29 March 2009

Entertaining in a foreign kitchen

I have been house sitting for the past two weeks while some friends of mine are in Africa. First of all, I'm terribly jealous that they are in AFRICA! Ugh...what a dream. I would love to go there. But I digress. That's a whole other blog.

Friday night I hosted a dinner party for a few of my friends, three of whom have March birthdays. I tried out a recipe for pot au feu, care of the Oregonian's Food Day column. It was a two-part recipe. The first night you make the pot au feu (basically slow-cooked meat with vegetables), and the second day you make another beef-centered recipe; I chose the beef ragu.

I failed to take a picture of the masterpiece that was my pot au feu. The meat turned out perfectly--moist, tender, flavorful. And the vegetables were cooked to perfection. I basically did a mix of root vegetables--carrots, fennel, parsnips, and rutabaga. It was really my last chance to make such a hearty and wintry dinner.

I was amazed at making such a delicious dinner, not only because it was my first time with this recipe, but I also was cooking in someone else's kitchen. My friend's kitchen is absolutely spectacular, though--every cook's dream. Six burner gas stove, lots of counter space and area to move around in, and a beautiful refrigerator to store all your delicious leftovers! But I felt disoriented. It was hard to find what I needed and my flow was off. I guess it doesn't matter what you have, it's more of how you use it. Either way, I got the job done and had many happy, full guests by the end of the night. We topped it all off with a lovely lemon cornmeal cake with blueberry sauce I found on Epicurious.

My beef ragu the next night, though, turned out spectacularly. After my short ribs had been cooking in the liquid for 4 hours the prior night, they got another 2 hours of simmering that evening when I made the sauce. I actually remembered to take a picture of it:

Bon Appetit!

22 March 2009

Running around eating and drinking...Or, a weekend with the family

My family came to town this weekend. It is always fun to see them and we always end up laughing a lot, fighting a little, but generally having a good time. We also end up eating and drinking a lot. I come from a foodie family apparently.

Friday night we went to the New Old Lompoc's Fifth Quadrant restaurant. New Old Lompoc was always the go-to restaurant when Shawn or I couldn't decide what we wanted to eat. Good sandwiches, beer, and sides at decent prices. What more could you want? We've gone there less since living down the street from Pause. It's hard to decide to drive even just 2 miles when there's something so good down the street. Anyway, the food was solid as always. I ordered a Gaelic Red (stands in for the Proletariat Red during the winter), but it was not good. I was surprised as I believe I've ordered it before and enjoyed it. Not sure if the beer changed or my taste buds. At least they were kind enough to bring me a replacement pale ale. Little things like that are what make a good restaurant great.

Saturday morning (well, afternoon almost) we finally made it out the door and hit Beaterville for breakfast. Another go-to restaurant. Since it was almost noon, we didn't have any trouble getting a table for 6. Gotta love Portland and its restaurants that serve breakfast all day.

Saturday evening we ordered wings from Fire on the Mountain. This was the first FOTM experience for my family, who have always been able to enjoy good wings from Wing Dome, up in Seattle. I think they were impressed. After quick naps for the boys (ah, mid-afternoon beer drunk), we enjoyed an evening of listening to records, playing darts, and drinking more beer, also known as, a typical Portland evening.

Sunday morning I cooked breakfast for 8 of us, as our friends the Rices were coming over. Nothing fancy, just bacon, eggs, breakfast potatoes and toast. Lucky for me, it was bread week at New Seasons, so all the bread was on sale.

Long weekend, but it was fun to see the family. I probably gained about 5 lbs, especially since I skipped my run yesterday. I hope to have more cooking updates this week as I started my house sitting gig up at my friends' house in the West Hills. They have the most amazing kitchen with a 6-burner gas stove and plenty of room to move around. I have at least one dinner party planned. I will be sure to take some pics!

16 March 2009

Irish Soda Bread

Tonight is my first attempt at Irish Soda Bread. I went first to my Test Kitchen baking book, but when I discovered that I didn't have any cream of tartar (I'm in shock), I had to search Epicurious for an alternate recipe. Supposedly, we Americans have mutated the traditional Irish Soda Bread into something unrecognizable to the original. Given my limited supplies tonight, I was quite glad there is nothing to it.

There's something about dipping my hands into white flour that is so comforting. I don't know if it's just that it's soft, or that the touch pulls me back into my earliest days of baking.

