Brown Butter with Cream

Night two.

Prior to leaving the condo, I made certain my clothing ensemble for the kitchen at Lucy's this time around was more appropriate than the previous night of high-heeled boots and a long wrap sweater. Tonight's was simple: jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and...my Eastland clogs. Definitely not appropriate for city wear, but absolutely perfect for the kitchen (and they are just about the most comfortable pair of shoes I own. Truth be told, I enjoy the times when I sneak out to run errands and choose function over fashion with these babies). Oh, and one more item. Though he half jokingly asked me if I had my chef's uniforms from class, there was no way I was going to let chef Bryan catch me off guard during my next visit to the kitchen. I grabbed my chef's jacket on the way out.

I was running slightly later than I planned. It was Friday night and I assumed the kitchen would be a bit more active versus the last night I visited; a Tuesday. Parking was a bear in NW, but I finally snagged a spot about four blocks from the restaurant. I shuffled up the dark streets of NW Portland to the back door, this time feeling like a part of the crew and walking right in.

I entered and was greeted by a bustling back room. It was close to 5 p.m. so the kitchen was definitely in happy hour mode, and approaching Friday night dinner time. I also noticed that the crew had increased by two: Nate, a transplant from Jacksonville, Wyoming, who'd been with Lucy's for three months; and Haley, a culinary student at Oregon Culinary Institute who was in her fourth week in the kitchen with chef Bryan crew.

"Do you know what you want to do with your culinary degree," I asked the wide-eyed intern.

"I'm not sure yet. There is so much out there to do," she replied.

Yes, my dear, yes there is so much that one can do with a culinary degree, I thought...

Nate was busy constructing a gnocchi dish. I noticed chef Bryan called it "Parisian" gnocchi.

"What in the world is Parisian gnocchi?" I asked.

"It's a gnocchi that's made with pâte à choux instead of potato," he answered quickly.

Ah, I remembered pâte à choux, and the recounted the times I had made it in class to create profiteroles. It's also a common dough used to make eclairs and begneits. Incredibly versatile, and apparently used to make gnocchi in this kitchen.

"Oh, I remember pâte à choux, but can't remember exactly how to make it," I said.

Without hesitation, chef Bryan rattled off measurements of the ingredients for the pâte à choux as well as cooking instructions. Right then and there. Right off the top of his head:

"You need 600 g of flour, 1200 g of milk, 1 lb. of butter and about 16 - 20 eggs. Heat the milk and butter and combine - almost like a roux (a butter and flour mixture that is heated until it takes on a slightly golden-brown color), but not as brown as a roux. Take the mixture off of the heat and, one at a time, add in the eggs, stirring with a spatula until the mixture pulls away from the edges."

Yeah, that's pretty much how I remembered it too.

Keeping the thought of the dining experience at the front of his mind, Bryan mentioned that they needed an amuse bouche for the evening. An amuse bouche is somewhat common in fine dining establishments. It's a little mouth teaser that is sent out from the chef as a one-bite wonder that is meant to wet the appetite. A pre-dinner treat, if you will.

"Jen, what should our amuse bouche be tonight?" he asked. "We have some chicken confit that we can use for it."

A bit thrown off, but not wanting disappoint, I shouted back, "The chicken confit (chicken cooked in and preserved in it's own fat), crème fraîche, bacon and chives."

"No bacon as we already have a dish that has bacon in it," Bryan said.

I see some wild mushrooms and suggest those.

"No, too expensive," Nate responds. "We want something that we need to use (won't go to waste) that isn't too expensive, but that will be pleasing and special to the diners," he explained.

Bryan proceeded to construct something. He added some chevre cheese and heavy cream to a saucepan and stirred until the combination looked like white frosting. He took some toasted ciabatta that the kitchen had, added a dollop of the chevre/heavy cream mixture, some chicken confit and topped it wth a currant and a sprig of fresh greens.

"Here, try this and let me know if you think it's good enough to be an amuse bouche," he said to me.

It was a bit on the heavy and bland side and needed to be "brightened" up. I found that I was hesitant to critique his work, but sort of mumbled that it needed some brightening.

"A fresh squeeze of lemon?" I added.

In the end it was decided: ciabatta as a canapé, crème fraîche, chicken confit, currant and fresh greens.

The night went on and the kitchen was definitely more active than before. Mike, the owner, walked in.

"Oh, you are here tonight. I wasn't sure," I said as I greeted him.

"Are we open?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Then I'm here," he said with a grin on his face.

I spent a large part of the night just keeping myself out of the line of fire (ha, sort of a pun intended) and sat and watched as they worked their magic. Nate was making an abundance of the gnocchi dish as well as a goat cheese ravioli. I had seen that before and it looked amazing.

"Do you want me to make you a small plate?" he asked.

"Oh, maybe just one," I said.

"Well they come with three raviolis to a plate," he replied.

"Ok, yeah, thank you, Nate," I accepted, promising myself that I would only eat one ravioli.

It was delectable. Triangle raviolis filled with goat cheese and topped with the most buttery, nutty sauce.

"What is this sauce you on the ravioli you made me," I asked.

"Brown butter, brown butter with cream," he replied.

I literally stopped mid-bite and looked up with a sly grin on my face.

"So a 10-mile run for me tomorrow then?" I fired back.

"Yeah, pretty much," chef Bryan replied without hesitation.

