Stifatho or Stifado: However You Spell It, This Greek Beef Stew is F-A-B!

Call them stews or braises or, as New York Times food editor Sam Sifton termed this class of long-simmered, pot-cooked bellywarmers, "balms against winter’s bite," there's nothing in a cook's repertoire more satisfying on a cold night. Whether cooked on a stovetop or in the oven, the house starts to feel warmer almost immediately, and as the meat is browned and the vegetables are sautéed, the aromas begin to make stomachs growl in anticipation.

My first introduction to this particular stew was waaaaaaay back in high school when I became friends with a young woman who lived in our suburban neighborhood with its cookie-cutter ranch houses and striving white-collar families. Exotic in my stolidly middle-class experience, their house was littered with Balinese art and South Asian throws. Shelves of books rather than American colonial furniture were the focus of their decor, and when I was lucky enough to be invited for dinner they made curries and ethnic stews rather than noodle casseroles.

In other words, I was enthralled.

This all came back to me when friends—who've traveled extensively in Greece and are exotic in their own way—served us a Greek stew called stifatho that uses vinegar instead of wine or tomatoes to braise the meat, and calls for an equivalent weight of onions and beef. When I got home I dug through my trusty tin recipe box and found the original recipe from that family's home in high school—yes, I collected them even back then—and tinkered with it until it tasted just as I remembered.

Stifatho (Greek Beef Stew)

3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. beef chuck, cut in 1 1/2" cubes
1/2-1 c. flour
3 lbs. pearl onions (approx. 3 14-oz. packages frozen) or 3 large yellow onions, cut in 1/2" dice
2 c. canned or roasted tomatoes
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. oregano
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 stick cinnamon (optional)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar or to taste
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

Put flour in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag with a generous amount of salt and pepper and shake to combine. Add 8-10 cubes meat to the bag and shake to cover them with flour, working in batches to do all of the meat. You only want a dusting on each piece, so shake them off to make sure they're not clumped with flour.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. When oil is hot, add floured cubes to the pan, making sure not to crowd them. Brown them well on at least two sides. This will require several batches, so as they brown remove them to a plate or bowl. When all the cubes are browned, put them back in the Dutch oven and add onions, tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, oregano and bay leaves. Place in oven for 90 minutes.

Remove from oven. At this point you can either serve it later or finish seasoning the stew. If you're making it ahead you can cool it and either keep it in the refrigerator or transfer it to containers and freeze it. When you're ready to heat it for serving, thaw it or pull it out of the refrigerator and remove the fat that has solidified and proceed as below.

To finish the stew, stir in the fish sauce and cinnamon stick and heat on the stovetop. Taste, adding salt as needed, and when you can just detect the cinnamon flavor, remove the stick or it will dominate the stew. If it's overly vinegary for you, start adding brown sugar a tablespoon at a time, stirring it in and letting the stew sit for a few minutes before tasting again, since the vinegar flavor will get milder as it rests. The thing you want to avoid is a baked-bean sweetness, so add a splash of additional vinegar if that happens.

Serve with rice—I made my turmeric rice with tangerine peels and it was fantastic—polenta or roasted potatoes.

Solving Big Problems in Small Ways: Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm

"Slow Hand Farm exists to fundamentally address very large problems
[with our food system] in a very small way, with the understanding that
it's not just one big change that will fix things, but lots and lots
of small changes all working together."

Josh Volk is a farmer who doesn't own farmland, a consultant without a suit, an expert on farm machinery who prefers to build tools himself. He's also a bike racing enthusiast, a teacher, a writer and the author of books on farming and farm tools.

Volk is tall and lean, with a shock of reddish-brown hair that's usually covered with a variety of colorful knit or biking caps in winter or a broad-brimmed straw hat in summer. As is the case with many farmers, when he talks with you he tends not to look at you but out over the landscape, speaking in a cadenced, thoughtful manner that's echoed in his writing.

He was raised in a Quaker family in the Midwest where his father worked on Peace Education with the American Friends Service Committee. He attended a Quaker high school, earning spending money as a bike mechanic, which continued into college where he majored in mechanical engineering.

"I went to engineering school and got a degree in mechanical engineering because I wanted to know how things worked, and I wanted to build bicycles," he writes in his blog. While working in a high tech factory designing tools, he began reading the work of John Jeavons, cofounder of the group Ecology Action and the father of the modern biointensive gardening movement.

