Archive for June, 2011

June 21, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Mike and I ate at Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty a few weeks ago. It’s wood-fired pizza Nirvana on Mississippi. This post was not intended to be a restaurant review (so please excuse my moments of schizophrenia), but the fact that I had been dreaming about copycatting their fungal masterpiece should be review enough. (And you have not lived until you’ve had their homemade salted caramel ice cream). Since Mike cringes at the sight and smell of mushrooms, I decided to indulge myself when he headed out of town on a guys’ fishing trip.

“Monkey See, Monkey Do” is the highly technical kitchen term being portrayed this week. In this particular case, the monkey saw and ate the dish in question but did not see the making of it. This is where imagination and creativity come into play. My mom has always referred to this as “by guess and by gosh.” I looked up the description of the pizza from Lovely’s website, formulated my own ideas about what should go into the pizza, and jotted them down on a list. I was hoping this would serve to keep me on task when I arrived at the uber exciting PSU Farmer’s market. Surprisingly, it did help rein me in. I left with only 4 things that weren’t on my list. And I intended to use the gourmet garlic onions on the pizza. I’d never heard of these spring delights before and couldn’t resist trying them.

So where is the inspirational picture of my farmer’s market booty? Do you even need to ask? Mike was out of town and I was the sole photographer for this gourmet experience. There are many confusing-looking buttons on our fancy camera, but I swear that I didn’t hit the trash can button. The pictures I took of the fresh produce must’ve vanished to the same place that gobbles up socks from the laundry.

Mushroom Truffle Pizza

Pizza Dough:

1 bag Trader Joe’s pizza dough (this is one of those worthwhile shortcuts)

I pulled the bag of dough out of the fridge and read the instructions. “Take pizza dough out of bag, flour, and let rest for 20 minutes.” I’m really not sure why it needed to rest when it hadn’t done anything yet, but I decided to follow instructions for once.

Dough at Rest

While the dough was resting, I got busy with the pizza sauce. I’m pretty sure Lovely’s pizza sauce was just a light coating of olive oil, but I had already decided on an “enhancement.” I simply had to have a mushroom sauce base for my mushroom pizza. Those of you who know my food preferences should not be surprised that I decided to augment the Lovely’s-inspired pizza with even more mushroomy goodness.

Sauce:

4oz Shitake Mushroom, chopped (no stems)

1 Shallot, chopped

1 clove Garlic, minced

1 standard Gobstopper-sized white truffle nugget, finely grated

2 sprigs Thyme

Salt & Pepper

Grapeseed or Olive Oil (gobs to thin it out…roughly ¾- 1 cup)

Sautee the shitakes and shallots in Grapeseed Oil (healthier for sautéing than olive oil) for 4-6 minutes on Med-High heat. Add the Garlic and Thyme and cook for another 1-2 minutes (avoid burning the garlic). Add sautéed mixture to a food processor and add more grapeseed oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Puree. Mix in the grated truffle. Voila, your mushroom sauce base is ready!

Back to the pizza dough. Mike always handled the pizza crust on our pizza nights so I wasn’t fully aware how sporting the task really is. I would just have to wrestle the pizza dough monster myself. I started trying to roll it out but it stretched right back like a rubber band. So I tried picking it up by the top edge and letting gravity stretch it. Stretch, rotate, stretch, rotate. My meager success somehow led to images of spinning, flipping, and twirling overhead. These were visions of pizza Olympics and I had just barely joined the farm league. (I experience similar visions of grandeur when I watch Wimbledon and then head out for a Sunday tennis match at the park).

Things were getting messy. If you want to get a sense of my cooking style, you should really check out this youtube video. Some might liken me to a female version of the Swedish chef (as opposed to Mike’s Iron Chef-like style).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OfsABOGw3c

Flour = White Dirt

I finally managed to stretch 2/3 of the bag of dough (Mike can do the same with ½ a bag) out over one of our specialty pizza pans. We like the aerated pizza pans. They’re no substitute for wood-fired ovens but they help crisp up crusts pretty nicely. I put the crust in the oven for about 5 or so minutes at 450 degrees until it began to brown just a bit. Keep an eye on the crust while it’s cooking. If the crust starts to puff up like a parachute, poke it with a sharp object to deflate it.

Pre-crisped Pizza Crust

Pizza Toppings:

4 oz Morel mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces

1-2 Gourmet garlic onions, chopped

1 sprig Thyme, chopped

1-2 T Grapeseed Oil

1 clove Garlic, minced

0.2 lb Brigante Pecorino Pinna Sheep’s Cheese (a fairly rich and flavorful sheep’s cheese that also melts well)

Black Truffle Oil (Lovely’s used Tartufo cheese instead of my truffle oil and pecorino combo)

2-3 T chopped Italian Parsely

I sautéed the mushrooms and gourmet garlic onions in Grapeseed oil over Med-High heat. I then added the garlic and thyme after 4-6 minutes. I cooked for another 2+ minutes (stop before the garlic burns).

