May 20, 2015

Caramel Mascarpone Tart with Brown Sugar Rubbed Pears

If my life were a book, I'm guessing this chapter would be called something like "San Francisco, Part II". Or "Michelle Moves to San Francisco.... Again". Or maybe even "San Francisco, All Grown Up". But I like the first title best, so we're sticking with it.

Because "San Francisco, Part II" so far has been a lot more pleasant than "San Francisco, Part I". I really lucked out with my place in Noe Valley, my new neighborhood. There are a ton of lemon trees and quaint architecture, as well as a Whole Foods just a stone's throw away from my new studio. The Mission, my old neighborhood from "San Francisco, Part I", with all its trendy shops and restaurants, is pretty accessible with a quick, downhill walk.

It's a sign of how much has changed in the last few years. In my early twenties, I embraced the Mission's grit — I loved walking around the hustle and the bustle, the loud noise and sirens. I relished knowing which streets to avoid because of their "sketchiness", and which Mission "danger dog" vendors gave you more onions and peppers than others. I could spend hours wearing tight pants and walk miles quickly wearing uncomfortable shoes, staying out late into the night and keeping a constant lookout over my shoulder as I returned home.

But in the span of five years, the tables have turned completely. I no longer define a "good neighborhood" by its vicinity to the hottest restaurants and bars; instead, I want accessible grocery stores with a wide range of fresh produce, restaurants where I can get food without waiting in line for an hour beforehand, and parking. Living in a sketchy neighborhood is no longer a badge of honor that I wear (though... is the Mission even all that sketchy these days? Considering that rent in the neighborhood is one of the most expensive in the city — oh how times have changed!). I change into sweats immediately when getting home. And shoes? You don't want to see what I wear out and about every day.  Am I boring and lame? Yes, absolutely, 100%. Do I care? Nope, not in the very least.

Is this what growing up is? Stretchy pants and indifference to what's cool? Because so far, I dig it.

I'm still getting settled in my new place (which, although I love it, its kitchen is definitely a downgrade from my own — but more on that later), but I planned a slew of recipes to share with you guys in advance before the move. Today's is this caramel mascarpone tart topped with brown sugar rubbed pears:

Before I left Portland, I was lucky enough to receive a parcel from USA Pears containing a ton of Bartlett and green and red Anjou pears. Pears are one of my favorite fruit — they have a ton of health benefits (one pear apparently packs 6 grams of fiber, which is almost a quarter of the FDA's recommended daily intake). Not only do they have a unique, light, and refreshing flavor, but they're incredibly versatile and pair well with a ton of flavors and ingredients (like wine or chocolate) in baked goods.

This time, I'm pairing the pears (HA, see my pun there?!) with caramel. I've sweetened a batch of mascarpone whipped cream with some dulce de leche. As for the pears, because I love their natural flavor so much, I kept it pretty simple — I sprinkled the tops of each pear with brown sugar and just let them macerate on the tart, bringing out their natural flavors and juices. Each bite is a story of different textures: crunch from the brown butter tart shell and creamy fluff from the mascarpone whipped cream, finished off with the juicy sweetness from the pears.


May 13, 2015

Strawberry, Coconut, and Chocolate Superfood Parfaits

I had this romantic notion in my mind that I would move to San Francisco with just three boxes (one for cookbooks, one for kitchenware, and one for clothes), but that is clearly becoming an idle fantasy. Because every time I move, I'm appalled by the amount of junk that I seem to have collected over the years. Clearing out my closet, for instance, took an entire freaking day! I always thought I was good about throwing out stuff I didn't need, but apparently not — I had clothes that stretched back all the way to my freshman year of high school (specifically, a white French Connection skirt with embroidered flowers that I also wore to my college graduation brunch and could never in a million years fit into today), as well as collections from entire phases and fashion cycles in college. Remember when everybody wore flimsy, brightly colored cardigans and oxford shoes? Or American Apparel clothing non-ironically? Nope, just me? Okay.

Going through the clothes and figuring out which ones to sell, donate, and keep was a challenge on its own. I gave myself some rough rules — one box only, and I would live life like Caroline, the minimalist fashion blogger from Un-Fancy who advocates maintaining only a 35-piece wardrobe capsule (though to be fair, she lives in Austin, TX and advises folks to only have 2 jackets on hand; which, SIDE-EYE, girlfriend has clearly never lived in the Pacific Northwest). That meant letting go of 90% of my wardrobe, including selling the size 26 (!!!), barely worn Levis that I hoped to fit into again one day and the many beautiful Anthropologie dresses that at this point even Buffalo Exchange sniffed their nose at, because, let's face it, as pretty as they are, the 1950s housewife look just ain't big like it was in 2009. Or again, maybe that was just me.

Eitherway, all that deliberating, debating, and digging around my closets took a lot of energy; thankfully, I managed to sneak away for an hour to snack on one of these strawberry, coconut, and chocolate superfood partfaits:

I know what you're thinking — superfood chocolate? What is she on about? Hear me out — for these parfaits, I used Aloha Superfood Chocolate, which is vegan, refined-sugar free, and packed full of natural ingredients and sweeteners like cacao nibs, raw coconut flakes, and raw cashews. They also throw in their Daily Good Greens Chocolate Blend for even more nutrition, packing in peas, spinach, wheatgrass juice, berries, and even white button mushrooms.

