Saturday, August 21, 2010

Carolina's Eggplant Parmigiana (and Sasha's Vinaigrette)

Now here's a dish that I've been making since I was 19.  I can't really take credit for creating it (obviously), nor can I feel very honest about calling it "eggplant parmigiana," but it's one of my signature dishes and a winner every time.  I learned how to make this one summer when I visited a friend who was staying in the NYU dorms as a part of a summer enrichment program.  My friend's friend had just returned from Italy where she learned how to make eggplant parmigiana and tiramisu.  It was my first time in New York, and I'll never forget scouring the markets for the freshest eggplants, basil and mascarpone cheese (for the tiramisu). Over the years I've modified and simplified the recipe to suit my needs, but I've never had a dissatisfied customer.

I hadn't made eggplant parm in a while, so when the familia found out what I was making it became a party.  My 7-year-old decided to make a salad dressing she'd learned to make earlier that day at the Learning Garden (on SE 60th), and let me tell you - it was FABULOUS.  Truly, this is a girl after my own heart.  So we accompanied the main dish with a simple green salad with Sasha's vinaigrette.  Here are the recipes:

Carolina's Eggplant Parmigiana

3 smaller (round) or 2 large eggplants
Flour for dredging
3 eggs
Olive oil
Vegetable oil
Good quality marinara sauce
2 cups of shredded mozzrella*

Start by cutting the ends off the eggplant and cutting lengthwise into slices 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of each slice and layer in a colander.  Take a gallon-size ziploc bag and fill with water then zip shut.  Place the colander with eggplant in the sink and put the bag full of water right on top so that its weight can help squeeze out the extra water.  This process helps remove the bitter bite that eggplant can sometimes have.  Let sit for at least 1/2 an hour.

Next, get ready to prep the eggplant for frying by placing flour in a pie pan and beating eggs in a bowl large enough to dip eggplant slices in.  (This time I added some dried oregano from my "garden" and freshly ground pepper to the beaten eggs).  In the meantime, put about 1/4 cup of vegetable and 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Take each slice of eggplant and dip first in flour, then in eggs until well-covered.  Put the prepared eggplant slices into the hot oil and fry about one minute on each side until just golden brown.  Repeat this process, (putting the fried slices between paper towels to absorb any excess oil) until all slices are fried.

Now it's time to assemble the dish!  First, preheat your oven to 350.  Take a 9x13 glass or ceramic pan and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of marinara sauce in the bottom, spreading it evenly.  Place some slices of eggplant right on top of the sauce, and spoon some more sauce on top of the slices.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over this layer, then place another layer of eggplant on top, trying to get as even coverage as you can.  Continue to layer sauce, cheese and eggplant until you're all out of eggplant slices, topping with extra mozzarella.  Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until cheese on top is melted, bubbly or golden.  When it comes out of the oven, you can cut into it just as you would a lasagne, and it is not only lovely but tastes divine!

*I have tried different variations of cheese in this dish and encourage you to do the same and find what you like: provolone is good, mixing in real shredded parmesan makes it feel more authentic, a nice salty Edam adds bite and originality......

photo-741221.JPG.jpgSasha's Learning Garden Vinaigrette

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs (we had basil, rosemary and oregano)
1/4 Tsp sea salt
Freshly ground garlic pepper

Whisk it all together!  Enjoy on your salad or use as a dip for crusty bread.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tantalize Your Tastebuds at TarBoush

TarBoush is at 3257 SE Hawthorne
So Rob and I wanted to try something new for happy hour.  Unfortunately, we took so long trying to decide where to go, that it was too late for the drink/food specials we so, we jumped in the car to see where it would take us. We ended up on SE Hawthorne, where TarBoush  suddenly jumped out at us.  Mmmmmm, Lebanese food.  Plus, what a glorious Victorian building.  It looked pricey, but we were going to make it "happy hour," right?  Some appetizers and drinks?  As we climbed up the steps to the entrance, I happily noted that there was plenty of outdoor seating. Upon entering TarBoush, however, I knew I wanted to sit inside.  The interior is phenomenal, with gleaming hardwood floors and dark wood trim throughout.  The decor is authentic and tasteful, and the music perfectly appropriate for the setting.