Do-Over Tip: I think it’s important to highlight do-over tips. If I had a do-over, I would double the amount of morel mushrooms and cut them slightly larger, but I am a mushroom fiend so look at the pictures and use your own judgment. Mushrooms always cook down much more than I anticipate and the morel mushroom is an especially tricky little devil. It looks so burly that I couldn’t fathom it shrinking while cooking. I was wrong. The morel cooks down just as much as any other mushroom.

Assemble and Bake:

I spread the mushroom pizza sauce over the crust just like I would a tomato-based sauce. I added most of the cheese, arranged the morel mushroom sauté mixture, and then sprinkled the remaining cheese over top.

Assembled but not Cooked

I then baked for another 8-12 minutes at 450 (until cheese melted and started to brown). I drizzled the truffle oil to taste (I tend to be heavy-handed) and sprinkled a decorative dose of parsley over top. You might want to add a sprig of thyme for flair.

The pizza smelled rich and delicious. (Mike would’ve used a different descriptor). On many occasions I’ve declared fungus to be my friend and this night was no exception. This monkey ended the night with a chick flick, satiated taste buds, and a full belly.

Melted Mushroomy Goodness

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June 7, 2011

Restaurant review – Aviary

In thinking about what our blog would be comprised of, we thought it might be fun to add some diversity and also do restaurant reviews.  Most restaurant reviews will be in our home city of Portland, Oregon, but if we come across any notable restaurants on our CULINARY EXPEDITIONS out of town, we will be sure to include them.

First up… Aviary  (www.aviarypdx.com)

The restaurant is a fairly new one in the PDX scene and had recently gotten some good reviews online, as well as an endorsement from a friend that had eaten there.  It is in the trendy up-and-coming Alberta area, which is one that I have not spent a lot of time, but intend to explore more in the future.  The restaurant is located in the lower courtyard level of and new building on NE Alberta, between 16th and 17th.  The decor is a nice, contemporary industrial chic space with some seating available outside in the courtyard.  Portland got its first sunny and warm weekend of 2011 (finally!) and we were lucky enough to score a table outside.

The menu is very interesting at first glance, with a great diversity of items.  The waitress explained that the menu was mostly small plate dishes with a couple of entrée-esque items that were a touch bigger.  There was a variety of foods that you don’t often see on menus such as pig’s ears, sea urchin and the relatively tame octopus.  It was shaping up to be an interesting adventure.

Our group of four decided to get three “appetizers” to share and then each order an “entrée.”  Tempura Pumpkin, a Dungeness Crab Strudel and a Seared Octopus Salad were ordered for sharing.  They all came out looking amazing.  It was obvious that a lot of care was taken in the presentation and I always appreciate that.  Good tasting food MUST also look good!  I was suspicious of the pumpkin, with it being a vegetable and all, but they deep-fried it, so I figured it was worth a try!  It was very good and the spicy curry sauce that accompanied it was what really made the dish.  That sauce was tasty!  The other two appetizers really didn’t impress me too much.  They looked good, but both were pretty plain and one noted.  The Crab Strudel really sounded like it had potential, but I think pastry most often over powers the delicate, sweet crab flavor.  Maybe I just like crab in its pure form….with melted butter, of course.

I was feeling brave this night and ordered the Crispy Pig Ears.  It was described as being braised and then fried, with a bacon-like taste.  With a description like that, I thought I had a sure winner.  The dish came out in a small skillet, which was a nice touch, giving it much more of a table presence.  On the bottom was a bed of rice, topped by the crispy pig ears and sausage, all with some avocado slices and micro greens.  I searched for what I was expecting to see in pig’s ears, but they were thin, chip-like pieces, not the thicker appendage I was expecting.  The sauce on them tasted good, but overall, I was disappointed with the dish.  It wasn’t nearly what i had hoped.

The other entrées ordered were a Shao Xing Chicken, NY Strip Steak and Brioche Crusted Halibut.  I didn’t get enough of a sample of the three to give a thorough review, but the small tastes I did get were not all that impressive.  They all appeared well presented and interesting to look at, but fell flat on taste.  I think it was mostly just a lack of flavor throughout.  The dishes looked and sounded like they would pack a good punch, but nothing showed up.

Dessert came through for them though.  With Beer Ice Cream on the menu, it was a MUST ORDER.  It was subtly beer flavored and topped with a nice caramel sauce.  I gotta say, it was good and I would definitely order it again.

With the bill came a nice treat; they included a breakfast curry muffin for each person.  I thought that was a great touch that I rarely see.

