Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey Hangover

Thanksgiving dinner: "Turkey!!!"
Lunch the day after Thanksgiving: "Turkey sandwich!"
Dinner the day after Thanksgiving: "Turkey leftovers!"
Lunch two days after Thanksgiving: "Turkey sandwich."
Dinner two days after Thanksgiving: "I'm sick of turkey. Let's go out to eat."
Lunch three days after Thanksgiving: "Frozen turkey leftovers!"
Dinner three days after Thanksgiving: "Frozen turkey leftovers..."
Lunch four days after Thanksgiving: "There's no more gravy to moisten the frozen turkey leftovers..."
Dinner four days after Thanksgiving: "Turkey sucks."
Breakfast five days after Thanksgiving: "Turkey, random herbs, egg whites, and yogurt walnut dressing? Yea, why not."

Yes, I know that turkey picture is kind of creepy, but it seemed appropriate for some reason.

Actually, so does the picture of the food...my bad.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner has a reputation for being ripe for disasters. This Thanksgiving was no different. Ironically, the only disasters came from the single dish I had made before on various occasions: the butternut squash soup. Two first-degree burns, a second-degree burn, and a ten-minute-state-of-panic-from-thinking-that-I-had-blended-cheesecloth-and-twine-into-the-soup later, Thanksgiving went much better than I had ever hoped.

Prepping started on Tuesday. What was supposed to be a three-hour trip to three different grocery stores ended up being a six-hour ordeal with the random bus schedules and routes because of a snowstorm that hit Seattle. In the end, the snowstorm was a blessing because Tuesday and Wednesday were announced snow days. With that announcement, cooking Thanksgiving dinner seemed much less daunting. After managing to pick up all the ingredients, I pumped out the Butternut Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche and the Orange-Cardamom Date Bars. The date bars were surprisingly easy and ended up having a delicious nutty flavor. Orange and cardamom might be one of my new favorite combinations.

Wednesday started off with boiling some brine. The brine included flavors from vegetable stock, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger. Next was some prep for the Rustic Herb Stuffing before making the Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts. The walnuts were out of this world. If you ever need a table snack, make these walnuts. They're packed with herbs, are only slightly sweet, and leave you feeling healthier. Before heading out to watch Harry Potter 7 in IMAX, I put together the parts for the Green Beans, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette. After a break complete with obliviate, avada kedavra, and expecto patronum spells, I apparated back to my apartment to make some Pumpkin Ice Cream before my dad and brother arrived.

Thursday was a bit of a late start. After an energizing brunch, I started putting everything together: cooking the stuffing, cleaning the turkey, stuffing the turkey, making the turkey stock, thickening the gravy, roasting the garlic, and puréeing the cauliflower mash. Somehow it all came together for a timely dinner. Thank goodness my brother was there to make the Warm Root Vegetable Salad. Otherwise, we would have been eating much later than planned.

Anyways, on to the food!

The Butternut Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche was as good as I remember it from the last time I had made it, but it was a bit sweeter than usual. I love the way this recipe balances the earthy sweetness of the squash with the tart sweetness of the vanilla crème fraîche and the light heat of the cayenne pepper. The mix of herbs from the bouquet garnit also adds a nice subtle aftertaste of peppercorn and bay leaf.

I was most nervous about the Brined Turkey Roast with Rustic Herb Stuffing. The golden brown turkey was on the cusp of being dry in a couple areas of the turkey, but the rest of turkey was undeniably tender. The candied ginger and allspice berry flavors from the brine really came through.

I was also worried that I'd stuffed the turkey with too much stuffing (I really love stuffed turkeys), but the stuffing came out thoroughly cooked and moist. The baked excess stuffing was also delicious with its crispy golden layer.

The Mixed Mushroom Gravy was perfect with the turkey and stuffing. The rich spices of all three came together well, and the mushrooms added a great texture to a combined bite. I was glad that the guar gum acted as a solid replacement to corn starch and thickened the gravy really well. I combined the recipe's porcini mushrooms with chanterelles and morels. I'm always wary about the use of dried mushrooms, but they actually accentuated some of the mushroom flavors. It wasn't the chanterelle gravy that I love at Laurelhurst Market (a post on that restaurant coming soon), but I'm still proud of the product.

The Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts was a little unfortunate. I think I messed up my conversions and put in a little too much stevia, making the sauce a little too sweet. I tried to salvage the flavor with more cranberries, but it was still on the sweet side. Tip to those who use stevia: convert as directed on the stevia container and divide that amount by half. You can always add more later without the risk of making the dish too sweet. The walnuts, as I said, were awesome. I still have a small batch on my table to snack on responsibly.

The Cauliflower and Garlic Mash was the most surprisingly simple and tastiest dish of the night. Who knew that steaming cauliflower, roasting garlic, and blending them together with a little salt and pepper would act as an amazing mashed potato alternative? Probably lots of people out there, but not me. With the gravy, the mash was even more delicious and mimicked the texture of a smooth and creamy set of mashed potatoes. I'm definitely making this more often, probably with some herbal variations here and there.

I really enjoyed the Green Beans, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette. I wasn't sure about the recipe at first because the vinaigrette tasted a little strong, but with the toasted walnuts and blanched green beans to balance the vinaigrette out, the dish really came together well. The vinaigrette was also packed with herbs, which helped it to relate with the rest of the meal.

The Warm Root Vegetable Salad came out well, too. There was a lot of prep involved, but the dish showcased a simple and clean combination of root vegetable flavors. The yogurt, walnut, and herb dressing was spot on and really helped to marry the subtle differences among the turnips, radishes, sunchokes, and beets.

Dessert is probably my greatest weakness. Making ice cream and desserts with sugar-free alternatives is a tough gig.

As I said before, the Orange-Cardamom Date Bars were amazing. I highly recommend trying out the recipe. They also stay really well in the fridge. The Pumpkin Ice Cream, on the other hand, was a bit of a flop. The texture was a bit chalky and the ice cream took on too much of the grainy texture of the pumpkin purée. I added a little bit of salt to bring the ice cream together with the date bars, but in the end, I think I'd rather just have the date bars separately. The journey towards figuring out how to make a delicious and consistent ice cream continues...

In short, this meal was all about a healthy, diabetic-friendly attempt at a Thanksgiving dinner. The main themes were typical Thanksgiving herbs (sage, tarragon, thyme), walnuts, and seasonal vegetables. Overall, I'm extremely proud of how it all came together and am looking forward to another opportunity to take a stab at a holiday meal. Maybe Christmas? Stay tuned.

Here's to family, friends, and good health.

Butternut Squash Soup with Crème Fraîche
How to Cook Like a Top Chef

Brined Turkey Roast with Rustic Herb Stuffing
Brine from Alton Brown's Good Eats
Roasting Technique and Rustic Herb Stuffing from Bon Appétit

Mixed Mushroom Gravy
Bon Appétit

Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts
Bon Appétit

Cauliflower and Garlic Mash
Personal Guess & Check

Green Beans, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette
Bon Appétit

Warm Root Vegetable Salad
Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America's Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans

Orange-Cardamom Date Bars
Food & Wine Magazine

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Menu

I've never been in charge of a Thanksgiving menu, so I figured this year is good as any to give it a shot. After sifting my way through various cookbooks, websites, and magazines, I pared down my menu to something more or less manageable. The best part is that this menu is completely diabetic-friendly, complete with stevia and guar gum.

Brined Roast Turkey
Mixed-Mushroom and Tarragon Gravy
Rustic Herb Stuffing
Butternut Squash Soup
Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Herbed Candied Walnuts
Cauliflower & Garlic Mash
Green Beans with Toasted Walnuts and Dried-Cherry Vinaigrette
Warm Root Vegetable Salad
Orange-Cardamom Date Bars with a Nutty Crust
Pumpkin Ice Cream

The cooking starts tonight, so wish me luck! Check back for a full update on how things went. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Big Egg

After deciding to forego a one-hour and forty-five-minute wait at Tasty n Sons, my friends and I came across The Big Egg. Nestled in the back of a food truck lot, The Big Egg serves up a strong set of perfectly-sized breakfast sandwiches. Their menu consists of five items accompanied by a sixth seasonal option. The Big Egg, in true Pacific Northwest fashion, features local, organic, and fresh ingredients. Though the weather outside was frightful, this truck brought a comforting and bright bite to our morning.