I had noticed that with every dish that they constructed, sauce played such a huge role. Bryan had mentioned that before his arrival, the kitchen would typically use just a couple of sauces, usually tomato-based, for their dishes. Now, it seems there were at least five sauces that were crafted to uniquely fit each dish. I tasted a few. A rabbit and oxtail sauce used for the gnocchi was absolutely divine. I could devour it like a soup.

Being the writer, I told Bryan that we should develop a book on sauces for today's home cooks. He handed me James Peterson's Sauces: Classic and Contemporary Sauce Making. It had it all in it, but I still thought it might be a bit too ambitious for some home cooks who just want great basics.

I continued to flip through the book as the crew prepared for a 16-plate order, listening to the kitchen communication while skimming through the pages. I came across something Bryan had highlighted in the introduction of the book that made me stop and think:

"No amount of book learning can provide a substitute for hands-on experience." James Peterson

Yeah, pretty much.



The Back Door

For anyone who has been following this blog, or is just one of many important friends and family in my life, you've heard me say - numerous times - that when I decided to sign my life away for eight months of Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts training it wasn't for the goal of becoming a chef. No, life in the kitchen would be way to tough for a girl like me. The heat. The sweat. What would become of my foundation, my mascara, my perfectly flat-ironed curls? And there would certainly be yelling. I don't do yelling. Don't all chefs have outrageous outbursts that emulate those of chef Gordon Ramsey?

But during the past year and a half after earning my diploma and exploring the world of food writing - plus other avenues in the arena of all things culinary - something continues to intrigue me.

There are not too many things that can hold my interest for an extended period of time. I get bored. My attention is short-lived. My mind wonders, and I tend to move on. Quickly. But one thing keeps toying with my mind.

That kitchen.

What goes on day in and day out? Is it really that hot back there? Is the chef really going "Gordon Ramsey" on the line cooks?

I've kept in close contact with a former culinary school classmate of mine who's quickly worked his way through many of Portland's esteemed restaurant kitchens just in the short time since we left our kitchens at school. Just a few weeks ago, he was named Chef de Cuisine at Lucy's Table. His name is Bryan Szeliga; chef Bryan, pardon me. I couldn't have been more thrilled when I heard the news of the opportunity he was given. I was even more thrilled when he offered me a chance to come 'hang out' in the kitchen with him.

Last week I reached out to Bryan as I was doing some research for an article I was writing for an industry publication. He suggested I stop by the restaurant to chat with him about my questions a bit more. We confirmed via text.

Me: I'll try and come down by 3:30/4. Is that too close to dinner service?
Bryan: See you then

I arrived at the front door at NW 21st and Irvine slightly after 4 p.m. It was locked.

Me: I'm outside. Door is locked.
Bryan: Back door

At that exact moment I looked up and saw the bartender preparing the bar for the evening. We both froze as we realized we knew each other. She is the wife of my Pilates training. I had almost forgotten she worked a Lucy's part-time until the moment I saw her. What followed was about 30 seconds of sheer confusion and conversation through the locked, glass door.

"Jennifer?" she asked.
"Stacy?" I replied back.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm here to talk with Bryan, your new Chef de Cuisine."
"You know Bryan?"
"Yes, we went to school together," I answered.
She motioned for me to walk around building,"Come around to the back door."

And I did. And when I arrived I was met by Lucy's owner/chef, Mike Conklin.

"Hi," I said. "I'm Jennifer, I'm here to see Bryan."

Mike greeted me with a friendly smile and guided me through the back door and into the kitchen.

Having come from running miscellaneous errands all the day, I was clearly not dressed to be in a restaurant kitchen. Tip toeing with my high-heeled boots through the back entryway and onto the wet, rubber mats I finally met up with Bryan and giving him a long-overdue friendly hug while admiring his crisp, white chef's ensemble. I clutched my big purse and held my over-sized wrap sweater tight to prevent it from unraveling into anything it shouldn't have, found a corner next to a row of culinary reference books and set my things down - big wrap sweater off, short-sleeve V-neck shirt revealed. Now, I was ready for some exploring.

Bryan first led me on a tour of the kitchen and explained to me some of the things he'd changed around in his two short weeks at the venue. There was the modest walk-in fridge with shelves full of milk, cream and large cubes of butter. And sitting outside it, tubs of dry goods like potatoes and onions. Down the short alley-like hallway was another stash of goods, these the vinegars and oils and condiments.

After the quick tour, Bryan needed to get things prepped for dinner service and we chatted as he worked at the stove and coordinated stations with his line cook. He wasn't yelling.

The owner had been in and out of the kitchen, and during one visit, reminded Bryan that a local publication would be by around 5:30 p.m. to snap some photos of select menu items for an upcoming edition. A food photo shoot? I thought. Another behind-the-scenes view of another aspect of the food world that I love so much. I picked an excellent evening to come by.

As the time grew closer to the dinner hour, the action in the back grew as well. Bryan and I were chatting about questions I had for the article, and all the while I was shifting from one wall to the other, dodging the servers and owner as they were shuffling things around and getting prepped for an active evening in the dining room.

And the evening went on. The photographers for the local publication arrived and I watched as Bryan and his line cook, Rojellio, created the dishes that were to be shot. Once each dish was finished, I'd follow it out to the "set" and watched as the photographer shot and the dishes were transformed into works of art for print.

