Every Friday, we celebrate the beginning of the weekend by sitting on our back deck, armed with a strong glass of pastis, nibbling on a small bite of some kind. It’s our perfect way to unwind and quickly settle into relaxation mode. By the end of the pastis, I usually don’t feel like getting up and making anything too complicated or labor intensive for dinner. This week, I sauteed pork chop with garlic and pastis, a simple dish I wanted to share with you. …
Are all pork bellies created the same?
One of the many perks of my food sales job is the occasional need to sample a product we sell to better describe the physical attributes, teach how to use it and to thoroughly understand the taste profile. This week brought out Tail and Trotters pork belly short ribs, an old favorite, to answer the lingering question: are all pork bellies created the same? …
A Vineyard Lunch
There are few things so pleasant as a picnic lunch eaten in perfect comfort.
Nothing is more pleasant than a carefree picnic. The only the thing I would add to novelist W. Somerset Maugham quote above are the words ‘in a vineyard’ tucked onto the end. Last weekend we gathered together with friends, both old and new, to enjoy a vineyard lunch at Four Graces Winery. The day could not have been more perfect, temperatures hovered in the mid 70’s as the sun shined and the sounds of merriment echoed through the vines.
Spring brings hope, gaiety and laughter. Like the buds on grapevines, we emerge from winter’s dormancy thirsting for sunshine and eager to reconnect. The air perfumed by fragrant Dutch hyacinths and Persian lilies. The long days encourage us to dawdle leisurely at the table, conversing lightheartedly into the fading sunlight. Perfect is a vineyard picnic in the spring….
Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of cooking for one of my favorite actors of all time, Kurt Russell, at the incredible Nirvana Food and Wine Festival hosted by Chef Beau MacMillan at the luxurious Sanctuary Resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Big Trouble in Little Paradise Valley
I was super busy at work one day last February when my longtime friend Chef Beau Macmillan rang me up. I answered knowing he was calling to tell me about the upcoming Nirvana Food and Wine Festival, an off the hook, annual foodie event he created the year before.
If you’ve ever seen Beau Mac on TV you know his normal state of being is one of high energy mixed with joyous enthusiasm; kind of like I just slammed four espressos, I love life, and now let’s get to it. This time he was even more ebullient than ever, his excitement was hardly containable. ‘Brotha, you won’t believe who is coming down to Nirvana this year.’ Before I could even respond, Beau blurted out Kurt Russell’s name, ‘Kurt’s coming to Paradise Valley’….
Gui Gedda had become a mythical character in my unrelenting search for pure, unadulterated Provence cooking. I heard his name mentioned in several publications, always spoken with absolute reverence, but could never really find out a lot of details about him. Chefs referred to him as both the Pope and the Marcel Pagnol of Provencal cuisine. Finding Gui Gedda’s book ‘Cooking School Provence’ was a major find; it felt a bit like finding the holy grail.
It is absolutely no secret to anyone that knows me well that I am in head over heels in love with Provence, land of my predecessors. It’s heaven on earth; land of the golden sunshine, peopled by a population that are joyous, defiant, independent with a playful spirit, and best of all, they really love to eat. The cuisine is simple and rustic, yet diversely reflects the seasons on every plate. Limiting my favorites to a select, top 10 list was hard, but this is what I came up with.
In the old days of France, wine grapes were traditionally pressed by feet. The winemakers nicknamed ‘bar rosi’, or pink bottomed, due to the pink color of their feet when they were done squishing the grapes. There is a lovely sculpture by sculptor Noël-Jules Girard in the center of Dijon of a bar rosi, or bareuzai in the traditional dialect of Dijon, treading grapes.
Steak Bareuzai is the true product of the Burgundy region; local Charolais beef cut into thick steaks, spicy mustard grown in nearby fields and milled in Beaune, wild mushrooms hunted for in the damp woods and great red wine that seemingly flows from every winepress of the region. I love the fact that this is so quickly prepared, with no advanced planning other than having the ingredients on hand and perhaps a bottle of wine open. The only controversy seems to be whether or not you finish the sauce with a healthy spoonful of Dijon mustard; some recipes add it and others shun it. I personally add a big spoonful and like the creamy punch good mustard provides.
There are many gastronomic paradises in France, but there is a paradise of paradises — Burgundy. – Curnonsky
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne is perhaps Burgundy’s most iconic dish; a rich beef stew made infamous in America by Julia Child, prepared from marinated beef simmered in local red wine with a calves foot, pearl onions, bacon lardons, herbs and button mushrooms. In truth, cooking proteins this way seems much more a regional style than a one off creation, you will find this combination of flavors taking many forms, from the equally iconic Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) to lesser known dishes like Oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon, mushrooms and onions) and Pochouse Bourguignonne, a rustic fish stew made with an assortment of river fish and crayfish simmered in Chambertin with onions, bacon and mushrooms. Technically, meurette is the name for highly flavored red wine sauces from Burgundy, though the word is seldom used in that connotation today.
