May 25, 2013
A few weeks ago, the weather in Portland was absolutely beautiful and stunning. We're talking about 80-degree, blue and cloudless skies... in April. If you're a Portland local, you'll know how utterly rare and crazy it is to have such beautiful weather so early in the spring.
Encouraged by the perfect weather, my friends and I decided to plan a camping trip for this weekend. But not just any kind of camping trip. A glamping trip. Are you familiar with the term? It's a portmanteau of the words "glamorous" and "camping", and when combined together is a shortcut for "glamorous camping".
So what goes on in a glamping trip? Well, everything that goes on in a camping trip... but more glamorous. On the last glamping trip I went on, instead of eating from cans of beans and rice, my friends and I had brought a cooler of pork and red pepper skewers from New Seasons, Portland's local version of Whole Foods. We'd also brought a pound of asparagus (complete with lemon, black pepper, and butter for garnish) to grill over our fireside. Other glamping items? Pillows, toilet paper, and champagne.
As we were divvying out supplies and assigning who was purchasing what, my friends of course suggested that I take care of dessert. And since we were running out of space in the car, why not just bring some chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers for s'mores? Good quality versions of each ingredient, of course.
Looking at what I had been assigned, I couldn't help but feel a little bit cheated. S'more fixings? Really? Didn't my friends want me to whip up a batch of cookies or brownies or something? I know that s'mores are a campfire classic, but it seemed a waste to have the food blogger of the group bring nothing but ingredients. Staring doubtfully at the chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers in front of me, I had an idea.
Specifically a s'mores pie.
Because there is nothing that defines glamping better than a s'mores pie. I feel like this pie is the very definition of glamping: an ordinary camping staple, classed up and turned on its head. To make the pie even more glamorous, I used a graham cracker crust recipe from New York City's famed Momofuku Milk Bar and a chocolate truffle recipe from San Francisco's famed Tartine Bakery. Since I had friends from both cities attending the camping trip, I wanted to represent some of the best and highly lauded bakeries from their hometown.
I took an instagram picture of the pie and sent it to my friends, who all freaked out in excitement. Our enthusiasm for our camping trip was at an all time high... until we checked the weather report. Highs in the 40s, constant, icy rain, and some thunder. And just like that, our plans for our glamping trip was thrown out the window.
Oh well. At least we still had this pie.
May 22, 2013
As a food blogger, I often feel guilty about the amount of my food waste. Because let's admit it — it's rather indulgent and unnecessary to have a hobby that involves baking a dessert from scratch every few days. And let's talk about the fact that there are a lot of recipes out there that use odd amounts of ingredients. A third of a can of sweetened condensed milk? Just a few tablespoons of cream? What am I supposed to do with the rest of the ingredients, especially if they're going to perish in a few days? I hate to say it, but it used to be that the remaining quantities will sit in my fridge and simply spoil because I've forgotten about them. Yikes.
These days, I've been trying to be better about reducing my food waste as a whole. I've always been fairly good at dividing up the baked goods between coworkers and friends, making sure that there are no extras that sit around my kitchen uneaten. With leftover ingredients, I've learned to become more mindful and more flexible — that is, whatever ingredients I have on hand will be those that will be used in my baked good for the day, period. This philosophy sometimes creates new challenges and exciting combinations in my baking.
This sweetened condensed milk loaf is an example of that:
A few days ago, I made a delightful, no fuss, strawberry ice cream that unfortunately used odd quantities of ingredients — for instance, the recipe only used 1/2 cup of sweetened condensed milk, which is about a quarter of a regular 14 ounce can. I also ended up with open and unfinished containers of cream and fresh strawberries.
Staring at the three ingredients before me, I initially had varying ideas of what I wanted to make. What if I used the sweetened condensed milk for an iced coffee drink, and the strawberries and cream for a strawberry milkshake? Great ideas, sure, but somehow, that didn't feel right. I felt like the three ingredients were meant to be together.
Peeking in my fridge for some more scraps, I found three leftover eggs. And that's when it occurred to me.
Why don't I just make a cake? No, nothing too fancy or requiring too much prep work. Instead, I was opting for one of those simple, vaguely rustic and yet delicious loaves. You know, the kind that the ladies of yesteryear threw together on a whim with whatever they had in their pantry?