We ordered the Big Egg Monte Cristo, the Arbor Lodge, and the Seasonal Sandwich.

The Big Egg Monte Cristo is a uniquely heavy study of sweet and savory. The vanilla and cardamom brioche French toast was crispy and sweet. Though the sweetness was harnessed a bit by the cardamom, the maple glaze ensured that a bite of the brioche alone would satisfy any sweet tooth. The sweetness of the brioche would normally be off-putting for a breakfast item, but with your first complete bite you realize that the sweet is kept at bay by the savory elements of the sandwich: a perfectly seasoned over easy egg, grilled black forest ham, and gorgonzola.

Where one could go with something slightly savory and very sweet or something slightly sweet and very savory, The Big Egg goes all out with a sandwich that is very sweet and very savory. This sandwich has all the elements of a traditional Monte Cristo, but offers a pleasantly aggressive morning spin to a classic.

The Arbor Lodge was easily my favorite of the three. This sandwich, unlike the Big Egg Monte Cristo, was simple, savory, and straightforward: an egg, portobello mushrooms, arugula, onions, garlic, and an herb aioli. The ingredients are simple, but their preparation created a comforting harmony of flavors. The grilled mushrooms, roasted garlic, and the caramelized onions were all perfectly cooked.

When the yolk from the over easy egg spilled onto the other ingredients, each bite tasted like a log cabin breakfast.

The final sandwich was the Seasonal Sandwich: housemade spiced apple jam, white cheddar, smoked bacon, watercress, and scrambled egg with lemon thyme. As advertised, this sandwich tasted like autumn/winter. The only distinctly autumn/winter flavor was the spiced apple, but the jam really came through with each bite. The rest of the ingredients were typical, but delicious.

The sandwich left me feeling like I had just eaten a traditional American breakfast accompanied by some warm, mulled apple cider.

Though most sandwiches on the menu allow for variations on how you would like your egg cooked, I would recommend an over easy egg on any of these sandwiches. There's something irresistible about a toasted brioche soaking up some freshly spilled yolk. Whichever way you like your eggs cooked, rest assured, The Big Egg will leave you with a big smile.

The Big Egg
4233 North Mississippi Ave.
Portland, OR 97217

GET: Arbor Lodge with an Over Easy Egg

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lightly Fried Basil

I love basil too much to see it go to waste. Whenever the last of your bundle of basil starts to wither away, heat up some olive oil, salt the lightly fried result, and bring some refreshing crisp to a pizza or bruschetta.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

LudoBites 6.0

When I heard that LudoBites 6.0 was taking place in my hometown, Sherman Oaks, I had to nab a reservation. In typical LudoBites fashion, I got a reservation through a combination of patience, persistence, luck, and utter frenzy.

The restaurant, MAX, combines elements of comfort dining and fine dining. With dim lighting and a tastefully small bar area, the setting for this version's LudoBites made for an intimate meal. The only downside, however, was that the kitchen was isolated to a separate back room making it difficult to observe any of Chef Ludo's exciting kitchen. Nevertheless, the night's menu made for an exciting, but sometimes disappointing, night.

With news of this version being the first to offer cocktails, I had to try all three.

The Whiskey Pumpkin Ginger cocktail was a seasonal adaptation of what would be your typical Manhattan. The pumpkin flavor was subtle under the intense character of the ginger, but came together well.

The Yuzu Tequila Martini was a sweet, margarita-like rendition of a martini that went down like candy.

The most interesting cocktail was the Mexican Mojito, which came with a powerful punch of jalapeño and cilantro. I love both, so needless to say, the Mexican Mojito was my favorite. I loved it so much that I forgot to take a picture of the numerous rounds we got of this drink. There was also a full bar, but I wouldn't waste the opportunity to get a standard.

Unlike its 5.0 counterpart, LudoBites 6.0 was packed with serious hits, but an unfortunate number of misses.