Volk started applying his interest in learning how things work, which had served him well in his engineering pursuits, to the problems of producing food. He volunteered at the East Palo Alto Historical and Agricultural Society, a mostly Black and Hispanic organization that was a driving force in lifting up a very poor community through community gardens, reconnecting it with a utopian agricultural past.


Josh is a connector in the farmer community. It’s rare to meet a farmer who doesn’t know Josh or hasn’t heard of him.


Though there are only remnants left today, the Society had a visionary plan for maintaining the integrity of the existing community by expanding open space for small urban agriculture, bringing jobs, job training and economic benefits for its residents.

Volk transferred the skills he was developing in his volunteer work with rural farmers, applying their techniques to smaller-scale urban projects. From Palo Alto, Volk moved back east to work on projects in Washington, DC, eventually working his way back to Sauvie Island Organics here in Oregon, helping to start Skyline Farm, a five-acre project to supply the produce for Meriwether's Restaurant in Northwest Portland.

He founded Slow Hand Farm in 2008, as he said, "to fundamentally address these very large problems [with our food system] in a very small way, with the understanding that it's not just one big change that will fix things, but lots and lots of small changes all working together." It was located on leased land on Sauvie Island and allowed Volk both to be a farmer and to continue his consulting work on projects from small gardens to farms with hundreds of acres of production, focusing on small, diversified vegetable growing for direct markets.

"Josh is a connector in the farmer community. It’s rare for me to meet a farmer who doesn’t know Josh or hasn’t heard of him," said Shawn Linehan, a Portland photographer who's known Volk for two decades. "He’s invaluable to our community and totally deserves acknowledgement for the role he's played in helping farms get started and connecting farmers to each other."

In 2013 Volk folded Slow Hand Farm into Our Table Cooperative in Sherwood. Founded by Narendra Varma, a former Microsoft executive who subsequently developed an interest in permaculture and biodynamic agriculture, Our Table describes itself as "a multi-stakeholder cooperative composed of three different interests along the food production chain: workers on our farm, regional producers, and consumers."

After three seasons with Our Table, Volk began working with Matt Gordon at Cully Neighborhood Farm in Northeast Portland. A unique partnership founded in 2010 between Trinity Lutheran Church and Gordon, it was driven by the values of delicious, healthy food, a healthy soil ecosystem, neighborhood-level sustainability and community self-reliance. Volk took over the management of the nearly one-acre property in 2018 when Gordon left to run the education programs for Rogue Farm Corps.


He’s proving that a farm doesn’t need to be big to be profitable.
As we try to change the food system, more people need to understand that
scaling-up operations is not the only game out there.


Cully Neighborhood Farm offers subscriptions to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), with shares available in the spring, summer and fall seasons, and Volk plans to offer a winter share in 2023. He's expanded the traditional CSA model by offering free pick-your-own herbs, cut flowers and vegetables in season, as well as access to a large collection of seasonal recipes from Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have and an onsite farm stand to supplement subscriber's shares.

Volk's first book, Compact Farms, written in 2015, showcases 15 successful farms that are examples of how farms of five acres or less can be sustainable, manageable, and productive.

"Most how-to farming books will discuss the biology, management and/or tool part of growing veggies, but fail to acknowledge the importance of the farm’s overall set-up," writes Jean-Martin Fortier, founder of The Market Gardener Institute. "He’s also proving…that a farm doesn’t need to be big to be profitable. As we try to change the food system, more people need to understand that scaling up operations is not the only game out there."

Volk's most recent book, Build Your Own Farm Tools, is a collection of the tools he's designed and built for use on his small farm projects, beginning with the basics of setting up a workshop, with plans for 15 tools, including designs for drip irrigation and how to set up spreadsheets for collecting important planning, planting, and market data.

"I’ve encouraged him to patent his tool ideas, but he doesn’t seem keen on the idea," said Linehan. "He thinks the designs should be open source, which speaks to his philosophy about helping others."

That sentiment is echoed by Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network, who calls Volk one of the most collaborative people she knows.  "Josh is a giver; he's willing to share everything," Selman said. "He doesn't hoard information but believes in putting it out into the world. He really believes in collaboration rather than competition."

