Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Portland Eating, part II

After a fairly big day of finding and walking our way around what is really a tiny part of the city of Portland, we were ready to stay close to our hotel room for dinner Saturday night.  Since the hotel restaurant was closed for remodeling, and there were no other restaurants for blocks around, staying close meant staying in.  We'd never ordered room service before, but the menu was affordably priced, and we decided to give it a try.

The choices were limited, but we each found things we'd like.  

Hubby ordered their burger, and not wanting any more bread after our sandwich lunch, I ordered the steak.  I really had no idea what to expect, not knowing exactly what a Colette Steak was, and a Google search wasn't any help.  But the person at room service assured me it was good, so I went for it.

She was right.  The steak was amazing.  I could cut it easily with my fork, it was cooked perfectly, and had great flavor.  Hubby said the same for his hamburger.  He prefers a sturdier bun, but was very impressed with the meat and other inclusions in the sandwich, which is what counts most.  

My fries had some interesting additional toppings, like garlic, parmesan, and porcini powder.  (I'd never heard of porcini powder, but this blog explains it well and makes interesting suggestions for its uses.) Our only complaints were that the fries were a bit salty, for our taste, and I felt that at least my dinner lacked a veggie or some garnish.  But the main event of each plate was certainly great.

The only meal we hadn't had out that weekend, thus far, was breakfast, and I was really in the mood for a hearty one the morning we left.  I did an internet search for Portland Sunday brunches, and eventually decided that The Original: A Dinerant, which was fairly close by, sounded interesting.  It is described as a "hipster" spot, sort of like a diner, but a definite step up.

This place was super busy, so we had to wait quite awhile for a table.  This was only frustrating, because in downtown Portland, they don't charge for parking until 1 PM on Sundays.  We parked at 11:50, and there is no way to pay ahead.  We had a several blocks' walk to get back to the car by 1:00 to, either, leave or make the required payment.  

Anyway, we were happy to be taken to our booth.  I wish I could've gotten a head-on photo of the seating area we were in, because it was pretty cool with its curved, red, velvet banquettes. Sort of retro-60s, I guess?  

Again, choosing our meal from the yummy-sounding brunch menu options was a challenge.  Creme Brûlée French Toast, Cornmeal Bacon Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy, Eggs Benedict, several types of omelets, and so much more... all sounded good!  I knew I needed some protein, but also couldn't pass up Polenta Cakes, which neither of us had ever had before.  We decided that Hubby would order an omelette, and I'd order the Polenta Cakes, and we'd split and trade.  Hubby wasn't about to share half of his hash browns, so we ordered an additional plate.  (Yep, I had polenta cakes and hash browns... A little carby, but an omelette needs good hash browns!)

Our omelette choice was their Cobb Omelette with bacon, chicken, tomato, avocado, and blue cheese.  It was very good.  The hash browns were comparatively and disappointingly unimpressive.  We just expected diner potatoes to be some kind of wonderful.  

Having never had polenta cakes, we didn't have anything to compare to, but these were the one thing I've really been craving since we got back home.  They were so delicious!  My new favorite comfort food, I think.  It didn't hurt that they were served with candied bacon!  I was glad to eat only one of the 2 cakes, though, and have the hearty egg dish to keep my blood sugar off the roller coaster.  

In case you were waiting in suspense, we ate at a relaxed pace, and got back to our car just a minute or two before 1:00.  As usual with worrying, it was for nothing!

I think I'll have to figure out how to make polenta cakes, which I don't imagine should be difficult.  I'll share when I get something close to what we had.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Portlandish Food!

I've been hungry to go back to Portland for the past week.  The food we ate was so good!

On Friday night we drove from Portland to Vancouver, Washington, to Joe's Crab Shack.  It's one of those places famous for big baskets of crab legs, shrimp, and other shellfish, tossed in with new potatoes, corn, and sausage.  First of all, we had great service, and couldn't have asked for a better table in front of the windows viewing the mighty Columbia River!  

