Sunday, October 31, 2010

Story of the Lamb; The Conclusion

The Lamb Ragu, in a word, was wonderful. What can I say, I rocked on this one. (Allow me a moment to gloat). Ah, OK, I am better now. Before we move to the conclusion of the story, a brief digression. I must have way too much time on my hands, as I am not only blogging more than any month in the past, but posting multiple photographs of the cooking process. I guess I am inspired by my dear friend, Liz. I am also feeling good even though I am almost half way through my radiation treatments. And by the way, Liz... we set a place for you last night, but you didn't show up. Your loss I guess. We would have loved to have you come down all the way from Atlanta to share in this meal. (Grin)

As Paul Harvey use to say "Page 2: the rest of the story" .
When we left off on Friday, the lamb ragu was ready for the refrigerator, waiting on the final re-heat on Saturday. Before dinner could be served, the pasta had to be made. Just two eggs and 1 1/4 cups of flour, a little mixing, kneading, rolling in the pasta machine, and the pasta was ready to cut into 3/4" wide strips of pappardelle. 
Flour, Eggs and Cranking
The pasta was cut and allowed to dry until ready to use.
It is dinner time. As the ragu was re-heating and the pasta water was coming to a boil, Frank made and we devoured a lovely Frisee Salad with walnuts in a light lemon and olive oil dressing topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Quality ingredients, simply prepared... it doesn't get any better. 

The final touch: As the sauce was heating and the papperdelle was boiling, I added approximately 1/4 cup heavy cream to the ragu. There is a lot of controversy in Bologna over adding or not adding milk or cream to Ragu Bolognese. I opted on the adding side of the issue and feel it was a good choice. 

Let's eat!

The ragu had a wonderful richness and earthiness. The use of the baby bella mushrooms, IMHO added to the intensity of the sauce. And the addition of the cream added a smoothness. 

Delicioso !!!

Wine: From the Willamette Valley stash, Frank selected the Penner-Ash 2008 Bella Vide Vineyard Pinot Noir which was a nice accompaniment to the lamb ragu.

End of the story !

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mary Had a Little Lamb

She must have, it is in the book. (If that is a quizzical look on your face right now, then that would be the Mary Had a Little Lamb book.) I didn't have a little lamb, I only had two lamb shanks. And I wanted to turn them into lamb ragu. Today the ragu was created, tomorrow the pasta will be made (pappardelle) and all served for a nice meal at home. You will note the recipe calls for rigatoni but I plan on making my own pappardelle pasta. The rigatoni would work just fine, but we had Lamb Ragu with Pappardelle in Prague at Kogo (an wonderful Italian restaurant) so i am trying to recreate that memory.

First, a look at my new recipe holder. OK, so it is just a piece of scotch tape holding the recipe to my kitchen cabinet, but hey, it works. And it is off the limited counter space I have and at eye level, which for my eyes and my progressive bifocals is very helpful.
Ready to make the Lamb Ragu

Next, the lamb was seared, and the various ingredients prepped. 
Let's Cook
After braising in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, the shanks were allowed to cool, and the meat removed from the bone. 

The meat was returned to the sauce, and refrigerated until ready to use tomorrow.

Results will be available over the weekend. Hopefully with more photographs at the request of one of my faithful readers who shall remain nameless, (Liz).

Rigatoni with Braised Lamb Ragù
Bon Appétit | November 1998
Yield: Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 lamb shanks (each about 3/4 pound)
2 cups chopped onions
1 pound small button mushrooms, halved
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2cup dry white wine
3 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes in purée

1 1/4 pounds rigatoni pasta

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over high heat. Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown on all sides, about 12 minutes. Transfer lamb shanks to platter. Add onions, mushrooms, garlic, basil, rosemary and crushed red pepper to pot and sauté until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Return lamb to pot. Add wine and boil until liquid has evaporated, about 6 minutes. Add 3 cups beef stock and tomatoes to pot; return to boil.
Cover pot, transfer to oven and bake until lamb is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Using tongs, transfer lamb to large bowl. Cool 10 minutes. Cut meat off bones into generous 1/2-inch pieces (discard bones). Return meat to sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold; cover and keep refrigerated. Re-warm over medium-low heat before continuing.)
Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain well. Transfer pasta to large serving bowl. Spoon sauce over pasta. Serve, passing Parmesan cheese separately.

