Gumbolaya

I guess you could really just call this a stew, but that’s not really telling of what kind of awesome goes inside. You know what you’re getting into when you say gumbo or jambalaya. This is just like both of those, taking the great things about them, stewing them in a pot and pouring them over rice.

The spice is going to creep up on you quickly depending on what you go for in terms of sausage and how much cayenne and creole seasoning you use. The hotter the better for us, as usual. I like to blow my nose during the meal. Super classy, right? The rice soaks up all of the tomato juice and helps mellow the kick. I picked up the okra in the freezer section and finally grabbed a jar of filé powder. It’s a gumbo necessity. I don’t cook this stuff often, but ever since the cajun cooking class I’ve been meaning to get some. It adds a bit of flavor and is a wonderful thickening agent. I’ll even throw it on a bowl of curry every now and then if it’s particularly watery.

While you could use chicken breasts for this, I really really really advocate for thighs here. They have so much more flavor and stand up to cooking for longer periods without drying out. The shrimp is optional, but again, I highly recommend it. It’ll add another layer of flavor to this quick dish. It’s not going to benefit from long cooking time. It needs all the help it can get. You do sacrifice a bit of flavor for the sake of time if I’m honest, but sometimes I don’t want to wait. This is perfect for my impatience.

Inspiration: The Cozy Apron

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1lb andouille sausage, sliced
  • 1lb chicken thighs [or breasts], cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3 celery stalks, small dice
  • 1 large yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 large bell pepper, small dice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon creole seasoning
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2lb okra, sliced
  • 28oz can of tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups hot chicken stock
  • 1/2lb cleaned and deveined shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • rice, for serving

Preparation

Heat some oil in large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the sausage. Let it sit for a minute or two so the oil starts to release from the meat and it starts to brown. Stir accordingly until all sides are heated. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel covered plate. Add the chicken to the pot. Brown it in the oil on all sides. Remove it to the plate with the sausage. Now add the onion, celery, and bell pepper [aka the holy trinity]. Stir occasionally until tender. Add the bay leaves, creole seasoning, cayenne pepper and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine in the oil and vegetables. Add the garlic and stir quickly so it doesn’t burn or stick. It should smell heavenly. Add the tomato paste, stirring for about a minute or two before adding the stock, okra, tomatoes, chicken stock, chicken and sausage. Stir and bring to a boil before turning down to a low simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Finally add the shrimp and cook for about 2-3 minutes and they get color. Sprinkle the parsley and cilantro on top before serving. Oh and remove the bay leaves. Service over rice.

Chorizo Cornbread

This bread! I have to tell you about this bread. I made it for the Super Bowl because snacks are all I care about. I go to parties for the company food because eating is my favorite hobby. If you follow on Instagram, you saw the ridiculous spread of stuff of at my parents’ house. The dining table was packed full of food and then there was pulled pork, chili, and clam chowder on the stove. So. Much. Good. Stuff.

Picking what to make for social gatherings get-togethers parties is equal parts awesome and overwhelming. There are so many choices. I had a whole bunch of things in mind like Pan Roasted Clams with Potatoes and Fennel, Cheddar and Horseradish Dip, and Green Chile Posole. Then Food52 posted this bread on Facebook or something and it was a done deal. New Seasons makes that obscenely good ground chicken chorizo that was perfect for this. The only substitution I made was trying out Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free (GF) flour blend. They don’t kid that it’s a 1:1 tradeoff. I would have had no idea it was a GF flour both in mixing or in the final product. If you’re toying with trying it for you or someone you want to bake for, it’s not a bad idea. It’s not cheap by flour standards, but I don’t bake a lot so it wasn’t a big loss.

The rest of the recipe I followed to a tee. Even the sifting. I never sift a dang thing, but I didn’t want to risk it with the new flour. The result was a deliciously cake-y corn bread. It’s definitely moist, but it has chorizo, cottage cheese, and buttermilk in it. For some reason the majority of the spice baked right out of the chorizo. Every now and then you get a spicy bite, but it’s definitely not constant despite there being a lot of chorizo in there. Since it’s not corn season, I just thawed a bag of frozen corn and used that. I left the bag in my fridge overnight. I was afraid they’d get soggy, but they didn’t.