 Since I neglected to take pics of ours,
here is Sassy with her Joe's dinner
(post of their visit 

Because they'd been to Joe's and loved it, Prince Steadfast and Princess Sassy took us to the Crab Pot in Seattle last year, which offered the same type of 'wear-your-bib-and-dig-in-with-your-hands-and-shelling-tools' type of dining.  

Compared to the Crab Pot, which offered Pacific, both local and from Alaska, seafood, Joe's Antarctic king crab, and East Coast types of seasonings weren't as impressive and tasty to us.  After trying both, Princess Sassy prefers Joe's, but Hubby and I lean toward the Crab Pot instead.  The big positive here is that when we get a yearning for fresh crab, the place we want to go is an hour away instead of 3.  Going to Joe's was still fun, and it had good ambience, and as I mentioned, personable and prompt service.

For Saturday's lunch, we went to one of those places that had intrigued us during previous visits to the city, but we'd never gone in... The Deschutes Brewery Pub.  The place seemed to be packed, but we were seated right away.  It's a little bit loud, but fun.  --Lots of windows, high ceilings, colorful, and with kind of a rustic-industrial decor. 

We were overwhelmed by the menu, but not in a bad way.  So many things on their lunch menu sounded so wonderful, it was so hard to choose! (They also offer a good-sized gluten-free menu, so those with such dietary limitations have more than just a couple of options from which to choose.) 

Hubby chose the Housemade Pastrami (with whole milk mozzarella, arugula and green chili mustard on toasted spelt grain sourdough) and fries, while I ordered the Grilled Cheese.  I'm not usually a grilled cheese sandwich fan, but I couldn't resist this description: "Briar Rose Creamery goat cheese, cream cheese, Gruyere, and cheddar on our rustic white bread grilled with a parmesan garlic butter and served with garden tomato soup with roasted jalapeño cream."  The waitress suggested that the cheese sandwich was even better with avocado, bacon, and/or tomato... she usually has all 3... so I took her kind advice.
Of course, we sampled a bit of their brew, too.  The
Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale in the .3 liter size was perfect.

We were very happy with our choices!  If I ordered my sandwich again, although wonderful as it was, I think I'd skip the extra expense of the additions.  The sandwich was good on its own.  Actually, to be honest, I thought maybe it was a little unexciting at first, but then, as one should do with all grilled cheese, I dipped it into the soup, and WOW.  That fresh tomato soup, and especially, with the roasted jalapeño cream (roasted jalapeño mixed with creme fraiche), added just the amount of acidic and spicy zing to elevate that whole dish to amazing.

My mom and dad used to wake up and decide it was a great day to drive to the coast for chowder, to Tillamook, Oregon, for ice cream, or to Eastern Washington for lunch.  They often picked up one of my grandmas to take along for the fun.  We agree that this is a place for which it'd be worth making the 6-hour round-trip to Portland... Just for a day's adventure and a fantastic lunch.  --And just a block from Powell's giant bookstore, so a double-bonus.

Saturday night's dinner and Sunday brunch...yet to come.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Portland, continued: the Fun

image from Hotel Rose website
The Hotel Rose offered luxurious bed, linens, and towels, a we loved the chic, walk-in style of the shower I showed in my last post.  

The Tommy Bahamas lotions and soaps in dispensers on the walls of the bathroom and shower smelled amazing.  

Of course, the 42" flat screen TV with cable, which we do not have at home, helped the hotel experience, too, because it meant:  HGTV!!!  ;-)  We enjoyed Property Brothers and House Hunters until Hubby had his fill.  (I don't think my fill of such shows is possible, which means it's probably a good thing we don't have it at home.)

We ventured to Vancouver, WA to eat dinner Friday night.  Saturday was spent in Portland.

Thankfully, the hotel provided a complimentary umbrella, which we needed as we set out to walk 
along the riverfront park (shown to the left of the hotel in the photo above), to get to the Portland Saturday Market.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned in that previous post, the park was full of a carnival, and we had to walk along a much less attractive, busy street instead.  