And after a few hours of 'hanging' with the crew at Lucy's, watching the kitchen guys dance effortlessly on the line, venturing to the front of house to witness the photo shoot and the action at the bar and the diners in the restaurant, one thing was a constant. My face held a permanent grin. The evening's happenings captivated my interest. I was fascinated by how every one's role was played with ease, and how all the details just continued to come together behind the scenes.

Bryan mentioned to me that the next time I visit, to please wear my non-slip shoes and more casual attire. He asked if I still had my chef''s uniforms from school days and I, hesitantly, said yes as I remember those black and white checkered pants. I immediately told him those pants would not find themselves back on me again. He held a smirk on his face and told me to hang on to at least on pair - in the event that I wanted to venture around to be a part of any other kitchens in town. I left Bryan and his staff, who had all graciously welcomed me into their space for a few hours, and headed out to the front.

I said goodbye to Stacy and Maggie, the other server on site for the night, and said a quick 'thank you' and goodbye to Mike, who was in the middle of a tasting with a couple of wine distributors. He asked if I enjoyed the few hours I spent at his venue, and I quickly said yes. He welcomed me to come back at any time.

And I shall.

I think the adventures in exploring the culinary world is about to reach an entirely new level.



The Onion

When I was younger, my brother often times played the role of the gourmet chef in our kitchen at home. He was, and still is, a master at the stove, the barbecue and basically anything that involves heat coupled with fine ingredients that causes anyone's mouth to drool.

There was one dish, however, that I had a tough time getting past: his scrambled eggs. Why, you ask? He would add an ingredient to his version of the classic breakfast treat that - in my opinion - should not come near, or be an addition to, one of life's breakfast staples: onions.

I remember my reaction as I took my first bite of the fluffy, lightly yellow colored goodness that lay on my plate. It was sprinkled with freshly shredded cheddar cheese that added a bit of color and a sharp bite to the dish. And then came an added sharpness to the bite. No, it wasn't sharpness, it was more like a crunch. A crunch that came from small, translucent white cubes that were dispersed throughout my scrambled eggs. They were hard and released a flavor that seemed to burn the tiny hairs in my little nose. What in the world?, I thought as I maneuvered one of the crunchy pieces toward my lips with my tongue. Upon unveiling the little creature I realized that it was, sure enough, an onion. Not my cup of tea. I finished the remainder of the scrambled eggs, picking out the little flecks of white cubes in the process.

Fast forward to present day and I can't really tell you when my taste buds changed their minds, but I'm almost certain it had something to do with my first experience in cooking French Onion Soup. I continue to enjoy the flavors and harmony of textures, and especially the taste of the caramelized onions in the famed French soup. I adore onions now; sautéed, roasted, and my favorite, caramelized.

I've seen recipes that instruct caramelizing onions in various ways: some with red wine vinegar, herbs and salt and pepper, others with olive oil, butter and a splash of sugar. I've found it best to keep it simple with a basic combination of olive oil, kosher salt, white pepper (you can use black if you wish, but I'm beginning to incorporate white more and more into cooking) and onions. Some like to add sugar as they say it gives even more caramely goodness and a bit more of a crisp texture, but I could take it or leave it. The process of the onions caramelizing produces plenty of natural sugars itself.

Here's my recipe for my most favorite way to devour onions.

Caramelized Onions
Yields 1 cup caramelized onions

2 1/2 tablespoons Olive oil
6 cups White onion, sliced crosswise in 1/4-inch half-moon slices
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon White pepper

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat until the olive oil is warm, or projects a glistening, shiny look to it. Add in the sliced onions and stir around to coat them evenly with the olive oil. Add in the salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium and let the onions cook in the pan, stirring occasionally. You'll notice the onions begin to turn brown, which signals the caramelization. Continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally so the slices don't burn, until the onions are cooked down and have turned a dark caramel-brown in color, about 25 minutes.

Caramelized onions are great served atop many delectable items like pizza or bruschetta, and can be mixed into soft cheeses like goat or cream cheese for use in a dip. My decision for how I would savor my caramelized onions today? Atop scrambled eggs in my breakfast sandwich.

Whole-wheat toast, goat cheese, scrambled eggs, caramelized onions and sprinkled with dill (I would have used chives, but was out. Use chives.)



Book Review: Cooking for Mr. Latte

Embarking on the adventure of a new relationship can be exciting, scary, tummy twisting and heart thumping. Pair that with a passion for culinary adventures and a professional life dedicated to the romance of food, and you've got a foodie swaying in the joys of a new love + delectable eats.

In Cooking for Mr. Latte, Amanda Hesser (food writer for The New York Times) takes readers on a personal journey of her courtship with Tad Friend, a writer as well. Amanda's inner-voice call for refinement of her dining companion's food sense on their first date to Tad's impressive home-cooked meal for Amanda are just the beginning of a journey of good food, deep relationships with family and friends and the joys of sharing with the one you love.

And as any good culinary temptress would know, what's on one's plate plays an enormous part in the mood and memories that make the story, and so the author includes key recipes at the end of every chapter; totalling over 100 recipes with a recipe index at the back of the book! Some that stood out include: Almond Cake, from Amanda's soon-to-be mother-in-law, Elizabeth; Rigatoni with White Bolognese, from a dear friend, Heidi; and what she calls the 'baking project for two' Poached Peach and Almond Tart, a recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated and one that Amanda cooks with Elizabeth.