I’d absolutely make this again. It was great by itself, under a pile of chili or pulled pork, and soon to be smothered in a poached egg. Poached eggs make everything better.

Recipe: Food52

Ingredients

  • 1/2lb ground chicken or pork chorizo
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6oz buttermilk
  • 8oz cottage cheese
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup corn kernels

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 375°. Prep a 9×9 or 11×7 pan with cooking spray or butter.

Brown the chorizo in a skillet on medium heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chorizo to a paper towel lined plate. Add the onion to the chorizo grease left in the pan. Stir occasionally. Let the onion soften an start to brown. The little charred bits of greasy onion are pretty awesome. Remove the onion to the chorizo pile once cooked.

In a large bowl, use a sieve and pour in the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Tap the side of the sieve over the bowl until everything goes through. Push any lumps if you have any. Add the cornmeal and salt. Make a well and add the remaining ingredients, including the chorizo and onion. Stir until evenly distributed and all the flour is wet. This should be thick and relatively dry.

Pour the mixture into your prepared pan and level out. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is browned and the top is springy beneath your touch. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into squares and eating. It’s great cold or warm.

Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

Breakfast tacos don’t seem to get the love they should. Most people talk about their burrito counterparts almost exclusively. Most restaurants pay homage to the burrito. I don’t understand why exactly. Once I saw the other side, I’m beyond interested.

There is a New Mexican restaurant, Pepper Box, that recently opened a brick and mortar from their food cart beginnings. Their breakfast tacos are to die for. The tortillas are fresh and handmade. The chorizo is the things dreams are made of. The potatoes are the perfect crispy exterior and pillowy interior. The eggs are scrambled in the right shape and texture. You can choose your New Mexican chile [green always for me!]. They’re gigantic, flavorful, and perfect. I eat two because I am a glutton for punishment. I justify it with one chorizo and one farmers breakfast with all the vegetables. Equally awesome, just different. They have plenty of other things, but I can’t get over the tortilla, chorizo, and chile sauce. I could eat them every day.

These chorizo breakfast tacos are no where near as good as Pepper Box. They’re good in their own right, but just different. The key is finding really good chorizo. I bounce between the chicken chorizo at New Seasons and the chorizo from the Mexican market down the street. Two distinct flavors. The chicken chorizo is less greasy so that’s a big determining factor when I’m cooking it with other things. I took some time to boil the potatoes so they’d cook faster in the skillet. They gladly soaked up the chorizo flavor. I scrambled the eggs with everything out of laziness. You could get bigger chunks of egg cooking it separately and then adding it after. A bed of arugula is bright and peppery and Mexican crema is a cool, mellow contrast to the spice going on. You could add cheese or salsa or avocado or whatever your heart desires […or you already have in the fridge].

Ingredients

  • 1 Yukon gold potato, diced evenly
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped small
  • 1/2lb ground chorizo
  • 6 eggs
  • 6 tortillas
  • arugula
  • crema, cilantro, salsa, cheese, avocado, for serving

Preparation

Put the chopped potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for approximately five minutes or until they pierce easily with a fork. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes cook, heat a skillet on medium high heat. Add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until the onions start to soften. Add the chorizo the chorizo. When it’s almost done, add the potatoes. Sauté the potatoes in the chorizo. Let each side of the potato sit for a couple of minutes before stirring so the edges get crisp.

Whisk the eggs together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the eggs to the pan with the potatoes and chorizo. Cook for a few minutes until the eggs are set. On eat tortilla add a small handful of arugula. Divide the eggs equally on a tortillas. Top with crema, cilantro, and any other items you have.