Our Kitchen Forum friend, Trailrunner, had put us onto the Market, which was full of wonderful and wondrous items, like specialty foods, jewelry, photography, woodworking, and clothing.  Across the street from that market was another, and I think, maybe another to the side of it! Lots and lots to see and enjoy, and I'm sure one could spend hours there.  Hubby collected a few business cards, mostly from woodworkers, of course.

From there we set out for Powell's City of Books.  Using GoogleMaps on my iPhone as a walking guide was a new experience.  Trying to orient the map on the phone with the direction we were walking was a bit of a challenge at first.  Also, we found ourselves really wishing there was a way to see on that 'app' which streets were the more pleasant and safe-feeling route...

Our walk was nicely uneventful, however, and we arrived at Powell's to see that it, too, was being remodeled!  Must be a spring thing in the city.  In finding our around to another door, we realized we hadn't eaten and lunch would come before books.

More than happily full, we entered Powell's ready to spend a lazy few hours perusing books.  

It's a place full of temptations for those who love books!  Remembering that we had to carry whatever we bought back to the hotel kept our buying somewhat in check.

Sunday, we had a leisurely morning in our room as we readied for check-out just before noon.  Brunch downtown was the final Portland goal, before hitting the road toward home.

We opted for the more rural Highway 30 instead of I-5 for our 
trip northward.  The highway paralleled the Willamette River out of Portland, and we'd never been that way.  It was beautiful, and eye-opening to see how Portland spreads, and has more areas and neighborhoods than we ever thought.  

We had to turn off our intended path when we saw a sign to Sauvie Island.  

A few years ago, we caught a show on PBS, featuring special, farm-to-table dinners, in which the guests dined on special gourmet fare, all made from organically grown or raised food from the area.  The first show we saw was about the foods grown on Sauvie Island, and we've been intrigued about it ever since.  We couldn't pass up this chance to see it.

We felt immediately transported by the views of the quiet, green countryside.  It was easy to forget how close we were to the city, and odd to realize how recently we'd been downtown, in an urban, 'hipster' diner, enjoying brunch.  

It was also easy to forget that we were on a tiny island with water nearby... until reminded by the sight of ships peeking up behind farmhouses!

The contraption above the barn and the red brackets showing above
the containers on the right are all part of a ship on the river behind the farm

We made a loop around the island, and then back out over the bridge we came in on... the only way on and off the island.  There is a big parking lot at the base of the bridge on the island...It'd be a great place to come back with bicycles, park, and ride around for the day.

You may be waiting to hear about the meals I've mentioned.  That's coming up!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A No-Kid Gift from... the Kids!

Hubby and I enjoyed a weekend get-away, thanks to a birthday gift for me from our kids. We have been to Portland a few times, but never spent the night.  Day trips, and even this one, don't offer time to do the city justice, but we did broaden our horizons a bit on this visit.

Our previous jaunts to Portland included stops at Ann Sacks Tile (thumbs up), Voodoo Doughnut (I know that this will be a shock to many, but we were not particular fans),  Fabric Depot (a winner, especially when they have a 40% off all fabrics coupon), the Flying Pie pizzeria (2 thumbs up!), the Armory Cafe (yum), and Powell's City of Books (another family favorite).  Other than waiting in a long line for unremarkable doughnuts with interesting toppings, for which once was enough, we have visited each of these places two or 3 times.  For all Portland has to offer, this is a small sampling.  But with usually only a few hours to spend, sandwiched between 3-hour drives, we stick to what we know and love.

This time we wanted to relax, fit in a favorite or two, but also, check out some places that had intrigued us in previous trips, but hadn't fit in the schedule.

Our gift reservation took us into the Rose District.  Although, it's not too far from many of the places we'd frequented, we'd never been in this area of town.  Our hotel was aptly called the Hotel Rose.  The Rose is advertised as a 'boutique hotel.'  It's supposed to be funky and different.  Truthfully, we thought it was 'funky' this past weekend in ways that took us aback at first:

  • The lobby was completely in construction-mode, with craft paper for flooring, and a welcome desk plopped in pretty much nothingness
  • Parking in the hotel garage was 'discounted' for guests, but not free, at $15 per night
  • Our special, 'Metropolitan View' peeked over a more dominating view of a solid, grayish, painted wall

  • We were jolted by the tremendous rumbling, in noise and feel, of the city train that ran right next to the building, sometimes every few minutes, throughout the day

The tail end of the white train passing by the base of the building...
and the blue train just a few minutes later.
There was also a red, and maybe a yellow.

