Friday Faves, Portland Edition

Happy August 9th, everybody! Today is my brother’s wedding day, so it’s an extra exciting day around here. I spent a lot of time in Portland over the past week, in preparation for the wedding festivities, so please enjoy some of my “Portland Faves” while I’m off to get my hair and makeup done (and have a mimosa):

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My all time favorite food cart, from the city that made food carts hip. My perfect lunch: “bambino” size Whole Bowl, hold the sour cream and olives, for $5. I’ve been saying for years that I wanted to bring WB to Seattle, but I recently discovered the “GFF” cart and its a pretty close second.

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Stumptown coffee at Petunia’s, my favorite vegan, gluten-free cafe in the Pearl – I didn’t realize when I ordered my Americano that “vegan” meant no half and half, just almond milk – only in Portland! (also: reasons I could never actually be vegan).

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Pre-wedding brow wax at Blush, my first stop whenever I’m in town.

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My Grandpa Nelson passed away fifteen years ago, but during his life he had the most amazing (and enormous) garden and orchard. Rows and rows of tomato plants, corn, carrots, potatoes, tons of berries, plums, apples, pears – I could go on and on. One of the saddest things to watch after his death was the deterioration of his garden. It’s only taken 15 years, but this year my dad planted his first tomato plants.  I even got to make a yummy pasta with the first red ones!

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Last Friday night I drug my mom, aunt and cousins to dinner at Simpatica, the restaurant where my parents hosted the rehearsal dinner for my brother’s wedding last night (blog post coming Monday, get excited).  I wanted to see the space, taste some wines, and do some last minute layout-planning for the rehearsal dinner, but as a perk we all enjoyed an outrageous four course meal. 1st: fried squash blossom stuffed with herbed chèvre on a buttermilk dipping sauce; 2nd: baby mixed greens, grilled haricot verts, blueberries, chopped almonds, red wine vinaigrette; 3rd: fennel-crusted Oregon Albacore, sautéed padron peppers, cherry tomatoes, corn, basil, green goddess dressing; 4th: peach crisp, crème fraîche ice cream.

I hope everyone is looking forward to something fun this weekend.  Wish me luck on (co) writing my best man speech – nothing like waiting until the very last minute! xoxo

Baked Halibut with Tomatillo Salsa

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I bought a bag of tomatillos at the farmers market last week, with the goal of making tomatillo salsa. I had a vague recollection that I had seen a recipe on my favorite food blog, so I did a quick search, found the recipe and the three remaining ingredients I needed (scallions, jalapeños, garlic) and headed home – total farmers market cost for all four items was less than five dollars. I had enough cash leftover to get some berries, a gorgeous bouquet of dahlias, and a yummy bowl from my favorite food cart. I’m going to be so sad when market season comes to an end around here.

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Tomatillo picking tip from the farmer (or at least, from the guy selling tomatillos at the farmer’s booth): you want to pick the ones whose husks have already split open at the bottom. Just as an FYI.

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I’m a tomatillo novice, and always just assumed a tomatillo was a small green tomato in a husk. Turns out when you cut them open they have an almost eggplant-y texture, not like a tomato at all.

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This is all going in the blender, so it barely needs to be chopped at all. I took all the seeds out of my jalapeños, but if you wanted more of a kick you could leave some in.

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I didn’t have a lot of confidence that this would work in a blender, but there’s so much water in the tomatillos that it blended right up in seconds.

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This is clearly not technically “canned,” but so much cuter than storing in Tupperware. I spelled tomatillo wrong (tomatilla) on the labels because that’s what the recipe called it – oops!!

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I had planned to do the fish on the grill, along with veggie skewers, for my friend Scott’s birthday dinner last night. However, the woman at the fish market was clearly horrified by that idea, and not-so-gently informed me that it should either be baked or pan seared. Since I love the look of a pan seared piece of fish, but always find that I like halibut best baked (and its much easier), I did a combination of both:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat a small amount of olive oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Season the top of the fish with salt and pepper, and then dip in a small amount of flour (this will help give it the pretty, seared look). Place the fish, seasoned and floured side down (skin side up), and let cook for three minutes on the stovetop. After three minutes, flip each piece and move the pan to the oven (at this point I also added lime juice and lime slices to the pan). Cook for 4-7 minutes longer, depending upon the thickness of the fish (mine took about 10 minutes but it was very thick – check at about 5 minutes as you don’t want to overlook it. Fish should be opaque all the way through).

