Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cooking the Feast at Oregon Culinary Institute

Yesterday was the big day.  We prepared all the food (except desserts) for Feast for Southeast.  It was a marvelous cooking party, and a truly unforgettable experience.  I had been excited to cook in an amazing commercial kitchen since we found out we'd be able to do it at OCI.  But helping to prepare everything under the direction of Chef Josh Hobson was fun (and educational).

We made turkey (breast), ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans.  We made enough for 300 people and packaged everything up into trays that will be stored at a commercial kitchen in Vancouver until Thursday morning, when the food will be transported back to be reheated at OCI.

I'll keep this post short, because I mostly want to show you the pictures, but let me tell you guys - this will be a remarkable and delectable feast.  It was prepared with top quality ingredients (thanks to FSA and Charlie's Produce) and with much love and dedication.

Check it out.

Loading up to head over to the Oregon Culinary Institute.

Learning the kitchen lingo, do's & don'ts, and game plan for the day.

We chopped onions, herbs, bread and celery for the stuffing.
If only you could smell this sage.....

Ahhhhhhhhh, stuffing........
Mashed potatoes for 300? No problem.
The veggies

I've NEVER met a juicier turkey breast....I can't wait.

Transporting the food to be stored until Thursday.

Clean-up is FINALLY over!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Feast for Southeast

I haven't been posting as regularly as usual (or as regularly as I would like to).  Have you noticed? Well, it's not because I haven't been cooking and eating, it's because my entire existence has been consumed with something else.  That's right - Feast for Southeast. (For more legit info about this event, please visit or email

For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, strap yourselves in and get ready for the ride....

So, about six years ago, Rob had a dream.  He wanted to organize a Thanksgiving event that was more than just about eating and excess.  He wanted to plan a way to share this holiday with folks who were in need (in some way or another).  Well, that particular year, the dream came too late as we already had plans to travel to Boston and join my parents.  During the next few years, he continued to be reminded of his dream to serve others on this holiday....but always after other plans had been made.  However, he always knew that he'd someday get it together and make this vision a reality

Fast forward to early September of this year.  We were enjoying some after-dinner conversation with some friends and brainstorming about ways our families could serve those in need this holiday season.  When I saw the glazed look in Rob's eyes, I knew what was coming.  It was that night, in Ben and Michelle's living room, that Feast for Southeast started to take shape.

The very next week, the first planning meeting took place.  It consisted of our good friend and pastor (Tom Vice), Rob and me.  We defined our vision of what this event would be and started to brainstorm ways to gather support.  From that point on, it has been like a, more like a snowball rapidly rolling downhill gaining momentum (and size).

So we knew we had the support of our church, Lifehouse.  They are providing so much support it's not even funny.  The design of all the materials, the credibility in the community and the manpower to make it happen.  We also met with the Director of the Mt. Scott Community Center and got them to donate the space.  Next, we hit the neighborhood associations in the area we wanted to target.  From them we received endorsements, volunteer recruitment, event promotion and monetary support.  Next, Great Harvest Bread Company and Starbucks jumped on board.  The UPS Store on Woodstock donated copies of our posters and fliers.  Fred Meyer came through with a gift card.  Then (and I seriously almost fell over when this happened) the Oregon Culinary Institute (OCI) donated use of their kitchens and direction from one of their instructor chefs for food preparation.  As if that weren't enough, OCI's vendors, Food Services of America (FSA) and Charlie's Produce came through with massive food donations.

In the meantime, the Feast for Southeast vision had grown so much beyond just feeding those less fortunate.  It really became about creating a sense of community for all.  We wanted to connect with those in need, those who didn't have others to get together with on the holiday, but just our neighbors in general.  We wanted to share a common bond through service to others and each other.  We started to see relationships grow and all kinds of warm and fuzzy craziness go down.  When all this started happening, we knew it couldn't be just a 1-year deal.  So, with help from our good friend Gabi, we wrote a grant proposal and submitted it to SE Uplift for next year's event.

Somewhere along the line, Warner Pacific College got wind of the story.  I think what intrigued the folks there was the fact that here is a student of theirs (not to mention a full-time adult student that also works full-time) who is married to an employee of theirs (yes, yours truly) doing this crazy grassroots thing right in Southeast Portland.  So they got involved.  Warner Pacific provided not only a source of volunteers, but also financial support and assistance with public relations.  One of the most touching things (for me at least) was when Rob received an email from the president of the college, Dr. Andrea Cook, offering herself up as a volunteer to serve in whatever capacity we needed her.