At Cully, Volk has been able to expand on his commitment to environmental and social justice issues by building a small, contained, collaborative system in the community, one that's not built on an economic system that demands continuous growth, with winners and losers.

"When systems get too complicated, there's a lot to tease out," Volk said. "Small businesses, including small farms, are on the whole much more beneficial to the community, the environment and people's lives."

All photos courtesy Shawn Linehan.

Chuck the Chicken: Try This Roasted Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

As a young married person starting a family, I didn't often cook fish for dinner because I didn't grow up eating or cooking with it—good fresh fish was hard to come by in our small Central Oregon town. Even after my parents moved the family to Portland there wasn't much available in the strip mall supermarkets around our suburban housing development, the streets strangely named after Native American tribes. (Pawnee Path? Shawnee Trail? Sioux Court? Seriously?)

My mother was much more comfortable cooking red meat, what with her upbringing in an Eastern Oregon cattle ranching family. When we did have fish, it was most often from a can—tuna or the dreaded canned salmon, which was unceremoniously dumped in a dish, the indentations of the rings from the can still visible on its surface. Any whole fish tended to be less than absolutely fresh, requiring lots of what was called "doctoring" to cut the fishiness.

Needless to say, there was a lot I had to learn about cooking it.

Fortunately, we now have a myriad of choices for fresh-caught fish available at farmers' markets or one of many retail outlets featuring species caught off our own coast or harvested from regional waters. Recently I bought a portion of a friend's share of sockeye salmon from her Iliamna Fish Company CSF (Community Supported Fishery) subscription, several vacuum-sealed frozen fillets ready to thaw and throw on the grill or in a pan. (Check out this guide to Pacific Northwest CSA and CSF offerings.)

Since the weather was too inclement even for Dave, who's been known to stand over his grill with a beer in hand in an ice storm, I decided to try roasting it in the oven with a lemon piccata sauce that our friend Dana had made for a dinner. She'd come across a chicken piccata recipe that sounded great, but she had rockfish fillets on hand. Ignoring tradition like any creative cook, she decided to try a completely new dish on guests, subbing in the fish for the chicken. Excellent!

It seemed like salmon might be a good match, as well, so I followed her lead. Start to finish, it's ready in about half an hour…and I think you'll agree it's a winner. And it pairs nicely with my recently posted recipe for Turmeric Rice with Dried Tangerine Peels!

Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped fine
1/2 c. fish or chicken stock
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. white miso (optional)
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped fine, for garnish (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillets

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and very briefly sauté until it's just warmed. Add lemon juice and stock and heat until it barely comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add capers and miso and stir to combine. Add a small amount of water to the cornstarch to make a thin paste. Add cornstarch to sauce while stirring, and allow to thicken slightly.

Place fish fillets in a 9" by 12" baking dish. Pour sauce over the top and roast in oven for 20-25 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Ap-peel-ing Suggestion for Citrus Season: Dry Those Peels!

The holidays heralded the beginning of citrus season, when the usual bins of lemons, limes, and oranges at the stores expand exponentially with an avalanche of fruit from sunnier climes. From tangerines and clementines to kaffir limes and buddha's hands, now is the time to play with them in everything from beverages to baking and even in savory dishes.

When I wrote recently about juicing and zesting those odds and ends of citrus left over from baking or cocktail-making, I totally forgot to mention that you can dry the peels from lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, clementines and mandarins, too. The method for doing so is dead simple, and after drying they'll keep for several months in a closed container with your other spices. (See drying method, below.)

With thicker-skinned citrus like oranges and lemons it'd be best to just use the outer peels, since their pith can be bitter, though with thinner-skinned fruit like Meyer lemons and tangerines (and their small round cousins) you can use the whole peels. And of course I'd recommend only using organically grown citrus, since a wide variety of toxic chemicals and sprays are used on conventionally grown citrus trees and fruit.

All that's left to do is strew the peels with abandon, since they'll add their special zing to just about anything you can think of, from seasoning mixes to teas, in baked goods and scattered on salads, in marinades and salad dressings and on chicken or fish.