But I digress. In the vein of being ill-supplied, I also did not have buttermilk. Luckily I know a quick trick to solve that. Just combine 1 cup of milk and 1 T of lemon juice or white vinegar and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Does the trick. As rare as I buy buttermilk, it comes in handy.

The results are in (yes, I'm typing this REAL time)...and it's good! Well, at least it looks good.

Sunday Dinner

Back when Shawn was working Sundays through Wednesdays, I would get lonely Sunday nights and invite some friends over for dinner. It became a bit of a tradition. And while we haven't continued it consistently since his schedule changed, I do try to make a nice dinner each Sunday night. It's a slow and comforting way to finish our weekend, which has usually been hectic.

Given that tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, cabbage was on sale at New Seasons. I've never been a fan of corned beef and cabbage, so I took the opportunity to try a cabbage dish I like and have never made: cabbage rolls. I realize there are about 5 million different versions of this simple dish, from about every country in the world. I ended up finding a recipe from Tyler Florence of the Food Network.

I was a little bit mad at myself when I realized that the America's Test Kitchen cookbook has a recipe for cabbage rolls and I forgot to look, but it's probably a good thing for me to branch out once in awhile. I DO wish I had read it at least for the method of how to remove the leaves, as this recipe tells you to remove them prior to boiling the leaves. NOT a good idea. I ruined most of them.

Despite the appearance (this is after I ate most of it and decided to take a picture), they were actually quite tasty. I would've preferred the tomato sauce to be a little more sour, as it mostly tasted like just canned crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen, which are delicious, but a little boring). I will definitely try out the Test Kitchen version next time I attempt this dish. Last night I just served it with the leftover rice from the mixture, which I quickly fried up in the leftover grease from the extra filling I sauteed. That was good, but I think the caramelized onion, green onion, and cheddar mashed red potatoes I made tonight trumped the simple rice.

On an unrelated note, I ran my first race of the year yesterday; the 2009 Shamrock Run. The Shamrock 15k last year was my first long race and I did really well then, averaging a 10:15 mile. that was much better than the 12-minute mile I was training at. I'm proud to say, yesterday I blew that out of the water, finish at 1 hour 31 minutes and 12 seconds--a 9:46 mile. I can't believe I actually finished a long race (going up Terwilliger no less!) in that time. Unfortunately, they give you ankle strap chips for this race. This was the result:
The first shot is of my poor ankle that was tortured by the velcro ankle strap chip they made me wear. The second is of me freezing my butt off 20 minutes after the race when Shawn and I were trying to find each other. At least I finished in one piece!

10 March 2009

Weekend Update

This should really be titled the weekend of pure decadence. I ate too much.

Started with our NoPo date night at DiPrima Dolci. I was so excited to finally try their Fri/Sat night menu. Traffic was threatening my great mood, but I didn't let it get to me--I had a date. We get to the bakery (restaurant, for the night) and it's busy enough, but there were plenty of tables. We ordered a bottle of Allegrini Valpolicella and the chef's choice antipasti. I was hungry, but not starving, and ready to enjoy a peaceful evening of dining. The antipasti was delicious. It was pretty simple--cured meats, cheeses, olives--but paired with the delicious homemade bread, it was perfect. Shawn ordered the chicken parmesan (surprise, surprise--it's his favorite), despite the fact that a meatball lasagna was on special. I ordered the spicy shrimp with artichoke hearts over linguine. Given the two items I mentioned besides my shrimp, would you think to order shrimp? I mean, most of the menu consisted of your basic, NY-style Italian dishes--meatballs, pasta, lasagna, chicken parm. Shrimp? I ordered wrong. The dishes came out and I immediately knew it. My shrimp were overcooked and not at all spicy. The artichokes were pretty good, but not enough to make up for the lack of flavor in the shrimp and pasta. Overall, very disappointing. Shawn, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed his meal. I think if we go back it'll be just for antipasti and some wine.

After dinner we moved down the street to Yetti's, our local wine bar. It's a very casual atmosphere--not pretentious in the least. And best of all, when I walked in, they were playing Belle & Sebastian. Then it was the Decemberists. The music has been consistently good at that place. Love it. There was also a couple on what appeared to be a first date at the table next to us, so that provided a little extra entertainment. Just a warning...if you are on a first date and we are seated close to you, bet on the fact that I'll be trying to catch pieces of your conversation. I'm just saying...