Chicken Tikka Masala (Crock Pot)

Before I make good on my promise of a crock pot recipe, can we just talk about The People’s Pig for a minute? Not the cart [even though the cart is awesome, too]. I want to talk about their new brick and mortar BBQ spot. I’m just going to say it’s taken the place of the best BBQ in Portland for me. It’s not a large menu, but it’s a good one. Pork and chicken and a handful of sides. The portions are ridiculous [as it should be for BBQ], and the flavor is out of this world. The smoked pork isn’t quite pulled but isn’t quite slabs and it has the most unbelievable char in spots reminiscent of the burnt ends you can get in Kansas City. It’s fall apart tender. The sauce comes on the side for your smothering pleasure. The greens are braised in a deliciously meaty braising liquid. The ribs are fall off the bone tender with a lovely pink smoked color and equal parts deliciously smoky char. I’m in love with this place. It looks like a little country hole-in-the-wall. The kind of place that you don’t feel ironic or kitschy drinking out of a mason jar. It’s freaking awesome.

Anyway, enough waxing poetic about BBQ. Let’s talk about another pot of meaty deliciousness [sorry, not sorry vegetarian friends]. I haven’t made a whole lot of Indian food, but I eat my fair share of it from food carts downtown. This tastes kind of legitimate, which is all I really care about. Does it taste good? Authentic is secondary. I went full on fat with the dairy. I know I really shouldn’t be eating it, but if I am going to, it’s going to be worth while. Full-fat Fage Greek yogurt and some organic heavy cream. The goods. It all comes together unbelievably easy. I made the sauce the night before and let the flavors meld together all night and then put everything in the crockpot in the morning. I really feel bad making crock pot meals sometimes because Andrew works from home and has to smell it cooking all day. My guilt is assuaged when I get a text message on the way home from work that he tested it [quality control!] and tells me how good it is. We’re even.

The chicken is pretty tender. I wish I would have used chicken thighs, and I will next time. Chicken breasts just have a tendency to dry out a little more, even when bathing in a mess of dairy for hours. I whipped up some rice and steamed spinach and called it a meal. A damn good one, too.

Inspiration: Cooking Classy

Ingredients

  • 3lbs chicken thighs or breasts, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 29oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • rice, steamed vegetables, cilantro for serving

Preparation

In a bowl mix together all ingredients from the onion to the cracked pepper. Let it sit overnight in the fridge if you’d like, but it’s not necessary. When you’re ready to start the crockpot, pour half of the mixture into the bottom of it. Add the chicken chunks and pour the rest of the mixture on top. Add the bay leaves. Cook on low for 8-9 hours.

When the time is up, test to make sure the chicken is fall apart tender. Whisk together the cream and cornstarch in a separate container. Pour the cream into the crockpot. Stir to incorporate throughout. Remove the bay leaves. Let the mixture cook for another 20 minutes before serving.

Carrot Soda Bread

Whenever I make bread, I love it. I love it in the way only a mother could love it. It never comes out quite right, and I don’t think I’d ever share it with anyone, but the carb-lover in me really doesn’t care. The carb-lover is just proud I made something that borders on cakey so when you toast it [in the oven under the broiler because I’m terrified it’s going to break off in the toaster] it’s kind of crunchy and warm, but still dense and chewy in the middle. Anytime I make bread, it always ends up dense. I’m sure it’s over-kneading. Story of my life. I fear for pockets of unmixed flour in random bites, so I mix more than I should. Apparently my idea of “until just combined” is still a little past the right way to do it. I don’t bake enough to hone my skills, so it’ll have to do.

The idea is pretty genius though. It’s about as quick as you can get for making bread. Adding the shredded carrots adds fiber, color, and a hint of sweetness, which is just fine by me. I suppose the raisins are optional for the raisin haters out there, but you should really give them a shot. It makes for a slightly sweet, breakfast-esque bread. Or lunch bread. Or snack bread. You get the idea.

