Polenta Squared

Evan and I are taking advantage of this late spring sunshine by making ourselves busy around the house. We spent Sunday afternoon picking our paint colors for the trim of our home and spent Monday afternoon scraping, sanding, priming, and painting. To celebrate and show off our accomplishments we asked my mom over for dinner tonite.
On the Menu:
Griled Mediterranean Portobello Burgers
Portobello burgers brushed in galric olive oil, grilled and served with roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, tomato, mixed baby greens, goat's milk feta, and grilled rustic sourdough
Gorgonzola Polenta
Creamy polenta topped with a zucchini-summer squash saute
Strawberries and Cream
Juicy Oregon strawberries dipped in brown sugar-sour cream
Tropical Mocktails
Puree of mango, strawberry, and banana topped off with sparkling water and fresh lemon juice
Our gorgonzola polenta was inspired by the polenta served at Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe in New York City. Rich in flavor, this polenta has a silky smooth texture resulting from the use of a milk and cream mixture instead of stock and/or water used in traditional polenta reciopes. The toasted walnut garnish is a welcomed addition to the creamy richness of the flavor. For our version we substituted homemade vegetable stock for the cream, omittted the walnuts, and topped it with a green garlic infused zucchini and summer squash saute. Below you will find Union Square's Recipe. Try the original or find your own inspiration, just make sure to let us know how it goes...


4 cups milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup polenta (coarse yellow cornmeal)*

1 1/2 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 6 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, lightly toasted walnuts

Bring milk and whipping cream to boil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk polenta into milk mixture in slow steady stream. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook polenta until creamy and tender, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat broiler. Transfer cooked polenta to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Sprinkle Gorgonzola cheese over polenta. Broil until cheese melts. Sprinkle with chopped toasted walnuts and serve immediately.

*Polenta (coarse yellow cornmeal) is available at Italian markets, natural foods stores and some supermarkets. If unavailable, substitute 1 cup regular yellow cornmeal, and cook mixture for about 12 minutes rather than 20 minutes.



Oh me on my, how the time does fly
The time and the river keep rolling on by

Ironic how the more we do the less we seem to write about it. Much has happened during the past...has it really almost been two weeks? We'll do our best to get you caught up on all that's transpired. Since we last gave entry we had an opportunity to meet face to face with our potential landlord. The meeting was short but polite and gave each party the chance to get a feeling for the other's needs and desires. We felt particularly good about the meeting given that the landlord sweetened the deal once again by offering us additional concessions in the forthcoming lease- concessions we neither asked for nor expected. While we did not succeed in legally locking up the space for 30 days as we had previously hoped we were able to obtain keys to the building so that we could complete an accurate design and construction audit while the lease is still being drafted. Essentially what we need to do at this point is to formulate a detailed financial inventory for the purpose of knowing exactly how much capital it's going to take to transform the space into "the cafe."
Feeling as though our potential careers were only a few weeks from fruition we decided to make the most of our weekend and get our of town for a few days so we could think creatively about the final touches of our concept. Central Oregon was the obvious destination in our minds as it is an area we have enjoyed many times over in the past though have been unable to visit as much as we would like. Our "weekend"turned into a five night stay as we found little reason to return to Portland given we were unable to schedule any workers for the space until the middle of this past week. As usual the cabin restored us, and made us as eager as ever to begin working long days and nights in the pursuit of attaining our dream.
Our first few days spent working on our design and construction audits quickly introduced us to some of the difficulties and expenses one can incur when attempting to collaborate with other professionals. After spending so many months living, working, and talking about the restaurant with one another, it has been difficult getting used to the idea of tailoring certain parts of the design process to the schedules of others. We learned very quickly that we're going to have to rely on our creativity in order to make the most of our limited design budget. This weekend a family friend who happens to be a commercial real estate attorney is going to read thru our lease draft and give us feedback on how the language of the lease could be change to ensure us legal protection.
We hope that by the end of next week we will know whether or not the deal we shook on with the landlord will materialize. Once again we are faced with the cold truth that any verbal agreement that we have come to during the last five weeks of negotiation means nothing unless we can get in put into writing. It is difficult to convey how taxing this can be emotionally to know that there is nocertainty whatsoever that our hard work and future will pan out the way we've imagined. Though it's been a trying process at times it has also provided many opportunities for learning and currently we both feel optimistic about all of our future possibilities and hope that our positive attitudes and karma will assist us in the following days. That being said, be sure to check back in with us as the optimism does seem to come and go...