My comments:

  • I prepared the ragu one day ahead, which I would recommend. Pasta sauce like this always seem to taste better the next day, IMHO.
  • I prepared 1/2 recipe for two of us - adjust accordingly. I had two lamb shanks which weighed in at just over two pounds, from “ It will cost you a pound of flesh” Fresh Market.
  • I used Baby Portobello mushrooms instead of button, hoping for a touch more earthy delight.
  • I use imported canned San Marzano Pealed Whole Tomatoes (Cento Brand) and crushed them by hand before adding to the pot. You have to become one with the food.
  • I also added approximately 1 tablespoon of tomato paste before adding the liquid for additional flavor and richness.

Torta Photo

Torta di Nocciole e Cioccolata
The Result
Served with fresh raspberries and a dusting of powdered sugar

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Baking Again

Many years ago, I would host an annual Christmas Dessert Party at the old bungalow on Suwanee. I would not allow anyone to bring anything; I had to make all the desserts, usually 8 to 10 different ones. And they could not be repeats from prior years. The parties were a big hit, especially since dessert was served with sparkling and non-sparkling wines, and of course coffee before everyone departed. I think at the peak there were 20+ people attending and each left with a collection of the recipes. 

All this is a lead in to my return to baking, which I have not done seriously in a couple of years. No, I have no intention of resurrecting the dessert party, but I was inspired reading my friend Liz's blog and her baking escapades. Also I had a request from Frank to make the Torta di Nocciole e Cioccolata (Hazelnut Chocolate Cake) which I have made a number of time in the past and was one of the hits from the parties. I had a copy of the recipe in my recipe notebook but I could not remember where it come from. I just happened to be looking in some old cookbooks earlier this week, and found the recipe in Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano. The book is falling apart from years of use. She had a cooking show years ago, and was one of my favorites. I can now give proper credit for the recipe. Thanks to the Internet, I just found that she still has a restaurant in Sacramento, CA, called Biba. (<--- click the link to check it out). I miss her TV shows; that was real cooking, not "entertainment"

The torta just came out of the oven and smells great. 

Torta di Nocciole e Cioccolata
Hazelnut Chocolate Cake
From Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano

Serves 10 - 12

6 ounces whole hazelnuts
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
1 cup granulated sugar
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup dark rum
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
6 large egg whites, beaten in a large bowl until stiff peaks form
Confectioners’ sugar for garnish.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring-form cake pan, shaking off any excess.

Place the hazelnuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet and back until lightly golden 3 to 4 minutes. Wrap the hazelnuts in a large kitchen towel and rub off as much skin as possible. Put the hazelnuts in a food processor and chop them into fine pieces. (Be careful not to process them into a powder.)

In a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the egg yolks, whole egg and sugar at high speed until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the hazelnuts, chocolate and run and mix into the eggs. Add the flour slowly, beating gently to incorporate. (The batter should have a soft, somewhat loose consistency.) Fold in the egg whites thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the buttered cake pan, level the top with a spatula, and back until the cake is golden brown and a thin knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out just slightly moist, 30 – 40 minutes.

Cool to room temperature, remove from the pan, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve

My comments: 

  • I find it very hard to remove all of the skin from the hazelnuts and 3 to 4 minutes was not enough time in the oven to get them golden. I ended up leaving them in about 8 minutes or so, but still ended up with some skin. I don't think it is a big deal, but this is probably the most work of the recipe. (Any suggestions Liz, other than having a friend in Washington state ship you hazelnuts with the skin already removed?)
  • For the chocolate, I used Valrhona Manjari, dark chocolate with 64% cacao, but I think any really good quality semi-sweet chocolate would work. 

