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2014 was a great year for eating, drinking

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Barb Randall considers the GrillGrate to be the top cooking gadget she discovered in 2014.A sad occurrence of 2014 was the burning of the Crab Pot fish market in Lincoln City.As is our custom, this week’s paper is devoted to reviewing the happenings of the past year. A review of the archives of Lifting the Fork showed that I’ve had a pretty good one. I’ve added some interesting people to my list of friends, eaten some great food, drank out-of-this world wines and learned about some ingenious products. Here is a short list of some of the most memorable adventures from my 2014 trip around the sun.

This spring I met Chef Thu Ha Dinh, owner of fuAsian restaurant, catering and cooking school. An advocate of healthy eating, Thu Ha’s foods are fragrant, delicious and satisfying. She taught me how to make pho, salad rolls and other Vietnamese dishes focusing on freshness and flavor.

I also met Jorge Zuniga and his family, owners of Casa del Pollo, which serves Costa Rican cuisine in Lake Grove. Each morning Jorge loads the smoker outside the tiny red and white restaurant with chicken and pork and lets the smoker do its magic. Keep your windows rolled down as you drive by so you can enjoy the fragrance of the smoking meats – it is pure ambrosia.

Most traditional Costa Rican dishes consist of beans and rice with other ingredients, like chicken, pork and vegetables. Jorge told me it isn’t spicy food, it’s flavorful food. You can pep the dishes up to your liking by adding chimichurri sauce.

Photo Credit: STAFF FILE PHOTO: BARB RANDALL - Randall learned about Scandinavian cuisine, as well as Vietnamese and Costa Rican cuisines.I also spent a great deal of time in 2014 discovering Scandinavian cuisine. From my friends at the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation I learned how to prepare a proper smorgasbord, Icelandic holiday desserts and other delicacies. I discovered New Scandinavian cuisine, exciting new dishes utilizing the bounty of the sea and forest created by modern chefs. I know my household will be eating more Scandinavian foods in 2015.

The best gadget I discovered this year was the GrillGrate, the hottest thing in grilling. It does exactly what it claims to do: It simply grills food better. It is made of interlocking panels of hard anodized aluminum with a raised rail design, allowing you to rest the panels on your existing grill. GrillGrates President Brad Barrett explain how GrillGrates work.

“The secret is aluminum — it’s one of the most conductive metals out there,” he said. “Most grill surfaces are not conductive, so they don’t add anything to the cook. But this is like putting a lens on top of the heat source. It fires the heat up the rails so you have infrared, searing and conduction all working together.”

I know for a fact GrillGrates were tucked under Christmas trees throughout the area as a result of that column.

Drinking vinegars were refreshing beverages Randall discoverd in 2014.I reported on sad events, too, like the burning of the Crab Pot in Lincoln City. For the past 25 or more years we had bought fish from Allen Black at the Crab Pot whenever we were at the beach. I loved swapping travel stories and recipes with him as he removed crab backs or weighed out whatever fish we chose as the catch of the day. More than once he has provided fodder for this column, sharing the perspective of the fisherman and small business owner.

On the afternoon of July 3 he loaded up the smoker in the back of his building with halibut and salmon, just like he had for the past 40 years. The newspaper report said he returned a few minutes later and discovered the blaze; he was able to get out and call 911. Allen was safe but firefighters weren’t able to save the 80-plus-year-old wood structure. More than 24 fire personnel responded with two aerial ladder trucks, three engines and an additional rehab and rescue vehicle. Highway 101 was closed when the smoke obscured visibility and forced motorists to pull over.

Allen was hoping to rebuild. I am sad to report that my attempts to connect with him recently have failed.

Chuck Toombs is working with colleagues at Oregon State University to market a dulse burger.I learned from my friend, Chuck Toombs, that just down Hwy. 101 in Newport, Chris Langdon is growing dulse at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. A sea vegetable commonly used in Ireland, Iceland and other areas as food, dulse is a good source of minerals and vitamins comparable to other vegetables and is high in protein.

“It’s the fastest growing, most nutritious vegetable on earth!” Chuck said. “And when you sauté it, it tastes like bacon!”

Chuck, who teaches in OSU’s College of Business, sat down with colleagues from OSU’s Food Innovation Center in Portland to discuss creating and marketing a product using dulse. Viola! They've created a dulse burger, which you will see in your grocer’s freezer in the near future.

I had the honor of judging two cooking competitions this year. It is harder than it looks. Try rating 25 fruit tarts or lamb entrees carefully prepared by professional chefs.

The year 2014 was a great year for beverages, too. I shared information on drinking vinegars, hard ciders, beer and lots of amazing Oregon wines.

Ron and Lynn Penner-Ash invited the Randalls to help with grape harvest activities in 2014. One particularly memorable adventure was our excursion to Penner-Ash Winery to help with the harvest. Winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash was expecting to bottle 2,000 more cases of pinot noir than what was bottled in 2013. That is great news and a great way to end 2014.

So what adventures will I have on the 2015 ride around the sun? It could be anything. I'll keep my eyes open and be ready to go when opportunity presents itself.

Bon Appetit! Happy New Year!

Barb Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached by phone at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or by email at brandall@lakeoswegoreview.com. Follow her on Twitter: @barbrandallfood.

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