Dying for Sun and Strawberries

Oregon, at least the Portland metro area of it, is getting tons of rainfall this June.  In the first several days of the month we got the average rainfall for the entire month of June.  Usually this time of year there is glorious sun, punctuated by the occasional rainy day.  I love Portland, and I don’t really want to move some where else.  I even like the rain a fair bit.  But this year I catch myself wondering if I should consider living somewhere with more sun.

There are four of us in my circle of female friend who have birthdays within a week of one another.  The last four or so years my friends and I have had strawberry fest as part of the birthday celebrations.  We get a bunch of people together and head out to a U Pick farm and get ridiculous amounts of berries.  One year we picked 60 or 70 pounds.  That was too much.  But 30 or 40, that we can manage just fine.  =)

The idea is that you pick tons of berries in the morning and spend the rest of the day making things with them (while of course indulging in eating a large, large number of ones while in the field, while in the car, while cooking…..) culminating in a meal where most parts involve strawberries in some fashion.  Last year I also successfully froze a bunch and they have lasted most of the year.

The last two years the strawberry harvest has been creeping out later and later.  This year, we have had so much rain that I fear they may be largely rotting in the fields, rather than ripening.  If we are lucky, there has been so little sun that they have not gotten ripe enough to truly rot and the next batch of sunny days we get will bring them around.

The forecast just switched itself around and is now saying we will get ten days of sun.  I would love it to be right, but at this point I will be thrilled if we even get a couple.

June 10, 2010 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

After a hiatus, pizza

Well, I haven’t been posting much at all for a while now.  Things slowed down a bunch for the holidays, then never really picked up speed again.

I also had a restaurant visit where I realized that I was starting to enjoy my food less, rather than enjoying it more.  The enjoyment was getting lost is being overly analytical about what was different and better or worse than the other times I had eaten a dish.  So I let things lapse.  The idea of writing about food was so that I would enjoy it more and my friends would be able to enjoy reading about my enjoying it.  If it wasn’t being fun and it was making the food less enjoyable, then it wasn’t worth it.

Some friends and I had a girls’ afternoon yesterday and ended up watching Julie and Julia.  It got me all excited about food again.  Not that I haven’t had food excitement recently, but I haven’t had the urge to do much other than the comfy cooking for me.  There has been no five-day bread or Indian food or fancy desserts.  Just me getting by, doing the usual smorgasbord of foods that I don’t use recipes or measurements for.  There hasn’t been any urge to say anything about the food I am making.  Meryl Streep was brilliant as Julia.  Her enthusiasm was infectious.  I also got some nice feedback from a friend of mine that she happened to use some of my posts in selecting a place to go out to dinner.

So the long and the short of it is….  I think that I will try to start writing some again.  But only so long as it remains fun.  So there will be periodic posts about this or that, but I will attempt to avoid tipping into the giant pit of over analysis.  I started pizza dough and let it rise while we watched the movie.  It was apparently a fast acting antidote to the slump.  =)

June 7, 2010 at 12:38 pm 3 comments

Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day

I have finally cracked open Peter Reinhart‘s new book for more than just perusal!  After last week’s nasty flu virus which eradicated all interest in food, my excitement about food has been renewed by my return to health.

I am having a few people over for a potluck this evening and really wanted to make some bread for the evening.  I got a late start on planning, so the 5 days of sourdough process were definitely out.  I needed something that I could start last night and bake up this evening.  Reinhart’s recipes yield some of the best bread I have ever had, and I am really looking forward to seeing how his simpler versions of them hold up to taste testing.

I made up the dough for his basic french bread last night – super easy, especially with the addition to my kitchen of a scale.  No more measuring cups and cups of bread flour!

I will report on results tomorrow.  If bread is going to be this easy, it is going to be happening all the time.  =)

April 21, 2010 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

Cubicle Foraging – Cotija Cheese – part 2

I am finally getting around to posting about the tasty things that I made with my cotija cheese.  I got nine delicious ounces of it to take home a few weeks back and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it as I had never made anything with it before.

I found two recipes that sounded good, Cauliflower Gratin with Cotija Cheese (found on myrecipes.com and apparently taken from Sunset magazine) and Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas (found on recipezaar.com and apparently originally from Williams Sonoma in some fashion).

I didn’t have quite enough cheese for both recipes, so I ended up doing reduced portion versions of both items (albeit on different days).  Both dinners ended up being a bit of a study in what you can do wrong and how it is wonderfully tasty anyhow.  =)

Cauliflower Gratin with Cotija Cheese

(adapted from what I found on myrecipes.com and apparently taken from Sunset magazine)

1 large cauliflower head, trimmed of the stem and leaves (roughly 1.5 lbs)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound poblano chilies
6 ounces cotija cheese
Salt and fresh ground pepper

First, deal with your poblano peppers.  The original recipe calls for roasted, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips.

(If you are like me, and skimmed the recipe, you may have ended up doing this bit somewhere in the middle and having to delay other parts while you do it.  I ended up doing a combination of two things, some dry pan cooking to toast them and then some time in the oven to bake them through.  Ideally, you would bake them til they got very soft and peeling would be easy.  I ran out of time, so I went ahead and seeded them, peeled what I could, and then diced them with bits of skin left on.  This seemed to work fine.)

