Friday, August 27, 2010

Anniversary Dinner

Yesterday was our twentieth wedding anniversary, and we decided to dine at home and I'd create something special.  We have two friends with birthdays, plus our anniversary, so we'd already made plans to go dinner tonight with them at a new restaurant here in Bend.  Our actual anniversary would be a stay-at-home dinner compliments of yours truly.  To make this even more special, we had a bottle of champagne and a bottle of wine that would be the perfect compliment to what I'd planned to make. 

We have a couple of friends, Gary and Laura, who are Hollywood stunt people.  Gary's a former stunt guy, and pretty much concentrates on directing stunts now.  This is a business that takes its toll on your body, as you can probably imagine.  Laura still does stunts, including doubles, driving, martial arts, and anything considered too risky for the "stars."  She's appeared in Fast and Furious, Coyote Ugly (the one who did the "fire trick" on the bar), Speed, and many more.  Very nice people, and we love having them visit.  Gary and Laura stayed at our house for a couple of nights last year when we were in the Bay Area, and as a thank you, left us a bottle of 2000 Vintage Dom Perignon Champagne.  An amazing gesture, to say the least.  We've been tempted to pop it several times, but our 20th anniversary was the perfect time. 

I'd started prepping dinner, and thought I'd open the wine that I'd planned to serve (more on that, ahead).  My wife heard the "pop" and yelled down ... "Don't open the champagne yet!"  I'd already gotten out the Waterford champagne glasses that I bought her for our first anniversary, but I was actually opening the wine so it would breathe ... not the champagne.  I assured her that the Dom Perignon was still chilling, and a couple of minutes later she came downstairs with a bag.  "Open this," she said.  The reason she didn't want me to open (and pour) the champagne, is that she'd gotten us a pair of beautiful champagne glasses for our anniversary, and wanted to use these instead.  Then, I popped the Dom, and we enjoyed it immensely ... in the new glasses pictured here. 

The wine I've been alluding to was a gift from my friend Larry Wolff, who visited us last week with his lovely wife Trish.  I met Larry in our seventh grade homeroom class, and we've been the best of friends ever since (this was a long time ago!).  He wanted to be a doctor as long as I've known him, and is in fact a cardiologist, specializing in cardiac electrophysiology. Larry and Trish made their annual trek to Washington, where Trish's family has a piece of property that they've camped on since she was young.  And instead of going straight down Interstate 5, back to Sacramento, they cut inland along the Columbia Gorge, past beautiful Multnomah Falls, and south on 97 to our house in Bend.  Larry's also an amazing athelete, currently training for a world class level bicycle race in Portugal.  He could end up number one in the world in his division, and knowing his drive and capabilities, he just may do it!  He had one of his Scott bikes with him during his visit, and of course had to take a little jaunt up to Mt. Bachelor, which is a twenty mile uphill battle that would kill most mortals.  But this is the kind of thing he enjoys, and he totally took it in stride and rode up and back, in the afternoon Central Oregon summer heat. 

Back to the wine ... Larry brought us a bottle of Joseph Phelps Cabernet, vintage 2003.  A very nice California red, to say the least.  Although I could have and arguably should have put it in the wine rack and let it be, I decided that it would be the perfect compliment to the 20th anniversary meal (which I promise to get to eventually), and had to pop it on this night.  And what would be the perfect glasses to serve it in?  Of course, I had to go for the Waterford wine goblets that Larry and Trish had given us twenty years ago.  These were in fact our first wedding gift, and a very nice one at that.  Done! 

The Meal ...
Grilled loin lamb chops
Marinated for four hours in garlic, olive oil, chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper
Grilled on the gas barbeque, 7 minutes per side, turned a couple times, medium high heat

Vodka cream penne rigate
(Variation of a recipe from the Silver Spoon cookbook ... the bible of Italian cooking!)
This is a very simple, yet totally tasty pasta recipe.  As opposed to the classic idea of a spice and garlic laden Italian preparation, this one's pretty much devoid of these expected ingredients.  This pasta, along with the tomato cream pesto rigatoni (also from the Silver Spoon) are two of my favorite pasta side dishes.  And if you don't have the Silver Spoon in your collection, and aren't lucky enough to have someone like my friend Angela give it to you as a gift, you owe it to yourself to buy a copy.  Amazing book. 

16 oz. of penne pasta, cooked 11 minutes for al dente
3-4 ounces of proscuitto, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tomatoes, diced, seeded, strained
3 tablespoons of heavy cream
3/4 cup of vodka
1 tablespoon of dried parsley flakes
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Plan ahead for the penne rigate ... the sauce will take about 15 minutes to prepare, the pasta takes 11.  Have the water boiling, drop the pasta in the water about 5 minutes into your sauce prep time.

