DSC_0106

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Hunter, Gatherer, Vintner


October is the month of the Eat Local Challenge, and while I don’t subscribe fully to the notion that we should necessarily restrict ourselves to procure all of our food from a 100-mile radius (I like cooking with salt and pepper, thankyouverymuch), I sometimes forget that I really don’t have to. I live in the Pacific Northwest.

October also happens to be the season of chanterelles, deer and elk hunting and the fall runs of coho and Chinook salmon. An Indian summer has granted the sunshine a bit of stay, and I wanted to celebrate the meibutsu bounty of the Pacific Northwest (and some of the reasons I’ve never seen fit to leave my hometown). Yesterday, I threw a dinner party for 12 of my best friends and colleagues to share the bounty and praise our good fortune for living in paradise. We are a ragtag group of naturalists, foodies, hunters, gatherers and vintners.

I am also delighted to be one of the selected bloggers to be accepted by Foodbuzz to participate in their (now monthly) 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Posts series.

Norm (top photo) from Eat or Die is the Vintner mentioned in the title of this post. He and his lovely ladyfriend Gretchen couldn’t keep their hands off each other all day. Danni, Janelle and Tammy (bottom photo, rear to front) set up the table with the floral arrangements made by Danni and Tammy from flowers in their gardens.

Norm brought the gorgeous Pinot Noirs: 2003 Domaine Drouhin Laurène, 2004 Resonance Sineann, 2003 Ken Wright Eason, 2004 Boedecker Stoller, and homemade Pinot Noir (2005 and 2006 Chien Fâché) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2006 Ash Hollow) that he and some friends of his made from Yamhill and Walla Walla County fruit. His pairing with my planned meal was truly inspired, and I look forward to tasting (and purchasing!) some of next year’s batch. Detailed tasting notes and afterthoughts are available at his blog.

This was the setup that Janelle and Flori provided for me: a gas cooktop, a gas grill and a smoker. I couldn’t have been happier. In fact, I couldn’t have planned for a better venue for this dinner if I had a $5000 budget. When I though of this dinner, Janelle’s house was the first place that popped into my mind. I told her my idea, and asked if we could have it at her house, sight unseen. All I knew about her house was that it was in the woods in Sandy, Oregon (about an hour southeast of Portland). When she said yes, I wasn’t anticipating the idyllic scene of black-capped chickadees, cedar shakes and woodsmoke, but was thrilled.

Flori carved the table legs and stools with a chainsaw, mere days before the dinner, and milled the wood for the tabletop himself. The trees etched into the legs of the table are testament to his craftsmanship.

My menu was planned to show off the best of the northwest:

Hors d’oeuvres

Charcuterie plate of house-made coho “loukanikos” & Fraga Farm saganaki

Soupe

Curried chanterelle bisque with cardamom crème fraîche

Salade

Baby spring greens with golden beets, Silver Falls Creamery chèvre & toasted pumpkin seeds
dressed with hazelnut-Pinot vinaigrette

Entrée

Elk roast with alder smoked chanterelles & juniper-Pinot jus

Side of coho salmon with arugula-jalapeño pesto

Pan-fried Klamath Pearl potatoes with thyme and parsley

Grilled homegrown pattypan squash and green tomatoes

Chanterelle & cranberry ragout on toasted polenta points

Fromage

Grilled Hood River D’Anjou pears with Willamette Valley Cheese Company Brindisi aged fontina
& Rogue Creamery Oregon Brand Blue Vein raw milk blue

Dessert

Hood River D’Anjou pear and Gala apple galettes with homemade Douglas-fir needle ice cream and toasted hazelnut brittle

This was my first attempt ever at sausage-making, and I’m apparently a natural. I chalk that up to my German heritage. The sausage was inspired by Greek loukaniko, but I used coho salmon instead of pork (and a splash of Momokawa Diamond sake instead of dry red wine). The fennel seed (from my garden) and orange zest perfectly complemented the salmon, which was fished out of the nearby Sandy River by Flori. We cold-smoked it for an hour over alder chips, then grilled it until heated through. Sausage-making parties are going to be a new future friend event (Tammy’s gonna show me here tamale-making prowess in exchange).

The saganaki was a pan-fried raw goat’s milk feta from Fraga Farm in Sweet Home, Oregon. I’d never made saganaki before, but next time I’ll cook the whole wedge in one piece instead of in thick slices. A drizzle of olive oil and fresh oregano and parsley from the garden finished the plate.

Turns out, crème fraîche is dead-simple to make at home. Just add a couple tablespoons of buttermilk to a cup of heavy cream, loosely cover it with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and leave it out in a warm place overnight or until slightly thickened. The cultures in the buttermilk will thicken the cream and prevent bad bacteria from growing. Stirring in a little cardamom makes it a perfect accompaniment to creamy curried chanterelle bisque (thickened with a sweet potato and butter).

Roasted golden beets and toasted pumpkin seeds provided the earthy backdrop to fresh Silver Falls Creamery chevre and bright baby spring greens. A light vinaigrette of hazelnut oil, Pinot Noir vinegar (made by Norm) and Pinot-stewed prunes (pureed with a little dijon mustard) was all this salad needed to become a work of art.

The elk for the roast was hunted by Flori’s cousin, the coho was fished by Flori, the tomatoes and pattypans were grown in my garden, and we picked the chanterelles earlier in the day. The potatoes and cranberries were store-bought, but grown here in Oregon.

Elk is slightly more sinewy than deer venison, and benefits from a slow braise. This roast took 5 hours in a 180-degree bath of beef stock, shallot and garlic, and was served with a jus I made from Pinot Noir (a bottle simmered down to a cup), veal demiglace and juniper berries. I ended up pouring some of that unctuous jus over just about everything on my plate.

And in smiling fortune, this time the chanterelles were everywhere. We went up some Forest Service roads in the Mt. Hood National Forest, where the white fir and Pacific rhododendron provide the perfect backdrop to a foray. Only weeks earlier (say Janelle and Flori) the huckleberry bushes were nearly bowed over under the weight of all the fruit, but it looks like we missed our window to black bears readying for a long nap.

The cheeses were both delectable tastes of different parts of Oregon. The Willamette Valley Cheese Company’s Brindisi (an aged fontina) came from Salem (only 45 minutes south of Portland), and the Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue (a raw milk blue) from Central Point (in southern Oregon, near the spot I found porcini and morels a summer ago). These were both full-flavored cheeses that stood up well to grilled pears.

My standard galette needed no update other than to be paired with my latest pride and joy, Douglas-fir needle ice cream (although Brent was enamored of the galette for its pie-like characteristics. “It’s like a tiny pie,” he cooed). The piney tree notes were very subtle, almost indiscernible after the first bite, as were the hints of rosemary and pink peppercorn that I added to the simmering cream to reinforce the forest flavor I desired. I will make this again, but next time I think I’ll double the amount of Doug-fir and leave crushed pink peppercorns strewn throughout the ice cream. I think the cream and egg yolk can stand up to it.

The hazelnut brittle is like the Butter Brickle you might remember from the so-called ice cream, or the crunchy toffee interior of a Heath bar, but with a toasted hazelnut skeleton. I made a hard-crack candy of sugar and bourbon, and added a knob of butter for good measure. When it was golden, I poured it over a buttered Silpat of hazelnuts (that I toasted and roughly peeled beforehand) and sprinkled on some flakes of Maldon sea salt. I still have a bag of this delicious candy for future praline (or premenstrual snacking).

I think I’ve just found a replacement for all future holiday meals with my erratic family.