Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nom Noms!


The high-pitched, strange refrain is the official dinner bell at the Blankenhaus.  Nums are all delicious things: little snacks, multi-course dinners, leftover pizza in the fridge.  Used in a sentence:  "Will you make me a num?"  It's one of those stupid married people words that would probably bug the crap out of anyone else in the vicinity.

But it did give me a strong affinity for one team when I was watching the Great Food Truck Race on Food Network.  I don't know how we ended up watching the show; we both have a strong aversion to the reality show garbage they've been turning out lately.  Cupcake Wars, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, Family Style... ugh, it's horrible.  What ever happened to Mario Batali just standing there, cooking?  Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray came a-whorin', that's what.  But that's a rant for another day.

I think it's the lead-in for Iron Chef, so we ended up catching it.  And I fell in love with the Nom Nom truck, first for the name, and then for the great sandwiches they kept handing out to lucky people in fancier (and east-er) metropolitan areas.  Crusty, fresh French baguettes overflowing with Asian-style vegetables and meatballs.  Umm, yum!  It sounded fabulous, and I'm sure there's some cool little dives and food carts downtown serving them up, but with the frequency I get out there (especially for kart-happy lunchtime), new nums didn't seem meant to be.

Until this weekend, when I was going through that big old recipe file (the one with the pork roast, and everything else delicious that I save).  Apparently banh mi caught my eye this January, when I was flipping through Bon Appetit.  There was the recipe, part of their special Meatball Madness spread.

I think I should just draw a recipe out of that massive file every week and make it, no questions asked.  I've got so many hidden treasures I've never tried in there, but when I go through them, they just kind of get lost in a thick fog of possibilities and ingredients.  I'll have to get Matt on board... although I'm a little concerned over how many "do-overs" he might call over the draw.  Keep trying, and you'll get that gouda and bacon macaroni and cheese eventually!

Banh Mis are a fascinating hybrid of Vietnamese and French cuisines.  How they ended up together I don't know... but according to Chowhound, it has something to do with savvy Vietnamese chefs selling them to appeal to French colonists.  Meats change, but the tasty pickled vegetables, toothsome bread and tangy mayonnaise are constants. 

The only major change I made to the Bon Appetit recipe was using nonfat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise to downplay the fat.  I could've been extra-saintly and used ground turkey, but I wanted them to taste a smidge authentic.  Matt says I used too much sriracha.  I say he's a weiner.


For Me?  Banh Me!

- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sriracha

- 1 lb ground pork
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp sriracha
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt

- 1 cup coarsely grated carrots
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cabbage
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 individual baguettes or 2 long baguettes
- cilantro sprigs for topping

Hot Chili Mayo:  Stir all ingredients in a small bowl.  Season with salt.  Chill.

Meatballs:  Gently mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Using moistened hands, roll meat mixture into small, 1" meatballs.  Arrange on a baking sheet (if you have a baking stone, use that).  Bake for 25 minutes at 325 degrees.

Sandwiches:  Toss 1st five ingredients in a medium bowl.  Let stand at room temperature for an hour.

Cut each baguette or baguette piece in half.  Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2 inch-thick shell.  Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell.  Arrange cilantro in bottom halves.  Fill each with 1/4 of the meatballs.  Drain pickled cabbage and carrots; arrange on top of meatballs.  Press on baguette tops. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gourmet Cheating

Everyone needs a few dishes that make them feel:

a. capable
b. talented
c. proud

It doesn't HAVE to be something fancy.  If you can spice up a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to perfection (the secret's in the Old Bay!) and that's as far as you want to go - awesome.  Although you're probably not reading this blog.  I think I've found one to add to my list, courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.

If you've never tried making a Williams-Sonoma recipe, I implore you to try.  If you get their glossy, pineapple-stamped catalog in the mail, you'll find them slipped between the so-beautiful-I-could-cry Ruffoni hammered pots and who-actually-buys-this-shit? frozen pigs in a blanket apps.  Just watch out for the ones that specifically pimp their products, like you can't make this without the evelskiver round pancake pan or Ad Hoc potato vinaigrette.  Boo. 

