Monday, July 22, 2013

Caro Amico Italian Cafe

Needing a break from the OHSU cafeteria, I used my Urban Spoon iPhone app to search for an interesting nearby restaurant for dinner last Saturday. Caro Amico, just minutes down the hill near the tram, had excellent reviews so we decided to give it a try.

What a find! Normally, I would have chosen to eat on the deck, but I was out-voted by my dad and brother. (It was getting a little chilly!) so we ended up in a comfy window booth in the dining room. 

One of the first things I notice about a restaurant is the quality of the bread, if they serve bread as an appetizer. I admit that I'm a bread snob. The bread basket is like a party invitation; it sets the tone for what's to come. If it's cheap and unoriginal, it can dull one's expectations for the main event. Well, the bread at Caro Amico was excellent. Thick slices, fully caramelized crust, and served at room temperature as artisan bread should be. I'm always frustrated by restaurants that feel the need to microwave the bread to serve it warm. It ruins the crust and all you taste is steam!

Had I known how good the bread would be, I might not have bothered ordering the bruschetta pomodoro, but that would have been unfortunate as it was the best bruschetta I've ever tasted. The usual basil and tomatoes piled high on garlicky toast, but they added finely minced sweet red onion and I think they might have used a balsamic reduction instead of straight-from-the-bottle vinegar. Beautifully presented on a bed of baby greens. 

For my entree I chose the artichoke & feta ravioli in a creamy tomato sauce topped with Pecorino-Romano.  My dad had meat & cheese cannelloni. My brother ordered pasta puttanesca.  We all agreed our dinners were superb. 

When the appetizer and main course are of such high quality, you can be pretty sure dessert will follow suit. There were several varieties of cheesecake on the menu, along with spumoni, but the tiramisu was calling my name and I was not disappointed.  A great finish to a lovely meal. 

I will most certainly eat at Caro Amico again on a future trip to Portland.  The service was excellent, prices reasonable, parking abundant, and the food was some of the best Italian food I've eaten. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lunch at the OHSU Farmers Market

I've been in Portland for the past week, with one brief trip home to Roseburg for clean clothes and to see my husband and son.  My mom had open heart surgery at OHSU and it looks like I will be up here for at least a few more days.  I've spent the majority of my time in the ICU or surgical waiting room and now I'm camped out during the day with my iPhone and netbook in my mom's room.

As always, I'm on the look out for anything related to good food. I have been pleasantly surprised by the hospital food so far.  I've been able to make several good main dish salads in the cafeteria with baby greens, carrots, hard-boiled egg, edamame, and sunflower seeds dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Tonight I ordered Caribbean black beans with basmati rice, baked plantains, and steamed asparagus from the "room service" menu so I could eat with my mom and dad and, hey, it wasn't half bad, though it could have used a bit more salt. I haven't seen any Jello anywhere!

I spied a flyer about a farmers market here on the OHSU campus on Tuesdays and knew I'd have to escape the confines of the hospital to check it out.  My brother and I decided to see what they had in the way of lunch offerings and we were not disappointed.  I opted for a crepe filled with turkey, cranberry-pear relish, Tillamook cheese, and organic greens from the C'est Si Bon booth.  Delicious!  My brother went for a Middle Eastern platter of hummus, falafel, and tabouleh.  We both headed for the Scoop Handmade Ice Cream stand for dessert.  Dave had the salted caramel ice cream.  I was hoping to try the dark chocolate-marionberry sorbet, but they were out.  I went with an organic strawberry and balsamic popsicle instead and it was very refreshing on a blisteringly hot afternoon.

 A few photos...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Star-Spangled Dessert Step by Step

My second Tasty Tuesday column for those of you who don't get The News Review...

I'm a patriot at heart. I still get chills when I hear the national anthem or watch the Veterans Day parade. My Fourth of July celebration is filled with tradition. Beginning with the annual pancake breakfast at church, followed by a slow and humbling drive through the avenue of flags on the V. A. grounds, a family barbecue in the afternoon and, finally, watching the spectacular fireworks show from a blanket on the Riddle High School football field, we make the most of this holiday.