A Lovely Meal

We opened the cabin for the season last week which is our only excuse for being so lackadaisical with the blog. With a five night stay in Central Oregon under our belt we had plenty of opportunities toprepare delicious meals. Since the cabin was closed over the winter its reading material was limited to last summer's magazines. While flipping through a past Gourmet issue I found the following recipe and two hours and a few adjustments later we feasted on the best omelet we've ever had. The texture was so delicate and light and I'd recommend the recipe's advice to wait to eat until the omelet is room temperature. We dusted ours with freshly grated parmesan and served it with goat cheese on rye toast and mixed greens tossed in a tangy lemon vinaigrette. Truth be told it's good enough to eat all by itself.

A Note: WARNING: Gourmet's directions are a bit (unnecessarily) wordy, we limited the salt, and substituted Italian seasoning for the marjoram. Highly recommended.

1 lb small zucchini
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh marjoram flowers or leaves, or a pinch of dried marjoram
2 large eggs
1 large pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Trim ends of zucchini, then coarsely grate on large holes of a box grater. Toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and let stand 30 minutes.

Transfer zucchini to a colander, then firmly squeeze handfuls to remove excess liquid.

Heat olive oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and sauté zucchini, stirring until golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and stir in marjoram, then let mixture cool to warm, about 15

Lightly beat eggs with zucchini, pepper, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, using a fork.

Heat butter in a 7- to 8-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides and butter has a nutty fragrance. Add egg mixture,distributing zucchini evenly with a heatproof rubber spatula,and cook,lifting up egg around edges occasionally to let any uncooked egg flow underneath, until egg mixture is set around edge, about 1 minute.

Reduce heat to moderately low and cook omelet until softly set but top is still moist, about 3 minutes.

Shake skillet to loosen omelet from pan, then slide omelet onto a large plate.

Wearing oven mitts, invert skillet over omelet, then holding skillet and plate together invert omelet, browned side up, into skillet. Cook omelet until underside is set, about 1 minute, then slide omelet onto a serving plate.


Mother's Day Garden Tea Party

The story of my birth is truly one of my favorites. The following are three things about this story that I don’t think my mother will ever let me forget:

1.I was a week late in unforgivable July heat. Did I say unforgivable? I meant blistering, sweltering, “you have to be kidding me that I’m pregnant right now” heat…
2.Around this time my father had a prescheduled fishing trip planned with buddies and consequently I was to be induced the morning of July 9th so he could make the trip. Good Lord, Can you imagine scheduling your induction around a fishing trip so your husband could leave you with a four year old and a newborn?
3.When I finally did decide to announce my presence (otherwise know as breaking my mother’s water) I did so the night before the scheduled induction while she was wearing her favorite khaki and white linen stripped pantsuit; therefore announcing to the world that I was in fact on my own time schedule and that no one would decide differently—something she insists to be true about me today. What I would do to see her in this pantsuit today…

For these three reasons and for many more we decided to make the best effort we could to celebrate our Mothers this Mother’s Day Weekend. We wanted something fresh, something classy, and something that didn’t have Hallmark spread all over it. In the end we decided upon a tea party set in Jamie's beutiful garden. We made seasonally friendly food, requested garden party attire including silly old hats, and took a stab at a recreation of a black & white photo worthy of the Kentucky Derby.

Mother’s Day Menu

Hot English breakfast tea served with cream, honey, and sugar
Champagne bellinis
Vodka mint lemonade

Tea Sandwiches
Roast beef, gorgonzola, and arugula
Pesto, tomato, and bocconcini mozzarella
Dijon egg salad with fresh dill

Garden Salsa served with Chips
Pico de Gallo meets the garden's fresh herbs and spring vegetables

Crudités Platter with Trio of Dips
Blanched sugar snap peas, green beans, and broccoli, fresh cucumber, carrot, and red & yellow bell pepper served with green Caesar dip, Thai peanut suace, and balsamic hummus

Curried Deviled Eggs
Creamy, savory, and a little spicy but not too devilish...