Instead of stalking your mailbox (or, by extension, mailman), you can always visit their recipe website section for a vast array of recipes to discover.  I especially adore it during the holidays, since they're not exactly into the mindless weeknight cooking philosophy. 

But sometimes you're caught between a work night and a grand holiday affair - a place where you have a little time and a taste for something elevated, but not quite a reason to break out the top-tier china.  I found myself feeling that way today.  God's sudden relinquishing of summer weather (sunshine and 80+ degrees Saturday, non-stop torrential rain today) made me want to create something hearty, flavorful... something in my Le Creuset.  I pulled out my giant recipe file, and started shuffling through possibilities.  Chicken?  Too pedestrian.  Beef?  A little too expensive, if I want something excellent.  Ah, what have we here?  Pork!  Portland's darling.  From bacon to belly, our city has a love affair with swine.  And I particularly pride myself in my ability to cook pork to perfection.  Except when I'm busy cooking a whole salmon for a group of fish-lovers, and forget about Matt's pork chop and let it dry into jerky.  That was the exception.

I lift a page torn from the January 2009 Williams Sonoma catalog, advertising a tragic yellow-hued Le Creuset line, All-Clad meat thermometer and $100 cutting board.  Roast Pork with Pears.  Mmmm, pears.  One of the few successful crops of this crappy year, ripening on nearby vines at that very moment.  "How about pork loin tonight?"  I ask Matt, who's waiting patiently for me to settle on the weeks' menu. 

"Sounds good," he agrees.

If the weather wasn't so terrible, I might have pushed for a trip to Gartner's for super-fabulous meat.  But today, even driving to Canby feels like a chore.  Fred Meyer cuts will have to do.  And since we weren't sure if they were charging $1.99 per LEEK or per POUND (and the produce staff is ever-so-helpful), we halved the amount from the recipe.  The trucked-in pears weren't quire ripe, but in this recipe it turned out working just fine.

The nice thing about this recipe was that it didn't take all day to make.  It tasted like it could have, but I was in the kitchen an hour or so.  You start by caramelizing the pears in olive oil while your loin waits patiently in a parsley, garlic and spice paste.  My paste was not so very pastey and more, uh, dressing-like, but it turned out being fine.  Watching the stubborn pears be seduced by the sizzling olive oil, slowing browning into soft golden candy made me just crazy for fall... I wanna go sweater shopping!! 

The pears came out and the pork got a good sear, creating lots of delicious sticky bits for later.  HURRAY FOR PAN SAUCE!  Does anything make you look quite as amazing to unsuspecting dinner guests as sauce that didn't come our of a bottle AND tastes incredible?  Oh but I'm getting ahead of myself.  After the pork gets browned, they get arranged in pretty layers for the oven.   

"That smells good, babe!" I heard several times, in between Seahawks touchdowns (woo hoo!!).  While it cooked for 38 minutes (the recipe called for 45-55 minutes for a 3.5 pound cut, and I used my pork prowess to compensate for our 2.94 piece) I worked on spaetzle.  But we aren't going to talk about the spaetzle.  I didn't like how it turned out.

Anyway.  So 38 minutes later it comes out of the oven, and goes underneath a tent of foil to rest as instructed.  The moment of truth was here.  Were my instincts right?  Am I going to sully my record?  Biting my lip, I grabbed a Wusthof steak knife and went in for the kill.


Not a nanosecond under or over.  The faintest hint of pink, super-moist, tender - what pigs are supposed to be.  "MATT!!  Come see the pork!"  I cry.  The second opinion?  Magnificent.  We can definitely agree on the important stuff.

I used a local vineyard's viogner in the pan sauce, one that held its annual Grape Stomping Festival this weekend.  As the sweet wine hit the pan, an unforgettable smell enveloped the kitchen.  Spicy, warm fruits, singing with the pears and crying out for the mustard.  I made unnecessary Food Network chef noises.  The food just felt so tied to this moment, like the recipe was waiting in that file for almost 2 years just for today.