Olive Kitteridge

I recently finished the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. It is a collection of 13 stories based in a small coastal town in Maine, all tied together by the title character, Olive. She is a retired mathematics teacher, hence my attraction to the book. But that is as far as the math got. Unlike most of the reviewers, and the Pulitzer committee, I was not wowed by the book. It was a nice, pleasant read, and had a lot to say about human character, but I did not like Olive, which makes it hard to like the book overall. I thought she was highly opinionated and pushy and held herself above most of the people in the town. Hey, that is just my opinion. For a different take on the book, read the review from eNotes (<-- click link)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Puff, the Magic Dragon

Puff it is not, but magical it is. I am not one to brag about iPhone applications but this one is somewhat amazing. I downloaded an application called Dragon dictation. It is a voice recognition software which allows you to speak into the phone and have it transcribed into text for later inclusion into an e-mail. One difficulty is remembering to add punctuation so the punctuation is properly placed in the text. This post is being created using the Dragon dictation software. At least it is somewhat easier than typing on a virtual keyboard on the iPhone. Naturally some minor corrections are required, but overall the accuracy is good.

Thanks to my friend Carol in Mount Dora for finding this application and recommending it to me.

That's all I am really "saying".

Sent from IPhone

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It Was Just Ducky!

Duck, one of my favorite foods, was the central ingredient in a nice dinner I prepared for Frank and me last evening. The new Fresh Market carries fresh duck breast from D'Artagnan. I only needed one duck breast as it weighed in at just over one pound, plenty of duck for two of us. We started the evening with a Frank-prepared Frisee salad with warm panko crusted goat cheese and a lovely Dijon vinaigrette dressing. Frank is the king of the salad. The main course was Seared Duck Breast with Cherries and Port Sauce (recipe from / Bon Appetit follows) which came out great. This was served with individual potato gratin, and Liz's Broccoli Almondine. Both made nice accompaniments to the duck. We paired the meal with one of the wines we picked up on our recent Willamette Valley journey; the Dobbs Family Estate 2006 Griffin's Cuvee Pinot Noir. The intense tannins blended perfectly with the richness of the duck. Unfortunately, dessert was a minor disappointment. I opted for purchased Creme Brulee from The Fresh Market, but the entire custard warmed up in my attempt to caramelize the sugar crust. The flavor was fine, but the custard should still be chilled. Oh well, the decaf espresso from my new illy espresso machine was a fine conclusion to a lovely dinner. 

Seared Duck Breast with Cherries and Port Sauce
Bon Appétit | June 2009
by Diane Rossen Worthington
Yield: Makes 2 servings

2 5-to 6-ounce duck breast halves or one 12-to 16-ounce duck breast half

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled butter, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot (about 1 large)
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
8 halved pitted sweet red cherries, fresh or frozen, thawed
2 tablespoons tawny Port
1 tablespoon orange blossom honey

Place duck breast halves between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Pound lightly to even thickness (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch). Discard plastic wrap. Using sharp knife, score skin in 3/4-inch diamond pattern (do not cut into flesh). DO AHEAD: Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Add duck, skin side down, to skillet and cook until skin is browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn duck breasts over, reduce heat to medium, and cook until browned and cooked to desired doneness, about 4 minutes longer for small breasts and 8 minutes longer for large breast for medium-rare. Transfer to work surface, tent with foil to keep warm, and let rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour off all but 2 tablespoons drippings from skillet. Add shallot to skillet and stir over medium heat 30 seconds. Add broth, cherries, Port, and honey. Increase heat to high and boil until sauce is reduced to glaze, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Whisk in 1 tablespoon cold butter. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice duck. Fan slices out on plates. Spoon sauce over and serve.