It was an enjoyable read to come along for the ride as the beau was integrated into the family and friendships and vice versa as Amanda was shipped off to weekend getaways with Tad's family. Though there were times throughout the book that seemed to take away from the relationship and focus more on the family and friendships, and even some of Amanda's solo travel, but that showcased Amanda's openness to invite even further personal relationships into the story. And speaking of solo, Chapter 6, 'The Art of Dining Alone', was brilliant.

A fun read for anyone who loves falling in love; with courting and culinary adventures in tow.



Bon Appétit!

I will admit, I have been waiting for this day all year. Today was the day I've been referring to as the day the 'Movie of the Year' comes out.

"Julie & Julia" is a story based on two people. One, the beloved Julia Child who taught an enormous amount of American home cooks the basics of French cooking techniques step by step. And the other, Julie Powell, an unsatisfied, thirty-year-old secretary stuck in a dead-end job in the government sector who decides to cook her way through all of Julia Child's recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which sends her on a mission to cook 524 recipes in 365 days.

I remember Julie Powell's book fondly as it was, literally, the first book of gastronomic literature that I had read that made me laugh until I cried, and awakened me to the fact that there is more to food literature than simply cookbooks. It was one of the books that caused me to make the decision to attend culinary school and work toward a career in food writing.

I believe the fact that I read both Julie Powell's Julie & Julia; 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen, and My Life in France by Julia Child, allowed me to utterly enjoy the film. Director Nora Ephron did a wonderful job of capturing both woman's lives and interweaving them throughout the movie. And Meryl Steep was a perfect Julia Child. It really was amazing, I thought, how similar the two women were. Both looking for a purpose in life. Both having a love of good food. One aspect of the film that came home to me more so on screen than in both books was the support of both women's husbands. Paul Child, played by Stanley Tucci, and Eric Powell, played by Chris Messina, were both a delight. I think Paul Child could have been the most perfect man on the planet, and Tucci played him to a tee.

I don't know if it was the recent weather shift in Portland going back to its typical cloud-covered sky, or the fact that I snuck out and viewed a matinee showing of the film today, but for some reason, I had a deep craving for some French Onion Soup (or Soupe À L'Oignon). Well of course you know what comes next. It seemed absolutely fitting to make a batch exactly as Ms. Julia would see fit from my own copy of Mastering.

As the soup is cooking tonight (per Julia's recipe, she clearly states to expect about 2 1/2 hours of cooking time. Wow.) I'm maneuvering back and forth from my kitchen to my laptop thinking about the film and writing this post. Though I had been thinking about the movie for a few months and brainstorming what foodie friends would be fun to attend with, in the end I decided to sneak away and go see it alone. Why you ask? As I had stated above, this book was a huge turning point for me and my decision to attend cooking school to become a food writer. To be honest, the film was sort of bittersweet for me. Times are so different two years later it seems and much has taken me off track over the past year and a half. It was interesting to me as in the movie, Julie Powell was truly a writer, but could never accept that she was a 'real' writer because she was never published. I often feel the same way. I write. I did a time-intensive piece on the basics of French cooking for a division of Barnes & Noble that will, unfortunately, never be published due to a complete shutdown of said division. And I do have this blog. But it's the more widely read publications that we (writers) are of course shooting for. I still have yet to be published in one of those famed pubs, but am in a position now where I'm finally back to focusing on pursuing it further, and I believe I'm closer than ever.

Oh! The timer has gone off...again. Per her recipe, I've reset the timer about 3-4 times (for the caramelized onions, beef stock simmer, crusted French bread, and, finally, to melt the Gruyere cheese). But now, it is finally done!

Before I dive into tonight's creation, there is one further thought I had about the movie. In the end, I believe both stories are about two women who wanted more out of life. They wanted purpose, they wanted something to 'do' that was of significance to them and possibly to the world, and they wanted to see their dreams come true. And in my book, that's a perfect formula for...well...a life worth savoring.

Oh, Julia. This. Is. Delightful...

Bonjour, and Bon Appétit!



A Mixology Competition for...the Upcoming School Year?

On Monday, July 27, the sun beaming down on the city of Portland caused temperatures to hit record highs in the 100s. That was an even deeper incentive, I thought, to attend an event centered around some of Portland's finest distilled spirits that would be concocted by a few of the city's most creative mixologists, served cold, and most likely both shaken, and stirred.

Hosted by the Oregon Bartenders Guild (OBG) and held at Hobnob Grille in SE Portland, the OBG Mixology Competition challenged six Oregon bartenders to create their own signature drinks in a two-round competition utilizing Oregon-crafted spirits all in a benefit for Schoolhouse Supplies, a school supply store that offers free educational materials for Portland-area teachers.

The chosen mixologists: Bradley Dawson, Belly Timber; Sue Erickson, Ping; Kinn Edwards, Aqua (Corvallis); Evan Zimmerman, Laurelhurst Market, Jacob Grier, Carlyle; and Alison Dykes, Lincoln had one week to develop two cocktails, each made with a specific Oregon spirit. The cocktails would be judged in two rounds by all attendees in the categories of presentation, taste, aroma, and originality.

The bar stools were full and the restaurant's booths fashioned eager attendees waiting to sip our three-ounce samples of each creation. All situated behind the bar's counter, the bartenders appeared to be a team of one as they all pitched in and assisted one another prepping pours and passing out libations of each cocktail one by one.