I was craving a cocktail with rose flavor, and found the perfect one - the Absolute Lemonade made with Absolut Citron, lemonade and rose blossom.  The drink was a bit on the fruit-punchy side for me, but did have that rosy essence I was craving.  I noticed there was a Cucumber Mojito on the drink menu, but saved that one for a return visit. Soon after the drinks arrived, we were treated to a perfectly pleasant pillowy pita (freshly baked and hot from the oven) along with a touch of olive oil and Lebanese spices to dip it in.  I could have died a happy girl right then and there, but then we ordered our appetizers.

We decided on the Shanklish, which is homemade Lebanese cheese, fresh thyme, tomato and onions with a splash of olive oil.  This was so unique and tasty.  The cheese itself was salty like feta but slightly more pungent and spicy.  It went really well with the pita bread.  I later found out from the owner that TarBoush is the only place in Portland that serves Shanklish, and that it is aged for 3 months.  (He also told us he likes to put it on his eggs in the morning). To accompany this dish, we ordered Soujouk, an amazing Lebanese sausage that was the highlight of my evening.  It was salty, and so flavorful that it could easily be overpowering, but a slice enveloped in a hunk of warm pita is truly divine.  I think a sandwich or wrap made of this sausage would ROCK, and Pierre, the owner, said that even though it's not on the menu, he could do it and would even put it in a panini press.  Next time.

After devouring most everything on our table, Rob decided to sample TarBoush's baklava.  It looked lovely and was flaky and scrumptious, made with walnuts.  It was not overly gooey/sticky and some might even consider it a tad dry, but I, for one, loved it.  Then, the owner brought out a dessert that is new to the menu and truly off the beaten path: a fine-rice pudding spiced with caraway and anise and topped with thinly flaked coconut.  Wow, what an experience.  The texture is lightly grainy and silky at the same time, and the flavors truly stand out as it is not overly sweet.  Unfortunately, the name of the menu item/dessert got deleted from my iPhone (where I noted it) but I think it might be called "Moghlie."  Hopefully Pierre will read this post and comment on whether I got the name right or wrong.

So, after my brief rendezvous with TarBoush, I have to share something that will make you very happy. Despite the beautiful surroundings, authentic atmosphere and hip neighborhood, most menu items are extremely affordable!!!  I can't tell you what a value this place is.  There is a wealth of cold, hot and "from the oven" appetizer options in the $4-$7 range as well as very reasonably priced authentic dishes and feasts.  Kids' meals consist of smaller portions of anything on the menu (accompanied by a glass of milk) for 1/2 price. Also, TarBoush offers hookah service from 10:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m.  But that's a whole 'nother adventure.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Foster Burger: Fostering a Better Burger

The first time I heard of Foster Burger was from my sister Sabrina.  I'd driven by the new place on Foster Road and noticed it, but she actually beat me to the punch and then raved about the burgers there.  Next, I heard from my friend Risa that Foster Burger is her husband Josh's (he is a Chef/Teacher at Oregon Culinary Institute) favorite new burger joint.  So.  I finally made my way there. 

photo-787876.JPG.jpgThe inside of Foster Burger was surprisingly dark, with dim lighting overhead and small lamps on tables giving off reddish-orangeish light.  Concert posters (for bands such as Suicidal Tendencies, Public Enemy, Sleater Kinney, Dancehall Crashers, Cherry Poppin' Daddies and the Dandy Warhols to name a few) covered every inch of wall surface.  For a minute I was nervous that I'd taken my three literate children in there - but no harm done.  During the time we spent there, music by The Smiths and Morrissey played the entire time.  To my delight there was a full bar, and it had a beautiful antique-looking mirror hanging over it to amplify the experience.  Overall my impression of the place was "so Portland."