Turmeric Rice with Dried Tangerine Peels

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 c. jasmine rice
1 Tbsp. turmeric
4 c. chicken broth
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. thyme
1 Tbsp. dried tangerine, clementine or mandarin peel (see method, below)
2 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

Remove peels from citrus. Slice into 1" long by 1/8" strips. Place on parchment paper-lined sheet pan (or a smaller-sized pan if you're just doing a couple). Place pan in oven at lowest setting (100-150°) for 45 min. to 1 hour. Check to see if they're dry but not crispy. If they're still moist, keep drying and checking every 10 min. or so.

In a wide, flat-bottomed pan or deep skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add rice and turmeric and stir to combine. Add broth, bay leaves, thyme, dried peels, salt and red pepper flakes and stir briefly to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender (add more liquid if rice isn't done). Taste for salt and adjust.

Ginger-Spiced Cranberry Syrup: Three Cocktails for the Holidays (and Beyond)

Syrups made from seasonal fruit have become a passion, one way of preserving the distilled essences of the year to enjoy during the darker, rain-soaked days of winter in the Pacific Northwest. I've made syrups from rhubarb, persimmons, elderflowers and even fig leaves, which I'll splash into sprightly spritzers, cocktails and mocktails, often pairing them with whatever spirit seems appropriate, like bourbon, gin or tequila.

Recently my friend Lynne Curry posted a ginger-spiced cranberry syrup recipe on her Forage blog, calling it "the perfect mixer" and including a recipe for a Moscow Mule and another called a Cape Codder. Since I love the tang of cranberry almost as much as Lynne does, and locally grown, organic fruit is plentiful at farmers' markets and greengrocers this time of year, I thought I'd take advantage and make some that might, with a little luck and forbearance, last us through the winter.

We've come up with three cocktails to add to Lynne's list. Do some experimenting on your own and let me know what you make!

Ginger-Spiced Cranberry Syrup

1 lemon
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. unsweetened cranberry juice
2 c. fresh cranberries
2, 1/4-inch thick slices unpeeled fresh gingerroot

Take the lemon and with a vegetable peeler, cut six 1/2" wide vertical zests about 2-3" long.

Combine the sugar with the cranberry juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to make a simple syrup.

Remove from pan from the heat and add the lemon zests, cranberries and ginger. Cover and steep for at least 15 minutes.

Puree the cranberries and the ginger in the pot with an immersion blender or use a food processor. Pass the mixture through a fine meshed strainer into a storage jar. Discard the solids. You'll have 1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) cranberry simple syrup.


Cranberry Margarita

Makes one cocktail.

2 oz. tequila
3/4 oz. lime juice
3 oz. cranberry syrup (see recipe, above)
1/4 oz Cointreau or triple sec
Salted rim (optional)
Lime wedge (optional)

Put tequila, lime juice, syrup and Cointreau into shaker half-filled with ice. Shake 30 to 40 seconds. Pour into old-fashioned glass containing amount of ice desired.


Cranberry Old-Fashioned

Makes one cocktail.

2 oz. rye
1 oz. cranberry syrup (see recipe, above)
2 dashes angustura bitters
Orange twist for garnish (optional)

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake 30 to 40 seconds. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish, if desired, with orange twist.


Cranberry Hot Toddy

Makes one hot toddy.

For the syrup:
4 Tbsp. cranberry syrup (see recipe, above)
3, 3" strips orange zest
3 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 star anise

For the cocktail:
2 oz. bourbon
4-5 oz. boiling water
1/2 oz. lemon juice

In a small saucepan bring the syrup, zest and spices to a bare boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 15 min. Strain solids.

In a mug or appropriate toddy cup, add strained syrup to the bourbon, hot water and lemon juice. Stir.

Adventures in Vegetables: Sear that Radicchio!

Verona. Castelfranco. Treviso. Chioggia. Lusia. Rosa del Veneto. A wide range of colors from deep burgundy to pastel pink to soft yellow, and solid to streaked to brightly speckled.

Radicchio season has been glorious this year, as evidenced by the gorgeous abundance of varieties at farm stands, farmers' markets and greengrocers. Not only has the weather been spectacular for this late fall crop, but more local farmers than ever are growing these slightly bitter members of the brassica family.

