Thursday, June 28, 2012

CSA Box: Day 2

Yesterday was day 2 of my self-imposed CSA Challenge and I managed to make some progress. I did a little research and found a few recipes that would help polish off a few of the items. That made me elated and cooking something new is always interesting. It's the same kind of feeling I get when I'm lost. Finding my way out is the best part and when it comes to new recipes I particularly get excited at the thought that I might end up with something new to put into rotation.
Napa Cabbage Salad

First up was that napa cabbage. That thing is big. Seriously it's bigger than my head. I found a recipe for Napa Cabbage Salad at Food & Wine that would take care of the entire cabbage. Seemed easy enough. Only problem was I didn't have all the ingredients, so I got how do we say "a little creative." It called for Rice Wine Vinegar, which I didn't have. A little Internet research later and it turns out Red Wine Vinegar works in a pinch. Not bad, but I do think the Rice Wine Vinegar would have made it a bit lighter. It also called for slivered almonds. Another item I didn't have, but I did have radishes from the CSA box. I cut those bad boys into slivers and got a salad with crunch, but not so crunchy it might break my teeth. Bonus! I was a bit surprised by the amount of bugs in the cabbage and cleaning it was a bit more work than I expected. Overall salad tasty and fairly quick to make. Is it a keeper? Maybe in a pinch.

The salad made a dent in the scallions and radishes and completely polished off the Napa Cabbage. 

Next Up: Dinner

Fava Beans: Bigger Than Expected
Dinner rolls around and after salad for lunch I needed something a bit meatier. Next ingredient to conquer: Fava Beans. I've seen fava beans at markets before, but never really knew what they were. They look a bit like green beans on steroids. 

At first I had thought about making a hummus-like dip from the beans - seemed logical, but boring. Again, Food & Wine came to the rescue with a recipe for Mike Lata's Fava Bean Pasta e Fagioli. Since I've never made anything with fava beans and really had no idea how they taste I totally followed the recipe, which meant getting a few ingredients: 2 slices of bacon, an onion, and a sprig of rosemary. Not so bad. The bacon did wonders for the taste of the broth - making it a bit more meat-y than bacon-y. Plus when you're eating the soup getting a bit of bacon in the bite is kind of like the lovely surprise you get when you get a tiny shaped marshmallow in a bowl of Lucky Charms - Pure Joy!
Soup's On!

As for the fava beans, it took me a bit to get the hang of removing the beans from the pods but after a couple pounds of pods I got it all worked out. Once they were blanched - shelling the beans were a bit of a slippery affair and if I was being graded on presentation - I might not get an 'A.' The soup turned out delicious and it will definitely be a "keeper" that I plan to revisit often.

The soup took care of all the beans, some gnarly carrots, and a bit of mint. I'm glad it used some of the mint, but I have big plans for the rest of it. Stay tuned....

I'm still wrestling with the Kohlrabi. Seriously, what is that thing and what's the best way to use it? If you have any ideas for it, please help a sister out!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

CSA Box: Challenge Accepted

Produce and vegetables are big in Portland. We're super close to lots of local farms so it's pretty easy to get fresh greens. I particularly appreciate this aspect of Portland after living in New York. Who are we kidding? New York is an island and getting locally grown food there is a bit of a task. Often by the time you get to the vegetables they've travelled a bit so the shelf life tends to be not so long.

In Portland you can get a CSA box (Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture). Basically it's vegetables from the farm. You get the box once a week and you don't always know what you'll get. (Kind of like a vegetable wheel of fortune) The boxes are pretty big so it's not unheard of for people to split a box. Our friends who split a box are out of town and offered it to us this week.

Deeply intrigued by the idea of a CSA box I jumped at the chance to experience it. I picked up their share of the vegetables last night. Quite a bounty: 

Sweet Bounty!
Large bunch of scallions
Napa cabbage
Gnarly (literally) carrots
Fava beans
Kohlrabi (At least, I think that's what it's called)

While most people probably see a grocery list of healthy food, I see a challenge. I'm going to do my best to use everything in the CSA box by the end of the week. I'm not a great cook or a natural cook. I would rather bake any day of the week. 

