Monday, October 29, 2012

Not so badly made as all that...

Back during the summer we made some Ravioli Malfatta - Ricotta and spinach dumplings without the pasta covering of a "true" ravioli but a great selection of the Italian flavors I grew up with. We made plenty and froze some - a batch came out last night, served it with sweet Italian sausage and my red sauce. A comforting meal on a stormy night.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Hottest!

The rain is pouring down this morning, and there's a fragrance drifting around the house - bone and vegetable broth simmering  on the stovetop, a comforting smell.
But not all good food is comfort food - sometimes you have to walk the high wire, take the risk, taste the Andoillette - or better, in this case, the Diablo Burrito from Allan's Authentic Mexican, a favorite since we moved to this side of the hill. My fondness for Mexican food goes back to a trip to Colorado with Dad when I was 13,  and anywhere I've lived, I've sought out a local favorite - just like finding the best pizza, the best bagels (so long Kettleman's, you were great while you lasted), best curry - you get it, I'm sure you have your own list of indispensable restaurants. 

Allan's may have "locked" the all time top spot for Mexican food with the Diablo Burrito - stunt food for some, the folks at Allan's had me sign a release before they'd put in the order. I was just curious - it's made with the legendary Ghost Chili Pepper, and I like a spicy meal now and then. My enjoyment of chili peppers was there at the beginning - there were hot Italian peppers in Pop Pop's garden as well as sweet Italian frying peppers and those wonderful tomatoes. 

You can see the radioactive heat rising from the Diablo Burrito!
 In addition to the Ghost Chili's there were plenty of serrano peppers, which pack plenty of heat themselves,  within the soft tortilla wrapping. Strips of steak smothered in the hot flavors were absolutely delicious. The "competitive eating" angle would have had me eat the burrito in ten minutes or less - but I wanted to taste this one. I took my time and enjoyed each bite,  with sweat dripping from my face. A cold bottle of Dos Equis was - really - the only serious choice for a beverage.

Will I get the Diablo again? Ask me on a hot day in summer, when spicy food is most delicious. The menu at Allan's has a lot of excellent choices, so we will certainly be back well before summer though.

A little stunned and euphoric, but none the worse for wear.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rabbit's Nap

Really great weekend - had a meal at Fish Sauce in NW Portland, a little more upscale than your everyday Pho place. I'm not usually a mixed drink fan, but the exotic cocktails here were worth tasting. I especially liked the spring rolls. I guess I like my Pho a little gristlier.

We also visited our local Farmers Market. Pine Mountain Ranch had a bag of bones waiting for us - Bison bones for making stock through the winter - 22 pounds, that's a lot of stock! We also got a rabbit for the pot Sunday night, and I really have to say, I'm pleased with the way Rabbit turned out.

I made a mustard and white wine sauce in hot Bluey. I used Coleman's mustard flour and mustard seeds which I crushed in a mortar, mixing that in with softened onions. While waiting for this, along with half a bottle of white Two Buck  Chuck ($2.50 now) to come back to a boil , I broke down the rabbit - just putting the legs and the saddle (the best bit) in a 3.5 quart pot to braise with the sauce, along a handful of pancetta,  carrots and tiny turnips. The rest went into a stock pot - rabbit and bean soup this week! (Yes, it smells good here as I type this.)
 Bunny turned out nice and tender. (I use a meat thermometer.) The mild zip of the mustard sauce went well with the savory flavor of the meat for about as "old school" a dinner as you could cook or eat. A fleet but welcome guest on many tables, Rabbit and mustard and wine have been friends for a long time.
Tonight I'll be serving the bunny and bean soup, along with butternut squash and roasted cherry peppers. There's a nice bit of meat and stew left for today's lunch. None of Rabbit is going to waste.

Update - been serving and eating bunny soup with butternut squash and onions, along with crispy kale and a few roasted peppers. Brown rice alongside, and I've been favoring mache, or lambs lettuce, with salads ever since we got back from France.
Back home in Oregon there's our friend Pinot Noir. She likes Rabbit too!

Monday, October 08, 2012

On the banks of the Armancon

The house is quietly hidden in a miniscule village, a grey huddle of stone buildings at a little jog in the Armancon river, surrounded by wide open fields. A low line of wooded hills darkened the western horizon; a more pronounced ridge climbs to the east, following the course of the river.

