Sunday, September 25, 2011

An all-local menu— how to host a (fun)draising dinner

First, have a cause
Mine is Women's Crisis Support Team, a progressive grassroots organization in Southern Oregon devoted to preventing (and helping the victims of) two of the most shameful criminal acts: domestic violence and sexual assault.
Second, recruit a friend to help plan, cook, and serve. Make sure his/her culinary instincts match your own. In this case, I got a twofer with Jeanne Schraub, a wonderful cook and prodigious gardener, whose mate, Gary Clarida, looked great in his black and white serving outfit. PK, of course, was the bartender.

Gary the server explaining the fine points of waiting tables with guest Dave Frank.
 Who is that ghost in the garden? 

Here's Jeanne arranging flowers for the dinner table.
Third, get a theme. Ours was not original, but authentic: all local. This was easy as we pulled produce from our overflowing gardens and one 17-pound salmon from the Rogue River. (Not quite as easy. See previous post.) We also enjoyed some great donated Applegate Valley wine, thanks to Steve and Louise Rouse, as well as wines purchased from Del Rio Winery and Michael McAuley. Michael donated a portion of his proceeds to WCST, plus he delivered the wine to our house!
Fourth, pick a date a few months in advance and invite guests. It isn't that difficult to round up eight people (or more) who are willing to pay for a fancy dinner with good wine, all for a great cause. 
Paying dinner guests awaiting delivery of the next course.
We moved our dining room table outside to take advantage of perfect weather  and to
get the guests out of the cooks'' corner. 

Fifth, create a menu worthy of the price. (We asked $50 a person, but got some big "tips" which together made $550 for WCST.)

And now, what you been waiting for, The Fancy All Local Harvest Dinner Menu!
If you want any of these recipes, please email me or respond via Facebook. I need to figure out how to get rid of the stupid hoops you have to jump through to comment on this blog.

The starter - Paul's frescatini - a martini made with vodka, fresh mint and cucumbers.
PK and I rarely drink cocktails (we're actually winos) but discovered this potentially addictive drink in South Beach, Fl. that time I won a cruise and we had to fly to Miami to get on the ship and decided to see how the other half lives by spending a couple nights in pricey South Beach. The martini calls for quality vodka, and we used made-in-Oregon Crater Lake vodka plus some Absolute that I infused with sliced cucumbers for a month.
Mark Goracke, with beer-swilling-martini-avoiding Susan by his side,
passes judgement on the Frescatini. He liked it!
The appetizers:  Jeanne's deluxe marinated, pickled, or grilled garden veggies and Sicilian-inspired caponata served with crostini, plus a wedge of Rogue Creamery's world-famous (really!) blue cheese and a slab of Willamette Valley Creamery's smoked gouda.
Jeanne with her veggies and crostini.
The salad: Burrata caprese with brandywine tomatoes and basil-infused olive oil, a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil. Burrata is a silky and rich blend of mozzarella and cream, available at the Rogue Creamery and other speciality cheese shops. Don't look at the price. It's worth the splurge for a special occasion.
The soup:  Squash bisque. Made from butternut squash, vegetable broth, cream, and a slew of subtle spices and herbs.
The main course: Jeanne's French potato salad made from her red spuds, oil, vinegar, and herbs. Steamed green beans with sauteed-in-butter chanterelle mushrooms. The beans came from our garden, and the shrooms were gathered in the forest by Jeanne's colleague who wanted our dinner to be a hit. The marinated grilled salmon was served with chimichurri, dill, and chipotle sauces on the side.
Nasturtium-bedecked dinner plates ready to be served. 
Jeanne's incredible tarts, one pear and the other, a blackberry-topped marvel appropriately dubbed PET—positively erotic tart.
Remember, if you want any recipes, email me or use Facebook.
I'll post the recipes in a week or so. 
Consider hosting your own small-scale fun(D)raiser dinner. It's a great way to get together with friends and test your culinary creativity with another foodie. You might even impress yourself—or catch a fish!
And the non profit of your choice will be super grateful you made the effort.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lists about Salmon