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat
Add the proscuito, parsley and tomatoes and cook over medium low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
Stir in the vodka and cream, simmer on medium low for another 5 minutes
Drain the penne rigate, combine with the sauce, stir in a couple tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan

Cold Asparagus
1 pound of thin, fresh asparagus
Drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Shaved parmesan strips

There's a simple trick to trimming asparagus to the perfect length.  Find the place on the "thick end" that breaks easily when you bend it.  It's usually a couple inches from the end, you'll know it when you find it.  Save the broken off piece to measure the right spot, and cut the remaining pieces the same length.  You'll now have equal length pieces to cook, without having to break them all individually.  Looks better cut, vs. broken too!

The technique is to blanch the asparagus, then cool it on a flat pan or plate until you're ready to garnish and serve it.  Have a big bowl of icewater next to your sink.  Boil a couple quarts of water with a little salt.  Drop the asparagus into the pot, and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain the asparagus in a colander (a pasta pot with an insert works perfect for this), and immediately plunge it into the icewater.  This stops the internal cooking process and keeps it crispy, which is what you want when you serve it. 

After a minute in the icewater, lay the asparagus out on a small cookie tray or dish, cover with foil, chill in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.

Serve by laying the asparagus out flat on a serving platter, drizzle a small amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt (good use for your fleur de sel), and garnish with some Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler.  Makes for a beautiful presentation, and it's a consistent crowd pleaser.

Dessert?  Couldn't do any better than chocolate sundaes with Oregon's own Umpqua Vanilla Bean ice cream. 

Great dinner, plenty of leftovers for lunch today, and tonight we'll check out the brand new "Bourbon Street" restaurant in town.  Not a bad couple of days and meals!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Asian Noodle Soup

I've gotten so many requests for this, and people seem to love it, so I thought I'd post it as a blog piece.  Feel free to use it, copy it, exploit it, whatever you want.  It's my recipe, but it's simply the end result of lots of experimenting in an effort to get close to pho flavor without spending all day doing it.  Don't be put off by the list of ingredients, this is actually an easy soup with a bunch of stuff that you're probably not used to using.  This is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. 

This soup is good year ‘round, and it takes less than an hour to make. I love making homemade pho, but it takes way too long for a weeknight dinner. This is very close, and infinitely easier. There are a few ingredients you likely don’t have in your pantry (I do, which is sort of scary!). All of these should be available in any good supermarket’s Asian section. If we have them in Bend, you have them where you live. Noodles are a personal choice. I’m using Udon tonight, I also like Soba, or you can certainly use real Vietnamese pho noodles. All are good, and work equally well.
The recipe also works with either chicken or beef. This recipe's for beef, but you can substitute chicken and chicken stock for exactly the same effect. I've made it with just chicken or beef broth (and no meat) and it's still great.  Haven't tried a total vegetarian version, but the rest of the spices and ingredients are likely to yield an awesome soup as well. 
  • 8 cups of water
  • 32 oz. box of Swanson’s low-sodium fat free beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons of “Better Than Bouillon” beef stock concentrate
  • 1 pound of lean beef, cut into 3 inch, very thin strips (I like eye of round)
  • 1 large white onion, peeled, quartered, slice thin, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
  • 1 bunch of green onions, sliced at an angle (white and most of the green)
  • ½ bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • ½ bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon EACH of Thai Kitchen green and red curry pastes
  • Lemongrass, either:
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 2 star anise pieces
  • 4 tablespoons of soy sauce (light, low sodium works fine)
  • 12 oz of your choice of Asian noodles, cooked according to the package. I prefer Udon or Soba (buckwheat)
Garnishes of:
  • Lemon or lime wedges
  • Thin sliced jalapenos (with seeds)
  • Fresh bean sprouts
  • Thai basil if you can find it, regular basil leaves if you can't - whole leaves on the stem
  • Sriracha red hot sauce (no substitutes, track it down!)
  • In a stockpot on high heat, combine the broth, 8 cups of water
  • Stir in the bouillon concenrate, chili paste and curry pastes
  • Add the lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon, soy sauce
  • Stir in the beef, reduce to medium high heat
  • Stir in the cilantro, basil, green onions, return to a boil
  • Drain the water from the white onions, add to the stockpot, return to a boil
  • Reduce to medium low heat, partially cover, simmer for 45 minutes
  • Remove the star anise and cinnamon, and the lemongrass if you used whole pieces
Prepare the noodles according to the directions (generally, have the water boiling and allow 15 minutes for the noodles.  Some take longer, some shorter, this is a good guideline).