I spend the rest of the summer celebrating my semi-independence from imported food by stocking up on local fruits and vegetables for year round enjoyment. Raspberries, Marionberries, boysenberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cherries are at their peak now. They're nutritious, delicious, and plentiful. Aside from eating them fresh at every meal while they're in season, all of these fruits are easy to pick and freeze for use throughout the year. Frozen berries and pitted cherries get blended into smoothies, tossed into cereal, stirred into pancake batter, baked into muffins, pies, cobblers and crisps or turned into jam when the weather cools off.

Local vegetables are coming on strong, too. Potatoes in all shapes and colors, slender green beans, baby zucchini and yellow squash, snap peas, snow peas, garlic, and onions are all available at area farm stands, farmers markets, and Umpqua Local Goods. It takes only a few minutes of steaming or stir-frying to make a colorful, tasty side dish.

A pavlova is a meringue-based dessert created for Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballerina. Australia and New Zealand both take credit for its invention and it traditionally includes fresh strawberries, kiwi, and passionfruit. It's often made as one large dessert, but I find small, individual pavlovas to be prettier on the plate and easier to serve. I've used raspberries, blueberries, and Bing cherries here for a red, white, and blue version.

This dessert is not difficult to make and several steps can be done ahead. The following tips should guide you to success:

--Eggs whip best when they are at room temperature but it's easiest to separate them while they are cold. If any bit of yolk gets into the whites, use a piece of the shell to remove it. (Egg yolks can be refrigerated for up to four days and used in other recipes.)

--Egg whites need to be whipped in a bowl that is completely free of any oils or greasy residue. If using a plastic bowl, wash thoroughly, rinse and wipe down with a paper towel saturated with plain white vinegar before adding egg whites.

--Cream whips best when it is very cold. I often place the bowl and beaters in the freezer ahead of time to chill them. I always use Umpqua Dairy heavy whipping cream because it's local and it's not ultra-pasteurized, a process that extends the shelf life but compromises flavor. The cream can be whipped several hours in advance and chilled until you're ready to assemble the pavlovas.

--The meringue discs can be baked, cooled, and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 24 hours. Separate layers with waxed paper or parchment.

--The raspberry coulis can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight.

--Fresh berries can be rinsed, drained well and refrigerated several hours ahead of serving.

Good luck and Happy Independence Day!

Individual Berry Pavlovas
Adapted with permission from

Makes six servings

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and place two racks as close to the center as possible. Cut two sheets of parchment to fit two cookie sheets or half-sheet pans. Using a teacup or ramekin as a guide, with a pencil draw six circles on each sheet. They should be about three inches in diameter. Place the parchment on the pans, pencil side down, and set aside.

For the meringue:

4 egg whites (½ cup) at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

With an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium-high. When the mixture becomes foamy, gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated. Continue mixing until glossy, very stiff peaks form. This will take several minutes more.

Carefully divide the mixture among the 12 circles you drew on the parchment. Using a rubber scraper or the back of a spoon, very gently spread the meringue to the edges of the circles. Bake at 180 degrees for 1 ½ to 2 hours, longer if it's a particularly moist or humid day. When done, the meringue discs will pull away from the parchment easily without leaving much behind. Turn the oven off and leave the pans in the oven to continue drying until you are ready to assemble the pavlovas. (See the tips above for storing overnight.)

For the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized), very cold
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

With an electric mixer, whip the cream until it just begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue whipping just until soft peaks form.

For the raspberry coulis:

2 cups raspberries
granulated sugar
lemon juice

Place the berries in a blender or food processor and puree. Add sugar to taste and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Process until smooth. Pour the mixture into a strainer set over a bowl and use the back of a spoon to press the puree through, straining out the seeds.

1 ½ cups fresh raspberries
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries
6 fresh cherries

Rinse the berries and drain well.

To assemble the pavlovas:

For each serving, place two to three tablespoons of the raspberry coulis on each plate. Place one meringue disc on top of the coulis. Add a layer of whipped cream and then about ¼ cup of berries. Repeat those three layers (meringue, cream, berries). Add another dollop of whipped cream and top with each serving with a cherry. Serve immediately.