Next, trim, rinse, and cut your cauliflower.  You want relatively small floret pieces, perhaps 1/4 inch wide.  Try for fairly uniform pieces, as it will help them have a similar consistency once they are cooked.  Prep a large pan of boiling water to put the cauliflower in.  Cook them at a boil for about 3 minutes.  Rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.

Take your heavy cream and stir the cayenne into it.  Turn your oven on to 450 degrees F.

Assemble the gratin.  In a baking dish (I did mine in a round casserole dish, which I believe was 2.5 quart capacity) layer about a quarter of the cauliflower across the bottom.  Cover this with a quart of the cream.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.  Add a layer of poblano pieces and some of the crumbled cotija.  Repeat this process until you have used all the ingredients, ending with the cheese on top.

(If you accidentally forget to layer the cheese in, like I did, and you can choose to stick it all on top or to mix the whole thing and just sprinkle the top.  I would recommend mixing it all up, as the large layer of cheese on top didn’t let the dish get the proper texture through out.  It was still incredibly tasty, however.)

Bake in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, keeping an eye on how brown the cheese top is getting.  Let the dish rest for about 15 minutes prior to serving.

April 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

Serrato – Italian Restaurant

My best friend and I were supposed to head out to a nice dinner last night (we both share a love of fine restaurants and dressing up), but the weather was stunning and we got side tracked into a Coldstone Ice Cream appetizer.  We wandered a bit outside and ate our treats in the sun.

When we finally were starting to be hungry again we headed over to Northwest Portland.  We drove down 21st, and I thought we were heading to Lucy’s table, but he had some place new in mind.  We browsed one of my favorite shops for a little bit and then headed for the Italian place he was thinking of.  Turns out it was Serrato, which is a place I have passed by many times (always admiring their cute little snail decals on the windows) but had never been in.

It was your usual sort of Italian restaurant atmosphere, rather dim, with white table cloths.  The space was L shaped and had a fair bit of room for tables in addition to the bar.  The blue wall in the back of the restaurant really caught my eye.  It was the color of dusk or of certain summer storm skies that I have seen.  I really appreciated that they had a rather larger candle at the table, as I was able to read my menu without trouble, the lack of visibility being something that tends to plague nearsighted people in dim restaurants.

We ordered the calamari for a starter, though the kitchen didn’t bring it.  We ended up receiving it at the end after I mentioned that it hadn’t arrived.  They comped us the appetizer.  It was quite nice.  Tender calamari takes care in picking how long you cook it for.

He ordered the special, which was a lamb shank served over polenta and topped with tomato sauce.  The bite of polenta I had was lovely.  Just the right amount of additional flavor to make the polenta interesting, but not overwhelm its natural appeal.  It was creamy and buttery.  The lamb (by report) was very good, but not quite good enough that he felt he had to convince me to try a bite.

I order the seared sea scallops.  They were served with diced Yukon Gold potatoes, zucchini slices, sautéed chanterelles and onions with greens, and drizzled with a saffron-citrus cream.  The scallops managed a wonderful crust on top and bottom that drew out that savory Maillard reaction, but very tender everywhere else.  The potatoes would have been extremely dangerous had there been slightly more of them, as they were very tasty.  They were cooked just enough to be soft, yet retain their structural integrity and had obviously been slow cooked with herbs of some kind.  Probably at least a bit of rosemary and garlic.  The mushrooms and vegetables were also good.  Over all, the flavors balanced very nicely.

We were quite full after our meal (especially after snacking on the calamari which came mid-course with the entrées) and didn’t end up ordering dessert, though there were a few things that looked like they would be worth trying.  We certainly plan to go back another time.

March 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Cheese Bar (formerly known as Steve’s Cheese) – yet another reason to move to Southeast Portland

I know I am behind the times, in that I didn’t catch this move immediately, but I just ran into the fact that Steve’s Cheese is no longer in Northwest.  It was one of the non-restaurant food highlights of that part of town for me.  The cheese counter would sport sometimes a couple hundred unusual and interesting cheeses, some of them difficult to find elsewhere in Portland.

They have apparently moved to Southeast Portland and are now located on Belmont.  I have been resisting the pull to move into Southeast, being as yet unwilling to give up my twenty minute walk to work in the mornings.  But the pull is increasing exponentially as the months go by.  There are tons of hidden gems to be found in Beaverton, but the plethora of amazing restaurants, food spots, and other engaging locations and events to be found on the East side of Portland (not to mention a large number of my friends) may pull me in at the end of my current lease.

For those of you on the East Side, go check out Cheese Bar.  I haven’t been to the new location, but a trip will now have to be arranged.  I will be out that direction on Saturday, so perhaps I will make a detour their way.

March 24, 2010 at 10:49 am Leave a comment

Cubicle Foraging – Cotija Cheese

Well, I lucked out on Friday and got some tasty stuff to take home.  Part of which was 9 ounces of Cotija cheese.  Cotija is rather salty and often crumbly, though there is a less salt and more cohesive version out there as well, which I believe is called Tajo cheese.

I went digging around on the net, and there were recipes for many tasty things.  But what struck my eye (and appetite) most, were two things: a cauliflower, poblano, cotija gratin (I already have a cauliflower that has been languishing in the fridge), and a fantastic looking quesadilla recipe.  If I follow the recipes to the letter I don’t have enough cheese, but seeing as it is just me at home most of the time, I am planning on halving the recipes and making both of them part of my week.  I haven’t yet managed to settle on which one to make this evening.

February 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm Leave a comment

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