My comments: 

  • Some of the reviews from Epicurious mentioned that the sauce needed more than 3 minutes to reduce and recommended preparing the sauce ahead of the duck being completed. I did that, but not sure it is a big deal since the duck needs to rest about 10 minutes and by that time the sauce should be reduced. But I started the sauce with 1 tablespoon of butter and sauteed the shallot for a minute, then added the rest of the ingredients. I let it reduce while the duck cooked, then added some of the pan drippings to the sauce while the duck was resting (it was a tired little ducky). I also added any accumulated juices from the resting duck to the final sauce. The sauce was not overly sweet, just a hint of sweetness from the cherries and honey. I also used maybe 4 tablespoons of port instead of the 2 recommended in the recipe. 
  • Due to the size of the duck breast, I had to finish it in a 375-degree oven to get it up to medium rare temperature. It was nicely seared on both sided before I put it in the oven.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ted Turner's Bison Burgers

I just returned from Tallahassee, Florida after a quick 24 hour trip. Frank had to teach a class there this morning, so I decided to tag along with him since I had not been to Tallahassee in many years, and it seemed like a nice quick get-away before I start another round of treatments. We stayed at the very urban and hip (yes, even in Tallahassee) Hotel Duval, just a few blocks from the Florida State Capitol. The Level 8 Lounge is on the top/8th floor with an outdoor patio overlooking the city. We just happened to find ourselves at Level 8 after the long drive from Tampa and late evening arrival. We enjoyed a couple of drinks, appetizers, and the view. The hotel decor is very contemporary with nice black slate tile accent walls throughout, including the rooms. Each floor had a different color theme. which is used sparingly in the art work and an accent wall in the room. 
Lunch today was at Ted's Montana Grill, a first for us. We stopped based on a strong recommendation from my nephew and FSU fan, Biff who had dinner there last weekend. It is a chain owned in part by Ted Turner. The menu has a large variety of burger preparations, which you can order with beef, bison, chicken, or vegetable burgers. They also serve steaks (beef or bison), bison meatloaf, as well as fish, and chicken options. For dinner on weekends, they offer Bison short ribs and Bison Prime Rib. Biff enjoyed the short ribs. I had to have the basic bison burger with Swiss cheese and a side of "Salt & Pepper Onion Rings". Frank ordered the Delicious Duo from the special $8 lunch menu. This was two smaller burgers, one beef and the other bison, served with fresh cut French fries. I really liked my bison, especially since it was a perfect rare to medium rare. Frank enjoyed his meal which gave him an opportunity to compare and contrast the two meats. He declared both good, with the bison being leaner, hence a tad less juicy and slightly less tasty. Isn't it the fat that gives burgers the great flavor anyway. Both were seasoned nicely so each satisfied his taste buds. The fresh cut and fried onion rings and French fries were great, although I personally think the fries won out, but not by much.

That's my story and I am sticking to it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Portland Photographs

Before the Portland in Photographs post falls off the front page of the blog, the link to the Picasa album has been moved to the right sidebar. Here it will remain easily accessible with links to other recent travel photographs.

At Last

The Fresh Market finally opened in St. Petersburg last week. While it is not downtown, it is only a few miles up 4th Street North. It is probably a little too close for my own good. I already stopped there Friday evening to pick up some pate and cheeses. Wonderful stuff, I say.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prime Times Two

The quest continues... our friend Karen has included us in her quest to try most of the dishes on the St. Petersburg Times "40 Dishes Worth Relishing". We have checked off a number of them over the past months and we checked off two more this evening. 

Prime #1: The Cucumber Gimlet at Ocean Prime. I am not a mixed drink drinker, except for an occasional mojito or margarita, so a gimlet was a new one for me. I didn't even know what went into a gimlet until tonight. After tasting it, who cares. It was very good, and you could taste the muddled cucumber and lime more than the gin. I just added a third drink to my mixed drink repertoire. To quote the St. Petersburg Times, "It softens the heavy botanical, lavender notes and peppery finish of Bombay Sapphire with cooling, muddled fresh cucumber and a squirt of lime." We accompanied the gimlets with a couple very nice appetizers, the fried calamari and a cheese fondue. Enjoy the drinks and food at reduced prices during their Prime Hour, 4 to 6 PM weekdays.