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Top with tomatillo salsa, and you have yourself an entrée that would cost $30 at a restaurant. I served this with rice pilaf, grilled veggie skewers, and a green salad, and homemade peach cobbler for dessert.  My friend Allison brought over an amazing bottle of Roussanne from her recent trip to Napa, and we had a lovely summer meal on the roof. These 80-degree days and 9 pm sunsets have really been spoiling us lately!

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Note: leftover salsa goes great on a cheese quesadilla, too!

Tomatillo/Tomatilla Salsa, from Smitten Kitchen:

10 tomatillos, husked and well washed, quartered
1/2 bunch scallions, roots and green ends trimmed, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 jalapeños, roughly chopped
Pinch of allspice
Salt to taste

Purée all ingredients together until very smooth, either in a blender or food processor. Season with salt to taste.

Roasted Halibut with Onions and Honey Balsamic

Bulk herbs, my new favorite thing!

Bulk herbs, my new favorite thing!

In the summer of 2004, while living in Florence, Italy, I had one of the most amazing meals of my life at a tiny little restaurant on the Arno river, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio. I’m not a tuna lover, so I may have only ordered what I ordered due to a translation mistake (como se dice “tuna” in Italian?!?) but I had a tuna steak baked with onions and balsamic vinegar and it was literally the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meal I’ve ever had. I’m not the kind of person who remembers what I ate for dinner last night, much less nine years ago, but this was just that good. (On a related note, the realization that that was nine years ago makes me want to sob – and to book a flight back to Italy the minute I finish this post). I didn’t realize it when I set out to make this recipe, but the fish-onion-balsamic combo reminds me of that meal.

I read recently that a food blog should never post more then three recipes from one cookbook, since any more than that and you’re basically just giving away all of the cookbook’s material for free. That’s probably a good rule of thumb, but I’m openly defying it here since I just can’t help but post about one Melissa Clark recipe a month. This halibut is simple and delicious (albeit not cheap!), and I love the fact that you can do it on the stove. Apparently May is the season for spring onions, although I couldn’t find them and had to improvise.

Spring onions look like a larger, thicker green onion, or a smaller, skinnier leek with a slightly larger bulb. I found them a couple times last summer (although I always had to ask the produce guy at the market, they were never out) but of course couldn’t find them when I went to make this recipe, so I used a combination of green onions and leeks. I wish I had seen Melissa’s note (below), because although mine turned out fine, I think it would have been even better with red onions or Walla Wallas (and more reminiscent of my Italian meal as well). The onions get pretty caramelized so even if you aren’t an onion lover (I’m not), they turn out pretty delicious. The honey-balsamic sauce is to die for, although the next time I make this I might dial back the honey a bit since I find balsamic pretty sweet to begin with.

Buon Appetito!

Pan-Roasted Pacific Halibut with Spring Onions and Honey Balsamic, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Serves 4

4 Pacific halibut filets (about 8 ounces each), rinsed and patted dry
Freshly ground black pepper
3 bunches spring onions
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 thyme sprigs, plus leaves for garnish
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, more for serving
2 teaspoons honey
Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

1.  Season the fish with black pepper. Trim the spring onions, including the hairy bottoms, but leave the root end intact; remove the outer layer. Cut the onions into quarters.

2.  In a very large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and thyme and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until almost tender, about 3 minutes.

3.  Uncover the pan, carefully turn the onions, and continue to cook until they caramelize, about 3 minutes more. Add 2 tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar and the honey to the pan, let cook for 20 seconds, then immediately transfer the onions to a bowl.

4.  Heat the remaining oil in the pan until very hot. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the fish, skin-side down, and cook until just opaque, about 4 minutes a side. Add the remaining balsamic vinegar and remove from the heat.

5.  Transfer the fish to four serving plates and top each filet with some onion mixture. Drizzle with additional vinegar if desired and sprinkle with salt. Garnish with thyme leaves and chives.

Melissa’s notes, which I wish I had followed: if you can’t find spring onions (or miss the season, which is short and almost over), use the mildest, sweetest onions you can find, such as Vidalia, Walla Walla, or red onions.  You can also use any other fish in place of the halibut, or use the onions on top of any other protein.