A few of the competitors awaiting Round 1

The evening's featured Oregon spirits

The featured spirits of the evening (not necessarily in this order):
Suake River Stampede

And the evening continued on in that fashion. As we continued to sip samples (which seemed to grow larger than three ounces by night's end) and enjoy Hobnob nibbles, the conversations grew, laughs became more prominent, and all in attendance appeared to enjoy a fun night for a great cause.

I must say I was blown away to see some labels that I had previously never seen. It was a fun exploration into Oregon spirits that truly brought home the fact that Portland (and Oregon in general) is not only a mecca for fabulous food, but also an incredibly viable player in the boxing ring of delectable spirits.

A few more pics from the night, including the winners!

Bradley Dawson explains his first concoction to the crowd:
the Strawpocolypse Balsamic Redux made with Elemental Vodka

Sue Erickson introduces her Sunshine in My Soul
(and that's exactly what it tasted like!)
Made with Martin Ryan Vodka

Jacob Grier describes his Vigallager made with Organic Nation Gin

Round 1 cocktails on display

The night's Third Place Winner!: Bradley Dawson

Second Place!: Evan Zimmerman

And First Place went to...
Jacob Grier of Carlyle

All bartenders in a perfect end to the competition, the celebratory toast.

Fun night for an excellent cause.



The Sights of Saturdays

Saturdays, by far, are my absolute favorite day of the week. Probably for most, it's the first official do-whatever-you-want day of the week. Mine tend to vary from getting up early for 8:00am Spinning class to just allowing myself a slow morning and letting the day take me wherever it decides I should go.

Today was the slow morning. No alarm set. Woke up when the body was ready. Made a nice cup of hot water with lemon. Gave the condo some needed attention, and then sat and pondered what the day would bring. We've been so lucky (in my opinion) to have some gorgeous sunshine gleaming down on the Rose City for a few weeks now, which lead me to believe that my day would take me on some adventure outside. And it did.

I will admit that I don't always get to my local farmers' markets as often as I should, but I have made it to a few over the past couple of weeks. I'm just not sure that there is anything else that can inspire a food lover like a visit to an amazing farmers' market. The sights of ultra-fresh, local produce and incredible eats never fail to leave my jaw nearly hitting my chest, and my eyes dancing at all there is to look at. Below are some snapshots I've taken from some visits to the Beaverton and Portland Farmers Markets over the past couple of weeks. Take a peak, and make a visit soon...before the sun goes down.

Could these be any more gorgeous?
Italian artichokes, grown in Tillamook. Beaverton FM.

And the baby Italian arties

Beets. I've had many roasted beet salads lately.
I need to buy to make roasted beets at home.
Beaverton FM.

Fresh basil. Beaverton FM.

Wild and crazy fresh garlic. Beaverton FM.

I think these are Mitrula mushrooms.
I failed to jot down the name.
Portland FM.

The most gorgeous tomatoes.
Honestly, people were just gawking at them and asking if they were real.
Boy were they a pretty penny, though.
Beaveton FM.

Always elegant hydrangea.
Lots of lovely florals available too.
Portland FM.



Back to Basics

Often times it seems I find myself in a routine spending night after night enjoying happy hours and late-night dining out in restaurants. Though fun and an absolute must-do activity in the city I currently call home (Portland, OR), the non-stop ingesting of delectable cocktails and highly praised happy hour food around town can wreak havoc on the body.

I remember just a couple of weeks ago it seemed that my body literally said, "Stop! Fresh fruit? Fresh vegetables? Feed them to me." So I decided to listen, and for the past few weeks have been working my way back to basics; eating fresh fruit, vegetables and lean proteins. It's a nice change and one that always reminds me of how good just the basics can be. And (yes, I know this may sound a bit nerdy) it can actually be fun tasting, say, broccoli that's drowning in cheese sauce and an avocado without the salty, high-fat tortilla chips to dip with.

Tonight I was craving something light and simple for dinner. In my cupboard I remembered I had a stash of some dried white beans (Il Fagiolo di Controne) from the Controne region of Italy. They are produced by Michele Ferrante and imported into the U.S. via RITROVO SELECTIONS (full disclosure: RITROVO is a company that I've done public relations work for). These beans are unique in that they only require a 2-2.5 hour cooking time. Usually dried beans call for an hour of soaking prior to cooking. A friend of mine, Catie, who also works for the company, insisted I give them a try and promised, just as the packaging said, about 2.5 hours cooking time and I'd be good to go.

She was right, and they were great. I simply opened the air-tight package of beans, added them to a pot and covered them with cool water. I brought them to a boil and then turned the heat down to low and let them sit for 2.5 hours, without disturbing them even once.

Controne beans waiting to be cooked

Viola! Just 2.5 hours later

I decided to finish them off with a little extra virgin olive oil, a few slices of avocado, some Parmesan shavings and a sprinkle of sea salt. Delish. They were a perfect end to a Sunday evening.

Simple pleasures

How basic can you get?




If you've followed my blog for a while you know that I'm pretty honest when it comes to expressing my need to be re-inspired, reinvigorated, renewed. I tend to allow life to take me off track, and well, I've just learned it's the way I am. It happens, and more often than I'd like to admit, I need to come back to refocus on what's important.

But I'm always looking to get back, and truly stay on a road that delivers passion and joy to my life each and every day.

