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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The NYTimes loves Portland

It hasn't been that long since they featured us, right? I know I posted about it here. But here they go again.

Sorry no posts recently. The most exciting food I've eaten since I last posted was something you can't get for yourself: Columbia River fall Chinook salmon less than 12 hours out of the water (caught by my father, who was in town for a visit), grilled with olive oil and fresh thyme (by my brother). Just a few days after their successful fishing trip, the fall Chinook season was closed. I have the second half of the fish (it was a 12-pounder) in my freezer, but it won't be as good as the first half by definition. I'm thinking we'll probably eat it in a couple of weeks when folks come from out of town to meet Ingeborg.

And speaking of Ingeborg, I'm now officially full-term so technically she could come at any time. I'm not expecting it to happen for at least another week or two, though. Been doing some more work on finding a name, and coming up not much better than empty-handed.

Number Two says new words every day, and communication is becoming easier and easier. I'm still asking a lot of yes/no questions, but fewer than before (yay!). One recent small victory was when he decided that he no longer needed to be carried up the stairs from the basement--I was pretty sure that I would end up having to make two trips every time, and so far I still will on the descent. I hope we're able to give him enough loving attention that he doesn't feel left out when his sister arrives.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Canadian Book but NOT Canadian Food

Usually I try to make the menu in some way go along with the book we read for book group, but not this time. The book was The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, and the menu was on the Italian side of Continental. It didn't really come together into a true three-course meal, as it often does, but I think everyone left the table more than satisifed.

For the main part of brunch, we gorged ourselves on salumi and cheese with Panzanella Black Pepper and Starr Ridge Olive Oil crackers. The cheeses were Tenerone Tre Latte (a soft aged cheese made from cow, goat and sheep milk), Formaggio Crucolo, Toma Piemontese, and Fromager d'Affinois (so help me, I can't leave the shop without a chunk of that last one). The salumi were a domestic prosciutto, mortadella, a mild Venetian copa, salame toscano, salame genovese, and sopressata. All were delicious (and Number Two was only too happy to help Mavis finish the leftovers!). The salumi platter was garnished with yellow and orange cherry tomatoes (the yellow ones from my garden), and I also served a roasted heirloom tomato tart (again, some from my garden, some not).

Oh, the tart was good. Here's what was left over (yes, once again I forgot to take pictures until the food was just about gone!):

I was inspired by pictures and a mention over at She Who Eats--I've had the notes to make it in my Palm for a year and a half! SWE made her tart with a short pastry crust, but I was inspired by a recipe in Cook's Illustrated to try a puff pastry crust instead. Maybe next time I'll try the short crust. So, here's how I made it:
Roasted Heirloom Tomato Tart

1 box Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry, thawed in the fridge overnight
egg for wash
1 small tub (7.5 oz) crème fraîche
1 t dijon mustard
6-8 medium (2-in diameter) heirloom tomatoes
3/4 t (about) kosher salt
leaves from 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
freshly ground black pepper
grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425° F. Gently unfold puff pastry on surface lightly dusted with flour. You can use some egg wash and a one-inch overlap to put the pieces together for one large tart, or use the sheets separately for two smaller tarts (what I did--I might try with just one big one next time). Using a pizza wheel, cut two one-inch-wide strips from one side, then two more strips from a perpendicular side. Brush the four edges of the main piece with egg wash, then lay strips around edges, pressing to seal, and trimming excess with pizza wheel. Brush whole surface with egg wash, grate a small amount of parmesan over it (focusing on the part inside the edges), then prick all over with a fork. Bake for 13 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 13 minutes. Pastry will be puffed and golden brown. Put baking sheet on a rack to cool, and raise oven temperature back to 425°.

While pastry is baking, slice tomatoes a scant 1/4 inch thick, carefully cutting out cores, and eating the ends (SWE peeled her tomatoes before assembling the tart, which would be nice but is not absolutely necessary). Spread tomatoes in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels, sprinkle with kosher salt, and let sit for 20 minutes. Cover with another double layer of paper towels and gently squeeze away the moisture drawn out by the salt.

Mix together the crème fraîche and the dijon, and spread it in the bottom of the tart(s) (I pushed the inside of the shells down a little where they had puffed up--I guess I didn't fork them well enough before baking). Spread the tomatoes in overlapping rows, then top with freshly ground pepper and thyme leaves. Bake 15-20 minutes (I think I did closer to 20, but a little less would have been fine). Let cool for a few minutes, then cut with pizza wheel and serve.

