Monday, April 14, 2008

Blue-ribbon Pork, Popcorn Rice, and Fake Tomatoes

I'll be blunt—the only legitimately fresh and local product in dinner is the pork (well, that and the beer, but I'll get to that later). But the rice is worth talking about, and the tomatoes, well, they served as a reminder of what the whole fresh, local foods movement is really all about.

And as it turns out, this dinner started out with the rice. A few weeks ago, my friend Jeff Zurschmeide informed me that he'd ordered a ten-pound bag of rice for me from Ellis Stansel's Gourmet Popcorn Rice out of Louisiana. Knowing that I try to keep a "rice collection" at all times, Jeff took a gamble that I'd happily hand over the $20 it would take to bring all this Louisiana goodness up to Oregon. (You think I'm kidding about the rice collection? In addition to the Stansel, we have basmati in white and brown, a bit of Thai jasmine rice, some Italian arborio, a box of mochi, and a recently-emptied bag of Japanese short-grain rice. Oh, and some wild rice from Minnesota, but that's not technically rice, it's a different grain.)

So when the rice arrived and I brought it home from Jeff's place last week, we started planning a Cajun/Creole feast. The heavy cotton sack, complete with drawstring, makes a great presentation:

Rice in the raw

Then Saturday was so sunny that I took off looking for future features for the blog (oh, all right, I put the top down and drove the hell out of the Miata, all over the best roads of Washington County). Kim and Boh started doing the grunt work of our own garden. Charlie spent the day zoning out in front of the Wii. So we all had a very light dinner, since nobody had the energy to cook.

Worse yet, we were unable to easily lay hands on crawfish, so the original plan of making a crawfish etouffee to serve on top of this fabulous rice will have to wait. To compensate for it, Kim dug out some wonderful fresh pork chops from the prize-winning hog that Jeff acquired for us last year (blue-ribbon winner from the 2007 Clackamas County Fair, no less), and I grilled them with a mild but zesty dry-rub. They were just incredibly beautiful raw, as I laid them out for seasoning:

Homer, ready for seasoning...

While they soaked up the spices from the dry rub, I made the third part of the meal, fresh tomatoes sliced and seasoned with our favorite peppercorn mix (black, white, green and pink, freshly ground), dried marjoram, and crushed red pepper, then drizzled with good extra-virgin olive oil.

Almost as good as they looked

While they were good, the tomatoes were on the crisp side, even though they were deep red hothouse tomatoes on the vine. Usually, these are about as good as it gets for store-sourced tomatoes; this was no exception, but I still miss the incredibly, musky lusciousness of real tomatoes.

Overall, the meal was wonderful:

The finished product: pork, rice, and fresh tomatoes

And a word on that beer: I've been a fan of Bridgeport Brewing Company since we moved here, especially since learning that Bridgeport is the old name for the town we live in. They make a lovely IPA and a fantastic porter that I've enjoyed on many occasions.

Last summer, though, Kim and I were in the Hawthorne district (the funky, cool part of town on the east side) and walked past the Bridgeport Brewpub. Since we were looking for refreshment at the time, we stopped in and ordered some bar snacks (warmed olives marinated in lemon zest and herbs) and a sampler of their brews.

All the beers were good, but the Beer Town Brown hit home for me. Years ago, when I was building my race car, I spent a lot of time at the homes of various friends on our loose confederation, depending on who had what tools that one or the other of us needed that week. The beer of choice, since we all raced British sports cars, was Newcastle Brown. I still love Newcy, though it's better on draught of course. But I've always wondered what it would be like to have a Newcy IN Newcastle.

Well, unless I make the trip, a Beer Town Brown at the Bridgeport Brewpub is as close as I'm likely to get. And let me tell you, it's wonderful. Not that I wouldn't love a trip to England, but the Hawthorne is just across the river, and my local grocery store has been selling Beer Town Brown in bottles for the past few weeks.

It's got the great, rich, mellow blend of chocolate and crystal malt that is the highlight of Newcastle, but in traditional Northwestern style it's hoppier than Newcy, with a refreshing bitterness atop the creamy, deep malt. Highly recommended...


Berry K said...

Looks delicious -- but you don't say how the rice came out! How was it?

Scott Fisher said...

The rice was superb -- more vanilla/butter aroma than basmati, not quite as floral as jasmine. Very nice with the simply seasoned grilled meat, but I still can't wait to make something with Cajun/Creole flavor. If we can't find crawfish, I'll make a jambalaya with chicken and linguica; the kids LOVE linguica, as it's not quite as hot as andouille, and I can always dose mine up with Avery Island's most famous export.

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