Sauteed Kale with Garlic & Olive Oil

When I lived in New York I couldn't really cook at all (beyond making the occasional late night quesadilla). I took cooking classes at Peter Kump's Institute of Culinary Education. After quite a few classes I can pretty much follow just about any recipe and have a mild idea about flavor profiles. That's it. Don't start thinking I can create recipes. I still call my mom to find out how to boil an egg. 

This challenge is going to take me out of my comfort zone. I've already found a few recipes online for some of the ingredients, but if anyone has ideas about what to do with Kohlrabi or Fennel, please help a sista' out and send them my way.

Tonight I started off simple: Salad and sauteed kale. Oh and just because it all sounded so healthy I made some salted fudge brownies for dessert. 

Seriously, any ideas for some of these ingredients are great welcomed! Just leave a comment below.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Slice of Americana

Dragon Boat
One of the things I like about Portland is its small town feel. The people are friendly and since so many spots in neighborhoods are essentially mom and pop shops it's easy to get to know the people in your 'hood. During the summer there are inevitably more events that are reminiscent of a town where you know your neighbors and people (tattoo'd, pierced, and dyed hair) will do their best to look out for each other. Think: Block parties and lemonade stands. Portland is also a creative town. 

When you combine those two elements you get things like a Milk Carton Race. Yes, you read that correctly. People use milk cartons to create a boat that they then paddle across the casting pond at a local park. I'm not making this up. It was an annual event for almost 30 years. I even met a few folks who remember going to it as kids. It stopped because the pond was drained. The pond has been refilled and the event is occurring once again.

There's something kind of magical about it. Families and friends working together to create boats made out of any type of milk carton that can actually float. People surround the pond to cheer on the racers and cool down with some free ice cream or root beer floats (it is a dairy event, after all). 
This isn't quite made out of milk cartons,
 but it definitely portrays the spirit of the event

It's a bit of a modern day Rockwell painting - only the people are likely wearing Revos instead of saddle shoes and people are checking their cell phones in lieu of reading the Saturday Post. Oh, and I'm betting Rockwell never saw boats like these. Given all that it's the same sentiment. Quirky, but similar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Amazing Race Tryouts

I'm not going to lie, I love the Amazing Race. Besides getting to go around the world you get to do crazy crap around the world that you'd likely never get to do if you were just visiting. Watching the show on Sunday nights I think about what activities I can do and which ones Matt would have to do. I could handle heights, but he might have to bungee jump.

Wouldn't you vote for us?
Over the past few years, I've made no secret of my strong desire to go on the Amazing Race. Asking friends if they would want to go and then quickly listing reasons why we'd be a good team and more importantly how we would make excellent TV (this past season's Bopper & Mark from the South - now, they were great TV). It's not about coming up with a cute team name - please, the producers can do that. It's about being engaging, having some conflict, and most importantly, thoroughly enjoying the activity. Check, check, and check.

So you get the picture: I want to go on Amazing Race.

Matt saw something about tryouts. Turns out they were holding tryouts in Portland (well not, Portland proper - Beaverton/Tigard - it's the burbs) and the local news station was going to record the tryouts. All you had to do was go down to Big Al's (a massive entertainment center with video games, sports bar, and two bowling alleys), get a number, and try out. My friend Leena agreed to go with me and tryout. We're both short and have a good dynamic that's perfect TV - she's competitive and I'm fun. Oh and we're learning to speak French - you know, in case we end up in Burgundy.

Thankfully the day for tryouts was also the same day as the Rock-n-Rolla 5K event so right there a bunch of people don't show up! Woo hoo! A couple of hours go by, we try to come up with a good shpiel, and still no number called. Every number around our number gets called. I'm convinced they lost our number, Leena assures me that's not the case. Still I check the board of numbers even when nothing close to our number is called.

