-artery-enemy Dick's Drive In as University of Washington sorority houses and campus bookstores began to dot the scenery in garish purple and gold. 

No sooner had we passed a green 'Wallingford' sign announcing the district's name than my grandma and I both spotted - "TACO TIME!!!"

I don't think we broke too many traffic laws in our hasty left-turn.  The goodness within was definitely worth it.

All 3 generations of Morse-Jensen-Blankenbillers had the delicious Beef Soft Taco with Mexi Fries and Diet Coke, which I enjoyed just as much as I would have any of the Food Network shout-out darlings along the same road. 

Aside from my soft-taco pilgrimage, the rest of my Seattle shopping was decidedly non food-centric.  I found some new jeans at H&M that were neither too short or too big, the problems plaguing my other pairs.  I went through Pasta & Co. and left empty-handed, as I did with Mrs. Cook's.  A survivalist wave of frugality was weighing heavily on my shoulders, knowing that Chase was probably going to want their mortgage money next week, no matter how beautiful that aqua glazed pedastal bowl would look on my counter.  Fascist bastards. 

With almost-empty hands and stomachs that could always go for a bit more, we opted instead for cupcakes from Trophy.  One of the much-better cupcake bakeries you'll find, with moist cake and earnest flavors that triumphantly topple their more famous Seattle rival Cupcake Royale.  Eww.  Dry sawdust with the least fanciful frosting I've ever seen.  Not that I take sides. 

Grandma chose the ladylike Lemon, with flower petal icing that was literally too pretty to eat.  Mom didn't mess around with the direct Triple Chocolate, and I opted for a taste of my new valley with Chocolate Hazelnut.  The mildly-sweet chocolate icing and cake with the fine crunch of the hazelnuts was made all the better enjoyed in generous warmth and sunshine outside the first LEED-Certified Starbucks.  Cupcakes and pretention.  That's a pretty perfect Seattle day, if you ask me. 

Tomorrow - theater, wine and fish on the bay as I wrap up things North of Eden. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Dear Schwan's Man,

I am sorry for getting so upset at you the other day.  I could have sworn your delivery date was Tuesday, not Wednesday.  I hope I didn't make you feel too badly.  You have to understand - I've been hurt before.  I've tried to go to the Portland Farmer's Market on a Sunday.  I've tried to go to Gartner's on a Monday.  I got scared, that maybe our serendipidous first encounter was too good to be true.  I hope you know how excited I was to see you arrive right after me in the evening, and how much I needed that Caramel Cashew ice cream to keep me from stabbing myself in the eye with a spoon (it was a bad, bad, rotten day preceeding it). 

Tonight, Schwan's fish sticks and homemade tartar sauce.  I remember mixing up tartar sauce in my mom's kitchen on fish stick night, chopping pickles as small as I could make them and whipping them into a frenzy with mayo.  Grown up additions - fresh lemon, and a splash of Tabasco sauce.

In other news, a skirt that fit me two years ago no longer did this morning.  Damn it.  Something must be done - but then, who wants to read about my microwaved Smart Ones and half-cup allowance of couscous alongside a couple pieces of steamed chicken?

Hmm.  This is a problem. 

I will think about it while looking at the beauty that was my Monday night salmon.  Fresh, fruity and moist, like olive oil with a flesh.  Salmon, skirt.  Salmon, skirt. 


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tricks and Treats

Today was the day I had been waiting for since two Tuesdays ago.  The day that the big beigey Schwan's truck would roll back around Dorsey Drive, park its icey inventory in front of my driveway, and answer my wish list.

"Let's sit on the front porch," I told Matt as he headed out to the back to enjoy a few moments of sunshine and a post-work drink.  "I don't want to miss the Schwan's man." 

"He's not going to show up," he said, shaking his head as I clutched my carefully-crafted list ever tighter.  Stuffed Chicken Parmigiana, baked haddock sticks, cheesy stuffed-pretzels... maybe he'd be here in time for dinner!  Which would be great, since I forgot to take anything out of the freezer.

