Stay tuned, stay hungry, and go cook something already!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Portland is as good as the hype!

To get ready for my first trip to the Pacific Northwest, I binge watched Portlandia (the satirical, sketch-comedy television program with the cult following) all about the weird cast of self-obsessed, coffee-drinking, Birkenstock-wearing, facial hair-sporting, smelly hipsters who live there. This is not at all what I found! Yes, there were some crazy folks, but that’s my norm.
  

The reason for my trip — besides checking out the local restaurants and exploring one of the best, if not the best farmer’s market in America — was to visit my pal Lani Raider. She kept saying I would love it there, but anyone who follows this blog knows I pretty much hate most anything people tell me I will love! Well I admit it, I loved everything about Portland. The local sustainable movement is real, not just a trend. And the people who grow the food and make the local booze are proud, knowledgable, and incredibly generous with information and free samples (makes my Jewish heart happy).
  

Besides the food scene, the landscape is stunning, with redwood trees towering over Arts and Crafts-style homes, rich flora and fauna, and enough green space mixed into the residential areas to make you feel embraced by nature. I had the opportunity to visit two fantastic public gardens which were each quite different and unique. The Chinese garden within the city walls is full of traditional architecture, as well as plants, water, rocks, and poetry (which I found out was the fifth element). All the building materials were brought over from China, rock by rock, pebble by pebble. It was such an oasis of peace. The Japanese garden is in a park on the outskirts of town (Lani drove us) and it sort of felt like Shangri-La. Must have been the waterfall, the swans, and the legal weed.
 
 

Portland is also known for its food trucks, which are generally amazing and are often grouped together to create cool little parks with central seating. I loved the interaction of nature all through the city. We drove over to Sauvie Island, an agricultural island which is part of the city where we visited Lani’s family’s 16-acre organic farm. Portland is affordable, interesting, and fun. That’s my little overview. Please enjoy this random sampling of my photos and make a plan to visit Portland. Tell them Rula sent you!
  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Korean Home Cooking with Shin Kim

Korean Home Cooking with Shin Kim - Sponsored by the New York Women's Culinary Alliance
On Tuesday evening, I attended my first event as a new member of the New York Women's Culinary Alliance, which is a service-based organization I recently joined. NYWCA was started by Sara Moulton and a number of other female culinary professionals who felt that women needed a platform to share, mentor, and network with other woman in the field.

I was very excited when I saw this class on Korean home cooking taught by Shin Kim of Banchan Story on the agenda so I signed up and offered to volunteer my services and be part of the program. The hands-on class, which started with Korean pop music and some fun videos of food scenes in Korean cinema, included six items we prepared together.


 
Clockwise from top: Shin Kim; making dessert; Pajeon.

Shin shared wonderful stories about Korean food traditions like how the eating of Miyeok Guk (also known as birthday soup) is eaten by new mothers for 21 days after giving birth and subsequently eaten on each birthday. It is never however, given to students before an exam because it is believed the slippery nature of the seaweed might cause the student to "slip and fail" their exam. We also made scallion and seafood pancakes called Pajeon, which are eaten with a soy and garlic dipping sauce. We learned to how to add extra oomph to glass noodles by using the water from soaking dried Shiitake mushrooms, which gave them a strong umami flavor. Participants worked in teams of three, sharing the prep of all the dishes. Then we all sat down at the end to a wonderful feast, ending with a traditional dessert made with shaved ice, vanilla ice cream, diced fresh fruit, Mochi, red bean paste, and sweetened condensed milk. This begins my quest to become fluent in Korean cuisine.
 
Left to right: cucumbers with Ssamjang; glass noodles and Shiitake mushrooms.

Good thing I know Jen Yi, owner of Mi Young's Farm in Jaconita New Mexico, where I will be going for my next Korean cooking class. New Mexico folks, keep your eyes out for Jen's new food truck!

Here is a recipe for an amazing dip we made in class. It's called Ssamjang and Shin Kim suggests pairing it with veggies or grilled meats.

Ssamjang

Ingredients
1/2 cup Doenjang (Korean fermented soy bean paste)
1/4 cup Gochujang (Korean fermented red pepper paste)
3 cloves garlic, grated
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Procedure
Simply mix everything together. Will last in the fridge for about a week.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Blue Island Oyster Company

Blue Island Oyster Company, West Sayville, Long Island
Keeping it real in the South Bay Yesterday I was a guest at the Blue Island Oyster Company on Long Island along with 4 of my colleagues from Neuman's Kitchen. Prior to this visit, the only thing I knew about oysters was that I loved them and they were difficult to open, so I was very excited to see the operation and find out how they are grown and processed. Blue Island sells wild oysters from the South Bay which are harvested by freelance divers, as well as running a farming operation. They also source oysters from around the world and distribute all over the country. Blue Island is famous for their wild-caught "Naked Cowboy" oyster which they treated us to at lunch.