I've been reaching back out to the foodie world after a stint back in the real world at a PR firm. Though my recent employer was a great place to work, I feel that I can be honest and just say that the work I was doing just wasn't fulfilling. I'm now back freelancing in PR and looking to do more writing as well as exploring the other pathways in the food world.

In an effort to keep my mind learning I decided to contact my former culinary school, Western Culinary Institute, to inquire on auditing some classes. As I was chatting with the gentleman on the other end of the phone he had mentioned that my name sounded familiar. And then he figured it out. I did an interview for a Success Story about why I had come to WCI, and they use it now in new-student packets that they send out to let prospective students see that there are many reasons why people choose to attend culinary school. I had heard of this, and, of course, remember doing the interview, but didn't recall ever seeing the published version. He sent it to me; there is a link to it below.

It was so refreshing to read and caused that light bulb that's been so dim for so long to go off in my head. It was definitely what I needed to read.

Learning, exploring, and sharing my experiences in the culinary world is just simply where I'm suppose to be. I'm very happy to be finding my way back.


Le Cordon Bleu Schools Success Stories – Jennifer Fields

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A Really Goode Fit

For the past two years you've followed me as I took you on a journey throughout my rigorous training in culinary school, as well as my adventures in exploring the culinary world around me.

Now the next step has come. I've officially applied to vie for the spot of the Murphy-Goode Social Media Correspondent at Murphy-Goode Winery in Sonoma, Calif. I couldn't be more excited as the job is an absolute perfect fit, and I know it's the right next step as I move along on my journey of writing about food...and wine!

Update 6/20: The videos have been updated on the Murphy-Goode site. You can view my video here: http://www.areallygoodejob.com/video-view.aspx?vid=ism0mz_Fino and cast your vote.

I look forward to taking you through the world of Murphy-Goode.



Turning the burners down

I'm coming up on the two-year anniversary from when I started this blog, which began just as I made the decision to attend culinary school here in Portland, Oregon. I've documented my journey through school, my desire to write my way into the world of food writing and my random explorations into the culinary world.

Over the last few months my postings have been a bit sporadic, and the content has shifted away from what I've truly wanted it to be. I've decided to officially call a hiatus and take a break from the blog and refocus on a few other things in my daily life.

In the meantime, for any of you who are on Twitter, you can follow me here: www/twitter.com/savor, where I'll continue to post my musings in 140 characters or less with foodies from all over the globe.

I will be back with laptop in my lap and more adventures to document along the way.

Until then, happy eats and remember to savor every little bit life that comes your way each and every day.



Getting it right from the top

A native Californian and still a worshiper of the sun, I oftentimes get blue in the gloom of Portland's dark, cloudy and rainy days. Trust me, I spend countless amounts of time day dreaming about the perfect part of the world to relocate to and bask in 80-degree, sun-drenched weather day in and day out.

For now I'm Portland-based, and with my recent focus over the past couple of years to the world of food, I could not think of a better place to be. I sit within 25 minutes of Oregon's burgeoning wine county, about an hour from it's one-of-a-kind coastline that sits to the west, and can go east for an hour to reach it's snow-draped mountain peaks and log-cabin resorts.

In between sits the Willamette Valley which boasts an incredible myriad of local perveyors that haunt our award-winning collection of restaurants, local grocery stores and area farmers' markets. We're in one of the most fortunate locations in the United States that has the ability to savor an abundance of locally grown and locally produced high-quality foods right in our own backyard.

That's why I have to admit that I was a tad proud after reading an article today that I stumbled upon at the New York Times online. Since Day 1, our new first lady hasn't held back on communicating her thoughts for what she expects to come out of her new kitchen.

If you've been paying attention, you've probably noticed since the first day she took stage--those incredibly toned biceps! And I've heard that her husband (our new leader of the free world) still is quite religious in keeping his morning running routine. This family is fit and is very outspoken in their promotion of a healthy lifestyle. What's more, the Mrs. is a huge supporter of using locally grown fresh fruits, vegetables and overall more nutritous products being served in the White House, and across the nation.

From the NY Times article:

In a speech at the Department of Agriculture last month, Mrs. Obama described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens that provide “fresh fruits and vegetables for so many communities across this nation and world.”

To read the full article click here.

Photo by Keven Lamarque/Reuters

The story also stated that locally grown goods have been served in the White House for quite some time under the last administration. For some reason it just wasn't touted. It's a great stance that's being taken from the top by our country's leaders to communicate to the rest of the nation the importance of eating locally and healthfully. Looks like change just continues to chug along these days...

And for me, for now I'll stop my whining about the cold days and grey skies. The rain leads to gorgeous summers, lucious greenery and lots of colorful fruits and vegetables that I get to enjoy all year round--and at best during the spring/summer farmers' markets! As for the sunshine and 80 degrees? Those conditions will continue to scream, PTO (Personal Time Off)!




Time for happy hours and cocktails

Now yes, I know it seems that everywhere we turn we're faced with some terrible news that we're in a recession, that business are closing left and right and that we might as well bury our heads under our pillows and forget about seeing the sunshine of hope ever again.

Well, for me, that last part is just too ridiculous for words. I think that it's this time where it's more important than ever to get out, spend some time with good friends and take some weight of those stressed shoulders with some good food and spirits. And in turn, support the local economy...just a tad.

Below are a couple of good excuses to get out and give yourself that much-needed break you deserve. Round up a few friends, family members, or your significant other and go spend some time with a few smiles on your face.