Prime #2: The Prime Beef Hamburger at Fleming's Prime Steak House. This was a great juicy burger. It comes with bacon, and a choice of swiss, cheddar, or blue cheese. We all opted for the blue cheese, which I loved, but Frank thought was a touch overpowering. We washed it down with a glass of wine. This was a steal by the way. Fleming's offers a "5 for $6 til 7" bar menu. There is a choice of 5 cocktails, 5 wines, and 5 appetizers or the Prime Burger, each priced at $6 until 7:00 PM. Six bucks for this burger is a real deal. 

Good drinks, good food, and good friends... it doesn't get any better.

That's all I'm saying !

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Patagonian Toothfish By Any Other Name

Before I start a fishy tail (or tale), a couple of announcements. First, I have been using red/bold text for links to other Websites. Beginning with this post, I will use blue/bold text to indicate links. This is more in keeping with the standard that most of us see.  Also, if you find any broken links, please let me know. And second, your comments are always appreciated. Just click on the "comment" link at the end of each post. I monitor the comments, and they will not appear on the blog until I bless them.

Now, for the tale of the Patagonian Toothfish. I was searching for a nice quick and easy fish recipe in my friend Liz's "Recipe from Home" collection and came across a recipe for Baked Fish with Moroccan Spices, which sounded good and satisfied the criteria of quick and easy. Liz recommended using either halibut or mahi-mahi. I on the other hand, was a bad person, and visited Mazzaro's, where I purchased two lovely fillets of Chilean Sea Bass.  I was bad for purchasing a fish that is being over-fished and not recommended if you are concerned about sustainability. While that is important to me, at times, I cave in, as I did this week. Now, to complete the circle, the actual name of the Chilean Sea Bass is, you guessed it, Patagonian Toothfish. The name change was a marketing gimmick to make the fish sound more appealing. Can you imagine going to a restaurant and ordering Patagonian Toothfish? Click on the link to read the Wikipedia entry if you so desire. 

The fish came out great, with wonderful spicy flavors. Since my fillets were two inches thick, I had to increase the cooking time from the recipe (written for 1" fillets). I served it with another of Liz's recipes for Fresh Spinach with Cumin. The spinach was a nice complement to the fish. 

Here are the recipes (thank you Liz):

Baked Fish with Moroccan Spices
Serves 8

Olive Oil
8 6-8 oz fish fillets, each about 1-inch thick (halibut or mahi-mahi)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Lime wedges (optional)

Brush rimmed baking sheet with oil. Brush both sides of fish with oil. Mix ground cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne in medium bowl. Rub spice mixture all over fish. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Place fish on prepared baking sheet. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate).

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Bake fish without turning until just opaque in center, about 12 minutes. Transfer fish to platter. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and garnish with lime wedges. 
(Dick's Comments: The cilantro and lime added a bright complementary flavor to the dish, so I highly recommend these optional items)

Fresh Spinach with Cumin
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. fresh spinach leaves, washed
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the spinach, salt, pepper and cumin. Stir as the spinach wilts. Cook and stir over high heat until the spinach is wilted the the moisture has evaporated. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Yummy !

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Portland in Photographs

The link to the Portland Photographs has been moved to the right sidebar. 

Portland Streetcar

The Portland Streetcar was mentioned a few times in my posts from Portland. We rode it daily since there was a stop just outside our hotel. And it was free as long as we were going within the "Free Rail Zone". (If it is free, it is for me). I thought you might like to see what the streetcar looked like; very European I would say. In fact, they are made in Plzen Czech Republic. (A little European history; Plzen is the home of the original Pilsener beer, c. 1842.). But, I digress. The photo of the streetcar was shot with my iPhone, hence the low quality. And... no, we did not take any pictures of the weirdos on the streetcar. 