The rendered pears and leeks created a lovely, rustic presentation for the pork.  It seemed almost a shame that we didn't have anyone over to impress, but I guess being able to thoroughly impress my best friend is pretty nice too.  It really felt as though we had treated ourselves to some fancy dinner out, but with less of a commute and way more compliments for me.  I'm giddy to have discovered this, and love Williams-Sonoma even deeper for bringing it to me.  I face down Monday feeling

a. capable
b. talented
c. proud

Fascinating what a recipe can do for us sometimes.  Hold on to those ones. 

October in Oregon Roast Pork with Pears


  • 3/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup packed roughly chopped fresh sage,
      plus whole sage leaves for roasting
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, plus 2 cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 5 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 boneless pork loin roast, about 3 1/2 lb.,
      halved horizontally
  • 3 ripe red Anjou pears, halved lengthwise
  • 4 leeks, white portions only, trimmed, halved
      lengthwise and rinsed
  • 2 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 Tbs. whole-grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream


Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 400°F.

In a mini food processor, process the parsley, chopped sage, whole garlic, salt, pepper and 3 Tbs. of the olive oil until a fine paste forms. Spread the mixture on the cut side of one half of the pork loin, then place the other half on top. Tie the roast together with kitchen twine and tuck whole sage leaves underneath the twine. Season the roast with salt and pepper.

In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add the pears, cut side down, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the pork to the pot and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. Place the leeks, cut side down, in the pot in a single layer. Set the pork on top and place the pears along the sides of the pot.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the pork registers 140°F, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pork to a carving board, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Transfer the leeks and pears to a platter.

Pour the pan drippings into a bowl and discard all but 2 tsp. of the fat. Warm the reserved fat in the pot over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and flour and cook, stirring frequently, for 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the broth and pan drippings and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the mustard and cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the pork into slices and arrange on the platter. Pass the sauce alongside. Serves 8 to 10.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Fateful Lack of Pizza

This was the second night in a row that I was planning on making homemade pizza and went without - both for the exactly same reason.  I went through the workday rehearsing the motions in my head: get out the KitchenAid.  Measure out the flour and yeast, add in the water and oil but don't boil it like the instructions say.  The boil is a lie.  Top with a little cheese, don't use too much or you'll only get 2 pieces.  You'll want 3.  Actually, you'll want to eat the whole thing.  Don't. 

Then, I get home.  And I see Matt, but there is not the requisite loaf of mozzarella.  I ask, "did you forget?"  He hangs his head in shame.  Last night, I went off-the-cuff and made a yummy chicken orzo dish that tasted fabulous topped with a little sriracha.  Well, what DOESN'T taste delicious topped with a little sriracha?

Tonight, I was totally not in the mood.  Forgot the cheese?  Want me to go all Iron Chef on the pantry?  Fuck that.  You are driving me to a restaurant, sir.  We argued a little over the places in Wilsonville:

Matt:  "Can we go to Hunan Kitchen?"
Me:  "No, didn't you see that Weight Watchers Chinese Buffet game?  Kung Pao Chicken is like 20 points!  What about Sushi Avenue?"
Matt:  "I'm not paying $40 for a few pieces of sushi."
Me:  "What about Abella's?"
Matt:  "Didn't you say that was on Dirty Dining?"
Me:  "Like a YEAR ago!  What about that place in Canby I've wanted to try?"
Matt:  "Can't we just go to Dairy Queen?"
Me:  "Fine, you go to Dairy Queen, I'll go to Safeway and get a cup of soup."

And so it went, until we reached the cutoff and veered toward Aurora/Canby.  "Where are we going?"  I asked.

"That place you wanted to try."

I wasn't going to kick this extremely rare gift horse in the mouth, so I sat patiently and gave him final directions to the Canby Grand Central Station.  The building, a large two-story farmhouse across from the railroad tracks, has had three or four incarnations since I first frequented this area.  I tried one of them, Seasons Grill.  Expensive, bland, boring American-y steak house fare.  And from what little I can remember, pretty ugly decor. 