Nostrana restaurant recently introduced a new $5 or less happy hour menu featuring savory plates from its hand crafted, local menu offered every night of the week from 9 p.m. 'til close.

The menu includes wine, beer, authentic wood-fired Italian pizzas, the signature Insalata Nostrana and more.The perfect dinner for two for less than $20, Nostrana's happy hour menu boasts carefully selected wines and full-size entrées - culinary treats that won Executive Chef Cathy Whims a James Beard semi-finalist nomination this year.The complete happy hour menu follows below.

l'ora dell'aperitivo - happy hour
Pizza Margherita - house-made mozzarella, tomato and basil - $5
Pizza Marinara - tomato, garlic and oregano - $5
Charcuterie - selection of artisanal and house-made meats with accoutrements - $5
Insalata Nostrana - radicchio and Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary and sage croutons in a Caesar style dressing - $5
Olive Plate - $3
Bar Nuts - $3
From the rooster bar:
Moretti pale lager - $3
Hales' Red Menace amber ale - $3
Campari & soda - $4
White or red wine by the glass - $5

Nostrana's Happy Hour is available nightly from 9 p.m. to close with a one-drink minimum. Nostrana is located at 1401 SE Morrison, Portland 97214. For more information call 503.234.2427 or visit Nostrana online at http://www.nostrana.com/.

House Spirits Distillery, makers of Aviation Gin, have been running a series of Wednesday-night happy hour events the distillery calls Recession Proof Mixology (RPM). Every Wednesday, the House Spirits crew visits a different venue around Portland. The talented bartenders at each venue mix up some of the most unbelievable cocktails you'll ever taste with House Spirits' locally produced libations. Throw in the restaurant's happy hour menu and you'll experience a fun evening of food and drink that won't break your bank.

This week's RPM will be hosted at Bar Avignon located on SE Division Street in Portland. The evenings usually run from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., but I'd suggest calling as each venue's time may be different.

RPM is hosted every Wednesday night, and the venue changes each week. The group plans to continue RPM through 2009. Those of you on Facebook can visit the list of upcoming restaurants where you can catch RPM by typing Recession Proof Mixology in the search box in the top right-hand corner of your profile page. Or for further information on the next RPM contact matt@housespirits.com.



Around Town

With Portland's restaurant scene burgeoning at the seams, it's a wonder how so many places stay top-of-mind with those looking to fill their growling appetites. Below are two unique programs that would catch any foodie's--or pet lover's--eye from a couple of female chefs on Portland's long list of "Ones to Watch" that I wanted to share.

Jenn Louis and her team at Lincoln are at it again. Louis recently launched a series of three-course dinners that range from $25 to $30 per plate and puts 12 lucky diners on 12 plush stools around her kitchen table for an up close and personal, and I'd say special, dining experience amongst the magic that happens behind the scenes.

Diners can call ahead and reserve a single spot at the table, or reserve all 12 spots for a group of their most favorite foodie friends.

From Lincoln:
To make a reservation, please call 503-232-4675. Here's this week's dinners.

Thursday, March 5: $25

Arugula with blood oranges, pear, almonds and citrus vinaigrette
Pork shoulder with soft polenta and roasted onions
Chocolate slumpcake with nibs and crème fraiche

Friday, March 6: $30
Roasted beets with fromage blanc and salsa verde
Bourride of clams, mussels, true cod, potatoes and fennel
Chocolate espresso cake with maldon salt and crème fraiche

Saturday, March 7: $30
Fried fennel with lemon aioli
Puree of cauliflower soup with porcini charlotte
Braised flank steak with olives, red onion and potato gratin
Almond cake with poached pears

Sunday March 8, $25
Chicken curry with chickpeas and garam masala
Green cabbage with mustard seeds and ginger
Apple and carrot raita
Basmati rice
Vanilla ice cream with butterscotch

Did she say braised flank steak with olives, red onion and potato gratin? I think I also saw two of my favorite words used together: lemon + aioli? Sign me up!

Dinners start at 7 pm. Please call 503-232-4675 for reservations.

Space is limited; if you find yourselves without any dinner plans late in the day, they may have some last minute cancellations.

"TLC" Pet Mingle
The second special event I recently came across was from chef Courtney Sproule, mastermind behind Portland's din din dining series of intimate dinners hosted at a variety of the city's venues. Sproule has joined forces in a collaborative effort with local photographer Tim Gunther, Liz Kay, owner of I Walk the Vine wine t-shirt company and Will West, a local singer-songwriter.

The collaboration is a benefit for Dove Lewis, Portland's nonprofit emergency animal hospital.

What's more? You get to bring your pet and have your picture taken--with your pet--by Tim himself. And this mingle comes at an unheard of cost--just $10! Ten dollars to bask in food and wine pairings from Sproule, have your pic taken with your best friend and get exclusive access to Liz's designs? I need to borrow a pet!

Further information from Sproule and team:

Pet Mingle
March 14th
3:00 – 6:00 PM

an afternoon of good food, wine,
live music & photography

· Portland photographer Tim Gunther will capture you & your pet.

· Wine & food pairings by din din's Courtney Sproule.

· Live music by singer-songwriter Will West.

· Silent auction – music, food, wine, vet packages.

· Trunk show with I Walk the Vine apparel.

Ticket proceeds will benefit Dove Lewis Animal Hospital.
Tickets are $10 - this includes all of the above!
Limited amount will be sold so buy early.