Inspiration: Food52

Ingredients

  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup raisins

Preparation

Heat your oven to 400°. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the shredded carrot and butter milk. Stir until combined. Fold in the raisins and try to evenly distribute as much as possible. I used my hands for this. It counts as kneading so remember to work quickly and gently. Don’t make my mistakes.

Place the shaggy ball of dough on a 9″ cast iron skillet and bake until brown. It’ll make a hollow sound when you tap on it. This will take approximately 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before slicing into it.

Unstuffed Peppers

Sometimes you just want a one-pot meal. I’m pretty sure the crock-pot is the ultimate one-pot meal, but that requires planning and foresight that I just don’t have most of the time. I’ve been getting better. Expect some crock-pot meals to come, but until then there are these.

This is what happens when you unstuff a bell pepper. It’s practically what I do when I’ve ever made/eaten stuffed ones anyway. Sure they’re pretty all on your plate perched high and stuffed full of whatever goodness, but one cut and it’s on its side anyway. Then you have to cut up the pepper with each bite so you get enough pepper with every bite. Cooking it up this way ensures you’re increasing your fork to face time. Who doesn’t like making something a little easier every now and then?

Inspiration: Budget Bytes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2lb ground beef
  • 2 bell peppers, any color, diced
  • 15oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup white rice, uncooked
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 8oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

Preparation

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet on medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes before adding the garlic for a minute or two. Add the ground beef. Break up into small pieces as it browns. Add the diced bell pepper and cook until soft—about 3-5 minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes to the pan, including the juice. Stir in the rice, basil, oregano, some pepper, and the beef broth. Bring the whole mixture to a boil before turning down to a low simmer. Cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for 30-40 minutes. The rice should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed. Stir in the tomato sauce and worcestershire sauce.

Taste for salt and more pepper before serving.

2014 Recap

Happy New Year!

A recap is just as relevant on the first day of the year instead of the last day of last year, right?

What is there to say about this year other than it was great? I love being able to document and share it. I love being happy and able to do the things I want to do. There were a few new places checked off the list from travel, but never enough. New favorite Portland spots this year include the whole slew of New Mexican spots [Blue Goose, Pepper Box, and La Panza], Sen Yai Noodles for all of the most legit Thai outside of Thailand, Eb & Bean for the best fro-yo [especially the dairy free rotating flavor!], Pip’s Original Doughnuts because obviously, Milk Glass Market for breakfast, and Pinky’s for their pizza. Blog-wise, I feel like my photos continue to get better, but posts less frequent [Sorry!]. I’m still cooking and eating a lot, I promise. I have a lot of stuff in the queue, it’s just a matter of sitting down to write about it. Priorities. That said, I don’t have any real resolutions. I’m always striving to better myself, to do things I want to do, and just keep things interesting.

I went to the stats to see what’s been popular this year. The travel side of my writing has gotten a lot more attention than in years past, which was a pleasant surprise. It’s definitely something I like sharing about. Eating and traveling are easily my two favorite hobbies.

So here are the top ten most popular posts this year…

Lisbon

Gai Pad Prik Gaeng

Porto

Beef Queso Dip

Chorizo & Garlic Shrimp Burgers

Sardine & White Bean Stew

Cheese Tortellini Stew with Sausage

Barcelona

Spring Potato Salad with Horseradish Aioli

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Mango Puree

Prior Recaps: 2013, 2012

Spicy Kale and Pork Noodle Soup

And just like that the holidays came and went. Well, we still have NYE, right? I’m already writing 2015 at the office, and just like I wrote it now, I had to go back and fix 2014 to say 2015. My finger and brain are just not ready to coordinate in that fashion.

