Portland Eats…in Eugene

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My husband and I are unrepentant foodies. You can infer any number of things from that statement, but the direction I’m heading here is that we happily live in the farmer’s paradise that is the Willamette Valley, in a small city with a variety of great restaurants and food carts, and when we want something new and exciting, we’re just two hours from Portland. In other words, we live in foodie heaven. However, considering the fact that we aren’t in an income bracket that affords us the luxury of going out all the time, we get just as excited about new cookbooks as we do about new restaurants. So when the two things come together—when our favorite Portland restaurant chefs produce gorgeous cookbooks chock full of our favorite dishes—life is particularly good. And let me just tell you, life is golden at the moment.

For a while now, our gold standard cookbook from a restaurant we love has been Mother’s Best:Mother's Bistro Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again, by Lisa Golden Schroeder. Mother’s Bistro, on SW Stark Street, is our go-to Portland spot with our daughter. It is all about American comfort food, taking into account that America is a multi-ethnic, multicultural place and has a food history to match. While my girl will almost always lean toward the traditional macaroni and cheese or raviolis with a salad, her dad is going to want the pulled pork sandwich, and I am there for the fried calamari with sweet and sour garlic sauce. It’s that kind of place—something homey and wonderful for everyone, even in our family of varied tastes.

The cookbook reflects this same mix of variety and comfort. Most importantly, this is straightforward Mother's Bestcooking with well-tested recipes that produce trustworthy results every time. Besides those infamous mac & cheese variations (there are 10 different mac & cheese recipes in the cookbook!), Lisa Schroeder particularly has a way with meats. The heavenly Mother’s Pulled Pork Sandwich with Honey Mustard BBQ Sauce is a perfect example and has become a standard in our house. It’s unbelievably easy, and the flavor combination of savory meat with mustardy sweet sauce is to die for. Also, the pulled pork freezes well, so we always make extra. I just took some out of the freezer this past Sunday and used it in a breakfast hash that was so good it would make you weep.

However, Mother’s Best now has some serious competition in the world of Portland restaurant cookbooks.

Andy Ricker, winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Northwest award in 2011, andPok Pok owner of one of our favorite Thai restaurants, Pok Pok, on SE Division Street, has of late been getting international attention from the food world. I want to shout, “Hey, we knew about Pok Pok before you all caught on!” But that’s just sour grapes on my part, so ignore me. The truth is that we haven’t had as much of an opportunity to eat there as we would like precisely because it is two hours away and, when we make the trip, there are so many other restaurants to try. So it’s pretty wonderful that there is now a cookbook!

Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand is Pok Pokeverything we expect these days in a quality cookbook: tested recipes and gorgeous photos, along with some great stories. It also includes a definitive Thai cooking manual that is a BIG help. So far, we’ve tried the Kai Yaang (Whole Roasted Young Chicken), the Yam Khai Dao (Fried Egg Salad) and the Tam Taeng Kwaa (Thai Cucumber Salad). The chicken was good, the Fried Egg Salad was amazing, and with some adjustments, the cucumber salad was also a hit it my family (I halved the amount of hot peppers because my boys don’t like so much spice, and I traded the long beans for snap peas because I had them in my freezer). Sure, you’ll either need to live near a comprehensive Asian food market to get some of the ingredients, or order them online, but good Thai food is always worth the extra bit of trouble.

And finally, one of the cofounders of Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessan on SW Stark Street, Nick Zukin,Kenny and Zukes teamed up with freelance food writer, Michael Zusman, to create my current favorite Portland cookbook, The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home. Let me just say one thing about Kenny & Zuke’s: homemade pastrami—cured seven days, smoked for ten hours, steamed for three hours and then hand-sliced. That’s probably all that needs to be said, but if I had time to wax on, I could also talk about the hand-rolled bagels, the latkes, the knishes, and the little hamantash cookies.

If I could go to Portland once a week for a Kenny & Zuke’s fix, I would. Since Artisan Jewish Delithat’s not going to happen, The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home is now the cookbook of my dreams. The recipes are clear and easy to follow; you don’t have to be a master baker to pull off the likes of bagels, blintzes, or beautifully braided challah (or chocolate rugelach…mmm). Try the Caper and Red Onion Potato Salad…really, do! And, of course, if you want to re-create that pastrami that I was going on about a minute ago, you can do that, too.

With this perfect mix of cookbooks, it’s like having a little Portland in my kitchen.

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