Tim Gunther Studios
917 NW 19TH, suite E
Portland OR, 97209
½ block south of Lovejoy

Purchase tickets by clicking here
Or call 503.547.5833

Get out and enjoy what's going on around town!



Portland Farmers' Market

Oy! The time is nearly upon us. I was perusing the Travel Portland site yesterday looking through the city's calendar of events. There I saw it. The kick off of the Portland Farmers' Market, held in the PSU park blocks, is just a few weeks away.

The PFM is such a fun way to enjoy the beauty of downtown amidst the hundreds of local vendors who participate. The market also features fun events like guest chef demonstrations, which add even more liveliness to the scene.

Photo from 2008 Portland Farmers' Market

The market runs from March through December, and admission is free.



Iron Chef potluck: battle winter squash

A La Cuisine! That's usually the phrase hailed to officially begin the challenge of Iron Chef America on the Food Network. Translated, it means 'to the cooking' and is the big hint that begins the furry of running at mach speed in the kitchen to make award-winning cuisine.

A few weeks ago I received an Evite invitation to an Iron Chef potluck. How inventive and fun, I thought! We would be provided with the secret ingredient just a few days before the party, as well as the specific dish we were to prepare. I will admit, when I first received the invite, I was a little nervous. True, I had done my own Iron Chef (Black Box) at school, which served as the final test in my formal culinary education, but it's been a while since I've cooked for competition reasons. Would there be more pressure given the fact that I am actually a culinary school grad? What level of creativity did I expect of myself? Or should I just go with the 'simple is best' scenario?

Iron Chef potluck, battle: winter squash.

We received the secret ingredient Wednesday evening (the potluck was scheduled for Saturday). Winter squash? Lovely. I love squash as there is such a huge variety available, and throughout all seasons. And, my dish was a soup or salad. I thought soup was sort of the obvious and, to be honest, what most people would turn to. I decided on a salad as I thought it would lend itself to a more colorful, interesting presentation.

My squash of choice? Acorn. I love the deep green, sometimes green with orange mixed in, outside of this member of the gourd family. And the orange inside makes for a gorgeous site roasted or grilled.

I immediately thought back to a recipe I once saw for an Acorn squash and Gorgonzola pizza by Giada de Larentiis. What she did with her Acorn squash for the pizza was my inspiration for how I would cook mine for the salad. Note: as this was something I was putting together on a whim, some of the measurements below are estimates.

My ingredients-
For the squash:
2 1.5-lb Acorn squash
4 Tbsp Sugar-free maple syrup
2 Tbsp Olive oil
TT Kosher salt
TT Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
7 oz Baby romaine lettuce
1/3 C (or desired) Black currants
1/3 C (or desired) sliced almonds
1 ea Fennel bulb, cut lengthwise into paper-thin slices
1 C White truffle balsamic glace
1/2 C Good olive oil
1/4 C White wine vinegar
1/4 tsp Granulated sugar
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp Freshly ground black pepper

For the squash, preheat over to 375 degrees. Take the Acorn squash and cut it lengthwise in half. Scoop out the insides to make a hollow center. Lay the squash flesh side up and cut crosswise making 1/2-inch half-moon slices. In a bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Place the sliced squash in a large bowl and drizzle the maple syrup mixture over the. Gently toss with a spoon, or the best kitchen instrument; your [clean] hands. Lay the maple mixture-covered squash flat on a non-stick baking sheet and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

While the squash was baking, I prepped the other ingredients, which quite honestly, did not take too long. With the fennel bulb, I cut off the green roots and sliced the white part lengthwise into paper-thin slices. I set those in a bowl of cold water and kept them in the fridge until I was ready to dress the salad. I made the vinaigrette by combining the white truffle glace, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper and whisking while I drizzled in the olive oil. The salad was rinsed and spun dry in a salad spinner and the almonds were store-bought sliced.

Once the squash was ready, I removed them from the oven and let them rest until they were cool enough to pick up. I removed the flesh from the delicious insides and cut each piece into roughly 1-inch chunks.

Once the squash cooled even further, I began to assemble the salad. The squash was absolutely wonderful warm, but I was hesitant to add all of it as I thought it might contribute to wilting the salad greens. Also, I planned to not add the dressing until just before serving for the same reason.

Voilà! Iron Chef potluck salad acorn squash ready to go!

I arrived at the potluck 30 minutes late, of course, but was somehow not the only one behind schedule. There were other courses already cooking in the host's stove and the house was smelling absolutely amazing. We were all so eager to see what each had done.

Upon taking our seats and a graciously assembled and decorated set of tables dressed to hold a party of 15, we were immediately provided with score cards. Wow, this is serious! Each dish will be scored one by one.
Below are some shots of the other dishes. Sadly enough, I failed to confiscate my scorecard back, hence my lack of remembering what each dish was.
The Amuse Bouche

The Appetizer

The Salad

The Main Course

The Desert

And the winners of Iron Chef potluck were...
3rd Place...potluck Appetizer!

2nd Place...potluck Amuse Bouche

And 1st Place went to...potluck Acorn squash salad! I was too excited, couldn't believe it and was so honored.

Me and my prize: a HUGE tub of margarita mix and two freezer-bound mugs!

It was fun getting back in the kitchen again for what was a friendly competition. The potluck was a riot and such a great idea for a fun dinner party. I'd highly recommend creating a version of it for your next home get-together.


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