A Teaser Pic from Portland

I am still working on my photographs from Portland, but here is a teaser for you. Portland is known as "The City of Roses" and here is one of the roses from the gardens at the Pittock Mansion. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Tuscan Twilight Landscape'

I am now the proud and happy owner of another Peter Stilton original painting. Peter and his wife, Jill, came over today with the new painting and it looks great in my space. I am very excited to have a piece of lovely art created just for me and my place. The painting is three separate 2" x 4" panels hung with a slight spacing between them as you can see in the photograph. Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do justice to the painting. It is much more dramatic in person, and really must be seen in the place for which it was painted.

Peter also wrote a great poem to go along with the painting. It follows the photograph. 

Please check out Peter's Website at Stilton Studio for more of his work.

"Tuscan Sun Descending"
By Peter Stilton

Tuscan Sun Descending

Not into Dante’s depths of darkness

But into a quiet night of fresco colors

Reflecting Cimabue, Giotto, Masaccio,

And ending in Michelangelo.

Terra cotta tiles, olive groves,

Sunlight gilding rivulets of oil and honey,

Cicadas buzzing in ochre fields…

Shadows of deep cobalt blue with marble clouds

Infused with polyphonic flame and too brief incandescence….

Dugento, Trecento, Quattrocento blend into Cinquecento complexity—

All tending into deepest opal, emerald, and sapphire depths.

Bells for vespers with umber shadows…

The Arno mirrors Tuscany’s skies

In tones of clay, paint, and stone.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Portland - Hits and Misses

Hit - (Dick) - Andina. It was unique, different, great service. And Peruvian!

Hit - (Frank) - Carafe Bistro. Unpretentious, charming and a great value. Too bad it's in such a lonely location.

Miss - (Dick) - None.

Miss - (Frank) - Agreed. This is definitely a foodie town!

Hit - (Frank) - Rabbit pate at Veritable Quandary. Talk about a wild hare!

Hit - (Dick) - Same. Agreed. A tasty, country styled pate that was hopping good!

Miss - (Frank) - Appetizer selection at Piazza Italia. The antipasto platter was good, but one of only three options.

Miss - (Dick) - Same. The antipasto platter wasn't a miss, per se, but was just ordinary.

Hit - (Dick) - Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu. Bolognese flavors, so typically Italian.

Hit - (Frank) - Not to be a total bore, but gotta go with the boar as well. Unctuous flavors, Devine pappardelle. Awesome!

Hit - (Frank) - Chocolate Pot de Creme at Carafe Bistro. Delicieux!

Hit - (Dick) - Churros with chocolate ice cream at Andina. Muy bueno!

Miss - (Frank) - The Plumcot Cobbler at Veritable Quandary was a bit too tart. The accompanying buttermilk ice cream almost made up for it, though!

Miss - (Dick) - The gorgonzola and honey ice cream at Higgins. Gorgonzola belongs on a cheese tray. The accompanying fig tart was like a grown up fig newton...thumbs up!

Hit -(Dick) - Dobbes Family Vineyards. Skip the Wines by Joe label, and go with the Dobbes Family label. Really nice whites and reds.

Hit - (Frank) - Dobbes was the bomb, no doubt. Kudos, though to Penner Ash and Stoller (lovely facilities with gorgeous views).

Miss - (Dick) - Argyle. Still wines were less interesting than my argyle socks.

Miss - (Frank) - Agreed. I've seen your argyle socks, bro. They're not that interesting either.

Outdoor Sites
Hit - (Frank) - The Japanese Garden. Tranquil, serene, lovely.

Hit - (Dick) - Agreed. It was a moment of zen.

Miss - (Frank) - Pioneer Courthouse Square. Unless you like hanging out with weird kids who like to ask you for money (that is, beside your own)!

Miss - (Dick) - Agreed. In a city of great public spaces, this one doesn't cut it.