But - on to the important part.  The food.  I ordered the Foster Burger (had to try their signature item).  I learned from the menu that burgers are served on buns baked right next door at An Xuyen Bakery.  It just doesn't get more local than that.  When the burger came, I was not disappointed.  I hope nobody (most importantly Sabrina or Josh H.) takes offense to this, but I would almost compare it to an In 'n Out burger, if In n' Out burgers were more homemade, bigger, less greasy and not mass-produced.  The patty was perfect (burgers are served "medium" unless you specify otherwise).  The high-quality of the beef was evident in each mouth-watering bite.  The sesame-seeded bun was lighter than most and toasted to a pleasant crisp.  The burger was topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and sweet pickles.  Hand-cut fries (with the skins on and also somewhat reminiscent of In 'n Out's) were on the side, as was a yummy "special sauce" which seemed to consist of ketchup/mayo mixed with minced pickles.  Delicious on the burger as well as a dip for the fries.  All of this for $8.00.

Here's something I thought was cute: my 7-year-old daughter ordered her burger topped with blue cheese instead of traditional cheddar (a girl after my own heart) and after tasting it described it to us as "powerful." (I'm tellin' ya.)  Anyhow, Foster Burger's no-nonsense approach to food dictates that meals be served in red and white checked paper-lined baskets.  On the other hand, kids' cocktails (Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers) are made with Foster Burger's proprietary grenadine and topped with a single black cherry.  As for me, I washed my burger down with a pint of Terminal Gravity IPA.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy Hour at Mint

I've been wanting to write about the Cuban Lamb Burger at Mint/820 since I went there for happy hour a few weeks ago and was blown away by a bite I took from a co-worker's plate.  Considering I hadn't actually had a whole (or even half) portion, I didn't feel I was experienced enough with it to do it justice.  Now that I've been back and devoured my own lamb burger, I'm ready to dive in.

But first, some background.  Like I said, the first time I visited Mint was with some coworkers for happy hour (which was Brandi's going away "party").  The restaurant/bar is called Mint/820 and located on 816 N. Russell St. and Albina.  Happy hour starts at 4 p.m. and goes til either 6:30 or 8:00 p.m. depending on the day of the week.  When I went the first time, it seemed like only the patio (which is pretty comfortable albeit a little crowded) was open for the H hour crowd.  Happy hour is TOTALLY the time to go.  The Cuban Lamb Burger, otherwise $13.00 is only $8.00 during this glorious time frame.

But - on to the eats: The hand formed patties are made from lamb raised locally at Cattail Creek Farm in the Willamette Valley.  The patty's perfect natural crust encloses a tender, mildly spiced ground meat that is succulent and juicy.  The bottom bun features a buttery hunk of melted cheese (not sure what kind) while the top is slathered with a creamy cilantro "chimichurri." Strips of tomato piled on top of the patty offer the perfect fresh complement to this ensemble.  The best part is, the burger comes with salad (seriously?) or fries (why even bother to ask).  The fries are sweet potato fries - perfectly crispy and dusted with flaky sea salt.  They're served with a side sauce that tastes like (and Brandi verified IS) a combination of Sriracha hot sauce and mayonnaise (among other things).  To die for.  Guaranteed.

As for the cocktails.....Denise forced me to try her favorite - the IVO, and I've been talking about it ever since.  It's (to quote from their menu) "Cruzan vanilla rum, harlequin and lemon lime juice, served up in a sugared martini glass."  This drink is desserty but light, so unique and just divine.  There's another drink on their menu that caught my fancy - the Ad Lib: "Vodka muddled with cilantro and lemon lime juice, served up in a sugared martini glass."  This drink sounds a lot simpler than it tastes, but when you ask them to make it spicy - it is (I would say "literally" if that was grammatically correct) to die for.  It goes well with that lamb burger, which is what'll really have me coming back.