When we stepped inside, we were greeted with an air of class one does not normally associate with Canby.  Dark woods and deep-colored walls, Tuscan-style lights and wall hangings, a really pretty antique buffet table.  A magnum of Silver Oak Cab that made me smile, thinking of its recent inclusion in 'Southbound.'  Sorry, I've become a little obsessed with myself lately.  I'm hoping in a good way.  Anyway.  The hostess seats us and this sweet, smiling waitress is on her heels right away.  It's an absolute contrast to the abominable service we got downtown last Friday (but that's another story, which I just Yelp-ed).  The menu had a nice variety, and I tried to square in on something that wouldn't take away all my Flex points for the week.  Fish sounded good (I've been single-handedly massacring the American chicken population recently), so I opted for the tilapia.  Matt, of course, went for The Philly (a cheesesteak-meets-French dip sandwich monster).  My entree came with soup or salad, and the waitress whole-heartedly recommended the house special, Mushroom Parmesean. 

"It's really, really good," she promised.  Soup sounded perfect on this cool and sometimes stormy fall day, so I agreed to try it.  I'm thinking a nice, brothy minestrone-type thing.

Instead, she comes smiling out of the kitchen with a cup of... creamy, heavenly ladled sin.  "I brought you some bread, too, since it's kind of like fondue," she explained, setting down a fresh-baked loaf between us. 

Now maybe it's the fat-deprivation talking, but this was one of the best soups I can remember eating in ages.  They were definitely using a good parmesean, which had a nutty, earthy complexity other cheesy soups can't touch.  The mushrooms were extremely subtle and only echoed these rich flavors.  Strands of parmesean caught the bread, my chin, and thank God for Matt because without his assistance I would have polished the entire thing in one gulp by myself. 

There you go.  This is all I have to remember it by, since I certainly wasn't expecting the best soup EVER in Canby on a Thursday night.  I just know I'm going to be craving this stuff.  It's going to live on, and I'll know it's just right down the road, every day, waiting for me.  I want the recipe.  I want the kettle.  I want to swim in it. 

The freshness of the fish and veggies in my entree was also notable.  The carrots and zucchini were well-seasoned and tasted sauteed, not at all microwaved.  My fish, despite all my good intentions and asking for no crispy onions on top, had a crust.  So I may have kind of not been fantastic tonight.  But at least I didn't eat The Philly with garlic-gorgonzola fries.  But Matt did.  And he thoroughly enjoyed it.

There is nothing worse than having your expectations set up for a place and being let down, but when you're pleasantly surprised out of the blue by another, it almost makes up for it.  Canby Grand Central Station restored my faith in local food, and by extension, humanity.  And that's saying a lot; I took some really particularly shitty phone calls today. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010


How horrible at this have I been lately?  Jeez.  I'm sorry.  I don't have a lot of great excuses, except for work and school and life making me tired and unmotivated (you know, after accomplishing their demands).  I guess here's a quick update on a few things:

a.  Don't try buying 40 pounds of tomatoes and try canning chunks and spaghetti sauce in one day.  The day will stretch for 12 hours until you're waiting for jars to process at 1 am, and hating yourself.  I've accomplished the rare feat of hating innocent tomatoes.

b.  I love ouzo.  Oh my god how have I not known about this stuff yet?!  We went to Alexis downtown with some friends as part of a new let's-eat-somewhere-new-each-month tradition.  Fantastic food, terrible service.  It seriously took us an hour and forty minutes to get our entrees.  Boo.  But also, no one's told me about moussaka.  YUM!  I'm so trying that this week, and I promise to god to post the results.

c.  I had to start Weight Watchers.  Well, I guess I didn't HAVE to.  I could have kept waddling along, but food and body were getting much too out of balance in my life.  I love food - cooking it, writing about it, sharing it, planning it, buying it... the entire process brings me so much joy and fulfillment.  Unfortunately, I'm not someone that can just make and eat whatever she wants without significantly gaining weight.  My strict eating habits have gone lax the last 2 years, in the way of great cheeses, delicious sauces and other decadent ingredients (some that you wouldn't even think were bad!).  I'm hoping I can regain a balance between cooking and being careful, but for now I've had to be very stringent with myself.  Do you really want to read about my hummus and vegetable sandwiches on Bagel Thins?  Well, they are really good.  I must say. 

Anyhow, I will definitely make an effort to be better.  Thanks to everyone that reads!  I will be nicer to you, I promise.