Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eating Out, Missing Out

The Oregonian just published their annual restaurant guide. It makes me feel like such a loser. I went through the whole list and found I’ve been to exactly six of the 101 restaurants! Only six. Wait, before I go on, let me go back and count again. (Yes, I really am counting.) Aha! I found a couple more places under the Keep in Mind headings (in smaller print than the main, featured restaurants). So, my revised total is eight. Eight out of 101. Great.

And remember last week when I wrote about a few breakfast places around town? Well, my sister from Chicago read it, then wrote: “Have you been to Arleta's Library Bakery and Cafe? I saw it highlighted on Diners, Drive-Thrus, and Dives.” No, I haven’t been there!

I have good excuses: I work full-time. I’ve got two little kids. Babysitters are expensive. Eating out is expensive. And fattening. And don’t forget, I really do like to cook. Still, I wish I could get out more. I want to try the food at Navarre, “beautiful to behold: fresh, joyful, sublime in its simplicity” says The Oregonian. I yearn to experience Ping, “the most daring, challenging, intriguing restaurant to open in some time.” And what about Le Pigeon, “one of Portland’s defining dining experiences, and you simply must have a taste of it….” I must, I must!

But I know it’s not going to happen. I’m sure I’ll make it to a handful of new (to me) places over the next year. Then the 2010 list will come out, and those Oregonian food writers with their magniloquent reviews of even more restaurants I haven't tried will once again make me feel like I’m missing out.

Then again, the descriptions can be so compelling and grandiose that sometimes one is just bound to be disappointed. Last year I made a point of going to Toro Bravo after reading all the rave reviews, and found myself completely disheartened when I tried one overly salted dish after another.

And there are other places that weren't even mentioned in The Oregonian guide. What about American Dream Pizza? The burgers at Humdinger? The curries at Siam Society? The drinks at 820?

Of course, when we can't get a sitter, there's my cheesy baked spaghetti and my husband's fantastic garlic bread. The kids just love it! And so do I. But I still feel like I'm missing out. I mean, it's not exactly a defining dining experience.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dads' Choice

One of my readers suggested I write something for Father’s Day, which is coming up on June 21st. I started thinking about it and to be honest, I was at a loss. I really wasn’t sure what would make the dads happy. What do they really want? Steak, I supposed? I decided to do a little survey and get some answers. I sent out an email to the fathers I know asking what they’d like to eat on Father's Day.

My own husband’s answer didn’t surprise me: pizza. He was the only one, however, with that answer. The rest of the guys pretty much stuck with one theme: grilling and barbecue. None of them want to go out, and they don’t want anyone to cook for them either. They just want to head out to the backyard and grill their man food.

Steak, chicken, and brats were all mentioned, but the most popular choices by far were ribs and burgers. Baked beans were also mentioned repeatedly along with a few other typical barbecue sides like corn on the cob, chips, and potato salad. Only one guy mentioned dessert: vanilla ice cream.

I’m trying to think of something to make for our dads to go along with their grilled meat, but I have the feeling that neither my watermelon and arugula salad nor my potato salad with green beans, tomatoes, and tarragon are quite what they have in mind. I guess what we need is a great recipe for baked beans. Does anyone have one they’d like to share?

Otherwise, I guess we don’t get to cook for the dads in our lives – at least not on Father’s Day. Let’s just plan to do the grocery shopping, provide the sides (pick up some potato salad from the deli?), and take care of the clean-up. And, oh yes, supply the beer!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday Night Cocktail

I just felt like a little something last night. My mood was not great, and my neck was hurting (again). While I was working on our Mexican dinner, I called my husband to pick up a few things from the store. I spotted the gin bottle on top of the cabinet, and told him to grab a bottle of club soda too.

After he got home, and dinner was mostly prepared, I started putting things back in the fridge. As I was stashing the cilantro in the produce drawer, I changed my mind and set it back on the counter. I left a lime out too.

I combined these things with a little sugar, added some gin, ice, soda water, and went to put everything away again. Then I noticed the blueberries in the fridge. I’m not a big blueberry fan, but for some reason, I thought the drink would be pretty with a few blueberries floating in it. (I know, I’m weird.) So, I rinsed off the blueberries and dropped five or six into the drink. I gave it a stir, and with the back of the spoon, mashed a couple of the blueberries – just enough to release a little blueberry essence.