Indoor Sites
Hit - (Dick) - Without question, the Portland Art Museum. A great collection, with the bonus of a recently acquired Van Gogh.

Hit - (Frank) - I gotta second that one. The Impressionist Room alone was worth the visit. Fine contemporary collection as well.

Miss - (Dick) - None.

Miss - (Frank) - The oddballs, freaks and weirdos on the streetcars. Portland has one of the best public transport systems I have seen in the US. But the cast of characters that pop on and off can make the ride everything from mildly amusing to slightly scary!

(Dick) - Well, as the locals say, "Keep Portland Weird".

That's all we are saying!

Sunday, Another Fun Day

What better way to begin a Sunday than with a nice Sunday brunch. We headed back to the Pearl District to Fenouil, a lovely restaurant overlooking Jamison Square. Frank order the Classic Eggs Benedict while I ordered the Dungeness Crab Benedict. Mine had an avocado purée and lemon hollandaise which added a nice flavor. Both Benedicts were served over brioche, always good.

We next ventured to Chinatown and the small, but really peaceful Chinese Garden. The paths led around and over ponds, and through various pagodas. We saw some amazing silk art. The tea house enticed us to stop for a sample of tea and listen to authentic Chinese music. Frank and I shared a Green Tea flight for two, a vertical tasting of three different green teas. Who knew there was so much difference between green teas. The server showed us the proper way to brew and serve the tea. It was a fun and relaxing experience.

As we walked around the city we stopped at the Patagonia and Columbia stores to check out the clothing. I caved in to the urge and purchased a new Columbia shirt.

After a day of flaneuring, a late afternoon drink seemed to be in order and the bar at The Heathman fit the bill. I had a mojito which was much better than the one I had at Portland City Grill. Frank had an average glass of Merlot, not as good as any of the Pinot Noirs we had touring wine country. It was a nice break after a full day.

Dinner was at Higgins, another old standby in the Downtown District. We were seated in a warm dark wood paneled room. The menu was small, but nicely varied. Frank opted for the Risotto with summer squash, sweet corn, mushrooms and parmesan cheese. I was intrigued by a special of pan-seared wild coho salmon served in a wonderful light and flavorful oriental inspired broth with mushrooms, carrots, and yellow squash. Dessert was a tasty fig tart. It was a lovely way to top off our Sunday and the last night of a great trip to Portland.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Room With a View; and a Taste of Peru

Saturday night always calls for something special to get things off right, so Dick and I decided to take our friend Carol's advice and head for the Portland City Grille. Situated on the 30th floor of an office high rise (the Big Pink as the locals call it), PCG has an awesome view of downtown Portland, the Willamette River and beyond. The decor is sort of Arts and Crafts chic, with slate tile, warm natural woods and amber lighting. Dick had a so-so mojito, but my Manhattan was so fab I had to order another (surprise!). The piano player performed a nice mix of the familiar (The Girl from Ipanema) and the unexpected (Across the Universe?).

Word is the food at PCG is good, but we had other plans, as in South of the Equator kind-of-food plans. One of the most talked about and well reviewed restaurants in Portland is Andina. Serving a mix of Peruvian classics and Nuevo Peruvian dishes, it's one of those hip places that is hard to describe, but oh so worth it to visit.

Dick had the duck breast and confit served with rice mixed with cilantro and peas. I had the pork tenderloin in an adobo sauce with blue cheese filled mini crepes. Outstanding! We both had a glass of Chilean Pinot Noir (in the Willamette Valley? Sacrilege!). Dessert was an order of to-die-for churros with chocolate ice cream. And, since the couple seated next to us didn't drink (!?!) they gave us their glasses of dessert wine. Score!