The Fresh Baguette came with a beautiful crunch, a delicious smoked butter, and an amazing sardine-laughing cow cheese spread. I shamelessly ate the cheese spread by itself even though there was no more bread.

Of the next five courses, only one component of one dish was memorable.

The Hamachi, Vietnamese Style was overly dressed and took away from what could have been a much simpler crudo.

The Escargots, Brussel Sprouts, Red Mole, Corn Ice Cream, and Marinated Tofu was confused by competing flavors. Though the escargots were the main protein on the dish, their usual enjoyable flavor and texture did not come through in the midst of the bland tofu, heavy mole, displaced brussel sprouts, and unnecessarily cold preparation of the corn.

The Marinated Mackerel, Leche del Tigre, Baby Leeks, and Verdolagas Leaves was delicious, but nothing particularly special.

The Hot Bedouin Noir Pudding, "Parmentier", Apples, and Mustard Tapioca sounded interesting, but was monotone in texture and lacking in complimentary flavors.

The Salmon "a l'huile", Somen Noodles, Carrots, Red Wine Vinaigrette, and Grilled Salmon Roe would have fared better without the somen noodles and carrots. Like the hamachi, this dish seemed to complicate what could have been a great crudo. The outstanding part of this dish was the grilled roe.

A crudo of the salmon "a l'huile" with a drizzle of the red wine vinaigrette and topped with a few pieces of the grilled roe might have fared better.

The other two disappointing dishes night were the John Dory, Potato, Herbs, Broccolini Flowers, and Green Jalapeño Nage and the Marinated Korean Steak, Crispy Kimchi, Bone Marrow, and Shiso.

The John Dory tough and surprisingly bland. The steak was an unfortunate last course.

The meat was cooked beautifully, but none of the Korean flavors of the marinade or the alleged kimchi came through.

Enough with the bad news, and on with the great news.

The Scallops, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port Walnuts, and Dried Fruits were a refreshing change of pace. My scallop was perfectly seared, and the creamy remoulade was light enough to support the flavor of the scallops, yet present enough to bring together the crunchy walnuts and to tame the concentrated dried fruits. Each component was well thought out and the proper bite called for a flavorful result.

The Oriental Mussels Velouté, Heirloom Tomato, and Small Fries was like a bowl of Seattle's famous chowder and fries from Ivar's, except twenty times better. The mussels were non-existent to the eye, but blended perfectly with the velouté and tomato.

The mountain of shoestring fries were lightly fried and not too heavy. Eaten together, the fries and velouté made for a hearty, comforting dish that left me wanting a vat-full of both.

After 5.0's work with foie, I was excited to see what 6.0 had in store.

This version's Poached-Roasted Foie Gras, Acacia Honey, Autumn Fruits, and Rose Flowers was lighter in that it was accented with refreshingly sweet notes, but still boasted a well-prepared foie. The honey was not overpowering, and balanced well with the bright fruits and light flowers. Visually and flavorfully striking, this dish brought new life to what I thought could be done with foie.

The best dish of the night, however, was the Half Chicken, Poached Egg, Chanterelles, and Chorizo. The juicy chicken could have held up as its own, amazing dish, but was supported by a perfectly creamy poached egg, intensely flavorful chanterelles, and a light hint of chorizo.

Together, the dish was extremely satisfying, but not too heavy. I'm also a sucker for chanterelles, so the fact that this dish had chanterelles won me over almost immediately.

Dessert at 6.0 was sweet, savory, and smart.

The Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, and Caviar was divine. I savored each bite as the salted caviar brought life to the crème fraiche and the caramel brought the perfect amount of sweetness. The textures were smooth, varied only by the crystalized salt and the caviar's shape.

The Warm Carrot Cake, Coconut, Thai Curry, Mango Sorbet, and Kaffir Lime Oil was, as the server suggested, a roundtrip journey from sweet to savory. The Thai flavors were apparent through the curry, coconut, carrot, and lime oil, sweetened by a perfect mango sorbet and grounded by a fluffy cake base. These dishes were the perfect way to end the night, reminding everyone at the table that we all scrambled to get reservations for a great reason.

Reservation times and service, as expected, were on point. The servers did a great job explaining each dish and worked efficiently to create a seamless evening.