One reason it grows so well here is that, as Anthony Boutard has pointed out numerous times, we're at virtually the same latitude as Italy's Venezia and Piedmont regions, which means crops that grow well there will more likely than not will adapt well to our maritime climate. Luckily for us, Brian Campbell and Chrystine Goldberg, owners of Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, Washington, have caught the "bitter is better" bug and are working with several Northwest growers to develop and adapt these chicories to our climate. (To find out more, check out the Gusto Italiano Project, a collaboration between the Culinary Breeding Network, Uprising Seeds and the northern Italian vegetable breeders at Smarties.bio.)

So in late fall, my heart leaps when I see the first heads of Treviso and Castelfranco at the markets, and I can't seem to get enough of them in salads, chopped in wide ribbons and tossed with other greens and fall vegetables like black radish and fennel. I've also discovered an affinity between radicchio and our own hazelnuts—I've been crushing roasted hazelnuts and scattering them with abandon, where they bring a sweet counterpoint to the bitter notes of the chicory.

This year I've also discovered how delicious these fall beauties—particularly the tighter heads of Treviso, Chioggia and Verona—are when seared in a pan over a fire or on the stovetop. It takes just a few minutes to quarter them, sear them in a bit of hot olive oil and drizzle them with my creamy Miso Vinaigrette (below). And don't forget the roasted hazelnuts!

Seared Radicchio with Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

For the radicchio:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 smaller heads of Chioggia, Verona or Treviso radicchio
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, crushed

To make the vinaigrette, combine the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk together.

Slice the heads of radicchio in quarters, leaving the core intact so the leaves will stay together. (The cores will soften while searing and be quite lovely.) Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and place the quartered wedges cut-side down and sear until very dark brown (don't worry if they look blackish…that's good). Turn and sear the other cut side, then turn onto the back and sear. Remove to a serving plate and drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with crushed, roasted hazelnuts. Serve warm.

Photo of heads of radicchio from Slow Hand Farm. Radicchio print from Culinary Breeding Network Etsy shop where you can buy lots of radicchio merch!

Waste Not, Want Not: Save that Zest and Juice

I always have odds and ends of citrus sitting on the counter or mouldering away in the back of the fridge. Dave will peel two strips of zest from a lemon for a negroni and the poor thing—I swear on a stack of Maida Heatter's books I had every intention of using it—will gradually wither from embarrassment and end up in the compost bucket.

One day it struck me that I was wasting a heck of a lot of perfectly fine fruit juice, not to mention zest, that could be used in cocktails, desserts, salad dressings and any number of other recipes. You know the ones, where they call for a teaspoon of juice or a pinch of zest or a wedge for garnish, only requiring a portion of the whole.

That's why I've taken to first zesting the fruit with a microplane grater, which shaves off only the desirable outer layer and none of the tends-to-be-bitter pith, then juicing the whole thing no matter how much a recipe calls for. What juice I don't use is poured into a container, labeled—an important step, believe me—then stored in the freezer. (An ice cube tray would work, too, and the cubes can be kept in a container or zip-lock bag. Zest can be stored in zip-lock bags or those teeny lidded containers that have no other use that I can discern.)

I can't tell you how many times we're short a mere half-teaspoon of juice for a recipe, or we'll need zest for orange currant scones, or Dave says, "Dang, I'd make a daiquiri if we had some lime juice." That's when I pipe up in my most helpful tone and say, "Hang on, I think there might be some right here…"

Cheers!

Farm Bulletin: Propagating a Tropical Fruit in a Less-Than-Tropical Climate

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon, is always up for a challenge when it comes to adapting his favorite foodstuffs to our maritime climate.

Sweet potatoes are propagated as clones; shoots are cut from the tuber and rooted. Those slips are genetically identical to the tuber, absent a mutation, and assure the next crop will have a similar look, flavor and texture. The curse of uniformity is that life, at least for some of us, becomes very dull indeed when everything looks and tastes the same.

For diversity, the farmer must rely on sexual reproduction which leads to a reordering of the crop’s genome. As a tropical crop, the floral biology of the sweet potato is poorly adapted to our latitude and climate, actually completely worthless, at least in terms of reproduction. Sometimes they will flower, a lovely flower at that, but seed set is beyond their capabilities. Consequently, breeders must work their magic in subtropical and tropical locations.