Saturday was a very busy day. I decided after my 8 mile run that I deserved to eat Mexican food. I met a few gals from the gym for dinner at Casa Colima. I wasn't expecting much going to a restaurant in the middle of Hillsdale shopping center, but I was pleasantly surprised. While it's not the best Mexican food I've ever had, it's hardly an Azteca. I ordered the pork carnitas plate and was shocked by the amount of meat on my plate. I feel like I barely touched it. It was very tender and flavorful...even better on Monday when I ate the leftovers.

I ended my evening meeting Shawn and our local dive bar, George's Corner Tavern. Ah, George's. I can finally sit in there for more than a half hour since Portland bars went smoke free. This isn't the kind of Portland dive bar that has been overrun with hipsters and hangs on the dive bar thread, simply by reputation. It's right off the MAX line on Interstate, if that helps to describe it. This is the kind of place that you see a nicely dressed man sitting next to an old, grungy man in a leather jacket...because that's who was there Saturday. And rap, country, and metal rotate on the jukebox. And, in jest, a customer will pull a knife on another customer, be told that there's only love in here, and still be served a whiskey. Ah, George's. Oh, we also won the free trivia game while we were there.

Our Christmas gift to Michael this past year was to take him out to dim sum and buy him new knives from Fubonn (best knife I've ever owned for a mere $3.98). So where did we go? Clearly Wong's King Seafood Kitchen on SE Division. My god the food is good there. We waited for a little over a half hour, which isn't too bad for a Sunday. The best thing about dim sum is when you sit, you eat. This was Shawn's first experience. While it wasn't a bad one, I don't think we'll be going back anytime soon.

Amazingly enough, we were able to eat dinner that night. I was still pretty full, so I didn't eat much. I made vegetarian chili, which was delicious and will fortunately enjoy quite a few more times as we barely made a dent in it.

Of all the things I said I was going to do this weekend (eat out, clean, run 8 miles, go grocery shopping, make bread), the only thing that wasn't accomplished was the bread making. Good thing we got a $2 off coupon from PGE for a loaf of bread from Ken's artisan bakery. We got the country brown. I'm getting good, but it'll be a long time before I'm Ken's-good.

06 March 2009

Fin de Semana

Hooray! It's almost the weekend. I have some wonderful plans ahead, too...

Tonight, Shawn and I are having a "NoPo Date Night." We're going to try out the more formal dinner at Di Prima Dolci, the Italian Bakery in our neighborhood, and top it off with wine at the wine bar down the street, Yetti's. It's a semi-celebration for our upcoming four year anniversary since we'll be busy the rest of the month!

Saturday, I'm heading out to Casa Colima for a girl's night with some friends from the TTN studio. I am excited for Mexican food. I've never been there, but apparently there is a special dining night that benefits SW Hope Feed the Hungry campaign and a portion of what we spend there will be donated to feed the hungry. Sounds good to me! They also boast the biggest margaritas in town, but since I'm not one for that particular drink, I'll be opting for the Dos Equis.

Sunday, Shawn and I are taking our friend Michael out for his Christmas gift, which was dim sum at Wong King's Seafood Kitchen in SE, then on to Fubonn to pick up some much-needed knives. Oh, I just love dim sum and have been waiting to go back to this restaurant for ages.

This should really make up for all that money I've been saving by not eating out. Oy.

I also plan on making a multigrain loaf of sandwich bread, running 8 miles, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, and somehow relaxing. We'll see how that goes.

02 March 2009

No bake weekend

Sad. I meant to make multigrain bread yesterday, but when I got back from my run, soaked, cold, and tired, it just wasn't happening. I'm about 2 weeks away from my 15k race for the Shamrock Run, so the running schedule is getting a little longer and harder.

I promise that I'll have a bread post next week though! However, this is not solely a bread blog, or I would've named it such. I did do some cooking over the weekend. I'm sure everyone who has read this blog more than once knows I have a small obsession with America's Test Kitchen cook books. And with good reason. I have made their whole grain mustard pan sauce for chicken before and the high-fat version is, of course, to die for. But this weekend I tried the low-fat version from the Best Light Recipes book and I swear, there is no difference. At about half the fat and a third of the calories, I think I'll be using that sauce from now on. The best part, to me, is that besides being healthier, there aren't any weird ingredients involved. I have a problem with recipes that have you sub extra sugar or salt to cover up the fact that you've taken fat out. Hence why I'm obsessed with the test kitchen.