And so this sweetened condensed milk loaf was born:
But the three elements together — that is, the sweetened condensed loaf combined with the macerated strawberries and whipped cream — really just shined. It was the sort of simple dessert that a high-quality restaurant mindful of the seasons would serve. The kind of simple dish that stands as a testament to the fact that all you need are simple, delicious ingredients to make great food.
A couple baker's notes:
- Be sure to use the best strawberries you can find! Choose berries that are smaller and darker red; in general, this signifies that they are riper and will yield more juice and flavor.
- I soaked the strawberries in vanilla and rose water, which is available in the international section of any fancy grocery store like Whole Foods. If you can't find rosewater or don't want to spend that much on a specialty ingredient, you can replace the vanilla and rosewater with 4 teaspoons orange juice or orange liqueur like Grand Marnier.
May 18, 2013
Guys, it's strawberry season in Oregon.
Oregonians are fiercely proud of their strawberries. Earlier last week, I had two different parties lecture me on how Oregonian strawberries are far superior to the California variety. Californians, they scoffed, grew their strawberries for size and shape but not flavor. Oregon strawberries, although smaller, are marked with a distinctive "hood", and are generally redder and sweeter:
Strawberries have always been one of my comfort foods — which is a bit ironic because if I eat too many of them, I start to have a mild allergy attack. I wasn't always allergic to strawberries. The allergy was born four summers ago, during my first summer as a fresh college graduate. Back then, I was a bit of a wreck. Graduation seemed like it had loomed out of nowhere and thrust me into unemployment with nothing to offer but an incredibly academic (and faintly useless) degree from an esoteric college. To save money, I would buy pints upon pints of strawberries and simply eat an entire box for a meal, dipping the fruit in a combination of sour cream and brown sugar. My mouth soon interrupted into hives; my doctor explained that I'd given myself a strawberry allergy by consuming such large quantities over a short amount of time. Apparently that can happen, so, head's up.
A few months later, I moved to San Francisco to start my first job that paid, unfortunately, what most first jobs out of college pay — barely above livable wage. To top it off, most of my income was going into my astronomically high rent and nothing else. Barely able to afford groceries, I found myself living off the cheap eats (read: nothing above $5) that San Francisco had to offer: $1 bacon-wrapped hot dogs from illegal carts on the middle of the street attracting a drunk crowd, $4 super-quesadillas from the sketchy Peruvian restaurant window around the corner from my apartment, and interestingly enough, $3 scoops of ice cream from Humphry Slocombe, the quirky ice cream parlor a few blocks away from my apartment.
Although Humphry Slocombe is known for more exotic ice cream flavors like bacon, ancho chile and chocolate, brown butter, and olive oil, I remember that there was one day I walked in and found my favorite flavor: plain-old, no-fuss, strawberry ice cream. I treated myself to a scoop and was absolutely delighted — it was everything I wanted in my strawberry ice cream. Creamy, smooth, and unapologetically strawberry flavored, I was instantly hooked.
I went back to the ice cream parlor several times for more, only to find that they never served plain old strawberry ice cream ever again. I mean, strawberry was always present, but in some other crazy combination like strawberry olive or strawberry ice cream with Szechuan spice. Later, when some friends of mine had given me the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book as a present to commemorate my time in San Francisco, I flipped through the book only to land on a page with a recipe grumpily titled "Here's Your Damn Strawberry Ice Cream." I couldn't believe it — could this be the elusive classic strawberry ice cream that I had kept coming back for, without any success? Indeed, it was. The cookbook explained that they had only ever served plain old strawberry ice cream once in their shop's history, when the owners admitted that they had partied a little too hard the night before and were, well, hungover. I guess that was the day that I'd come in.
In any case, the book had given me the recipe for the best strawberry ice cream I've ever had in my life. I'm not good with ice creams — although I've made a few of them before, I'm awful with cooking custards and my previous attempts have come out either too soft or grainy. Hence the genius of this recipe and why I claim it's "no fuss": it involves absolutely no cooking. Simply whisk together some strawberry puree and a crap ton of cream and sugar, and voila! The best strawberry ice cream of my life — smooth, creamy, and unapologetically about the strawberries all the way. Also, this recipe has sweetened condensed milk. You all know how much I LOVE sweetened condensed milk.