"He promised he'd be back," I reminded him.  "He said he'd be back in two weeks two Tuesdays ago!" 

Six o'clock came and passed.  I thought a couple times that I had heard a large vehicle coming around, but it must have just been a semi barreling down 99.  Well, maybe he got caught up and busy at other houses that were also anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Schwan's man.  But I was getting hungry, so we'd just have some Costco frozen crap for dinner - maybe Schwan's ice cream as a late dessert.

Seven o'clock.  I perked up every time the cats looked toward the door, like Bridget Jones inevitably getting stood up for the 4th time that week.  Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Well, here it is, 10:30 and my wish list is no closer to being fulfilled than it was two weeks and a day ago, when I had not encountered this cruel tease of a dream.  Why, oh why come once but not twice?  Why taunt me with your colorful catalog and notepad scrawl of my contact info, and then stand me up?  I thought we had a good thing going.  We had mutual interests and goals - food and selling lots of it.  You don't even KNOW me and you turned me down!  I could have been the best sale of your week, and you didn't even give me a try. 

I believed in you, great Schwan's man.  And you just made a fool out of me (to my husband that doesn't especially care either way, and my cats that definitely don't care either way, but still).  You, and your cruelty, have now been blogged.  I hope you feel appropriately bad about it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter in Eden

I'd like you to take a moment and stare into the face of evil. 

The ingredients:  strawberries, pineapple, grapes, papaya and kiwi. 
The cost: oh, I don't know.  Probably like $10 or $15.  The whole meal is expensive.
THE TRUE COST!!  Hundreds of gallons of fuel!  The livelihoods of impoverished farmers!  A culinary heritage built around seasons and savoring, not instant gratification and greed!!!!!

So I kind of didn't do so fantastic staying on the sustainable soapbox for Easter brunch.  I tried... kinda.  No, I didn't find my local asparagus.  There were no signs leading me down to some farm euphoria just off 99W, and in the midst of trying to cook and entertain my relatives, I was running extremely low on patience for technical tedium.

While I may have suffered in sticking to my vague and delusion ethical food code this holiday, the food turned out f-ing fantastic.  Quiche take 2 was a hit with everyone, including my father-in-law, who had never had it before - ever.  Ina made everyone fall in love with her sticky buns and cheddar biscuits, the deviled eggs disappeared, and the no-recipe pasta salad (salami and cheddar cubes, diced red onion, scallions, frozen green peas, enough light mayo to look right and enough dijon to stay a hint, a guess at champagne vinegar and a good squeeze of lemon juice - add salt and pepper liberally and refrigerate overnight until you have made order out of chaos) did not let the bunny-shaped pasta down. 

Again, as in family tradition passed down from every one of my mom-side relatives I've ever known, I had more than the four of us could have hoped to finish the entire weekend, not just an unsuspecting lunch.  I'm still full and feeling fat, even in sweatpants, swearing that Wii Fit is going to totally get turned on... tomorrow. 

Aside from brunch, there were a few other food-related triumphs and surprises this weekend.  First off, Matt's dad brought me a gift that one would hope not to find in their Easter basket, but was more than welcome with a nearby fridge - a huge ruby Spring Chinook salmon filet, caught just this morning on the river not six hours before.  I could have just torn it open, threw it raw on some vinegared rice and been in heaven.  But as much as I love sashimi, I'll spread the love and enjoy it tomorrow night.  When I'm not so beyond-full that I can savor it. 