It really was pretty. I should have taken a picture, but I never think of that until it's too late. I took a cautious sip, and then another. It was refreshing, delicious, and soon my neck pain melted away. Even today, it’s hardly there.

Here’s my invention. I call it…

Blueberry Wednesday  PRINTABLE RECIPE

juice of 1 lime
1-1/2 tsp finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 to 2 oz gin (try Aviation Gin - it’s my new favorite)
ice cubes
club soda
6 blueberries

In a 15 to 16 oz rocks glass (also known as a double old-fashioned), muddle the cilantro and sugar. Add the lime juice and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the gin. Fill glass with ice cubes to just below the rim. Top with club soda and add blueberries. Stir, and gently mash a couple of the blueberries with the back of the spoon. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Real Strawberry Shortcake

I grew up in Minnesota and knew strawberry shortcake as a slightly sweet biscuit topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was very popular in the summertime, and on the Fourth of July, blueberries were added along with the strawberries for a patriotic, red-white-and-blue dessert.

I don’t know if it’s a west coast thing or if old-fashioned strawberry shortcake is being forgotten nationwide, but at least out here, most people make strawberry shortcake with pound cake or sponge cake. The combination is good, but it just isn’t shortcake. I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t confused – maybe we Minnesotans had it wrong. I found that traditional shortcake is indeed, “a sweetened biscuit pastry, plenty of sliced strawberries, and a generous dollop of whipped cream.” (See About.com or Wikipedia for more.)

It’s a pretty straightforward concoction, but I set out to find just the right recipe. They’re all pretty similar, but I mixed and matched ideas from a couple and put it all together last night. It was so good, I almost cried – even better than I remembered. I wish I'd taken a picture because it was so pretty, and I can't find a decent picture of real strawberry shortcake anywhere.

The biscuits were perfect! The kids liked them so much, they were happy to eat them without berries or whipped cream. A couple of the extras mysteriously disappeared from the cooling rack. (I guess you can’t go wrong with over a cup of heavy cream!) I used two tablespoons of sugar for the biscuits, and I thought they were just right when combined with the sweetened strawberries. If you like though, you can add a third tablespoon of sugar to make them a little sweeter.

If your strawberries are really sweet and delicious, and you can’t bear to add sugar to them, you can certainly just slice up the strawberries and leave it at that. Adding the sugar, however, allows the strawberries to develop juice that the biscuits will absorb nicely.

My final tips: 1) Assemble while the biscuits are still slightly warm. You’ll be glad you did. 2) Make your own whipped cream. It’s easy, and it adds a nice, homemade touch. If you want to add a little extra pizazz, add 1/2 teaspoon of grated lemon zest along with the vanilla. Your friends will be so impressed!

Strawberry Shortcake  PRINTABLE RECIPE
(makes 6 servings + extra biscuits)


1-1/2 Lbs fresh strawberries – stemmed & quartered (or sliced if the strawberries are large)
3 Tbsp sugar

Mix strawberries and sugar, and refrigerate while juices develop – about an hour.


2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups heavy cream
milk (for brushing tops of biscuits)

1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add cream and stir just until a dough forms. Gather into a ball and knead gently about 6 times on a lightly floured surface.
3. Roll out the dough to 1/2" thickness. Cut out rounds (or any basic shape – I made diamonds) using a 2-1/2" cutter dipped in flour. Place biscuits on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Re-roll the remaining dough and cut out more biscuits to make a total of 10.
4. Brush the tops of the biscuits with milk and bake at 425° for 15 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes.


1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 Tbsp confectioners' (powdered) sugar – or more to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract

Use a mixer to beat the cream and sugar until soft peaks form – about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix just until blended.


Use a fork to split the biscuits into top and bottom halves. Place the bottom halves on small plates. Spoon some of the strawberries with their juice onto each shortcake bottom. Top with a generous dollop of whipped cream and then the biscuit top. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Asian Noodle Salad

It you want a break from potato salad, coleslaw, and standard pasta salad at your next barbecue or pot luck, you might like this. I love the toasty flavor of sesame oil (I can smell it just by thinking about it), with soy, lime, garlic, and cilantro. You can leave out the peanuts if there are allergy issues, but it really isn’t quite as good. Try substituting sunflower seeds if you need to.


