Fog crept off the Willamette River one morning recently when we sought out Martha Rutherford in her specialty store called Panache. Friends told us, ''She has the freshest, most original deli food in Portland and uses fruit vinegars in intriguing ways.''
Panache is located in the Water Tower, a turn-of-the-century furniture factory which now houses a plethora of intriguing shops and restaurants with beamed ceilings and hardwood floors. Nestled back in the corner we see Martha making tomato rotini pasta for a salad.
''We are not a deli,'' she avers firmly. ''We are a fine food company. I avoid the word deli because I don't want people to think we serve corned beef on rye and the same ol' potato salad. We are different.''
Six-foot-two, this red-haired woman stands tall as she boasts of her culinary heritage. ''My Danish grandmother was a chef at the Continental Hotel in Copenhagen and traveled with the royal family to the Summer Palace to do all their cooking. Her influence has inspired my culinary endeavors down through the years.
''To me, cooking is an art form. I can think of no greater pleasure than spending two days in the kitchen preparing an eight-course meal for a tableful of friends -- and then watching it all disappear in two hours. It's my way of expressing love.''
Mrs. Rutherford spends 8 to 10 hours daily at the store and her husband, Bill , and teen-age daughters, Shannon and Amy, share part-time duties setting up inventory and cooking.
''We make everything fresh,'' Martha says. ''The mayonnaise, vinaigrette, pasta, soups, salads, and desserts are all prepared here. When available I reach out for the best of local Oregon foods, like cepes and chanterelle mushrooms from the Cascade Mountains.
''In the summer we have fresh morels, lamb's quarters, wild spinach, and huckleberries. Fresh Oregon basil goes into our pesto and a local couple put up a great array of unusually flavored Ribbon Ridge jellies.''
The store reflects her savvy in choosing hard-to-find items from around the world. But the greatest coup rests in the refrigerated cases filled with unusual soups, salads, meat pies, and desserts. Here Martha glows with culinary sophistication and a touch of nouvelle cuisine.
''The array of fruit vinegars now being offered under several labels is actually new versions of old recipes,'' she explains, pointing out slender bottles of jewel-colored raspberry vinegar, blueberry-cinnamon, apple-honey, and herb-flavored wild thyme, green peppercorn, and basil vinegars.
''Our great-grandmothers made fruit vinegars and used them for beverages. The White House cookbook of the 1800s suggests a tablespoon of raspberry, blackberry , or pineapple vinegar added to a tumblerful of ice water as a refreshing drink. But today we use them mostly for vinaigrette dressing with a mild flavored oil. Not olive oil. It overpowers the fruit.''
Here are some of Martha Rutherford's ideas for using flavored vinegars:
* Bone a pork loin and butterfly or flatten it. Rub inside with herb mustard, fresh bread crumbs, and sauteed mushrooms sprinkled with fruit vinegar or peppercorn vinegar and roll up and tie. Roast at 325 degrees F., 25 minutes per pound. Twenty minutes before done brush with mixture of prepared mustard and apricot preserves to glaze.
* Use blueberry or raspberry vinegar straight as a low calorie dip for crudites.
* Make vinaigrette of any fruit vinegar and oil, 1 part to 4 parts, as dressing for chicken or ham salad.
* Dice fresh leeks in 1-inch pieces and saute with raisins in little butter until translucent. Add chopped walnuts and dress with salad oil and apple-honey vinegar. Serve chilled with ham, turkey, or pork.
* For roast chicken, lay between the skin and breast meat a mixture of sweet-and-rough mustard and raspberry or blueberry vinegar.
* For fresh steamed vegetables try a sauce of tarragon mustard with raspberry vinegar and toss all together.
Martha also shared these recipes from Panache. Chef's Pasta Salad 8 ounces rotini noodles (or spinach) 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 pound fresh green beans, cooked 5 tablespoons vinegar, cider or fruit 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence 1/4 cup salad oil 1/4 cup olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/4 teaspoon sugar 1/8 teaspoon black pepper 1/4 pound dry salami, cut large dice 1/4 pound string cheese, shredded 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
Rotini noodles are spiral shaped and Mrs. Rutherford uses half tomato flavored and half plain egg. (You may substitute half spinach and half plain noodles.) Cook noodles in water with 1 tablespoon oil until al dente. Drain well. Cut green beans in 1 1/2 inch lengths and steam until just barely done (broccoli flowerettes may be substituted).
Make vinaigrette of next 8 ingredients by combining and shaking well. Toss everything together and mellow for an hour before serving. Serves six luncheon courses or 10 side dishes. Italian Cheese and Ham Pie Pastry: 1 1/2 cups butter, melted 1/2 cup water 4 cups all-purpose flour
Melt butter with water, stir in flour in four portions, and knead in bowl with hands for 2 to 3 minutes. Pat 2/3 of the pastry in a 9-inch springform pan, reserving rest for top crust. Filling: 2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese 1/2 cup sour cream 2 cups ham, finely diced 1 1/3 cups grated cheese 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 3 eggs, beaten 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence 1 teaspoon basil 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
You may use a combination of cheeses to make up the 1 1/3 cups (they mix 3 cheeses at Panache -- Gruyere, Swiss, and provolone or jack). Mix all filling ingredients and spoon into crust. Roll out a top crust from the remaining crust, cover filling, and flute edge. Decorate with pastry flowers and leaves, if desired. Slash top in 3 places. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees F. Serves 8 to 10. Balkan Rice Salad 1 cup raw brown unpolished rice, steamed 2 cups chicken stock, heated 1 small onion, minced 2 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon curry powder 2 medium zucchini, coarsely chopped 1 cup diced red onion 1 cup diced red pepper 1 green pepper, diced 1 cup ripe olives, sliced 2/3 cup olive oil 3 tablespoons vinegar 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon tomato paste 2 tablespoons parsley, minced
Steam rice until tender. Add to hot chicken stock and simmer about 7 to 10 minutes until chicken stock is absorbed. Saute small minced onion in butter. Add curry and stir well. In a bowl, mix rice, zucchini, all the onions, peppers and olives.
Make a dressing of oil, vinegar, garlic, and tomato paste. Toss with rice and vegetables. Let mellow for 1 hour. Just before serving toss with 2 forks and garnish with fresh parsley. Good served hot or cold. Makes 10 to 12 servings