We got used to these things, though, and didn't really notice any of it by the time we left on Sunday.  

The staff was exceptionally cordial and pleasant. The decor was contemporary and updated, but not what I'd call particularly fun or funky, as advertised.  It was nice, though, with a lovely bathroom, and good bedding on a comfortable king-sized bed, so no complaints.

2 things were truly disappointing, though.  The highly rated bistro and bar (with what sounded like a great happy hour and dinner menu) were closed for major remodeling, and the riverfront park across the street, which should offer wonderful and scenic walks, was filled with a Cinco de Mayo carnival.  This meant we couldn't catch sight of the Willamette River until we were blocks from our hotel, and had to walk along busy streets and through (occupied) bridge underpasses to reach the famed Portland Saturday Market, and to get to the downtown districts we wanted to visit.   --Just bad timing, and maybe a reason to go back at a better time! 

Even though it lacked its usual on-site dining, they still offered room service.  But to talk about that, I'll get ahead of myself.  I'll quit here for today, and get back to you later with more details of our fun... and what's a vacation of any size without... FOOD.  :-)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kale... Fail. Cauliflower? Better.

I'm a snacker.  I love little things to munch while I drive or watch TV.  In trying to keep unhealthy and/or extra carbs and fat in check, the options are limited, and I keep my eyes open for new ideas.

More veggies in my diet would always be a good idea, so vegetables that could also be snacks would be a double bonus.  A couple of years ago, I tried making kale chips.  You can read about that here... I just wasn't thrilled with the result.  But I was recently intrigued when I heard the term "Cauliflower Popcorn."  I am a cauliflower fan, and loooovvvve  popcorn, so it was worth a try.

A quick search in the internet turned up a 5-star rated recipe on Food.com.  The method is about the same as what I do to make roasted cauliflower, except for one thing.

For roasted cauliflower, I wash and pat dry a head of cauliflower, or pre-prepped cauliflower pieces and break them into approximately 1 1/2 inch pieces.  I place them in a large bowl, drizzle on a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder.  I also add parmesan cheese, but often hold it to sprinkle on in the last several minutes of baking. 

I spread the oiled and spiced cauliflower on a oil-sprayed baking sheet, one layer deep and spread out so that they aren't touching each other any more than necessary. 

After roasting for 20 minutes
I put the pan in a preheated 425 degree oven, and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and starts to brown.  

This is where the Cauliflower Popcorn recipe is different.  The 'popcorn' is supposed to bake for a full hour.  This is a long time for the impatient to wait for a snack! According the recipes and comments I read, the extra browning, or caramelization, though, should make the cauliflower sweeter, and some of the smaller pieces will get nice and crispy.

At 30 minutes

Unlike the kale, which I didn't like at all, I wouldn't consider this to be a fail.  I really like roasted cauliflower and this is so  similar.  So similar, in fact, I'm not sure it was worth the extra time for the trade offs.  Yes, the ultra-browned pieces were crispy.  

"Cauliflower Popcorn"... After one hour of roasting.
Actually, it was after 55 minutes, because this was brown enough!
But to us they didn't seem that sweet, just a little burnt.  --Not so much that we couldn't eat them, but not anything we'd consider much of a plus.  The pieces that weren't browned to crispiness were super soft.  When I roast cauliflower, my aim is to get some definite browning, but also to get it out of the oven while the cauliflower still has some crispness of its own left, and hasn't turned to mush.  In an hour, there isn't much hope of that.