12 to 15 oz chuka soba noodles
1-1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
juice and grated zest of 1 lime
1/2 cup soy sauce (I prefer the “less sodium” type)
2 tsp Vietnamese chili garlic sauce (I use one from Huy Fong Foods)
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cloves garlic – minced
1 cup grated carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add noodles and boil as package directs (usually about 2 minutes). Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine oil, vinegar, lime juice and zest, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, sugar, and garlic. Stir until sugar dissolves. Mix in peanuts, carrots, and cilantro.
3. Cut through the noodles to make the lengths more manageable. Add to bowl with soy vinaigrette and toss. Chill for at least an hour and toss again before serving. If the noodles seem a little dry, add a little more soy sauce and vinegar.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I never used to be much of a breakfast person. If I ate it at all, it was something super simple – an English muffin with peanut butter, a bowl of cereal, maybe a pastry from the coffee shop on the weekend. If I was dragged out to breakfast, I ordered off the lunch menu whenever possible. I really didn’t have much interest in eggs or pancakes.

Something happened when I was pregnant. For the first time in my life I wanted to eat first thing in the morning. I craved a big breakfast and welcomed omelets, hash browns, French toast, waffles, all that hearty morning goodness!

These days, my non-pregnant self, again doesn’t like to eat much in the early morning hours, so most days I’m back to just coffee with something small and simple. But, I still love egg dishes, fried potatoes, and pancakes, and a little later in the morning, going out for breakfast is a great treat. A girlfriend and I try to get out for breakfast about once a month, but we’re both busy moms, so it’s really more like two (sometimes three) months between our outings. We have a few favorites...

Marco’s Café in Multnomah Village is one of our stand-bys. I like the Manhattan Scramble with lox, cream cheese, and red onion or the French toast made with homemade brioche topped with fresh fruit. Their specials too are reliably good. I once tried a smoked salmon Benedict that was absolutely delicious. (I noticed they now have Nova Scotia Benedict as a regular item on the menu – made with wild salmon lox.) I also watch for the Belgian waffles to appear on the specials board – they’re great with fresh berries.

Another favorite place is Helser’s on Alberta. My friend likes the mushroom hash, which is loaded with roasted garlic. I enjoy the russet potato pancake or the pear and havarti pie. We found Helser's by mistake when the wait at a place down the street was way too long. I’m so glad we tried it, and I look forward to tasting many more of their offerings.

This last weekend we went to Hash in Sellwood for the first time. It’s a small space, but bright and airy with a contemporary feel. Our coffee was served with tiny scones with sour cherries. They were yummy and much less sweet than a typical scone. The drip coffee was fair – I would have liked it a little stronger. Overall our food was lighter and less greasy than the usual breakfast fare. I ordered a two egg omelet (you can add an third egg for $1 if you want a heartier meal) with morels, arugula, and Taleggio cheese. It was truly delicious. My friend went for the seasonal mushroom hash. The bite I tried was very good.

I definitely hope to make it back to Hash to try one of their “Beni” dishes (eggs Benedict). And the apple caramel pancake balls at the table next to ours were awfully tempting too. If you get there before I, try them and let me know if they're as yummy as they sound.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Sandwich: Tuna & Artichokes

It’s been quite a week! In fact, I just got back from the chiropractor where I had some massage therapy and adjustments done to get rid of this horrible pain in my neck. Though there’s still something kind of nagging there, the pain is pretty much gone. Even so, I’m not really up for getting out the pots and pans or firing up the stove tonight. And I think I’ll have to get my husband to uncork the wine bottle. I wouldn’t want to tweak anything, you know, and start all over again with the neck pain. I guess I’m still in sandwich mode.

I love a nice basic tuna salad sandwich. Even better is a tuna melt with tomato. And even better than that is tuna with artichokes and olive puree. I can’t remember where this recipe came from. Maybe some Food Network show? (I love food TV by the way, but I’ll save that topic for another day.) Anyway, who knew canned tuna could be so great?

This isn’t quite as quick and easy as I’d like for the mood I’m in. I might end up with just the basic tuna sandwich tonight, or maybe just the wine, but here’s the recipe in case you’re a little more motivated than I this weekend.

