Monday, May 6, 2013

Shamble Manor

(middle april. number 39.) 

Kate and Peter Schweitzer are two of the most supportive, enthusiastic, and loyal guests to Secret Restaurant Portland. 
Peter's photographs of every dinner since #32 have been a tremendous gift to the project. When they asked us if we would do a special Secret Restaurant catering job for their housewarming party, we agreed immediately and enthusiastically.
They bought their house about a year and a half ago, and have tirelessly worked on completely remodeling it by themselves. This was the first unveiling for many friends and family members. See these before and after pictures to get an idea of how drastic and impressive the change is!

If asked what my favorite dinners we've made are, I'd likely find myself referring to #29, or #17, or #1– all of which fell around the middle of April. Oregon spring is a time for gorgeous, wild and wonderful purple and green food. 

We intentionally timed this job with this time of the year. The aesthetics of the food were to compliment the aesthetics of the house, and also, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to create new challenges for ourselves within a now familiar only-once-a-year flavor palate. 

This was not a sit down formal dinner, yet we plated and coursed each piece on a large table and guests helped themselves from there. There were closer to 30 guests rather than our usual 12.


Lemon/Oregon Truffle Salt Focaccia with Kate's Cheese Board

Lemons grown in the front yard of my dear family friend Sheila Ryskamp (an important figure in my life since childhood and also an inspiration for my pescatarian diet and my discerning taste in food) in California. 
Jacobsen hand-harvested Oregon sea salt, long-infused by Oregon white truffles. 

Focaccia recipe taken from Canal House #5. 

When preparing our grocery list, I got Kate to tell me of her favorite cheeses. under the guise that I might pick one or two. We got all of them/served all of them. A blue, a sharp cheddar, a sheep's milk feta, a chèvre, and something else. Served out with the focaccia. 


Asparagus/Fiddlehead Soup

Apparently, a traditional soup in New England in the spring, is 'cream of fiddlehead' prepared almost identically to traditional cream of asparagus soups. I had the idea to create a soup with both, and practiced it a few weeks before, when visiting my folks down in Eugene. 

We reduced the cooking liquid from processing all the stinging nettles for the nettle pasta (featured later in the meal), to a deep tea-broth. The asparagus and fiddleheads were blanched in this liquid, then processed in the Vitamix to a smooth puree. 

Worked back into the remaining liquid, with lemon juice for emulsification and brightening of flavor, the soup was then settled at room temperature and a small quantity of cream added to smooth out its finish. 

Served with butter/garlic sautéed fiddleheads, somewhat reminiscent of the experience I had as a 3rd grader eating escargot served by my francophile teacher Mrs. Bowers. 


Spring Curiosities Salad

Tender pea shoots/tendrils, deep all-purple carrots, french breakfast radishes, and flowering wild arugula tops. Dressed lightly with lime juice/oil/salt/pepper. 


Nettle Lasagne

One of the many dishes that started with a mildly ludicrous idea from tipsy Lucas, months ago, then executed by me in a state of nerves! Yet the results made it an entirely worthwhile endeavor.  

Wildcrafted stinging nettles, gathered by all us the previous weekend and de-stemmed with gloves on at intervals throughout the week. Blanched, then processed in the Vitamix and worked into Alice Waters's green pasta recipe, rolled out long and thin. 

Nettle/garlic béchamel sauce layered with Secret Restaurant Portland's first foray into cheese making (all credit due to Sofie) with a homemade nettle ricotta cheese.

Sparse crumbles of sheep's milk feta throughout, topped with mozzarella and pecorino romano. 


Strawberry/Rhubarb Semifreddo

Freshly made rhubarb syrup soaked ladyfingers, topped with two scoops of french vanilla custardy ice cream– one with roasted strawberries (w/maple syrup & olive oil), one with rhubarb compote– all packaged in squat little mason jars. 



Merrylegs Gin from Oregon Spirit Distillers in Bend. Super juniper-y, Kate's favorite, a gin all should know about!


Schwepps. A classic. 


Sparkling, made by us with fresh lime juice, sugar, and the Sodastream. 

Lemon Soda

Lemon syrup made with the extra rinds of Sheila's lemons leftover from the focaccia– sparkled by us with the Sodastream and bottled up. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Warming Away The Winter Winds

(early february. number 37.)

My most vivid memories from my visit to Poland in December are of food experiences. The numerous times I ate 'hot cheese' and cranberry sauce sold by old ladies hunched over in ancient squares, followed by hot, spiced wine… Eating pierogi served up by our host Scotia on the first night, nearly midnight, having just come in from -15º C streets, the warm potato and cheese comforting my travel weary body and mind… Paying the equivalent of 75¢ to slurp scalding, delicious mushroom soup from a lunch counter café with all the local students.

See more photographs of my polish adventure by scrolling down a ways here:

Lucas's family is of Polish origin, so this food has always meant a great deal to him– and some of his most formative cooking experiences were in this mode. 

Deep, dark winter–– my already fervent nostalgia for, and Lucas's lifelong love for, this particular food––– made this Secret Restaurant a natural, necessary beginning to this year of cooking. 


A recipe for Gluwein, the German-style version of Europe's hot red wine, mainly because it is tastier than Poland's version. I made this with Egrit Hungrarian red table wine, simmered with blood oranges studded with whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, and more cloves. 


Replicating the "hot cheese" I ate at the Christmas markets in Krakow this December. The little single portions are served from hot grills with dollops of cranberry sauce. This cheese, oscypek, was impossible to find here in Portland. So, I recreated the cheese by melting down other smoked cheeses, shaping individual cheese bites in the candy mold we have, letting them cool, then smoking them myself with applewood chips in the backyard, the frosty morning before this dinner. The pieces were heated up in the cast iron dutch oven prior to serving. Served with a cranberry sauce I had made/froze at the height of cranberry season. 