Jay Bost, GoFarm Hawaii

In 2016, knowing our interest and experience in growing sweet potatoes in Oregon, Jay Bost of GoFarm Hawaii and John Hart of EarthWork Seeds approached us to see if we would plant some of their seeds they harvested from their breeding work on Hawaii. We were game, so they sent us some packages. The seeds are tiny and the instructions advised that the hard seed coat had to be nicked, then the seed soaked to assess viability. If the seed started to germinate we could plant it. Following this difficult protocol, Carol managed to start 250 plants and these were planted in the field.

That autumn, we pulled the plants and identified just five out of the 250 that had potential in this climate, and we weren’t especially fussy. Most failed to produce any tubers, those that did have swollen roots produced mere rat-tails as they are termed, about as plump as a pencil. A similar phenomenon occurs with tropical races of corn, the stalks grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, as though reaching for the moon, with nary an ear maturing by the time our frost falls. The difference with this breeding effort is that the breeders specifically selected parents with potential to produce tubers at this latitude. Even so, nature maintains the house odds. Bost and Hart were gambling against the tropical nature of the crop and only beat the house two percent of the time. On par with Las Vegas casinos or the state lotteries; actually not so bad when you think of it with that perspective.

John Hart, EarthWork Seeds.

Of the five successful plants from the 2016 planting, all were white-fleshed and tawny-skinned. Although we continued to propagate the other sweet potato varieties in our stable, by this year it was apparent that only one of the old guard remained, the obnoxiously named "White Delight" (top photo, upper left), and only a handful of tubers at that. The Bost and Hart sorts had swamped our genetic stable with their vigor and contentment in our climate. As far as I can tell, three sorts dominate. On the left, there is the long, smooth-skinned tuber with few lateral root scars. The second, at the top, is plumper with many more scars and a furrowed shape. The third is very large, distinctly furrowed, rotund, with a scurfy skin. Aside from appearance, they all have good flavor and pleasant sugar levels.

We will add that this year was a stellar sweet potato moment—an unstintingly hot and long growing season. Enjoy them. Oh yes, as someone who frets at stupid variety names, these tubers are, as yet, unnamed. Oh glorious anonimity! If you must name them, "The Bost & Hart Seedling Grex" is the correct way to refer to these tubers. "No Name Yet" also works just fine, and is just as smart. 

Last year, the New York Times had an article about the quest for quality sweet potatoes, or yams as is your wont. The lesson being, forget those in the grocery store. That is precisely why we grow our own.

Top photo by Anthony Boutard. Photo of Jay Bost from the GoFarm Hawaii website. Photo of John Hart by Shawn Linehan.

More Sustainable Meat and Seafood Traceable to the Source? Bring It On!

Portland cooks and makers rejoice! After months of fits and starts on their expansion plans—the pandemic has wreaked havoc on construction schedules and state agency certifications alike—Revel Meat Co. and Two x Sea have finally filled their cases and staffed their counters at Providore Fine Foods on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.

"We’re happy to announce that after many months, the debut of their full-service meat and seafood counter at Providore is here," said Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore along with her husband, Kevin de Garmo and their business partner, Bruce Silverman. "The 'protein' corner of the store has been transformed into a mecca for those who want to work closely with their local butcher and fishmonger to source top-quality, small-farmed meat and sustainably caught seafood."

While the original plans calling for an oyster bar have been scotched, there will soon be seating in the new wine room—it's taken the space once occupied by the now-closed Nomad. There are grab-and-go goods aplenty, from salmon cakes, fish croquettes and fresh oysters to marinated chicken skewers and housemade sausages ready to take home and throw on the grill, and Vannatter says to look for holiday specials appearing soon.

A huge problem with our food system is that shoppers are often misled about what they're buying. Tilapia, a common farmed fish, is mislabeled as more expensive snapper—an analysis by the Guardian newspaper of 44 studies found that "nearly 40% of 9000 products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled." The same misinformation is presented to consumers regarding the sourcing, feeding and slaughtering of beef and pork.

Both purveyors have a stated mission to offer transparency and traceability to Portland cooks. Want to know where a piece of fish in the Two x Sea case comes from, the name of the boat that caught it and how it was caught? Just ask. Lauren Vannatter of Two x Sea said, "We'll tell you the real story instead of the made-up story."