So, now you know what I've been busy with.  And we're in the home stretch now.  We need to finalize details, confirm donations, etc.  We will be cooking all the food at OCI this coming Saturday.  Feast for Southeast is taking place on Thanksgiving day, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  I invite you to come and join in the festivities.  Please come.  Seriously.  Come enjoy a delicious meal, talk to some new people, and be with others in the spirit of community.  At least stop by to say hello.  And if you're not already volunteering with us this year....put it on your calendar for next year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Portland's Answer to Holiday Fruitcakes

attachment.ashx.jpgI usually don't write here about foods that I don't make myself ('cause I like to tell you how to make it) or that you can get yourself (from a restaurant, food cart, etcetera).  Fortunately for me, (but most of all YOU) the wine cake that I'm going to tell you about is available for order for the holiday season.  (Though you need to act fast as it needs 4-6 weeks to age to perfection).

Denise's Mother's Infamous Wine Cake

We have all been either the unfortunate recipient or the guilty giver of the unwanted fruitcake as a holiday gift. Fruitcakes were not always such an unpopular gift.  In fact, the tradition had to start somewhere!  But over the last few decades, the fruitcake has become the butt of jokes and generally despised both as a confection and as a gift.

Portlanders will be very happy to learn, as I was, that there's a new player in town.  The Wine Cake.  Need I say more?  I mean, really, how Pacific-Northwest does it get?  The slice I tasted had a distinct flavor that layered notes of a fine vintage and warm cinnamon onto a light, yet incredibly moist base of (sigh) cake.  Each bite featured a complexity of flavors and textures including a sugary crumb topping with a slight crunch to it and a ribbon of something (could it be red wine??) that both perplexed me and threw me into a delirium.

Now, for the good news.  This is the perfect holiday treat to bring to parties, potlucks, as hostess gifts, or even as a classier fruitcake substitute (AKA "gift.")  This is a cake you can feel good about giving.  Each loaf costs $12.99, or you can order 2 for $23.00.  Place your order by emailing Denise at by calling her at 503-807-8503.  Remember, the cakes need to age 4-6 weeks, so order early!! I know I will....

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Macarons

This last weekend I attended a lovely wedding, and almost fell over when I saw the "wedding cake."  So, speaking of macarons.........

I only regret that I had to skip out before these were distributed, so until after the honeymoon.....I won't know what flavors they were!!!!!  Below is a list of flavors I want to taste ASAP (in no particular order).

  • Rose Macaron (!)
  • Coconut Rum Macaron
  • Coconut Curry Macaron (!)
  • Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil Macaron
  • Sesame Matcha Macaron
  • Lemon Basil Macaron (!)

A letter:

Dear Pix Patisserie,

we need a lavender-flavored macaron.  Asap.

Much Love,

Carolina Selva

Monday, October 11, 2010

Andy's Salted Caramel Macarons at Pix Patisserie

Okay, so these macarons don't necessarily belong to Andy, but being that he recommended I try them, I figured I'd give him the credit.  I had the salted caramel macarons from Pix Patisserie on my "must" list since Andy posted a comment on my blog. I had planned a mom-daughter date with my 7-year-old girl, and since she'd never been to Pix, I thought it was a great opportunity.  We parked right in front, and I saw her eyes go BIG when she glanced at the storefront and caught a glimpse of the desserts in the window case.  She looked over at me and I nodded slowly......"oh yeah." (Think back to the old Twix commercials).

The Royale
We walked in and took our time looking at all the options in the dessert case.  She read the titles of the desserts to me and I read off the descriptions.  I knew what I was having - two (because 1 is TOTALLY not enough) Salted Caramel Macarons, but Sasha took her time choosing hers. She finally settled on the Royale (a mound of chocolate mousse that blankets chunks of hazelnut praline on a thin pastry base and covered in a smooth chocolate shell).  My girl, being very generous, offered me a taste.  I couldn't believe my mouth - the silky texture of the mousse countered the crispiness of the hazelnut praline just perfectly.  It was rich and decadent like only Pix can pull off.