Beef Bourguignon undoubtedly started life as a humble, peasant dish used to cook tougher pieces of beef, long before becoming a seriously tasty way to eat braised beef at regional restaurants and tables around the world. I have seen a few websites claiming the first appearance is in an Escoffier book, but I would argue the recipe is timeless and was been published several times prior without the word ‘bourguignonne’ added to the title. Most of the older French recipes mention larding the beef and adding a calves foot to the pot to provide a certain unctuousness. Larding, or inserting strips of pork fat into cubes of beef, is the proper way to take tough cooks of beef and make them tender. I certainly would advise adding a calf’s foot if you can find one; try looking in ethnic Asian or Mexican markets where they have a better selection of animal parts than typical mainstream grocery stores.
My top ten list of favorite French dishes to eat at home
I usually steer clear from these sorts of posts, but after a recent long walk in the Columbia Gorge rendered me insatiably starving and seriously contemplating eating my family, I decided to post what I do love, and dreadfully miss most about French food, in a vain attempt to save their lives. Earlier in the week, we had cut every single thing I love dearly about life as part of some satanic ritual known as the ‘new year’s resolution’. Foolishly, we thought adding exercise might reduce our surface circumferences quicker; instead visions of the doomed Donner party haunted my mind….
As a small child, I believed in two things; Santa Claus and the virtues of a simple grilled Loup de mer, or branzino as it is more commonly called in the US. Loup de mer is a Mediterranean sea bass with a delicate flesh and addictively delicious crunchy skin when grilled. Get your coals white hot, put dried fennel branches on top then the fish and let the licorice smoky flavors pleasantly permeate your fish, lending a feeling of being in Provence. There is no greater act of love than sharing a wonderful meal you cook with the people dear to you. Remember, good food can happen anywhere, this one is especially good cooked over an outdoor fire, preferably deep in woods, with loved ones and a few bottles of great wine….
I was craving for the comfort that only a good glass of wine and a soothing bowl of brothy braised meat could provide me to combat the chilling effects of a late Fall Pacific Northwest drizzle. I couldn’t decide which to eat, so I made both: a batch of oxtail pho and a classic ‘pot au feu’, France’s version of a boiled beef dinner. I arranged all the ingredients on my counter and began cooking. I came to the quick realization that both were very similar; each dish featured meats being braised for long periods of time with similar spicing, the main difference seemed to be how each culture finished their dish. The Vietnamese serve with basil. mint, bean sprouts and rice noodles while the French with potatoes, cabbage and root vegetables. …
If the van is a mo’ rockin’, don’t come knockin’ – Guy Fieri
Fall weather started in earnest today – the weather forecast which called for sunny and warm temperatures, instead turned out to be gloomy and grey all day long. That might sadden some, but for me it signalled the official start to the “stew” season. To celebrate, I made an old family favorite, Moroccan chicken and chicken pea stew made with just picked baby turnips I found at the PDX farmer’s market. A cherished recipe, stolen long ago from the pages of Paula Wolfert’s 1973 classic cookbook, “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco”. It took about 15 minutes to prep, 45 minutes to gently stew and all of three minutes to eat. A perfect dish for nights where you don’t feel like cooking.
Fall had started in earnest; a cool, light mist was falling and we decided to take our dog Lucy for a long walk foraging wild cèpes. I built a roaring fire in our wood stove, placed a daube of beef on top to slowly braise, and decanted a heady bottle of red wine, then walked out into the dank Mendocino forest.
Maybe I am like one of Pavlov’s dogs, but I start to crave beef daube (Provencal beef stew) as soon as the first cool Fall weather begins. Long ago Lisa and I lived in a small, off the grid hippie cabin deep within the woods, on the edge of Van Damme State Park in Mendocino, California. Our cabin often reminded me of Daudet’s windmill in Provence, though beaten and forlorn, it provided a quiet refuge from the bustle of modern life.
Fall had started in earnest; a cool, light mist was falling on an otherwise drab day when we decided to take our dog Lucy for a long walk foraging wild cèpes. I built a roaring fire in our wood stove and placed a daube of beef perfumed with cinnamon stick and dried orange peel on top to slowly braise. We decanted a heady bottle of red wine and walked out into the dank Mendocino forest. …
I recently did an Italian pop-up in Portland, and the undisputed star of the show was my gnocchi tossed in a tocco di carne sauce with shaved parmesan and drizzled with Paniole, a beautiful extra virgin olive oil from the Ciacci family, owners of the great Brunello estate Mocali. It’s a dish I absolutely love, but rarely if ever, make at home. It’s not that it isn’t memorable, or even ridiculously easy to make and simply addictive, it’s just that I cook a wide repertoire of food at home and dishes get lost and forgotten….