The holidays were full of good people and good food as they always are and always should be. That’s all I care about. The Christmas Eve feast of sandwich fixins and chips and dips outdid itself. My parents found a new-to-us Bavarian deli called Edelweiss, which yielded some new meats for the table. They also carry European specialty foods. I need to check this out. I made some parker house pretzel rolls based on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. I didn’t get a photo as I was running out of the house to get over to my parents’, but they’re just as good as they sound. I had to make the dough the night before, let it do its first rise, shape them, and then let the second rise happen in the fridge overnight. Since it was Christmas Eve, and I was working, I didn’t know when I’d get home. I wanted them to be freshly baked, so this was my first attempt at slowing the rise down like that. You don’t have to bring them back to room temp before baking. I let them sit out while the oven preheated and I boiled the baking soda mixture to ‘pretzel’ them, but that was it. They baked just fine, and I wouldn’t have known I had them in the fridge overnight. I also made the reuben dip again, in honor of Grammy, but the Thousand Island dressing I picked up really wasn’t my favorite. It was too sweet for my taste, but there was plenty of other food to make up it.

Christmas Day was the usual Mexican food feast since repeating Thanksgiving got old a few years ago. Crockpots full of meats, rice, and beans coupled with tamales, chicken enchiladas, taquitos and a table full of all kinds of toppings — fajita veggies, salsas, guacamole, more cheese, etc. It was heavenly. I avoided tortillas and chips just so I could mound my plate with a “taco salad.”

I hope your holidays were equally awesome.

I also wanted to leave you with this simple little soup if you’re not in the mood to cook or eat leftovers anymore. It’s really, really, really simple and has a whole bunch of greens if you feel like you’ve been missing that in your life the last few weeks. The “spicy” is relative to your tastes. Ramp it up or down depending on who is doing the eating. Feel free to use the already grown versions of these spices. I just happened to have them on hand and went with it.

Inspiration: Eat, Live, Run

Ingredients

  • 1/2lb ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 3/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 bunch curly kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce [plus more to taste]
  • 8oz dried rice noodles

Preparation

Smash together the ginger, peppercorns, chili flakes, cumin seeds, and garlic. I used a spice grinder because I’m lazy. Add the spice mixture to the ground pork in a bowl and mix together until incorporated. In your soup pot, heat the oil and medium high. When a drop of water sizzles in the pan, add the ground pork. Let it sit for a minute before breaking it up. Any caramelizing on the bottom of that pan is a good thing. Break it up into small bite sized pieces while it cooks.

When the pork is no longer pink, add the chicken broth, scallions, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Bring the whole thing to a boil before turning it down to a simmer for 6-8 minutes. Add the kale [in batches if necessary] and allow it to cook down. Allow it to cook another 10 minutes or so.

In a separate pot, cook your rice noodles according to package directions. Drain and run cool water over the top. To serve, add some noodles to the bottom of your bowl and then add the soup on top. Add more chili flakes or fish sauce to taste.

Roasted Broccoli, Fennel, and Sausage

I don’t show fennel nearly enough love as I want to. I really like it a lot. Roasting it was new. It’s a refreshing sweetness.

This whole combination is nothing short of wonderful. Make sure you get a sausage you really like since that’s really going to be the star of the show. I went with a spicy Italian -and- added the extra pepper. It shouldn’t be that surprising at this point. The broccoli and fennel compliment it nicely.

The couscous was kind of an afterthought for a filling addition. I could eat roasted vegetables and sausage for days otherwise. There’s never enough, so I needed something else.

It doesn’t really need to be said, but this is ridiculously simple to make. It’s quick, easy, and full of flavor. The trifecta of awesome when you’re in a hurry.

Inspiration: Food52

Ingredients

  • 12oz pork sausage, casings removed and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 fennel bulb, white part thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Couscous, rice, mixed greens for serving

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with foil or a Silpat.

In a large bowl, toss the broccoli florets and fennel slices with the olive oil, mustard, lemon juice/zest and red pepper flakes. Spread it in an even layer on the baking sheet. Evenly distribute the chunks of sausage among the vegetables. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the sausage is cooked and the broccoli is starting to darken at the edges. Turn on the broiler for a final couple of minutes to crisp up the sausage.

Season with salt and pepper before serving.