Gazpacho served in English Cucumber Cups
The staple from Andalusia region in southern Spain is a perfect compliment to any garden party

Teatime Layered Coconut Cake with Coconut Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Need we say more? And yes, it really was that good...

To Our Mothers Madeline, Julie, and Betty and to all mothers out there: Thank you for making it so easy to celebrate you.


What's For Dinner...

Spring Risotto
Broccoli, shallots, asparagus, lemon zest, and paremsean. Blessed with homemade stock, labor-intensive stirring, and a whole lotta love


Sunday Brunch

The first week of living in Los Angeles was somewhat uneventful. Having just transferred from a very-large-university-in-a-very-small-town in West Texas to a very-small-college-in-a-very-large-city, I was more than happy to shut myself off from the rest of the world and live quietly, alone, and uninterrupted in a single college dorm room for the next two and a half years. I rented books and movies from the library; framed pictures, talked long-distance to anyone who cared to listen; copied recipes from culinary magazines; created wall hangings, bedspreads and curtains; organized and disorganized my shoe pile; read the backs of soda cans and miscellaneous food packages; feng shuied my room, arranged and rearranged my desktop icons alphabetically, and by file size; turned the light switch on and off and on and off…until a hurried knock pounded on my door. I checked the clock: 11:45 pm. Who on Earth? The R.A.? Was my music too loud? A friend? No, I had no friends here. And that knock. There was something about the severity of that knock that made me nervous.

I cautiously open the door only to find a thin young man wearing a tight argyle sweater, dark pants, and stained black Converse All-Stars sheepishly standing in front of me. The moment the door fully opens he takes two steps back as if he were afraid of me. There are holes in the sleeves of his sweater, almost as though he likes to stick his thumbs through the end of his sleeves, perhaps a gesture to keep them from riding up. His small frame must get cold easily and this sweater looks like its survived its share of harsh winters. He stands in front of me like a shy child, perhaps a lost one. Certainly that knock didn’t belong to this man.
“Good evening! Hello! How do you do?” He booms from a distance. His voice surprises me; more assertive, soothing and confident than I would expect. But even from where he stands I can smell the alcohol on his breath and suspect that’s what’s giving him his edge.
“I’m Alex, I, I mean we live below you; that is Evan, Greg and myself. We live below you,”
…aha! From edgy to awkward, he’s slipping…
I can’t tell if he’s quite an awkward person or if he’s just drunk and needs to borrow something from the mute hermit upstairs. I still don’t respond, or rather can’t respond because he’s already talking again;
“We noticed you moved in recently and we hadn’t introduced ourselves yet and well, we make coffee-all the time, really dark, strong coffee- seriously, we have a pot on all the time,”
…how strange, from awkward to manic in a flash…
… “and well, if you ever need some coffee to study, or stay awake, or whatever, just let one of us know. You can come by whenever and just ask. One of us should be here. We may play our music loud and occasionally have a few people over to party but we’re really nice guys and well, we just wanted to say hi. So, hi.” He steps forward, tosses the hair out of his eye and sticks his hand out to shake mine.
…from awkward to manic back to confidently approachable…interesting...
An important fact to know about me at this point in time: I do not drink coffee. I hate the stuff unless it comes frozen, mixed with equal parts sugar, egg yolks and cream, and labeled Haagen-Dazs.
“Good evening, hello, I’m quite fine, thank you for asking. My name is Ali, I’m new and live above you, and I would love to have a cup of coffee with you guys sometime.” I reach my hand to his extended gesture and we shake on it. He smiles, takes two steps back again, turns on his heels and disappears down the stairs.

At the time I was not sure if I would ever see this person again. Now, five years later I am happy to say that this occurrence, this meeting, would become the beginning of a beautiful friendship between me and one of the most clever, witty, striking people I have ever met: Downtown Alex Brown, co-creator and co-producer of The Hot Knives.