For dessert, we had a plum cake, the recipe for which was in the recent July-August Cook's Illustrated. I've never liked plums, but this was absolutely to die for. I will be making a more concerted effort in the future to harvest the basically unreachable plums in the giant tree in our backyard (the four David could reach from a six-foot stepladder went into this cake).
Plum Cake

2 T red currant jelly
3 T brandy (or 1 T water--I didn't have any brandy on hand)
1 lb (10-ish) Italian prune plums (the small, dark purple, oval ones), halved and pitted (big round plums will work if you cut them into eighths and stir while cooking, but they won't look as pretty)
3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C slivered almonds
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t table salt
6 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg plus 1 large yolk, at room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract

1. Melt jam and water in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat (if using brandy, cook it 2-3 minutes, until reduced to a thick syrup). Remove from heat and place plums cut-side down in syrup. Return to medium heat and cook until plums shed their juices and thick syrup is again formed, about five minutes, shaking pan to prevent plums from sticking. Cool plums in pan, about 20 minutes.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour (or use baking spray--much easier!) 9-in springform pan. Process sugar and almonds in food processor until nuts are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add flour, baking powder, and salt, and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about ten 1-second pulses. Add eggs, vanilla, and almond extract and process until smooth, about 5 seconds, scraping bowl once if needed (batter will be very thick and heavy, pasty even).

3. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges and smooth surface. Stir plums to coat with syrup. Arrange plum halves, skin-side down, evenly over surface of batter, not touching pan edges, covering whole surface, and NOT pressing them down into the batter (I did this a little and I think it's why a lot of my plums sank so my cake didn't look as pretty as Cook's did). Save syrupy juices. Bake until cake is golden brown and wooden skewer inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 40 to 50 minutes (45 was perfect for mine). Run paring knife around sides of cake to loosen. Cool in pan on wire rack until just warm or to room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan, cut into wedges, and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and reserved pan juices.

As if the cake weren't enough, I also had a selection of wee delicious cookies from Two Tarts (scroll down to "Best Sister Act"): Hazelnut Bocconcini, Cashew Shortbread and Peanut Butter Creams. Yum!

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Happy Tummy for Now

Tonight we had chicken breasts with mole sauce, steamed broccoli, brown rice, and a five-fruit salad (peach, pear, apple, raspberries, blackberries). I LOVE mole sauce. It always makes me think of Adriana, because she was the one who first introduced me to it, back in our (barely) still-single days in NYC. One of these days I'll go to a Mexican mercado and see if I can find all the ingredients I would need to make it myself, but for now I just use this:

I suppose if I wanted to be more auténtico I would use chicken thighs and stew them for a long time in the sauce, and it would be magically delicious. But I like to make this for a quick weeknight dinner, so boneless skinless breasts are where it's at. I pop them into a saved (shaken out) corn flakes liner, and pound them to an even thickness of a half inch or so. Then heat a little (~1 t) olive oil in a lidded sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering, and brown the chicken on both sides.

I had to brown my chicken in two batches because the package of breasts I bought inexplicably contained three instead of two (adding another teaspoon of oil before putting in the second set of breasts). If you do it at the right temperature, a nice fond should be building up in the bottom of the pan, and the chicken should be nicely browned but not quite fully firm/cooked. Take it out and put it aside on a plate while you make the sauce.

Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan, and when it is hot (it will only be a few seconds before it is smoking) add about 1/4 C chopped onion, a little salt and freshly ground pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Hopefully it will release enough moisture on its own to deglaze all the brown bits in the pan, but if you have to you can add a little chicken stock so it doesn't burn (I was using frozen chopped onion tonight, which turned out to be just perfect).

Then add a bit (for us, a couple of tablespoons) of the mole paste, and spread it out a little so it can heat and soften.

Then gradually (a few tablespoons at a time) add about a cup of chicken stock to make a smooth sauce, scraping up all the stuff from the bottom of the pan and pressing out any lumps with the back of the spoon. Make it a little thinner than you want it to be when you serve it.

Then put the chicken and any exuded juices into the pan, flip the chicken pieces to coat with sauce, reduce heat to low and cover. It's basically done, but I use this step to get all the other things ready and on the table, and it's good for the flavors to meld.

Serve over brown rice with sour cream and enjoy!

Oh, and I say "for now" above because I am dead certain this lovely meal will give me heartburn before the night is out. Story of my life these days.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

One of the cutest things I've ever seen . . .

. . . is Number One cradling Number Two on his lap in the rocking chair in his darkened room, and softly singing him a Wiggles song (the last two nights it was "Can You Point Your Fingers and Do the Twist?") at bedtime. I would take a picture if it wouldn't totally spoil the moment.

Speaking of Number Two, in the last couple of weeks his verbal expression has really taken off. Not too many two-word combinations yet, but new words pretty much every day, some quite garbled but others remarkably clear. I'll have to take some new video of him singing along with the alphabet song (almost up to tempo now), or chiming in with the last word of every phrase of "Popcorn Popping," à la Flavor Flav.

I keep thinking one of these days I'll actually have a good food idea that I need to post, but with getting ready for school to start (tomorrow!), and all the work on my house (this week and last it's the painters, who are needing a little more supervision/correction/tattling on than would be ideal for my stress/fatigue level--tomorrow I'm going to have to call their boss so he'll make them redo the sloppy window over-glazing they did on Saturday), and just being so darn pregnant, I haven't quite gotten there. I promise there'll be something to post by the weekend, though--this Saturday is book group, and the local produce couldn't be much more bounteous.