A few baker's notes:
- Strawberries are in season now, so be sure to use the best strawberries you can find. This ice cream is all about the strawberries.
- There's red wine vinegar in the recipe, which seems a little weird, but really isn't. That's there to help balance out the sweetness of the fruit; you can't taste it at all! According to the cookbook, working with fruit in ice cream is always a little bit tricky since fruit flavor can vary so much. Be sure to taste the ice cream before you throw it into your ice cream maker — if it needs a little bit more sugar, add a pinch more. If it's a little too sweet, throw in a splash of red wine vinegar (but not too much, or else, you know, you'll get vinegary ice cream). I used the quantities the ingredient suggested, and it worked out fine for me.
- This ice cream is best after it's been freshly spun, right out of the ice cream maker. The fluffy texture is really remarkable — like eating strawberry cream clouds.
- I always have a hard time storing ice creams after I've made them, finding my cheap Ikea tupperware to be too thin. My ice cream always inevitably ends up with some awful freezer burn. I found these insulated, reusable pint containers the other day to help prevent the freezer burn and I've been really pleased with the results so far.
May 15, 2013
Welcome to the second episode of my new column, Blog + Cookies, my occasional column on what it's like to run a food blog. Today's topic? Writing about food.
These days, it's not enough to just post pretty pictures and a recipe on your blog — readers have also come to expect a cute little anecdote about your recipe, day, life, whatever. As a blogger, I sometimes struggle with my writing and, when I'm completely frustrated and just want to slam my head against the table, I remember these three tips:
1. It doesn't have to be completely about the food.
The best bloggers are the ones who are really able to bring a little bit of warmth and life into their posts. They do this by creating context around the recipe, discussing the history of the dish, why the recipe means so much to them, and how they sourced the ingredients for the dish.
But let's not lie — all that can be a little bit too much. There are only so many times you can read a post on how the blogger spent all day foraging for ingredients at the farmer's market. Plus, if you work a full-time job alongside of your blog, you just don't have time for that sort of thing. At least, I don't. And that's why it's important to remember that it doesn't have to be completely about food.
One of my favorite pieces of food writing is this Serious Eats review for Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer. If you've got a few minutes, you should seriously check it out. At first glance, it doesn't even seem to be about the beverage — at all. Instead, we've got some guy rambling on about his pothead friend, before segueing into some hilarious and bittersweet self-reflection about his own vices, until finally crescendoing into a surprisingly informative review. It's completely compelling. You can't help but keep reading as you wonder where on earth he's going. Genius.
2. Start with the second paragraph.
I have to thank my coworker Mike for this awesome tip. Often times, I'll have writer's block and can't think of how I want to introduce the recipe. So you know what I do? I just launch into what I want to say without providing any beginning whatsoever. And when I finish writing, I'm surprised by how easy the first paragraph with the appropriate introductory context follows.
For example, my buying agent recently asked me to write a "Dear Seller" letter to the sellers of the house I was interested in purchasing. Stunned that I had to write a letter to ask for permission to buy somebody's house, I started off with a rather ornery introduction complete with expletives:
I imagine you've probably got a stack of letters to get through, each of them more or less saying the same thing: you have a beautiful home, it's in a great neighborhood, blah dee fucking blah.
You can imagine an introduction like that wouldn't have gone well with the seller. But much to my surprise, the subsequent paragraphs that came after that rather vitriolic first sentence actually had, well, substance. Out of nowhere came a pretty heartfelt and honest message: how after I'd spent a nomadic childhood living in several countries, I was ready to call Portland my home and build my roots here. How I admired that they had obviously spent a lot of thought and care on their home, and how I hoped to live up to that.
You see, once I had gotten past the pressure of starting the letter and introducing what I wanted to say, all the good stuff had flown out of me just like that. And afterwards, it was easy enough to edit the letter to a more, um, easier-to-swallow introduction:
I imagine you've probably got a stack of letters to get through, so I'll keep this short and sweet.
3. It's okay if you don't have too much to say.
I don't know about everybody else, but here's the truth for me: most of the time, I don't really have too much to say about the recipe. At all. Because nope, I didn't spend all day foraging and sourcing the ingredients from the local market. Nope, I didn't find this recipe in a box in my grandmother's attic, where it had been passed down from generation to generation. Do you guys want the plain old boring truth? Most of the time, I just thought it sounded like a good and idea and decided to bake it! And that's totally okay too.