A few words of advice about Andina. Make reservations, it's that busy. And be prepared to talk loud, it's that noisy. But it's also colorful, intriguing and definitely a step out of the ordinary.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and called it an early night. But what would you expect after a night in the clouds and a quick trip to an exotic locale?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Washington Park, Part 3 - International Rose Test Garden

Just steps downhill from the Japanese Garden is the International Rose Test Garden. The 5 acre hillside garden was established in 1917 and is used as a testing ground for new varieties of roses. This city-maintained garden bestows awards on each year's best roses. The variety of colors and types or roses were amazing and made for a very pleasant stroll through the row after row of roses.

Washington Park, Part 2 - The Japanese Garden

Located slightly further downhill from Pittock Mansion is the 5 1/2 acre Japanese Garden. There are actually five different gardens each with a different style and feel. It is one of the most authentic Japanese Gardens outside of Japan. The entire garden was very peaceful and well worth a visit.

Washington Park, Part 1 - The Pittock Mansion

We spent most of today in Washington Park high in the hills overlooking Portland. Our first stop was the Pittock Mansion almost 1,000 feet above sea level. This French Renaissance mansion was build in 1914 by the founder of The Oregonian newspaper. It featured such modern conveniences as multiple shower heads in the bathrooms and a build-in vacuum system. There are great views of downtown Portland, and on a clear day, Mt. Hood. It was clear in town, but clouds obscured Mt. Hood. The interior was lovely, furnished in the style of the era in which it was built. The grounds were nicely landscaped with small gardens intermixed with grassy areas.

V. Q.

Veritable Quandary, or V. Q. as it is known to the locals, was our dinner destination last night. Based in an old historic building, the decor is dark woods and brick walls. The restaurant was very busy at our 8:00 PM reservation time, so we got to enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir in the bar area while we waited on our table. We opted for inside seating, but the lovely outdoor patio seemed to be a favorite for many diners.

For starters we shared a Rabbit Pate with grilled brioche. It was very tasty especially when spread on the brioche. Where can we find a good brioche in Tampa or St. Pete? Frank selected the Braised Short Ribs for his main course. This had a nice hint of cinnamon and was served with onions and potatoes. The meat was fall off the bone tender with a lot of rich flavor. I opted to get away from my meat fixation of the past few days, and selected the Alaskan True Cod with lump Dungeness crab on top. This large filet of light, flakey fish was pan fried with a nice light crust and served over spinach, fingerling potatoes, roasted corn, basil pesto and creme fraiche. Both entrees were delicious. We shared a plumcot cobbler with a johnny cake topping and served with buttermilk ice cream. We left very satisfied but full. Fortunately we were able to walk back to the hotel to burn off a few of the calories.

Thanks Carol for this great recommendation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

In Vino Veritas

In wine, truth. And the truth is that we visited only five, count them, five wineries today on our tour of Willamette Valley. We had pre-booked a personal wine tour with Mike of Wine Tours Northwest so neither of us would have to drive during a day of wine tasting. We wanted to visit three wineries recommended by Carol and her daughter, Sarah. Mike was one of only a couple tour companies that would let us pick our wineries. He also suggested a fourth winery when we initially booked, then we added a fifth as we were touring today. In order of our visit we stopped first at Dobbs Family Vineyard, one of Mike's suggestions which ended up being our favorite. Next was Argyle which Sarah recommended for their sparkling wines. We agree that their sparkling wines were better than their still wines. Mike took us to lunch at Farm to Fork, a small restaurant that locally sources their ingredients. We both enjoyed our lunches especially the brioche bread used for our sandwiches. The next winery was our last minute addition, Stoller Vineyards with a very nice view overlooking the vineyards, (see photograph). The last two wineries were both recommended by Carol: Willakenzie and Penner Ash. Both were very good.

Willamette Valley is noted for their great Pinot Noirs, and we sampled many of them today. But we also found some nice un-oaked Chardonnays, a Grenache Blanc, and a Gamay Noir.

We had a great time and Mike was very knowledgeable about the wineries, the wine makers, and the area. Oh, and we bought a few bottles to ship home. No surprise there, eh?