Overall, it was a fun experience, but the food was underwhelming.  I really wanted to like Aviary.  It was well crafted food that had high hopes, but the lack of flavor couldn’t be overcome. Opening a restaurant in the culinary city of Portland is tough, and with it being a relatively new restaurant, I will likely give it another try after some months pass. We are so fortunate that there are just so many other “great” restaurants to choose from, so restaurants really need to make you HAVE to come back.

 

Addendum: Call Aviary before you attempt to go. Aviary closed temporarily due to a fire on the 4th of July.

June 7, 2011

Parmesan Crusted Scallops…and the Honorable Sigrid

Some people design a room around a prized piece of art or furniture. Margie designed a basement room around her foos ball table.  Likewise, many people will design a meal around a key ingredient or bottle of wine. When Mike’s mom, Betty, was in town last week, her prized bottle of Bergstrom Sigrid Chardonnay was our inspiration. We like Chardonnay, but have never tasted a Chardonnay this heavenly. This wine is nimble and performs a waltz on your tongue.  Feel free to snicker at this description (I sometimes mistake wine reviews for the Sunday comics), but only after you’ve sampled it.

The Honorable Sigrid

With Sigrid as our inspiration, we decided to make Parmesan crusted scallops with a clam and bacon risotto. Sauteed spinach was thrown in to provide veggie balance and aesthetics.

This recipe has a short cook time so it was important for us to employ a ‘mise en place’ strategy.

Terminology Time-outmise en place
 [MEEZ ahn plahs] is a French term used to describe the approach of getting ingredients assembled and prep work completed before launching headfirst into cooking. The key objectives are to ensure you have all the ingredients necessary and have them ready to go so that you can execute the recipe properly at the proper times. This prevents

With three cooks in the kitchen, we divided, conquered and had all of our ingredients prepped before starting in on the risotto.

  • Bacon was cooked and vegetables were chopped for the risotto.
  • Lemon Thyme Beurre blanc was started.
  • Scallops were prepped: they were washed, the legs were removed, and they were coated in the flour mixture. The parmesan mixture was assembled and egg was beaten (we held off on coating in the parmesan mixture until right before cooking the scallops).  

flouring the scallops

  • The butter used to fry the scallops was clarified.

Terminology Time-out: Clarified butter allows you to cook using butter (with all the yummy flavor that only butter can provide) at high temperatures without burning the food. To clarify butter, melt unsalted butter until it bubbles and spoon the foamy fat off the top. Pour off the clear liquid into a container (leaving behind any thick, milky residue at the bottom).  You can even freeze clarified butter if you seal it tightly.

Clarifying Butter

We had to open a bottle of dry, white wine to use in our risotto so we enjoyed an aperitif of Anne Amie vineyard’s Pinot Blanc after starting the risotto but before beginning to cook the scallops.

Clam and Bacon Risotto


Parmesan Crusted Scallops with Lemon Thyme Beurre Blanc

Makes 4 portions

8 each        large sea scallops with foot removed

to taste       salt & pepper

½ cup         flour

1 each         egg, whisked

1 cup           Japanese bread crumbs (Panko)

¼ cup         Parmesan cheese, shredded

½ cup         clarified butter  (can use olive oil, if need be)

1                   recipe Lemon Thyme Beurre Blanc

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season each scallop with salt and pepper and toss with flour. Mix bread crumbs with Parmesan cheese. Dip each scallop in egg, then press into bread crumb mixture, coating on all sides.

Preheat clarified butter in a large sauté pan.  Fry each scallop on both sides until golden brown.

Scallops before browning

Scallops after Browning

Place scallops on a baking sheet and bake for 3-4 minutes, until done. Serve with Lemon Thyme Beurre Blanc.

Lemon Thyme Beurre Blanc

20 each             lemon thyme sprigs

½ cup               Marsala wine

1 T.                  chopped onion

¼ cup               water

1 T.                  heavy cream

¼ lb.                whole butter, cut in cubes

as needed        salt and pepper

Directions:

Pull 1 tsp. lemon thyme off the sprigs and chop finely.  Reserve.  Save the rest of the sprigs for steeping in the wine.

Bring Marsala wine and onions to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Cook until it has reduced in volume by half. Add water and return to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Add lemon thyme sprigs and steep for 20 minutes. Strain the wine mixture and return to sauce pan.  Add cream and chopped lemon thyme.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove pan from heat.  Whisk in butter cubes one at a time.  Let the butter melt and be incorporated before adding the next cube. Season as needed with salt and pepper.

As planned, we finished cooking the scallops last. We assembled a generous portion of risotto before planting the mammoth scallops and token greenery around it. The scallops were outstanding and extremely decadent. And did I mention the Sigrid???

The Final Dish