These cookies, for instance, are the perfect example of a lack of story. I've always wanted to make a homemade version of Oreos, one of my favorite childhood snacks, and was pleasantly surprised to find that a recipe in Thomas Keller's highly lauded Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. It turns out that he likes Oreos too. Who woulda thunk that Oreos would be the guilty pleasure of the chef behind the French Laundry and Per Se, frequently cited as some of the world's best restaurants?
Admittedly, I'd eaten one of these during my trip to New York a few weeks ago and I was, well, surprised. Although they looked like Oreos, they definitely were NOT Oreos. Instead of an artificially sweet and highly preserved frosting, Thomas Keller's Oreos sandwiched a whipped white chocolate and cream ganache. The chocolate biscuit itself was intensely chocolatey and almost salty, providing a great balance to the white chocolate filling. Indeed, these were not Oreos at all — more like Oreo's posh, slightly snotty cousin. I loved it.
A few baking notes:
- This is a bit of a time consuming recipe — both the white chocolate filling and the chocolate dough need to be chilled before you can work with them. Read the recipe carefully ahead of time, and plan accordingly.
- The chocolate shortbread biscuit dough originally called for 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, but I found that to be way too much. Feel free to use 2 though if you like the flavor of salted chocolate!
- The white chocolate filling can and should be made in advanced, since it needs to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours until it's workable. The filling is very delicate and temperature sensitive, so don't make the same mistake I did and bake it on an 80-degree day. Not the best recipe to make for the summer, but now I know.
- It's best to use a pastry bag to frost the cookies, but you can also just use an offset spatula to spread the frosting around.
I told you this was the Oreo's posh cousin.
May 13, 2013
My boyfriend Erlend and I have spent our past few Saturday mornings perusing the Portland Farmer's Market. While he (smartly) gathers a week's worth of food and vegetables for himself, I'm more interested in what I'm able to eat right then and, of course, the photo opportunities the market present.
I've always been a little bit shy about pulling my DSLR out at restaurants and most places in general. I guess it's a residual from growing up? My parents were pretty strict with dining table manners and etiquette: no cell phones/Game Boys/etc at the dinner table were allowed. Dinner time was family time, no exceptions allowed. To be honest I'm not even sure what they would say about today's trend of taking pictures of and instagramming one's food.
Eitherway, I've been making an effort to get past my irrational embarrassment about my DSLR. Besides, food photography in real life presents fun challenges that I've learned to control in my janky setup at home. For instance, whereas most of my photography at home takes place under soft, muted light from my window (that I filter with a bedsheet!), the farmer's market had bright, brilliant sunlight that created beautifully harsh contrast and dramatic shadows. Think: bright vivid colors and tight composition. I loved it.
Without further ado:
May 11, 2013
Guys, I believe I'm what's known as an "over-committer" — you know, the kind of person who signs up for too many things and spreads herself way too thin? Let's take the end of April as an example. What a crazy week that was! In less than seven days, in addition to my full time job at a crazy-busy start-up, I had gone to New York and back, competed in a trail race that I was way undertrained for, met with both my realtor and mortgage officer for the first time, attended a Portland food blogger's event by the Little Green Pickle, and committed to baking three items for the National Food Bloggers' Bake Sale. Yikes, just writing all that stuff out gave me a headache.
So on the Friday of that week, I had a slight panic attack when I realized that it was the National Food Bloggers' Bake Sale the next morning and I hadn't even started on any of the baked goods I promised to bring. Heck, I didn't even have any ingredients ready. To be fair, it was my fault entirely — the wonderful Fabiola of Not Just Baked had organized the Oregon chapter, and she'd done a great job of nudging us bloggers along with many gentle reminders. It was just my own inept planning that had landed me in this somewhat-screwed position in the first place. Because seriously, which idiot goes out of state, competes in a brutally steep and body-wrecking 6-mile trail run, and promises to make chocolate truffles, homemade oreos, and lemon tartelettes all in 5 days? This idiot, apparently.
And looking at the ambitious list of goods I had promised for the bake sale, I just had to laugh at myself. The truffles could stay, but the homemade oreos had to go. Sandwich cookies (like these brownie variation), while tasty, fun, and beautiful, had a low yield and were time consuming to make. And lemon pie tartelettes? Who was I kidding? How on earth was I supposed to transport 24 miniature pies by bicycle, my primary mode of transportation?
