Monday, September 21, 2009

Street Food, Portland Style

For years Portland, Oregon has been up and coming in the food world. It is a fantastic climate to grow a wide variety of produce and meats so we are known for our local, organic, sustainable and otherwise virtuous food. Chefs like to pair local specialties like salmon, hazelnuts, raspberries and lamb with our world renown wines. There are restaurants specializing in local foods at almost every price point ranging from Higgins and Wildwood at the top, The Farm Cafe and Laughing Planet in the middle all the way down to vendors at farmers markets and street carts like Addy's Sandwich Shop.

Today, though, I went for something a little different. A little more Asian. I spent a day last week reading through Food Carts and found myself daydreaming about a Thai cart they reviewed downtown. If you throw a rock in the air in this town you will hit a decent Thai restaurant or food cart, and as you know I do love Thai food. This one, however, is a little different.

Nong's Khao Man Gai has only one dish on the menu... khao man gai. Just one dish, you ask. And this one dish is chicken and rice? This doesn't sound daydream worthy. But just wait until you taste it. First off, it's served wrapped up in white butcher paper with the fork and napkin tucked under a rubber band. Too adorable!

Then you open the package and smell the delicate, heady scent of the chicken and rice. Whatever seasoning Nong uses in her broth is absolutely fantastic! The cucumber and cilantro add a nice crisp, cool crunch to the warm soft chicken and rice and look beautiful against the mound of brown. Then you open the little sauce cup and the ginger soy chili smell momentarily takes over everything. But you are ready. You take a fork full of chicken and the flavor sensation begins. A little chicken, a little rice, some sauce. Or no rice, just chicken and sauce. Cucumber and rice and sauce. A sip of the winter melon soup served on the side. Yummmmm. Everything is subtle, and flavorful and absolutely delicious.

I don't often spend this much time waxing poetic over a single dish, but this stuff begs for it. It is the epitome of that Asian juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity. I know where I'm going to eat the next time I am feeling a little under the weather, or just in need of some interesting comfort food. Next time, I might try adding the chicken livers or fried chicken skin, or I might just try to make it at home. Khao man gai, my new favorite food!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Egg Tacos, Ole!

Sometimes you find a recipe that is more than a sum of it's parts. A way to prepare simple foods in an interesting way with lots of easy variations. Sometimes this recipe suprises you and you find yourself eating it every meal for three days straight. This recipe is all of that and more. Smitten Kitchen calls it Huevos Rancheros, I call it Egg Tacos.

I've seen two kinds of huevos rancheros recipes in this world: the traditional fried egg with tortillas and chile sauce, and eggs poached in a chile sauce served with cheese and tortillas. I was actually served the latter while on a cross country trip on the Green Tortoise bus. 30 international travelers, two hippy drivers and me for 3 weeks driving across the U.S. We had huevos rancheros for breakfast one morning at a hot spring resort in New Mexico. It's one of those food memories I will never forget.

This recipe is unlike either or those and is much simpler. Basically, it's an egg fried ON a tortilla with cheese and whatever toppings you like. Couldn't be simpler, couldn't be tastier! It's hard to translate this food concotion into to "recipe" because you can make it different each time. I've made it with one egg on the tortilla and two, I've made it with different cheeses and I've topped it with everything from refried beans and salsa to grilled zucchini and chutney. Give it a try!

Egg Tacos

1 or 2 corn tortillas
A small pinch of grated cheddar or jack, or crumbled cotija cheese
1 or 2 farm fresh eggs
Salt and pepper, fat for the pan

Toppings of your choice including seasoned whole or refried beans, cooked rice, more cheese, avocado, tomato, red or green salsa, sour cream, hot sauce, pickled chiles, lime wedges, grilled veggies, ketchup, chutney, chocolate sauce (OK, just kidding about that last one.. kind of).

Heat a well seasoned cast iron skillet and warm up the corn tortillas over medium heat. Allow one side to start getting browned and a little crispy. Use only as many tortillas as will fit in your pan with minimal overlap. For my Ikea skillet it's one. With a 10 inch skillet I could fit two.

Flip the tortilla once it is starting to brown and add a pinch of cheese to the top of the tortilla. Crack the egg directly onto the tortilla, trying to keep it mostly on the tortilla, and cook until the white is starting to set. Carefully flip the tortilla over and cook the egg to your liking. Serve with toppings!

As I made these tortillas I came across one major problem - keeping the eggs from sticking to the cast iron skillet. Non-stick pans would fix this problem but we don't use those kinds of pans here at Real Food, My Way. (For an explanation of why and healthy alternatives check out this article this article from Mercola, this one from, this one from Marks Daily Apples, or even this article that was front page of the Oregonian newspaper FoodDay section recently.) A very well seasoned cast iron skillet is clearly the answer, but you don't always have that as well. I tried using tons of butter, like I do when I scramble or fry eggs normally, but the tortilla kind of sucked all the butter up. Once I did successfully lift up the tortilla, melt some butter under it and flip the egg into the melted butter without spilling egg white all over the pan. Just note, this is a recipe to make one a day your cast iron seems to be cooperating.

This recipe is so easy, so tasty and so variable. I am not joking when I say I made it for five meals in a row and never got bored. Thanks, blog-o-sphere!

For more great recipes and tips from the blog-o-sphere, check out Real Food Wednesday!