I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night. Lady Gaga
Is it just me, or does this happen to you as well: every time I talk with an Italian, even a fake conversation in my head, I begin to talk with my hands? I know that sounds slightly racist and like I am stereotyping a wonderful and very diverse culture but I cannot help it. If I have a glass of wine before, it gets worse, I start adding an ‘a” at the end of key phrases, like who wants a meat- a- ball, eh?). Chalk this up to watching too many movies with Italian Americans as the subject, besides, who doesn’t want to be Italian?…
The eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them. – Paulo Coelho
No other dish in the world better captures the soul and spirit of a single region than bouillabaisse. The rich, often colorful history of Marseille floats sublimely with rascasse in its spicy golden hued broth. Some believe bouillabaisse got its start from the Greek mariners who founded Marseille as Massalia in 600 BC, while others claim its origins are strictly Italian because of a few shared ingredients. The absolute truth may be that no one can precisely pinpoint the exact single moment in time, whether on that fabled riverbed encampment of fishermen and their wives or not, that bouillabaisse was born. What really would be the point of trying to figure that out anyway? It won’t make it taste any better, and it certainly won’t change the fact that bouillabaisse is the mirror reflection of the cultural melting pot Marseille has become. And the deeper I look into it, the more I see my own story reflected in it.
Today, the musts and must nots of preparing bouillabaisse are so numerous and so contradictory that one should be prepared to break rules at will. — Richard Olney
Bouillabaisse is perhaps the most bastardized dish that was ever created and as a classicist, that truly bothers me. In its strictest form, bouillabaisse is an assertive flavored, richly textured saffron seafood stew made from a specific list of Mediterranean fish that is always served in two courses. The worst case gives us a barely flavored, thin broth speckled with too many vegetables that some old seafood has been laid to rest in. Somewhere in between lies bouillabaisse’s true soul, and sadly that has been forgotten, or worse yet, lost.
General Tso’s chicken did not preexist in Hunanese cuisine,but originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese — heavy, sour, hot and salty.
– Chef Peng Chang-kuei
Lisa and I just finished watching the fascinating documentary “In Search of General Tso’s Chicken”. I found it so interesting not so much for the study into the origins of one of America’s most iconic ‘Chinese’ dishes, but because it confirmed my long held belief of why American Chinese food is so damned sweet. Chinese immigrants realized we Americans have a cultural sweet tooth and add copious quantities of sugar to our food to make it loved. The issue and reasonings are far more in depth and complex, but will also shed a lot of light on the story of Chinese immigration in America. The persecution Chinese immigrants were subjected to relates a recurring storyline in America that has happened with many different ethnic group. In some ways, it could be the story of Muslims today.
The side effect of watching was I went on an all out Chinese food marathon shortly after. One dish I ‘created’ was a take on General Tso’s chicken. Perhaps Chef Peng Chang-kuei, the man credited with creating General Tso’s Chicken, would be rolling in his grave if he knew of my spin on his classic Hunanese dish. I couldn’t help it, all the ingredients were just sitting around at my house waiting to be part of something epic.
Do not neglect this food. Be careful that you do not break the rules in taking care of this salmon. Do not take more than you need. – Yakima legend of overfishing
The Mighty Columbia River
No other river captures the heart and soul of the Pacific Northwest quite like the mighty Columbia River, known to native tribes as Wimahl, Nch’i-Wàna or Swah’netk’qhu. Its story encapsulates thousands of years of human history, interweaving tales of native Americans, discovery, exploration, hydroelectric energy, logging and unparalleled fishing within its waterways. The Columbia River is the fourth longest in America, stretching an unprecedented 1,243 miles from its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies to the end where it flows turbulently into the Pacific Ocean, near Astoria, Oregon.
Though Lewis and Clark wrote extensively of it in their journals, the river did not get its name till May of 1792 when captain Robert Gray braved the infamous Columbia bar and sailed onto the river for nine days of fur trading. It was named in his honor after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. In 1850, the Columbia River was reputed to have 16 million salmon return each year to spawn in its tributaries. The fishing was so plentiful no one ever thought it could end, but after a century of overfishing, farming, logging and building numerous hydroelectric dams the runs have been reduced to a current population of 2 million salmon.
Classics can be phenomenal when done right. A simple roast chicken dish could be the best thing you ever eat. ~ Joe Bastianich, noted restaurateur and tv star
Recently I had the good fortune to preview two new releases from Four Graces Winery in Dundee, Oregon. I was asked to pair a dish with whichever of the two I prefered. I opened both the 2015 Chardonnay ‘Gran Moraine’ and the 2014 Pinot Noir ‘Lindsay’s Reserve’ and poured a glass, well maybe two. I took a long sip of each and reflected on taste. I wondered what would go well with each wine. Then I thought, could there be a single dish that actually works perfectly well for both? This could solve the age old dilemma we sometimes face when inviting opinionated friends over who only like red or white wine. Then it struck me like an errant lightning bolt, the answer is as easy as roast chicken….