Docks at the oyster farm

I learned that oysters are amazingly resilient and easy to grow (once you figure out your systems). The process starts with creating a warm still bath for the oysters to spawn (the "Maternity Ward"). Warm water promotes the development of gametes which are necessary for fertilization. The other thing they need is nutrition in the form of phytoplankton which occur naturally during certain times of the year. Blue Island also grows their own supply in a super-cool, Back-to-the-Future-type lab complete with bubbling bags of colored liquids, extra added CO2, lots of PVC pipes, and homemade ingenuity. Fascinating fact: Oysters are sequential hermaphrodites, which means they can change sex repeatedly (usually once a year), but can only be one sex at any time.

The Maternity Ward

  
Left to right: phytoplankton tanks; our guide; the tanks outside.

Back to the story, after they release their eggs, they are gathered and transferred into protected tanks — which have a continual flow of bay water pumped through them — to grow and thrive. As they develop they are moved to different tanks, each new tank has a larger filter and screen system in them so they can be easily moved from place to place. Eventually they go into tanks outside their buildings in the bay. This worried me as they are in tanks basically in a marina with boats and fuel and who-knows-what in that water. But the oysters have an amazing filtration system so oyster beds are great for the environment! Keenan, one of the Blue Island guys — and a wonderful host, told us that they are completely clean 45 minutes after being put out in the farm which is miles offshore. There they live for about 3 years till they are large enough to harvest.
 
Left to right: the oyster tumbler; freshly purged steamers.


Sorting and bagging oysters

One part of the process — which I found fascinating — was when they are about 1/2 inch in diameter they are put into a tumbling machine which rolls then thus breaking off the thin new outer growth on the edge of their shells. This causes the shell to grow thick and more bowl shaped instead of long and flat thus creating a deeper bowl for the oyster to form. Besides the tumbling process, there's quite a bit of work done to make the oyster more attractive, including power washing, scrubbing, sorting, and bagging. They also sell clams (steamers) which they purge in a fresh water tank system, (something I had never seen before and which they described as something nobody else does) so you don't have to deal with they annoying sand crunching in your mouth. Blue Island Oyster Farm is an example of people working with nature in a sustainable way, employing local people, and strengthening the local economy. A delicious win-win-win for all involved. Thanks for a great day!

Lunch!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Louie's Oyster Bar & Grille

Louie's Oyster Bar & Grille, Port Washington, Long Island
 
Right on the water in Port Washington, on Long Island's gold coast, there is a seafood restaurant called Louie's which has been there for over 100 years. As a kid growing up in Sands Point, we used to eat there, so last weekend we decided to go back there to see if it was a good as we remembered. Good news—it was!

In the over 40 years since I last dined there, they have expanded considerably and done it with a nice casual style. The seating out back along the waterfront remains simple and comfortable. Inside the restaurant, they have added nice touches like faded nautical maps as wallpaper, and industrial lighting fixtures, all with a well-done, bleached, faux patina. The place was slamming busy and there were no shortage of people willing to wait the 1 hour or more for a seat. Thankfully, we had a reservation.

There is a nice, slightly dark bar which opens up onto the water, so a before dinner drink is the way to go. We were seated on time and they use a sort of tag-team waiter system so service was fast. They had Sam Adams on tap which made my husband very happy. I passed on a beverage because I wanted to get right to the seafood. We started with an order of steamers which I thought were okay, not the best, mostly because they were random sizes (I prefer the medium-sized ones) and not consistently fresh. We also ordered some breaded calamari which was unbelievably delicious. Perfect light batter, melt-in-your-mouth tender, no rubber bands. They served it with lots of lemon wedges, a bit of marinara and some Mignonette sauce which was a perfect choice. My mother was thrilled with the abundance of room temp butter served with their very nice rustic bread.
 
For my main course I had the mixed seafood grill which came with scallops, shrimp, a large clam oreganata, grilled cod, a side of Beurre Blanc, and some saffron rice. It was all cooked perfectly, not cheap on the butter, and I ate most of it except for the rice—which was just rice. My mother had a pair of lobster tails and a bucket of french fries. There was also an excellent ramekin of creamed spinach which she basically ignored (my mother does not do vegetables—go figure). The fries arrived too salty and the waiter was most courteous in returning them to the kitchen and replacing them with unsalted, hot, fresh fries. My husband had the surf and turf with a lobster tail and a piece of filet mignon. The quality and cook of the tenderloin was excellent and he ate every speck of food. By the end of the main courses, we were all super full so there was not even any discussion of dessert, though a nice slice of key lime pie caught my eye. If you have a boat, topsiders, and some Ralph Lauren sweaters, you can dock right at the restaurant. If you find that pretentious, have another drink. I prefer the front door.