The first salmon I ever caught. I should have been fishing the past four decades!
  • That's how long I've lived close enough to the Rogue River to smell it.
  • Salmon (and steelhead) run up and down this river like crazy. Or so I"m told. 
  • Salmon are beautiful, brave, determined, and mysterious. They are worthy to feed the upper reaches of the North American food chain—bears, birds of prey, and humans. They also taste great.
  • PK has a drift boat and desires to use it to bring home the (salmon) bacon. He needs someone to fish with and/or to row. I have rowed for decades, although not much in recent years, and I have now caught one salmon. I qualify. I can row. I can fish!
Why I haven't fished:
  • No rod
  • No reel
  • No fishing license
  • No clue
  • No motivation, other than a vague and troubling sense that fish are teeming in a river that is walking distance from my home. So why am I going to Costco?
  • Busy with other tasks of sustenance, such as a half-acre garden. Etc.etc.
How and why I recently caught my first salmon:
  • Promised to provide an all-local dinner for eight as a fundraiser for Women's Crisis Support Team.
  • Salmon is the most local and appropriate protein for guests that include vegetarians, who, fortunately, do not count fish as meat.
  • Lucky enough to know, and be able to prevail upon, a master fisherman, Ed Olson, for a fishing lesson. Oh yeah, he also supplied all the fishing gear including a motorized drift boat, and has the skill to maneuver said boat through swift water while standing, steering, and letting out his line. I'm sure he could also work in a beer, but it may have been too early.
  • Lucky enough to have as a fishing companion another master, who, after catching the first of only two fish of the day, turned his second salmon-loaded rod over to me to land and TO CLAIM! Thank you, Eric! So to put a finer point on it, I did not exactly catch a salmon, but I landed one.
What surprised me about salmon fishing:
  • Me! Predator! Appropriate as I often hunt for bargains at the meat counter. 
  • Sitting nearly motionless for 4.5 hours beginning at 6:15 a.m. In my seriously ordinary life, I rarely sit still, but this was a lesson in predation. You gotta do what you gotta do if you can't rely on the grocery store. Be still and watchful and alert for the slightest tug on your line.
  • Landing even a small (by local standards) salmon, is not exactly easy.
  • Stand-to-land is best. Lean forward with the rod, then lean back and reel like crazy. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I had the combined benefits of one guy maneuvering the boat and handling the net, and another coaching me on how to get the most out of every move. (Amazingly, Ed Olson landed a 45-pound salmon all by himself a week earlier! He had to run his boat up onto a sandy beach.)   
  • It wasn't as bad for the fish as I imagined. No fun being caught, of course, but seconds after the fish was netted, it was dispatched by a sharp rap on the head. Eyes went dead, then a slash to the gills. Then into the fish box. Then - into the fry pan or the freezer.
Getting the fish into the freezer? Not so easy for the novice. 

  • Home alone with a fresh salmon that needed to be filleted and frozen for the fancy dinner. PK's input not available for several days, as he is away. Salmon can't wait. 
  • Viewed "how to fillet salmon" videos for 90 minutes.
  • Searched for appropriate sharp flexible knife unsuccessful. Improvised with Mercer blade. (Thank you, Lanny! It's not flexible, but it's super sharp and did the job.)
  • Wrestled slippery and stinky (even though super fresh) fish onto cutting board.
  • Opened iPad to step-by-step directions with photos. Flicked fish scales from iPad repeatedly.

Leaned elbow onto fish, applied body weight, and attempted to detach belly meat. Oops. Cut too far. Can fish be glued?

Oops again. Bandaged cut and continued to separate the salmon from its bones. Tweezers are there to remove "pin bones" one by one. Tweezers not up to task. Guests will have to remove own pin bones, or I will try again with needle-nosed pliers once fish is thawed. That would be fun, right?

Well, I'm done with this tale. I can't delete the photo below without dumping the whole post into the trash. (Blogger, what the hell?)

So just ignore the duplicate pic of me with big fish. I adore looking at it, but once is probably enough for you.