Similarly, Revel's Ben Meyer is committed to tossing out what he calls the "smoke and mirrors" of the meat business, including being able to tell shoppers the name of the farmer that raised the animal, how it was raised, what it ate during its lifetime and when and how it was harvested. Like butcher shops in your grandparents' time, you'll be able to see Revel butchers breaking down primals and sub-primals of beef and pork into steaks, chops and roasts, and even butchering a whole lamb.

How about braising a beef neck, buying a whole pork belly for bacon or pig trotters to simmer with a pot of beans? You'll be able to preorder all of those and get them in a day or so. (Me, I was excited to hear that after the holidays—please let it be true, kitchen gods—I might be able to obtain the main ingredient for Hank Shaw's blood sausage, and even order the fourth stomach of the cow called the abomasum, so I can tempt my friend Paolo to make his favorite Tuscan sandwich, lampredotto.)

Calling Providore's partnership with these two purveyors a "perfect marriage," Wellman added that "their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere. These guys walk their talk."

When the founding partners launched Providore, Wellman said that it was intended to become a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from, and this latest expansion is the long-planned next step in its evolution. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," she said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."

Providore Fine Foods is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Before I Forget: Deconstructed Ratatouille

My first efforts here at Good Stuff NW were to simply record things I came across, from a new-to-me charcutiere in Seattle to a road trip south to Redding, California—which we promptly named after the Robert Mitchum classic "Thunder Road"—to a profile of our first Cardigan Corgi, Rosey. All themes that have remained mainstays of what has become my second career.

Northwest seasonal bounty in spades!

You see, GSNW—so much nicer than just "this blog," isn't it?—is also a record of sorts of my journey through food. It's chronicled my sense of betrayal when I found out how my until-then-beloved Tillamook cheese actually sources its milk, to discovering the true meaning of nose-to-tail eating through a pig named Roger. It included finding out that we do indeed have a "food system" here in the Northwest that impacts our health, our communities, the environment and the climate. Wow.

What does that have to do with ratatouille, you might rightly ask? Good question.

Since the beginning, I've also recorded favorite recipes* from the basics like a quick tomato sauce and mustard vinaigrette to what to do with leftovers (a series I call "The 'L' Word") to a yearly Crustacean Celebration of our world-class Dungeness crab. It's been a boon to scroll through this list on those I-have-no-idea-what-to-have-for-dinner nights and find something that will fill the bill of fare.

Which brings me to ratatouille. (Finally!)

I love eggplant, whether in a ginger-rich Chinese sauce or an Italian Parmigiana. But ratatouille, that Southern French simmered melange of vegetables, has never broken my top ten eggplant dishes. Maybe it's the color of the finished dish, which tends to turn to the drab side of the spectrum when finished, or that the vegetables lose their individual flavors in the stew, especially sad when the members are fresh from the farm, vibrant in color and hardy in texture.

But then…

I'd just picked up our CSA share one week and there it was (above, left). Deep purple-to-pale-lavender eggplants, yellow and green summer squash, and tomatoes fresh off the vine. It took no urging to get Dave to fire up the grill, and I pulled a couple of chicken thighs out of the fridge to throw on with those gorgeous vegetables. Tossed with a caper-studded vinaigrette, it was a definite keeper.

Which, because of the post you are reading, I'll now have to refer to the next time I find myself in need of dinner ideas.

Grilled Ratatouille

Eggplants
Italian peppers (red, yellow and orange, or any mix of those)
Summer squash (yellow and green zucchini, patti pan, crookneck, etc.)
Tomatoes

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp. capers
Salt and pepper to taste

For the vegetables, mix and match amounts and types as available and adjust amounts for the number of people you're feeding.

Make a fire in the grill (we use a chimney for that purpose). While coals are heating, make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisking them together. Then chop or slice all the vegetables except the tomatoes into larger grill-able pieces. I usually cut larger eggplants into 1" slices and halve the zucchini. Usually the peppers can be grilled whole then seeded before using. DO NOT OIL VEGETABLES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES prior to grilling. When coals are white-hot, dump them out and spread evenly in one layer. Place vegetables on the grate over the fire and cook until tender, turning as needed and pulling them off the fire onto a platter as they become done.

When all the vegetables are cooked, chop into bite-sized pieces, including the fresh tomatoes. Place on platter and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Find more recipes for leftovers, or get the whole massive list here and here.