My other concern is, when it's cooked this much, has all the good veggie nutrition been cooked out of it, too?  Raw or barely cooked cauliflower, according to the nutrition facts listed on sites, such as World's Healthiest Foods, is an awesome source of Vitamin C, and also a very good source of other vitamins, including K, B-6, and folate, and fulfills other nutritional needs, like manganese, fiber, and Omega-3s.  It might help prevent certain cancers and has anti-inflammatory effects.  It is low on the Glycemic Index, which means it won't cause problems by raising blood sugar levels too much or too rapidly.

According to this article, steaming loses approximately 15% of most of the vitamins in cauliflower, while boiling causes much more of a loss when the vitamins leech into the cooking water.  Nutrition charts on this site, show more than a 50% loss of potassium when boiling, but doesn't have other cooked cauliflower information.  I'd guess the loss in roasting might be equivalent to that of steaming, but I couldn't find more exact information to share.  I still believe that the quicker the cooking, and the more intact the vegetable, the better the retained vitamins.  I would also think over-cooking would make the sugars more readily available to the bloodstream, which is another negative.

I think I'll stick to the shorter roasting time from now on.  I'll have my snack and eat it, too... more quickly!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Pizza Steel - Round Number Successful!

I finally got GREAT pizza crust.  Done on top and bottom, in only 7 minutes, and with airy bubbles in the middle. --And this airy crust, not just at the edges, but all the way to the center of the pie.  

This latter trait is something I've been striving for more recently, having noted it as a goal in many of the pizza crust making articles I've read.  This started me looking at my crusts, which often seemed airy on the untopped and thicker edge, but more compressed and wettish on the rest.  It didn't look wonderful, just studying it, but, frankly, it didn't really have a noticeably negative effect on the taste or eating experience.  But still, I wanted it all, and maybe I was missing something in the experience I just didn't know about yet!

The best photo I have of the compressed crust.   I
hadn't taken many profile shots of the crust.  It just wasn't pretty.

Sooo...what was different this last time?  

It's funny to realize that impatience uncovered that, probably, patience is the key.

I actually had a little time on my hands at mid-afternoon.  I meant only to set the bucket of dough out of the fridge, as I've come to think that it being closer to room temperature may lead to a better rise.  But I was impatient, and wanted something to do, so started in on making the pizzas early.

I placed balls of dough on parchment, and let them rest, while I placed the steel in the oven (on the rack, 2nd position from the top, as instructed).  I turned the oven to its hottest setting (550 degrees), and used the mode with full bottom and full top heat.  On the Gaggenau oven's display, this is shown with a black line in 3 sections across the top and bottom.

Last week's Chicken Garlic with White Sauce

I then set in spreading the dough, making the sauce, and preparing the toppings.  I assembled the pizzas.

The oven was still coming to temperature, and the pizzas were ready to go... The oven would take a bit longer to heat the stone, and the family would be even longer in arriving home to eat after sports practices and such.  So I went away and busied myself otherwise for well over an hour.

When ready to bake, I switched the oven to
500 degrees, and full bottom heat, partial top heat.  

Right away, I saw a good 'pop.'  There was an immediate rise and bubbles formed in the crust.  I could see active bubbling inside the translucent crust bubbles!  It's hard to describe and impossible to get photos of to share with you.

I found that the oven loses heat pretty quickly... I got a significant drop (like 50 - 75 degrees) when I put in pizzas or took them out.  This meant I had to wait between each pizza for the oven to regain heat.  This would be a big problem during a sports team pizza feed.  But for every-Friday pizza night, it's a small annoyance.

My impatience at starting the pizzas taught me that patience, in letting them rest and rise, is the key.  Funny that I needed to do this, when pizzerias, and most pizza crust recipes, don't have a long rise time.  As for the difference in experience, the taste is the same, but the light crunch over the lighter interior is nice.  

Not that I'm fully done experimenting, but I'm pretty happy, for the second week in a row, with this kind of result:

 Tonight's Sausage-Mushroom-Onion with Classic Red Sauce

Monday, March 31, 2014

I Might Need my Sunglasses...

...the light at the end of the tunnel is getting so bright!

The carpet is in...

the bedroom:

and the living room:

And other things are coming together, too!

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