As Evan mentioned in the previous post our “L.A. Family” swept through Portland this weekend for a whirlwind catering tour. Unfortunately extenuating circumstances caused their 120 head catering gig to be canceled. Fortunately there was light at the end of the road; they were granted a much deserved vacation in our hip little city and 25 of us were treated to a first-class, pull-out-all-the-stops, mama said knock-you-out Sunday Brunch. Despite living in Los Angeles, the Knives were determined to create a menu based solely on Pacific NW seasonal items sourced fresh from quality producers and farms. Early to rise on Saturday morning they lovingly admired and scoured the aisles of our beloved Portland Farmers Market and last minute trips to New Seasons Sunday morning sealed the deal.

Sunday Brunch
(Hosted by the lovely Claire L. Evans and Mike Merrill of UrbanHonking fame, Catered by The Hot Knives)
Yesterday afternoon, friends new and old gathered in a beautiful N. Mississippi apartment to eat, drink, and be merry noshing on the following:

Everything but the Kitchen Sink Bloody Marys
celery, capers, garlic, gherkins, sea salt, cracked pepper, and love
BLT Salad
with Farmers Market spring greens and cherry tomato confit
Baked and Stuft’ Fingerling Potatoes
with fresh dill, chives, sour cream, and smoked paprika
Wild Mushroom Scramble
topped with Oregon truffles, dressed arugula, and Oregon beets
White Bean Chili with Chorizo Sausage
braised in beer and served on rustic artisan bread

Oh, and did I mention it was all vegan? Incredible. While the food was indeed a masterpiece for the eyes, mouth, and stomach, I must say it was the talent and careful execution by the chefs’ and sous chefs’ hands that could not be missed.

To our dear friends: thank you for the thoughtful invitation, the delicious meal, and the impeccable company. We miss you already. XO


Quality Control

A few days ago Ali and I received word that our friends and fellow food bloggers the Hot Knives will be making their way from Los Angeles to Portland this weekend. Educated cooks and all around great guys, the Knives are directly responsible for introducing Ali and I to Leo’s Tacos (a debt I will never be able to repay). The two are coming to the Rose City to cater a record release party for some of their friends.
While we anticipate their arrival I can’t help but reflect on the many amazing meals they have posted on their blog site over the past couple years. In honor of this sharp duo I have decided to review a couple of brews similar to the way they do it on their blog in an ongoing series they call ‘Hip Hops.’ For my own critique I have chosen two beers:
The first is a brew that the Knives themselves have already commented on, Westmalle Brewery’s Tripel. The second beer, Green Flash Trippel from Green Flash Brewing Co. in San Diego California is a popular domestic product crafted in a similar style to the Westmalle Tripel.
Tripel, Westmalle Brewery
There are only seven Trappist breweries that exist in the world, and the men from Westmalle have been perfecting their craft for some time now. Westmalle’s Martinus Dom, the town’s first abbot began making beer back in 1836, and it was until the early 20th century that the brewery’s product became available to a wide audience. In 1934 the brewery created their first Tripel beer, and today it stands as the exemplar of the style. This Tripel, and Trappist beers in general, have a very wide appeal because they age well in the bottle, and pair easily with a number of different foods. When poured, the Westmalle Tripel produced a fantastic head. The brew has an intense deep gold color. This particular Tripel boasts a combination of sweet flavors as well as peppery undertones that have over time become the standard for the style. No doubt it is the yeast that makes this beer so special. The beer will continue to develop complexity over time. Fr. Thomas, the brewmaster, recommends the three year-old with asparagus and the six year-old in zabaglione. Did I mention it was brewed by monks?
Trippel, Green Flash Brewing Co.
Made in San Diego, California, Green Flash Brewing Co.’s Trippel is a domestic homage to the aforementioned brew. When poured, this Trippel produced an impressive head that began to recede after a minute or so. The color of the beer is copper-like, and the flavor and aroma display the characteristic Trippel blend of sweet and spice. It seems likely that the folks at Green Flash utilize more fruit to sweeten their brew, as opposed to the pale candy sugar used by the men from Westmalle. When compared to its Belgium counterpart the Green Flash Trippel is much clearer and has less overall complexity, though it does do justice to the style, and is a polite, drinkable contemporary take on a time honored tradition.