August 31, 2010

Inspiration from the Humble City of Portland

M and I recently visited Portland over a long weekend for a wedding. I wanted to share some great places we visited while we were there. We are food people and were really excited about the food scene in the city. From kitschy cafes to Voodoo Donuts, Portland has quite the variety of restaurants to fit your occasion or mood. We had a long list of restaurants to choose from, and we made it to quite a few. All were lovely experiences, and we definitely need to go back for some of the rest. 

We started our trip bright and early on a 7am flight, where our attendants happily offered complimentary glasses of wine or beer. It being only 7am, M and I passed, but there were definitely a few takers on the flight. Running on 4 hours of sleep we needed coffee, not alcohol. As soon as we we settled in the hotel, we ventured with M's parents to Park Kitchen in the Pearl District. The restaurant's idea of lunch is "a really good short story" observing the time constraints of their lunchtime working customers (I'd like to try their "novel" dinner sometime too). Their menu allows choices of individual items or a lunch combo with a starter, main and a dessert. I can't remember exactly but I think the latter choice was called something like a Power Lunch. I ordered a Roasted Beet Sandwich with home made potato chips and it was fantastic. It inspired my Meatless Monday meal (see recipe below). There were so many delicious items, including the bread which they get from a local bakery, Ken's Artisan Bakery. Oh, the bread was divine! I completely fell in love with the rustic country bread they delivered during our lunch. I just don't understand how people on the low carb diet plans can give up bread.

Ken's Artisan Country Bread, Photo by M

Park Kitchen Leek Soup, Photo by M
Park Kitchen home made hot dog, Photo by M
Park Kitchen beet sandwich and house potato chips, Photo by M

We visited the Japanese Garden and spent some time on the grounds of Reed College for the wedding ceremony. Both beautiful places. We hiked around two waterfalls and drove a loop around Mt Hood. That is one big mountain! Portland is definitely green and lush. My inlaws fell in love immediately. The weather was in the 90's which M and I are not used to, but relished in for the time we had. Oh, how I miss summer nights. Maybe we'll have some summer in September and October (which is usually the case). 

Voodoo Donut: Original Voodoo Doll, Photo by M

Voodoo Donut: Chocolate Frosting, Rice Cereal, Peanut Butter Drizzle, Photo by M

Columbia River Scenic Overlook, Photo by M

Latourell Falls Hike, Photo by M

Latourell Falls, Photo by M

We stopped for coffee at Barista, also in the Pearl District, in a renovated warehouse space with a little loading dock charm. The loading dock is now a quaint little space with tables and chairs for sipping coffee. And not just any coffee. These are not your fast food coffee baristas like Starbucks, and I do appreciate a fantastic latte. I'm willing to wait five minutes for my latte when they look like the image below. Beautiful. I want to learn how to do this. I might use our espresso machine more often. Barista serves Ritual coffee as one of their espresso choices, and Ritual Roasters is one of the best coffee shops in San Francisco. I need pretty cups and saucers like these! 

Pretty! Barista Cappucino
Doesn't M make a lovely cappuccino face?

Mt Hood, Photo by M

We had a nice time in this small town. Yes, it is small. It feels small. but it's clean and happy. I didn't take any more pictures of our food, but I hope this inspired you to try something new. If you aren't able to travel this fall, find a local restaurant in your home town to support. They do exist! Check out our list below for some of the places we couldn't fit in, and some of the places we fell in love with above. Don't forget to eat your beets in sandwich form next Meatless Monday

Beet Sandwich
2 large beets

To roast your beets, preheat your oven to 425˚F. Wash your beets and cut off the stem and tail (the tail always reminds me of a little rat.. just what you want to think about when cooking!). You can remove the skins before or after they are roasted - just a matter of preference since they will still stain your fingers pink no matter the order. Center the beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil and coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold the sides of foil together to create a sealed pocket. Roast for one hour. Remove and let cool. Peel the skins off if you haven't already and slice into 1/4 inch thick rounds. 

For the Sandwich (serves 2 with some Beets left over)
4 pieces good quality bread
goat cheese

To assemble the sandwiches, toast the bread. On one piece of bread spread some goat cheese, on the other piece of bread spread a thin layer of tahini. Lay 4-6 beet slices on the bread and top with lettuce. Simple, delicious and vegetarian. 

Here is the list of restaurants and places to visit M and I made, with great suggestions from friends and co-workers. If you are ever in the Portland area, please check out the great local restaurants below! 

We used a variety of guides including GQ City Guides: Portland, CitySearch Portland, and UrbanSpoon: Portland 

places to eat:

August 11, 2010

Healthy Zucchini Muffins

I recently found myself in the realm of unsatisfactory breakfasts. This usually means coffee and a mediocre scone or muffin. These pastries all too often are overly sugary or bland. I am a tough critic since making breakfast pastries is a favorite of mine, so I decided to stop being critical and make some breakfasts to take to work. Making muffins eases my objection to buying pastries you can make for two percent of the cost at a coffee shop.