Finally it happens, our number is called. The adrenaline is pumping. People waiting for their turn on camera are super friendly. We get to the front of the line. Turns out tryouts are not such a big production after all. There are five small offices set up with a camera, lights, and a camera man. You have a minute to say your dealio. We're good for about 30 seconds - wow, that was a long time - we kick it into adlib. See, Amazing Race producers, we're fast on our feet. A minute is up and we are on our way down the hall where upon exiting someone asks us if we want to take a picture with the Travelocity Gnome.

Our response, "Hell, yeah!"

FYI - We'd say the same thing if the producers of Amazing Race called and said they had a spot for us. I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Street Art

When I first visited Portland a few years ago it seemed like a great place for hippies. Between the colorful houses, the artistic sculptures all over town, and the vegan spots it could be their mecca. Of course, walking through neighborhoods I could usually count on hearing a Grateful Dead song coming from the speakers inside a house. Yep, it has a peaceful vibe and thankfully not a lot of patchouli wafting through the air. More than that, though, Portland is an artistic spot.

That's why it's not surprising to walk through a neighborhood and see a bit of a block party happening. Picture it: Intersection closed off, lemonade stand on a corner, kids riding bikes, Grateful Dead singing Sugar Magnolia on a nearby stereo, and oh yeah people literally painting the street.

Drive down certain neighborhoods in Portland and you'll notice a gigantic mural or painting in the middle of the street. Some say the idea behind it is to have people drive slower down the street (FYI - people have no problem obeying the speed limit in Portland). I tend to think it's because people in Portland like making their art. Here street art is a family affair. Adults and kids alike getting together on a  warm afternoon to paint the street. Not exactly the way people in New York might spend their Sunday afternoon, but this is part of Portland's charm.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Now that's a brisket

When I first moved to Portland I shuddered at the thought of having to locate a place where I could actually buy a six- to eight-pound brisket. No matter who I asked the answer was always the same one word: Gartner's. Then people sometimes added, "It's out by the airport."

"What is a Gartner's?" I wondered.

I wasn't sure what to make of a butcher out by the airport. In other towns, meat spots near the airport aren't usually home to "choice" meat products. Though many things are not as one might expect in Portland and I needed a brisket. I called and was able to order a brisket, no problem. Smallest brisket was about five pounds. Gartner's: not messing around.

Got Game? Seriously.
Finally, the day to pick up the brisket arrives and I head to the airport. In the car, I consider making a few chickens, instead. Maybe lamb might be nice. Alternate menus drift in and out of my thoughts. Until I arrive at Gartner's. It's out there, alright. Not much by it. It's a rather non-descript red building - something that looks like it might have been built in any time period. There are a few signs that catch my eye. Initially, I think it's the old time style of writing, but on closer inspection it's what's on the sign that has got me simultaneously intrigued and scared. Wild Game Processing. Interesting. That's not something you'd find in New York - then again, not a lot of wild game hunting in the city.

Now, I can't wait to get inside. It's like a typical butcher shop only much, much bigger. People behind the counter are running around in white butcher coats. They've got the pick a number system, and there's a pretty gigantic walk-in freezer where I'm guessing they're doing a ton of well, butchering. Cases are filled with meats of all kinds and some prepared options, as well. Then there is the vast supply of meat sticks - pepperoni, chorizo - you name it, they've go it.

When my number was called my order was ready - encased in a plastic shrinkwrap, wrapped in Gartner's butcher paper. As long as I was there it seemed wrong not to leave without some sliced turkey breast and meat sticks. A sampling will do nicely.

Feeling elated that I have indeed secured a brisket and got a few extras I make my way home. I can't wait to see it up close. I get my pot ready and unwrap the meat. It's just gorgeous. Looking at it I know it's pretty hard not to make it into something delicious. Once it's in the pot, doused in all the other ingredients that's going to make this brisket taste like something out of my childhood, I set the timer and crack open the sliced turkey breast. How on earth do they make it so moist. I tear off a small piece for a taste - it's not wet, it just melts in my mouth. Scrumptious!

After hours of cooking, the brisket comes out perfect and when I serve it the next day (brisket is always better the next day) it's the hit of the night. The moral of the story, you don't need to go to New York to  taste the brisket Grandma use to make, you just need a solid recipe and meat from Gartner's.