The best part about LudoBites in general, though, is that you never know what you're going to get. You might run into some disappointments, but on other nights, you might have one of the most exciting dinners of your life. The night I went to LudoBites 5.0 was more memorable, and I have no doubt that the night I caught LudoBites 6.0 was a bit off. Set your expectations high, but be ready to accept that some nights are better than others. I still love Chef Ludo's work and I'm excited to see what he has in store.

LudoBites 6.0 @ MAX
13355 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

GET: The Menu. You never know.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Naomi Pomeroy's small, unassuming restaurant serves up a beast of a meal, complete with vibrant colors, robust flavors, and balanced counterpoints. Open only from Wednesday through Saturday with two nightly seatings, Beast creates an intimate setting for a communal feast amongst twenty other fellow guests.

The smart lighting and the calm kitchen island suggest you are in someone's, if not your own, home. The food, however, is a quick reminder that you are not in just any home.

Though there are some weekly standards, the menu changes every week.

This meal started with some fresh bread and house-made butter to ease you into the first course: Andaluz & Gypsy Pepper Soup with an Almond, Lemon, and Parsley Pistou. This dish set the mood for the night. The strong flavors from the Andaluz and Gypsy peppers were complimented by the nutty and acidic base of the pistou. The soup had just the right amount of a cayenne kick.

The next course was a charcuterie plate.

The standout, and my favorite bite of the night, was what everyone talks about: the Foie-Gras Bon-Bon with Sauternes Gelée. As suggested by the server, I saved this piece of the plate for last to experience the small bite at its best temperature. The slightly cool exterior of the bon-bon gave way to a creamy center, which tempered the fleur de sel shortbread cookie below the bon-bon, and was sweetened by the subtle gelée.

Another notable part of the charcuterie was the Steak Tartare on Quail Egg Toast. Though not as technically complex, the crispy toast soaked up the quail egg and added to the texture and flavor of the well-seasoned tartare.

As an intermission, there was a Lemon & Rosewater Sorbet. It was a simple and delicious way to cleanse the palate.

Next up was a Cattail Creek Lamb Loin Chop with a Butternut Squash, Cippolini Onion, and Kale Gratin and a Candied Hazelnut Verde & Lamb Demi-Glace. I expected nothing less than a skillfully cooked piece of meat at this meal, considering the name of the restaurant and the pig in its logo. Meant to be the heaviest course on the menu, the lamb loin chop was definitely cooked to perfection. I easily cut into the meat to expose a medium-rare center. Though each component of this dish could easily stand on its own, when eaten together, the tender lamb balanced incredibly with the crunchy candied hazelnut and rustic butternut squash gratin. The kale added a nice hint of bitterness to the sweet and savory.

Where a restaurant could get wrapped up in its love for meat and heavier dishes, Beast does not. The next course was a sweet, yet refreshing, salad. The Arugula & Persimmon Salad with Tomme du Fedou Sheep's Milk Cheese, Crispy Leeks, and an Aged Sherry Vinaigrette was a great combination of creaminess and acidity, accented by a subdued leek flavor from the finely sliced crispy leeks. Overall, it was a great way to follow up the heavy lamb dish.

Next was the cheese course.

Everything was decent, but the best of the plate had to be the return of the Cracked Black Pepper & Fleur de Sel Shortbread. The Red Wine Poached Pear was also notable, adding an intensely sweet note to the plate.

The final course was a light dessert.

The Bruléed Apricot & Vanilla Custard Tart was in no way the star of the night, but was a testament to Beast's ability to balance flavors well. Without becoming overly sweet, the light custard and dollop of fresh whipped cream complimented the strict sweetness of the bruléed apricot. Though not one of the best desserts I've had, I appreciated the fact that I was served a dessert that played to my inability to eat a very sweet dessert after such a well-balanced meal.

Service is, not surprisingly, attentive and casual. Everything about Beast contributes to its overall character of coziness. A six-course meal of this calibre for $68 is tough to beat. Beast offers an optional $35 wine pairing, which is delicious, but not completely necessary. The food speaks for itself.

5425 NE 30th Ave.
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 841-6968

GET: The Menu.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...