McMinnville, Oregon — Birthday Weekend Round 2

I was lucky enough to celebrate my birthday for another weekend. I’m surrounded by good people. Andrew surprised me with a weekend trip to McMinnville, Oregon to basically eat and drink my way through the town. McMinnville is home to a sweet little downtown surrounded by a whole lotta wine country and farms. We stayed at Third Street Flats right downtown. There are 11 of them, each with their own theme. We stayed in the 11th Flat, their noir flat. Apparently he really wanted number four, which was booked, but 11 was incredible. The only thing four could have beat it on is the view since it overlooked Third Street. The 11th faced away. If you follow me on Instagram, you already know kind of what it looks like. Since neither one of us took a legit camera, phone photos are all I have. I’m a sucker for the wood floors and exposed brick. The kitchen was open, had floating shelves, and an island. Want. Want. Want.

After wandering the main street and checking out the shops in their quaint historic district, which was totally decked out for Christmas, we settled in for dinner. We ate at La Rambla Restaurant & Bar for northwest inspired Spanish tapas. There wasn’t a bad thing on the menu and the service was absolutely on point. It’s slow season, so while we made a reservation, we didn’t need one. We actually went in early since it was really slow and my stomach begging for some food. I started off with their house sangria while we ate the pork migas and stuffed piquillo peppers. I could have eaten four more plates of each. The “small” plates were way bigger than I was expecting. The various types of pork were super tender, and the chunks of bread soaked up every bit of the juice. The bread actually made the dish for me. The piquillo peppers were stuffed with saffron rice and chicken and smothered in a nutty, cheesy cream sauce. I switched to a really nice pinot noir while stuffing ourselves on lamb nachos, sautéed shrimp in a Calabrian chili oil, and sautéed green beans with hazelnuts and Valdeón blue cheese. The lamb nachos were a trip — thinly sliced sweet potatoes, topped with ground lamb and more Valdeón blue cheese. The shrimp were about as perfect as you could get them. That Calabrian chili oil though! Green beans love some blue cheese. That’s not something I would have thought of before but definitely will now. We finished off the night with a thin, bright sherry and a citrus flan with espresso caramel. Like I said, the server was fantastic. He brought us a hand-written list of wineries with our check. All of his recommendations that night were really great. It was actually hard not to go back for the second night; the food was that good.

We started Saturday off at the Red Fox Bakery for some coffee and a breakfast snack. Our sights were set on a big lunch to set us off on wine tasting for the day, so a light breakfast was in order. Red Fox is known for their breads and sandwiches, but there wouldn’t be time since they were closed on Sunday. A simple Americano made with Illy espresso and their house specialty coconut macaroon for me; a dry cappuccino and quiche for him. That macaroon was crazy good. It was larger than most macaroons I’ve had, like a muffin top, and had a softer, more dense texture. The coconut morphed into an almost toasted marshmallow flavor when baked. I dunked mine in the coffee. I highly suggest that. Lunch was a BBQ feast at Ribslayer BBQ, which was right across the street from our flat, but hidden in an alley. It was hands down the best BBQ I’ve had since Kansas City. A deliciously charred burnt ends sando for him; a meaty Mofo sandwich for me. Their Mofo sandwich takes their pulled pork and tops it with their brisket and housemade BBQ on a slightly crunchy, soft-yet-sturdy roll. It handles the BBQ with ease and balances that meat-to-bread ratio well. That meat was so subtly smokey, and super tender. Their BBQ sauce is tangy and addicting. They had others for purchase, but it made sense to use what they serve up. It was a filling sandwich. Perfect for preparing someone for an afternoon of tasting.