Well, they say necessity is the mother of invention, and this recipe is nothing but proof of that. Since this lemon cream recipe is one of my favorites on this blog, and I was committed to making sure it was available for the world to try. If the tartelettes wouldn't hold in my bicycle pannier, why not figure out a way in which they could? And that's when it dawned on me...
Pie. In a jar. Because what's more durable than a mason jar?!
My boyfriend had been bugging me to make a parfait for some time now, and needless to say his nagging paid off since it turned out that parfaits ended up being my main source of inspiration for this recipe. If I was going to stuff tartelettes in a jar and sell them to the public, they better be pretty right? I couldn't just shove them in there. And what's prettier than a parfait with its layers of cream?
Figuring out how to stuff tart crust into a jar turned into another challenge of sorts. I decided to take my regular pie crust recipe and simply crumbled it together instead of delicately rolling it into a pie crust. It ended up working wonderfully — the same flavor, minus the fuss that usually comes with baking a pie crust. Buttery and delicious, especially when layered between lemon cream, toasted coconut, and vanilla chantilly cream.
The bake sale itself ended up being a massive success. All the proceeds from the bake sale were donated to No Kid Hungry, a charity dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America by helping provide kids access to nutritional food and educating low-income families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. Together with other bloggers, we made over $800 total! Special thanks to Fabi and all the other wonderful bloggers who participated for making such a wonderful event come to life in Portland.
May 9, 2013
There are definitely some foods out there that just don't seem like they could be replicated in your home kitchen, and marshmallows are one of them. What a weird and bizarre food they are! Sweet, soft, squishy, and powdery — it's what I imagined clouds to taste like when I was younger.
But truth be told, I don't even like marshmallows. Why bother making them at home? Could a homemade version really be that much better than the store-bought kind? I wasn't convinced, but after flipping through several baking cookbooks with marshmallow recipes, my curiosity began to grow. Because here's the truth: there are some recipes on this blog that I make because I truly enjoy the food; there are others that I make for the challenge of it. This is one of those recipes. Because not only did I want to make marshmallows, I wanted to make flavored marshmallows. I really don't know how, but somehow I'd gotten stuck on the idea of a rhubarb marshmallow. Doesn't that just sound awesome and friggin' tasty?
So after searching the internet for rhubarb marshmallows and failing find any recipes, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Using Miette's vanilla marshmallow recipe as a base, I subbed out the recipe's corn syrup for some homemade rhubarb simple syrup. A ballsy move, considering I had never made marshmallows before and feared that corn syrup and rhubarb syrup were too dissimilar to produce the same results.
So how did it fare?
I'm not going to lie — at first I was a little bit skeptical of my creation. First of all, homemade marshmallows don't look like the pretty, uniformed little cylinders that you get in plastic bags at supermarkets. As you can see from the picture above, my marshmallows were cut in odd-shaped, disparate squares.
Also, quick side note for food photographers — it's REALLY hard to take good pictures of homemade marshmallows and just make them look attractive in general. Just FYI. I hate my pictures. There, I said it.
However, after my first bite, I realized that homemade marshmallows are a different species of their own entirely. They really are quite different from the jet-puffed marshmallows that you find in the store. Incredibly light, pillowy, and airy, these homemade marshmallows almost dissolve in your mouth! They reminded me more of a light meringue than anything else — and that makes sense, because it turns out homemade marshmallows are made from nothing but egg whites, gelatin, and sugar. The rhubarb syrup brought the perfect amount of subtle tartness to the sugary marshmallow flavor.
My only word of warning is that homemade marshmallows tend to be stickier than the kind you find in the store. I suggest rolling them generously in powdered sugar to prevent them from sticking to each other when storing them away. I also didn't use any artificial food coloring in my marshmallows, so if you want a more vividly colored marshmallow, I suggest throwing in a half teaspoon of food coloring during the whipping process. Finally, don't be intimidated by the marshmallow-making process! All the recipe calls for you to do is heat up some things in a pot, and then slowly pour the resulting syrup into some egg whites while they're being whipped. Voila. Homemade marshmallows, just like that. Who woulda thunk?