I ordered the macarons, which are technically called "Fleur de Sel Macarons" and an espresso.  Now, call me traditional, but I was expecting something like a mound of sweet coconut.  What I got was totally different and blew my mind.  (I later learned that traditional French macaroons such as these are made with ground almond instead of coconut). The macarons were silver-dollar shaped discs of a meringue-like cookie (studded with French sea salt according to Pix's Web site), joined together in the middle by a dollop of something insane that had the consistency of a cross between whipped whole cream and mousse (it is actually salted caramel buttercream).  The textures and flavors are almost indescribable, and I was left almost dizzy with delight at the discovery of these.  I let Sasha taste one, then polished them off.  I decided that we needed to get a couple more to take home so Rob could taste them.  Unfortunately, only one made it home safely to him. Better luck next time.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Brunch @ Bar Carlo on Foster

"Specials" Board
Not too long ago Rob and I were trying to decide where to go for brunch, and I realized I hadn't written about Bar Carlo yet.  I discovered it late last year when trying to find a nice brunch place to go for a big family gathering (including my parents, siblings, their families, mine, you get the picture).  I walked in to check the joint out and peep their menu.  I quickly came to the conclusion that it was a bit too small for such a large party, but was intrigued by the place's menu, vibe, and the fact that they have both a piano and a movie theater/screening area.

Since then, I've frequented Bar Carlo for brunch on several occasions, and have never been disappointed.  First off, they have a lovely bar and I have been known to enjoy either a bloody mary or a mimosa with a lazy weekend brunch.  What I really appreciate about this place are the daily specials.  Delicious savory/sweet crepes, for example, are nowhere on the menu, but can often be found on the "specials" board.  So the other day, we headed over there and I made Rob promise to remind me to take pictures of the food before digging in.

First I ordered a mimosa.  Though it doesn't look as elegant as one that's served in a flute, Bar Carlo's OJ mimosa is not for the faint-hearted.  It is not only generous portion-wise, but also extremely champagney if you know what I mean.

We decided to order the Breakfast Carnitas plate and the (special) Savory Crepes.  Let me start with the Carnitas plate.  Piled on the plate were 2 eggs, Bar Carlo's take on Mexican rice, black beans, carnitas with salsa verde, fresh pico de gallo and warm corn tortillas.  The highlights of the dish were the carnitas and the black beans.  The carnitas were saucy and flavorful, and the beans had both an intriguing taste and texture (like a cross between whole and refried).  The beans truly knocked my socks off, and the pico de gallo provided the perfect cool and fresh balance to the entire meal.  (It may not sound like it, but I only ate half).

Now, in my opinion, the crepes at Bar Carlo are always perfect in texture, and perfectly artistic in content.  The ones we ordered this time had well-cooked proscuitto, roasted red onion, spinach and Swiss cheese.  They were covered in a swiss cheese cream sauce that exuded a hint of white wine.  The combination resulted in a salty, creamy, fresh and fulfilling experience.  I would order these every day.  And at $10.50 a pop, I could.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tamales & Fish Tacos at Por Que No?

About a week and a half ago I had a mom/daughter date with my 10-year-old girl.  The plan was to go hang out at Powell's on Hawthorne, maybe get some good reads, then find somewhere to grab a bite for dinner.

After helping each other find good books and window-shopping around Hawthorne street for a while, we started to get hungry and headed up the street to Por Que No.  When we entered, the place was very crowded and there was quite a line to order.  We looked at the menu and quickly decided to share a tamale plate and two fish tacos.  We grabbed out number and headed out to the back, where the makeshift covered seating (think corrugated plastic roofs) and decoration was quaintly reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos kitsch.

Our food arrived, and the tamale plate looked AMAZING.  It was artistically arranged over banana leaves, and included two sauce-topped pork tamales garnished with crema, a small side of Mexican rice and pinto beans to boot.  The shredded cabbage, cilantro and fresh pico de gallo on the side were a tasty touch and the perfect cool/fresh contrast to the hearty meal.  The tamales themselves may have been delicious to someone NOT intimately familiar with authentic Mexican tamales (not to mention Nicaraguan Nacatamales, Peruvian tamales and other varieties).  To me, however, the masa resembled more of a spiced polenta than a true tamale dough.  The meat was tender, but lacked some spice.  Unfortunately, the sauce served over the top did not make up for this.  The true highlight of this combo was the rice.  It was like Mexican rice on garlic steroids.  The garlic flavor was strong and aromatic, and made up for the lack of flavor of the tamales.  It made me wish I'd ordered a bowl of rice rather than this pretty ensemble.

The fish tacos, on the other hand were definitely something to write home about.  The small, soft tortillas had a real homemade maiz flavor.  They were so fresh, I expected to see an abuelita grinding corn in a molcajete.  Instead, I got a forward-thinking flavor combination that fused a crispy cornmeal crust on flaky Alaskan cod topped with salsa verde, crema, shredded cabbage, pineapple, and of course - onion and cilantro. The effect was a gourmet twist on the island tacos I'd had in in Maui this past May.  ANYTHING that brings me back to those days is A-Okay in my book.