I like to control the amount of sugar mostly - and the fat... well lets say I really miss it when I make a "healthy muffin." I didn't miss it so much this time which is the main reason I'm sharing these. You could also easily add some whole wheat flour for your daily manganese, fiber, tryptophan, and magnesium. Apparently, women who eat more whole grains also weigh less than women who eat refined grains (like a majority of breakfast pastries - or any pastries for that matter). I like the idea of weighing less and still eating these delicious muffins. I'm going to experiment more with the substitution of whole wheat in baked goods, and try making a lunch bread that includes wheat germ and whole wheat.

I like these muffins because they are a little less spice-cakey than most zucchini muffins. I posted about zucchini once before when I started a baking club. They weren't the best recipe, but I like the idea. Just like carrot muffins, when you add a veggie to your muffin, you increase vitamin intake while decreasing the fat. Since these vegetables have such a high water content, you use less fat and don't end up chewing forever on a dry muffin. I'm guessing you will be confused when you read the recipe below and see that I used melted butter instead of gobs of oil (and it's much less butter than this chocolate chip recipe I know) but it makes for a nice crispy crust and the batter yields more than your standard 12 muffins. Sometimes I get annoyed by this, but I got to use my mini loaf pans for the extra... they are just so cute I couldn't get mad at the excessive amount of batter. I also like that you fill up the cups entirely and the muffins bake up beautifully without spilling over the sides. pretty pretty.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.

Zucchini Muffins
Adapted from Simply Recipes

3 C packed grated zucchini (you can mix yellow squash too) large grate with skins on works fine
1 stick butter melted and cooled
1 1/3 C sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 C flour
2 rounded tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350˚F. In a large bowl, beat eggs slightly and add the sugar. Mix thoroughly then add the vanilla and cooled butter (you don't want to scramble your eggs). Mix in the zucchini. Measure in the flour, soda and spices. Give them a swirl and mix into the wet ingredients until there is only a little flour visible. Add the walnuts and mix until evenly dispersed. Grease and fill muffin tin to the tops, or slightly over the top. Bake for close to 30 minutes, or until the muffins spring back slightly when pressed.  

August 7, 2010

The Lovely Lady Baker Cooks Roasted Veggie Polenta

It's not pretty, but it's definitely delicious... and cheap! If you cooking on a budget, and don't feel the need for meat, this recipe is for you. I have been wanting to cook polenta from scratch for a long time now. It seems to be the new craze in restaurants these days - similar to the popularity of Beets and Goat cheese (which I still love). Polenta can be prepared healthy, or with loads of cream and cheese. I've had it both ways, but this recipe follows a healthier route. 

Previously I have only used pre-made polenta. The kind you buy in a tube from Trader Joe's. It's boring, and you can't doctor it up too much without frying it in butter. I actually have nothing against frying it (especially in the form of Polenta Fries), and want to try this recipe out sometime. It is from a Food Network show filmed here in SF.... yep, apparently figure skaters can cook... Brian Boitano invented these, and they would be perfect for party hors d'oeuvres. (Insert the giggles here, I can't really believe this show exists). 

The recipe below is similar, but healthier, and vegetarian. Works well for Meatless Mondays. The roasted vegetable sauce was really tasty, and the texture of the polenta was just right. Apparently this is still considered Peasant Food according to Wikipedia, but peasant food is fine with me and my belly. Happy cooking to you all.  

Roasted Vegetable Polenta
Adapted from Cooking Books Blog
Printer Friendly Version
For the roasted veggies:
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced
handful of mushrooms, washed and quartered
1 small green pepper, sliced
1 small red pepper, sliced
2 gloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
Small handful of fresh basil leaved, chopped
4 roma tomatoes, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425˚F. Toss the chopped veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat.  Roast for 20-25 minutes. You might want to stir them or shake the pan occasionally to prevent sticking. The vegetables should be browned and fragrant by the end.
Meanwhile, measure the rest of the ingredients into a food processor or blender. Add 1/2 C of the roasted veggies to the mix and blend until fairly smooth. Transfer the sauce and the remaining roasted vegetables to a large saucepan. Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer on low until the Polenta is finished. Remove the lid and return the sauce to medium-high heat. Cook off some of the liquid so your polenta doesn’t get soggy.  

For the polenta:1 cup polenta
3 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon oil
Salt & pepper to taste (about 1/2 tsp salt and fresh black pepper)
1/2  cup gruyère cheese, shredded (I used Mozzarella)
Whisk together the cornmeal with 1 cup of the water in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring the rest of the water to a boil, then add the cornmeal and the optional cheese to the boiling water and turn down the heat to medium low. Add the rest of the ingredients, then stir continuously for about 10-15 minutes. The polenta will become very thick and stiff. Pour it into a casserole dish that's been lightly oiled, and smooth it out. A 10” round casserole dish is a good size. The polenta will set up thick enough to slice wih a knife.
To assemble, pour the roasted veggie sauce over the top of the polenta. Cut and serve. Makes 4 generous servings. 