To Serve:
  • With tongs or a pasta server, place some noodles at the the bottom of large soup bowls
  • Ladle the soup over the noodles
  • Serve with the garnishes and chopsticks and Chinese soup spoons
The Vietnamese Way:
A former employee and good friend of mine, Hai Nguyen (just say "win" for the correct pronunciation) introduced me to pho in Sunnyvale about 15 years ago.  He also taught me the correct Vietnamese way of garnishing and eating it.
  • Tear off a few leaves of basil and toss them in the bowl
  • Throw in a handful of bean sprouts
  • Squeeze a wedge of lemon or lime on top
  • Use Sriracha to your own level of heat tolerance (it's hot, but imperative!)
  • Pick up the noodles with chopsticks, "chew" them off.  This is not a neat process, but this is how you do it!
  • Use the soup spoon for the broth and remainder of the ingredients

Monday, August 9, 2010

Walk This Way!

We've had an extremely nice summer so far, up here in Central Oregon.  Warm days, cool nights, nothing outrageous one way or another, other than a couple freak thunderstorms here and there.  We get four seasons here, and you have to learn to both appreciate them and adjust to them, or it can drive you crazy.  Winters sometimes seem to go on forever, springs and falls can be way too short, and summer's generally mid-June to the end of September, and no more than that. 

One of the things we totally love about our home in Bend, is the proximity to the river, and specifically the Deschutes River Trail that's five minutes from the house, and parallels the river into town.  I've written about the walk and posted lots of pictures in earlier articles, but I made a concerted effort to shoot pictures all the way into town today, so this will be more about the journey via the pictures, and less of my babble. 

This is the "trail that leads to the trail," and is about a five minute walk from our house.  Actually steeper than it looks, and nothing you want to mess with without snowshoes in the winter. 
The Deschutes River starts in the Cascade Lakes, and flows south to north. They direct some of it from the river into this spillway on the left, where it flows into a 10' pipe, and ultimately to several smaller streams that run through town. This water is MOVING!

This is a little metal and wood pier that juts out into the river about 20' or so.  Undoubtedly has fly fishing potential, as it extends out into the river at a seemingly perfect angle.  Just gotta find the right little spots to toss the bugs out to ... Riffles, riffles ...
Looking downstream from the little pier.

This is an interesting shot (if you can believe it).  The semi-tree-thing in the middle is actually an osprey's nest.  Some friends pointed this out the first year we moved up here, and it's remained a nest year after year.  You can occasionally see the "mama" fly in or out of it, and with binoculars you can spot the little ones.  The mama bird is HUGE, and we see her flying around every night. 
The river trail is a circuitous route that goes from close to our house in River Canyon Estates, to the Old Mill District, in the middle of town.  The Old Mill is a great spot to shop, eat, hang out, listen to (or pay to watch) a concert at the Amphitheater, or just to walk around.  This is a shot of the river, flowing in that direction.  Still amazes me that this river (and several other prominent ones up here) flow south to north. 

This is a little up higher, looking down at the river in one of its wider spots. 
The trail into town has very little in the way of ups and downs, but the river goes from eye level to "this high" over the course of the three mile trek. 

This is the 10' pipe that channels the flow off of the Deschutes to the little tributaries around town. You'd think you could actually hear the water running through it, but amazingly you can't. BIG pipe!

My lovely bride pausing and refreshing.  We've made our way to the fork in the road where you can travel the rest of the way into town on the "other side" of the river, or "this" side of the river.  This day, we chose "this side." 
The final little wooden bridge, as you're approaching town.  You're obviously right on / off the river here, and it's a very cool sensation. 
After the miles of ups and downs, rapids and relative calm sections, it's finally a totally peaceful river as you approach the Healy Bridge and "civilization as we know it."  Bend's just around the corner.  Let's hope.

The beautiful Bill Healy bridge.  This is such an incredible site that we (and others we know, trust me!) actually go out of their way to cross it.  You can't tell from the picture, but that "black thing" sticking up in the front of the raft is actually a very big Labrador Retriever.  I suspect he's been left in charge of the yacht while his people are diving for treasure.  Or something. 
Farewell Bend Park, with the Old Mill smokestacks in the distance.  This is one of the most gorgeous places in town, and we never tire of it.  Along with the Sisters, Bachelor, and the other mountains of the Cascade range, this is simply a site to behold.  Dogs run free here, people use the picnic tables, it's the place to get into the water for a float down the Deschutes, and it's just a gorgeous place to hang out. 
This specific spot at Farewell Bend Park was apparently the spot where the city was first conceived, and everything was built out from here.  Now I know, and I'll always take out of town friends here to see it.