Tasting started with Seven of Hearts/Luminous Hills in Carlton, Oregon. It’s a little bit north of McMinnville, but hardly a trek. Their wines were really, really fantastic. All kinds of old world varietals in a very easy-to-digest atmosphere. It’s not snooty at all, and has an in-house chocolate shop! The owner and wine-maker Byron chatted with us while he poured. It’s all very generous from the number of tastes to answering a bunch of questions to the bits of chocolate to pair with certain wines. It was a seriously great time. We walked out of there nearly members, but instead with a bottle of Roussanne [a white] and Grenache [a red]. Carlton’s little main street has that same historic charm and is chock-full of tasting rooms, but we only did that one tasting before heading back out for another winery in a different part of the area. Maysara Winery is heavy on the pinot noir and prides themselves on their Biodynamic farming practices. We headed here because of the pinot I had the night before at La Rambla. It was pretty awesome, and I’m not usually a huge pinot fan. The rest of their line up was only okay for my tastes, but the grounds and tasting room were gorgeous. The tasting room is relatively new and had a cavernous, rustic feel. They were so slow, making us their only visitors of the day. Getting there was really a drive out into the country on some dirt roads. If it weren’t for some tiny signs, I’d have had no idea where we were going. We headed back into town for one final tasting since my tastebuds tend to give up after three. The third and final stop was Remy Wines. The Remy label is for her single vineyard Italian varietals and the Three Wives label is for anything else that suits her fancy and doesn’t fall into that category. You know I’m a sucker for Italian varietals. We tasted their Lagrein, which I don’t think I had until that moment. It’s super rare to be grown in the US. It was lovely. The second was their ridiculously affordable red blend — sangiovese, barbera, and dolcetto. You hardly ever see a bottle of red for $19 at a winery. It was a great, easy drinker. The stars of the show for me was their sangiovese, which was unbelievably fruity, and their barbera, which ages for an unbelievable amount of time in the barrel. I would have had no idea it was a sangiovese if you hadn’t told me. It was totally approachable from the first sip. I feel like sangiovese is usually a bit of an acquired tasted if you didn’t drink it regularly, but this would please many people. The barbera is hands-down the best barbera I’ve ever had. That extra time in the barrel does incredible things to the wine. It really makes for a rich flavor. It’s a beautiful wine. We also got to taste some of the dessert wine made out of barbera grapes. It’s almost port-like, but still tastes like barbera. It was stunning. The wine did not disappoint this trip.

The final dinner of the trip wasn’t La Rambla, even though we were so tempted to go back for more. We headed to Thistle, a farm to table kind of spot. The menu rotates often and is written on a chalkboard when you first walk in. The whole meal kicked ass much like the previous night. Amazing service and even more amazing food. I knew immediately it would be another meat heavy night, so I let our server pick some wines. We started with a glass of gamay with the rabbit rillet and steak tartare. The quality of meat here is no joke. I fell in love with the rabbit on first bite. It was served in a little mason jar, had a delicious fatty top, and tenderly spread on every bite of bread. The tartare was some of the best I’d had. Again, I could have gone for three rounds of just this alone. The mains were lamb medallions on top of slightly sweet polenta in an addictive sauce and slices of rare+ beef on top of sautéed cabbage, blue cheese, and roasted potatoes. It was a great with the glass of cabernet franc. It was hard to pick favorite main. Probably the beef, if only because of it’s tangy notes. Savory always trumps sweet for me. We finished up the meal with a gin and parsnip cake and a meyer lemon panna cotta topped with berries and hazelnuts. I couldn’t decide on a dessert so Andrew picked both. What a gentleman. In the end, I think the cake won me over. The gin was a lovely aromatic element to the cake.

This morning we stopped into Community Plate, Thistle’s sister restaurant for a little breakfast before heading back home. It was a cozy, rustic place. The menu was simple. The coffee good. I had a simple bowl with a tender biscuit and housemade sausage gravy. The gravy was heavenly. I should have used a spoon. Andrew had the pork hash, and I just now realized I never got a bite. The horror.

And now that I’ve written a novel, I really just want to sum up that McMinnville was awesome. There was so much more food I wanted to eat, wine I wanted to drink, and walking around I wanted to do. I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of this great little town. It’s so close to Portland, and I’d never been in all my life. That’ll change now. It’s an easy day trip, but making a point to stay somewhere in-town was so much fun. A mini vacation. A delicious one. Andrew knows me well. That was a great way to celebrate.