Tuna & Artichokes on Ciabatta  PRINTABLE RECIPE

3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp lemon zest (mmm… lemon!)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
12 oz canned tuna (2 small cans) – drained
12 oz jar marinated artichokes – drained & chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (mmm… lemon!)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Ciabatta loaf (about 16 oz) or other Italian bread – cut into top & bottom halves
1 large tomato – diced

1. In a food processor, puree olives, oil, garlic, and lemon zest until smooth. Blend in mayonnaise. Set aside
2. In a bowl, toss together tuna, artichokes, lemon juice, and pepper.
3. Hollow out both the top and bottom halves of the bread. Spread olive puree over both cut sides.
4. Spoon tuna and artichoke mixture into the bottom half of the bread. Sprinkle with the tomatoes and top with the other half of the bread. Cut into 6 pieces and serve.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lemony Lemons: Lemon Potatoes

I love lemons - the juice and the zest. I make a nice pie crust with lemon zest, delicious roasted broccoli with lemon juice, yummy lemony salad dressing, and the Thanksgiving turkey is stuffed with lemons (and oranges and herbs too). I think I get a little carried away with it though. My husband often comments that he'd like this or that better with a little less lemon. So, I scale it back the next time, and sure enough - it's just as good, sometimes even better. So, I guess the lesson learned is: a little lemon goes a long way.

If you don't already have a good zester, I recommend you get a microplane grater. I love mine! You'll really appreciate it and find that it's good for zesting and finely grating many things including citrus, ginger, even chocolate. Unfortunately, my son thinks mine is a toy sword, and I have to keep it way up on the top shelf to keep it away from him. I'd get him his own, but those little grating blades are pretty sharp.

One of my favorite lemony recipes is lemon potatoes, and yes, I get the comment, "This would be better with a little less lemon." I happen to like this one with all the lemon juice and zest called for. Of course, you can make it with as much or as little as you like.


2 Lbs small, waxy red or white potatoes
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
garlic salt to taste (I like Lawry's Garlic Salt, Coarse Ground with Parsley)

1. Place potatoes in a pot with salted water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and gently boil until the potatoes are tender - about 20 minutes.

2. Drain potatoes and return to pot over the lowest heat setting. Add olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and garlic salt. Stir to coat potatoes and serve.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Favorite Cookies: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip with Oatmeal

On second thought, maybe they're not my favorite. It's just too hard for me to pick favorites (I don't even have a favorite color). There are simply too many good things out there to settle on just one. Today though, these cookies are what I want. I haven't made them in years because my poor little boy is allergic to peanuts and other nuts. So, you'll have to give them a try for me and let me know how they turn out. While you're at it, make a few without chocolate chips for my husband - he likes them better that way.

I know peanut butter and chocolate chips doesn't sound like anything special, and it's true - they're nothing fancy. But these cookies really are fantastic. I think maybe it's the oatmeal...

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies PRINTABLE RECIPE
(makes about 2-1/2 dozen)

1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 oz milk chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Cream together butter, peanut butter, sugars, and egg.

3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Then add gradually to creamed mixture, stirring by hand, until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

4. Form into 1" balls and place on ungreased baking sheet. Flatten with fork (or other utensil) to about 1/2" thick.

5. Bake at 375° for about 12 minutes. Move cookies to cooling rack immediately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Quick Dips: Cheesy Artichoke Dip and Cannellini Bean Dip

It looks like a busy week. I'm not going to have much time to write, but I'll try to at least post a recipe each day. Two today since I missed yesterday...

Cheesy Artichoke Dip  PRINTABLE RECIPE

2 canned artichoke hearts - finely chopped
1 green onion - finely chopped
1 small garlic clove - minced
1 Tbsp mayonnaise (low-fat or fat-free is acceptable)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
4 oz jack cheese - cubed
1 tsp shredded Parmesan cheese

Combine everything except the cheese in a microwave-safe bowl and stir together. Add the cheese and cook on high in the microwave for 1-1/2 minutes. Stir. Cook for 1 minute more or until the cheese is completely melted and bubbly. Stir one more time and serve immediately with tortilla chips or crackers.

Cannellini Bean Dip  PRINTABLE RECIPE
This one's great for parties because you can make it ahead or make it at the last minute, and it can sit out for quite awhile.

19 oz can cannellini beans - drained & rinsed
1 small garlic clove - minced
3 green onions (white & light green parts only) - chopped
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 oz prosciutto - chopped into 1/2" pieces

Stir everything together. Serve with baguette slices.