Nearby sheep sometimes have bouts of bleating. On occasion, from anywhere around the house, I hear people singing to Max. His Father, Paul, has a particularly fine bass and really throws himself into his interpretations of nursery songs,  spirituals, and reading out from the board book "Rabbit's Nap".  Otherwise quiet prevails. A cook comes in and prepares marvelous French meals - Bouf  Borgognion one evening, naturally. Pintade, a bird a bit bigger than a chicken with dark, serious meat, served with tender lambs lettuce. Quiche and blowtorchy desserts too.
With the dinners a cheese course was served, and favorites emerged - particularly a Delice De Borgogne, rich with a variety of textures packed into a delicate rind, mild but with a wild, distant tang. A very soft Eppousse spread out of the board, seeming to grow over time.

One evening early in the holiday, there was a tasting, red and white local wines presented with a bit of background about the soil and geography essential to giving each wine it's particular character. The poor little shop boy behaved with some restraint, spitting into the provided bucket with gusto. I did drink every drop in the glass of a St. Aubin 2009, with flinty and nutmeg flavors. This and a Savigny les Beaune AC 2010 are remarkable, the Beaune one that showed up in my glass at dinner all through the holiday.

The scariest meal was at the local bar - John got the Andouillette, so I had to get it too. Not as nasty as some other preparations of chitterlings I've tasted. However, the beer...Leffe, kind of lager with Ribena. Nasty.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Travel notes

The time spent in Cambridge was as pleasant as it could be. A remarkable meal at the Three Horse Shoes, a lovely example of an English country pub with an excellent  menu with classic and contemporary fare (Scallop carpaccio, vennison stew) was crowned - for me, at least - by an excellent bitter ale, Mauldon's "Mole Trap". Lovely floral hops, and only 3.8 percent alcohol - as wonderful as the Portland brews have become, it's often difficult to find spectacular beer that's not unnecessarily strong.

I got to spend time with the unique Art collection at Kettles Yard as well - far too short a time, the place is as much an installation in it's own right as it is the individual pieces displayed there. Lots of reasons to look forward to future visits to Cambridge.

Ultimately, time came that we headed out by train to our destination - a house in the French countryside, where we planned to relax, enjoy walking and dining and simply doing nothing at all in good company.

We had a little time to kill at the station in Lille. We sat outside one of the station's restaurants - a place called McDonalds, perhaps you've heard of them? Scattered outside on benches were some of the current crop of "Jeune Filles", that is to say, teen age French girls. Fat, surly teenage girls stuffing fries and burgers into their faces. On occasion, I'd thought that the language of the Slow Food movement, as stated by Carlo Petrini and in statements like Folco Portinari's  Slow Food Manifesto, overly politicized current trends in food production and marketing. Watching these young people eat, I had a feeling of horror as I realized the mean spirit and greed that threatens not only our environment, but also every traditional culture, as well as everyone's health, well being, and even beauty.

Ultimately our train arrived and we made our way onward - to the small village of Cry Sur Armancon, where we dined the way the French used to.

Read the Slow Food manifesto here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

So much for the poor little shop boy...

For many years now, when fine food and wine are the topic, I've hidden behind the fading personna of an Italian-American shop boy, who grew up with an appreciation for simple food and maybe a glass of nice Chianti now and then. Pop pop's tomatoes, a little pasta fazool.
That's all in there - but underneath layers and layers of time spent at a lot of farmers markets, in fact visits to open air markets all over the world - that's my idea of sightseeing, perhaps a leftover from years spent minding the second hand book stall at the Reading Terminal Market in Philly - and more opportunities for fine dining than I like to admit to. That poor little shop boy, who wanted nothing more out of life than a bowl of snapper soup with sherry at McGillins on a Friday before heading to McGlincheys for endless glasses of Youengling  - has been around a few blocks, a few times.
 Recently, my perambulations included an opportunity to wander the streets of Cambridge, past the Red Poll  cattle grazing on Midsummer Common (pointing and saying " Yes, YOU'RE looking especially tasty today - I shall eat you ALL up!") and even into a few of the local dining and drinking establishments.

As a Yank, I must admit to a skeptical attitude towards Jamie Oliver. His appearances on TV make him look like a snivelling, whining baby - dressed as a carrot. I'm absolutely prepared to rethink his attitudes towards kids school meals after visiting Jamie's Italian, his Cambridge venue, with a group of fellow "grown ups".
   One of my dining companions that night pointed at the line hams and cheeses  hanging as the only curtain between us and the kitchen and said "Look! We're safe!.

It was an easy menu to find  favorites on - charcutery and fried seafood. The poor little shop boy nodded at Jane's dad when he suggested a Valpolicella.

I'm not touching pasta these days, but if I had - the spaghetti vongole - with a local variation, winkles from Cornwall - would have been the only way to go. As it was, I didn't even hit the bread bowl. It looked nice, though.

So, SO deprived. The poor little shop boy.

Next - our party moves on towards it's destination, a little house in a tiny village in a quiet part of France.

Read the "Slow Food Manifesto" here