For more vegetarian cooking options check out these cookbooks:
The New Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen's Classic Cooking)

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

August 1, 2010

Easy Bake cOven - Chow's Ginger Cake

I was a little scared about the ginger cake. I'm not a huge ginger fan, especially fresh ginger, because it can be so overpowering. I am happy to say that I really enjoyed this cake! Thanks Gretchen for choosing this recipe. 

We have been so busy lately, I waited until Thursday night to make the cake... and the caramel.... but I did plan ahead and made Vanilla Bean Ice cream to accompany it. Yum! Apparently, July was National Ice Cream Month. Had I know about this sooner, I think I would have tried making some more ice creams. I love ice cream! It is one of my favorite desserts, and making it at home is so easy. I might make August into my own "Christina Loves Ice Cream Month... and it is Her Birthday Month so Why Not Eat a Lot of Ice Cream Month." Looking forward to this idea.... 

Back to the cake. The recipe made way too much batter for one 9 inch pan as was called for in the recipe. I ended up filling one pan pretty full... then second guessing the rules and adding the rest to a 6 inch pan. Even then, they were both really full and very tall. I was pretty worried it was going to spill over and create a mess for me in the bottom of the oven. Thankfully that didn't happen, and the cake just kept rising taller and taller. I have no clue if the Chow cake is tall like mine, but I can say that I liked it. I used half the amount of fresh ginger that was called for and probably like it better this way. I bought a large seeming chunk of ginger and once it was grated, there was a lot less than expected. 

This cake is one of those that gets better with age. I snuck a bite while I was photographing it and it was much better than the first night. Sorry to my guests who had to eat it warm from the oven... oh so terrible! I suggest if you enjoy gingerbread or gingerbread men, or ginger in the slightest you should try this cake. Thanks CHOW for making something so lovely, and allowing the Chronicle to post it for us all. 

Chow's Ginger Cake With Caramel Sauce & Whipped Cream

The secrets:

Two kinds of ginger: Loads of fresh ginger, backed by the powdered product, gives the cake a fresh spike of flavor. Dark molasses: This adds a rich, earthy element to the blend. Warming before serving: While the cake is good cold, it tastes even better gently reheated in the oven. Caramel sauce: The caramel adds a pleasant dose of sweetness and sets this cake apart. Serves 16
Ginger cakeButter and flour to prepare pan
2 ounces ginger, peeled and finely grated on a Microplane (about 3 tablespoons)
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup rice bran oil or other neutral flavored oil
3/4 cup dark molasses (see Note)
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking soda
Caramel sauce1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup heavy whipping cream at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
Whipped cream1 cup very cold heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla extract
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, + more to garnish
For the cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter TWO 9- by 9-inch cake pans and dust very lightly with flour or line with parchment paper (see Note).
Combine ginger with 1/2 tablespoon water in a mixing bowl; add sugar, oil and molasses. Mix on low speed. Add eggs; continue mixing at low speed until fully incorporated.
Combine flour, cinnamon, cloves, white pepper, ground ginger and baking soda in another mixing bowl. Add dry ingredients slowly to the egg mixture, continuing to beat slowly, scraping mixing bowl occasionally. Increase speed to medium for 2 minutes. Scrape; decrease speed to low and slowly add 3/4 cup hot tap water. Mix until just combined, occasionally scraping. (The batter will be slightly thin.)
Pour into prepared cake pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.
For the caramel sauce: In a medium-size stainless steel pot, combine sugar and 1 3/4 cups hot water, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add corn syrup and cream of tartar; mix. Wipe down the inside of the pot with a wet towel to remove any sugar crystals. If needed, also brush inside of pot just once with a wet pastry brush. Bring to a boil over high heat without stirring, until mixture becomes a deep caramel color or a candy thermometer reaches 335°.
Remove pot from heat and immediately add cream in a slow stream while stirring (be careful - it will pop and sputter). Whisk in salt and the butter, a little at a time.
The caramel sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated. Carefully reheat in a water bath or in a microwave before using. Makes approximately 2 cups.
For the whipped cream: Vigorously whisk cream, vanilla extract and powdered sugar in a cold bowl until the cream reaches soft peaks. You want the cream to be relatively soft so it can slowly run over the sides of the cake. Makes about 2 cups; refrigerate leftovers to use another time.
To finish: (At Chow, the cake is cut into 2-inch squares and reheated 2 1/2 minutes in a 350° oven.) Place the cake square in a shallow bowl, top with caramel sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Note: If you plan to turn the cake out of the pan before cutting, also use the parchment paper, which helps the cake release more easily. Dark molasses (also labeled "full") is more intensely flavored and less sweet than light or mild molasses. Avoid using blackstrap, which is less sweet and has a stronger flavor than dark molasses.

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