While I was busy shopping and getting spoiled-rotten with a Coldwater Creek Spa deluxe pedicure yesterday, Matt was turning our nasty garage fridge (it came with the house, and used to be old owner's fishing/crabbing/hunting/stinky storage stash) into a pony keg for his homebrew.  Like a good Portland man, Matt's favorite consumable hobby is beer brewing.  I'm not a big beer drinker, but I do like the homemade stuff.  It's not as carbonated, so it doesn't feel as harsh to drink.  Seeing the smile on his face and the pride as he talked about the steeping, selection and careful processing of this curious yeast-and-hops stew is one of my favorite things.  If he can get as excited about a handmade IPA as I can about a grass-grazing cow, that's perfect.  It all boils down to the same thing - loving and appreciating the beautiful simplicity of what we eat, and taking an active journey in its birth and origins to its final resting place on a joyful table.

Third, my Powell's order was ready.  And at the bottom of the pile of many practical books to read for my first MFA project (and, just maybe, first novel... please!!!) was The Best Casserole Cookbook.  Over 500 casseroles!  I've been looking for this book for about 6 months, ever since seeing it at Metropolitan Market and having it suddenly drop off the face of the planet when I made the conscious decision to purchase.  Now all I need is to plot a potluck.

Tuesday, the Schwan's man cometh.  It looks to be a wonderful spring.

Friday, April 2, 2010

If you give a mouse a cookie...

On Tuesday I F I N A L L Y became eligible to use my vacation time at work.  Which meant, naturally, that I had to use it.  Today was my first paid day off in almost two years. 

And no, I did not take a day off just because it was there.  I had a mountain of work to do at home to bring the house up to entertaining spec.  My mother-in-law is coming over tomorrow for Easter Weekendpalooza, next week I'm going up to Seattle (prepare yourself, Metropolitan Market), and the weekend after that I'm going to be throwing a bridal shower for Heather.  And, no matter how many times Matt assured me the house was "just fine", I just saw counters and floors begging for bleach. 

Fueled by Diet Coke and a White Rabbit Bakery scone (orange and anise = sneaky citrus with an aromatic mystique - love it!), I dusted.  I scrubbed.  I vacuumed inside the couch.  I got the kitchen so shiny, it pains my heart to think that in 24 hours, it's going to be subject to flying flour and splattered seasonings as Easter Brunch preparations begin. 

Due to a change of plans, I had to scrap my Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - inspired local dinner.  I think I may be the only person sad about that (everyone that could possibly come was hungry for HAM).  Instead, the celebration was timed for a brunch of springtime pomp and circumstance.  I sketched out a menu based more on recent successes than sustainable living:

-Prosciutto and Mushroom Quiche
-Grilled Asparagus
-Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits and Sour Cream Potato Rolls
-Pasta Salad
-Fruit Salad
-Deviled Eggs
-Sticky Buns

As I placed woefully foreign papaya, kiwis, pineapple and CALIFORNIA strawberries in my cart, I felt criminally guilt-ridden.  Like the American Localratti were hovering in some cloud above Fred Meyer, sending torrential rain and winds down to ruin my egg hunt.  I don't want to support irresponsible food systems, but a fresh tropical fruit salad sounds so good and refreshing. 

I had to make it up to them.  Penance for my strawberry sins.  I would have to find the most local of asparagus.

Kingsolver's entire chapter on asparagus leaves quite the impression, especially on the impressionable (i.e. me).  And unlike my devil's fruit salad, there was no real reason I have to not seek out fresh, local asparagus.  Its short season is just blinking into life, heralding in the beginning of Willamette Valley bounty. 

I thought the best place to begin would be the aptly named Canby Asparagus Farm.  I'd seen them at several farmer's markets throughout the Portland area, but there stands were always curiously heavy on grilled quesadillas and omelets and strangely absent in the bundled green shaft department.  A trip to their website confirmed this.  The Asparagus in the farm's name was just an addition, not a description.  Although they make a mean tamale, you're out of luck for produce.

I will not be discouraged, however.  I know that I can find my fresh-picked bundle.  It's just going to take a little driving, watching out for cardstock signs, and carrying some cash for the debit card machineless.  The only pressure?  I have to meet my mother-in-law at 11.  It will be a race for redemption!    

If you want to make my life slightly easier, and point me in the right direction, I'm open to that too.  Easy redemption still works.