My having had the combination of hot, salty cheese with sweet/tangy cranberry sauce, accompanied by hot spiced wine in the middle of a medieval market square in the snow was the inspiration to do this whole meal. Everyone seemed to "get it."


Every Christmas Lucas's family makes this traditional Polish mushroom soup. We used black trumpets, winter chanterelles, and shitakes. Finished with sour cream. Served with little whole rye breads from the german grocer. 


1. Red cabbage and purple carrot slaw- lightly pickled & dressed. 
2. Slow roasted beets, deliciously simple with butter, salt & pepper.


Three kinds, three toppings. 

Ruski (potato + cheese)
Vegetarian Kielbasa 

Sour Cream (with added fresh horseradish)
House mustard (from Eidelweiss German Grocery, they know what they are doing with mustard. Made with black pepper and beer.)
Caramelized onions 

I spent part of three days making the vegetarian sausage from scratch. It contained rendered vital wheat gluten, red lentils, oats, mushrooms, roasted garlic, many spices– most notably hot hungarian paprika. 

We worked like three Polish grandmothers to produce the dough and fillings for all these pierogis over the course of three days as well. It was madness! 

Jarztna (root vegetable flower)

Turnip, rutebega, red potato, yam, japanese sweet potato, and parsnip fancy cut, dressed in butter + salt + pepper, arranged in a fan shape and roasted until tender with blackened edges. There to soak up the extra sauces and provide complimentary texture to the pierogi. 

Ciasto (little almond cakes)

Inspired by a recipe in Nigel Slater's new 'The Kitchen Diaries II," where he takes idea from/improvises recreating a cake from a bakery in Oslo, Norway. Sofie did these with tiny blueberries and golden raspberries from her yard, as well as white currants I'd gleaned/froze this summer. Lots of almond. Powdered sugar snow. A kind of heaven. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In the New Year

(new year's eve. number 36. our 4th anniversary!)

I'm waiting on the weather
and I know you'll pass
I know that it's true
It's gonna be a good year
Out of the darkness
And into the fire
I'll tell you I love you

Secret Restaurant Portland began four New Year's eve's ago. That night was not our official start, but it was the first sprout of what this project has become. 

We were on sabbatical of sorts in November and December, while I (Andrew, the narrator you read here on the blog) travelled a northeastern path in Europe– through England, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Turkey. Another adjunct blog telling that story can be found here at Autumn Wanderers

I had sublet the room in my house (where the majority of these dinners take place) for the duration of Nov/Dec, and so did not return until the afternoon of New Year's Eve. Lucas and I had met in Eugene the day before Christmas to plan the menu and execution of it.

Knowing our prep time was limited (mid afternoon to mid evening) and that we wished to have no real limit to the number of guests invited, (it being my home-coming, the anniversary, and our first event in months) our 4th remix of the original menu took the form of bite sized hors d'oeuvres. 

Basic elements found in all our New Year's meals that we kept in mind:

Past New Year's S.R. blog posts, for reference:


Indispensable help shout-outs:

           Will Boal, our old 3rd-cook from the "late 2010/early 2011" era, who always manages to be in Portland for New Year's despite pastures new, came early with his partner Hannah Keen, and they did a visionary-status-worthy job prepping vegetables. They met as apprentices on Let Us Farm (and hosted our Sept. 2011 farm lunch) and now run 26th Street Farm together in Hastings, Nebraska. 

           Alex Rosenblatt, who is the most recent resident of the Secret Restaurant Portland house, made the house immaculate before the party, helped prep, make chocolate sauce and lifted the hummus with some magic garlic sauce making. 

Report on the party:

A ragingly large attendance by the midnight hour (Peter shied away from snapping pictures when things got crazy, so you'll have to take our word for it), but everyone managed to be fed and have plenty of drink.  


Sous-Vide Salmon 

We prepared the salmon in a marinade, sous-vide ("under vacuum"- yes, Lucas got a vacuum sealer for Christmas. Watch out!) in a tall pot on the stove. The skins were removed, seasoned, and broiled into a sort of salmon-skin bacon. 

The delicate, juicy, euphoric pieces of salmon were served on sesame melba crackers with whipped fresh dill butter, topped with slivers of the crispy skins. 

Pickled Purple Salads

Ludicrously finely chopped chard stems/leaves and damn fine purple carrots. Dressed with sherry, white wine vinegar, spiced plum juice, and salt. 

Belgian Endive Pistachio Hummus Cups

The name says it all. Super 1980s "foodie" style. Roasted chickpeas blended with home-made pistachio butter and thyme. Served in endive cups with garlic simmered in oil, lemon juice, and a little brown sugar, finished with drops of green styrian pumpkin seed oil. 

Gnocchi Kebabs

I really channeled my inner Italian grandmother and made 15 pounds of gnocchi- using yukon gold potatoes, salt, olive oil, white flour, and potato flour. Not exaggerating. It was, distinctly, "off the hook." Fried in butter, rolled in parsley pesto, and skewered with kalamata olives. 

Tangelo Biscotti

Remembering the success of the tangelo in 2010/11's biscotti, I looked in the citrus box that had been sent to my parents for the holidays and found some prime fruits to work with. These contained a large quantity of tangelo zest and juice, along with toasted pecan pieces, toasted walnut pieces, and lots of cloves. 

They were dressed in a really intense chocolate, which Lucas and Alex crafted in two batches- one including milk and another only chocolate and ludicrously good Water Avenue coffee prepared as espresso. 


Like last year, we asked guests to each bring a bottle of sparkling wine rather than paying for their food/the experience. There were copious bottles, so it flowed in the manner associated with parties mentioned in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. So, for me, a dream of life.