Urgh, I can hear you thinking. Chocolate full of fruits and vegetables? That must taste like ass. Au contraire, mi amigo — Aloha Superfood Chocolate bars actually taste like every specialty dark chocolate bar I've ever had, but with a slightly coconutty afterkick. In fact, I liked its coconut flavor so much that I decided to use it as a garnish for these parfaits, which are layered with strawberries, coconut whipped cream, and coconut almond snack cake:

This is a little bit embarrassing, but Erlend and I had such a short notice/timeframe for moving that we actually would skip meals and eat some of the desserts I had lying around instead to save time. We're the worst, I know, I know, especially since I made a big stink about how I was eating well in my last somewhat panicky blog post. But I'm actually 100% convinced that the superfood chocolate is what kept me going as I went through boxes and boxes of my clothes. So at least there's that?

But, hey, it's the homestretch, guys. I'm almost there. Wish me luck.

Some baker's notes:
  • Parfaits are an awesome dessert because of their versatility — if you don't like coconut, feel free to swap out the cake and whipped cream with a flavor of your own choice! I like this particular cake recipe, however, since it makes just one small cake. It's hard to find cake recipes that scale down easily. 

  • This recipe uses coconut cream, which is distinctive from coconut milk. The Kitchn has a great article on the difference between the two. Coconut cream is usually available in the Mexican or Asian section of any grocery store. If you can't find coconut cream, you can also use the coconut cream that usually comes with coconut milk. If a can of coconut milk has been sitting for a while and isn't shaken properly before opening, the cream usually sits on top of the coconut water, which you can scoop out and whip up to use in this recipe. 

May 6, 2015

Chia Seed Yogurt Pudding with Champagne Roasted Rhubarb, Kumquats, and Pistachios + A Giveaway!

My move date to San Francisco is coming up hard and fast (yep, in case you missed it — I'm moving to San Francisco). The last few weeks have been a whirlwind and I've been overstretched between training folks at my current job, trying to find a place in San Francisco, interviewing property managers for the house, and packing a 3-bedroom house to fit into a studio. On top of that, my social calendar has been out of control, first with friends from out of town coming to visit and my bouncing around from one set of goodbye lunches and drinks to another. But thankfully, my last day at work was last Friday, and it's only now that I can finally breathe.

With so much going on, I've made it a priority to eat well. In contrast with my usual sedentary job in front of a computer, I'm on my feet all day. I spend the majority of the day racing from one room of the house to the other, shuffling heavy boxes between the car and the house, and general pacing nervously as I try to bring everything together. Meals have become bare-bone, utilitarian affairs: give me as much protein and complex carbohydrates to keep me going as long as I can between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

There was one morning, however, that was the exception to my frantic planning and packing. Last Saturday, I let myself sleep in and woke up to fix myself my "dream" breakfast in bed meal — chia seed yogurt pudding with pistachios and fresh seasonal fruit like rhubarb and kumquats:

Oddly enough, despite my massive sweet tooth, I like my breakfasts on the lighter side. No thank you to waffles, pancakes, bacon, and eggs — yes please to yogurt and fruit. The breakfast bowl above has all the fixings of my dream breakfast: protein from the chia seeds, yogurt, and raw pistachios, refreshing tartness and sweetness from the kumquats, and finally, subtle sourness from the seasonal rhubarb. Not to mention the fact that, because I really wanted to treat myself, I roasted the rhubarb in champagne to give the fruit a little extra indulgent something, something. Because nothing says TREAT. YO. SELF. more than champagne at breakfast, right?

Well. Except maybe this breakfast... in bed:

Which I totally did. Yup, after waking up early to roast some rhubarb, I actually crawled back into bed in my pajamas with this tray of fresh flowers from the garden and this bowl of chia seed pudding.

And it was AWESOME. Really and truly...


I'm pretty sure that breakfast is going to be my last moment of calm until I finally get to San Francisco.

In any case, as a special goodbye to my Oregon-based readers, I've teamed up with New Seasons Market, my favorite local supermarket in town that features a ton of local produce and small batch sellers. In addition to graciously providing the ingredients for this post, New Seasons is providing me with a $50 giftcard for one of my Oregon, Washington, or California based readers to help create their dream breakfast-in-bed meal, just in time for Mother's Day. Check out New Seasons' Facebook page to see more recipe ideas for brunch and breakfast-in-bed!

Before entering the giveaway, however, note that New Seasons only has locations in Oregon (although there's one in Washington state and another in Northern California); you can find the store closest to you by checking out their website. So if you don't have access to a New Seasons, I'm not sure how relevant this giveaway is to you — unless you're heading to Portland sometime soon and want to drop $50 on groceries while you're here... if that's the case, by all means, feel free to enter!

To win the $50 New Seasons giftcard, use the raffle widget below to either:
  • Follow me (@hummingbirdhigh) on Twitter and tweet about your dream breakfast-in-bed meal. Be sure to tag New Seasons (@newseasons) too so that they can hear about your favorite recipes and ingredients! 

  • Leave a comment on the blogpost below and tell me about your dream breakfast-in-bed dish or recipe. After you've left a comment, be sure to use the widget below to confirm your entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway lasts for one week and will end next on May 13, 2015. I'll announce the winner on this post and reach out via email shortly afterwards. Good luck!

Thank you for entering! The giveaway is now closed. The winner is Nell P, whose dream breakfast in bed is apparently a banana split! Congratulations!

Some baker's notes:
  • Chia seeds are available online, or in the bulk sections of most organic/local supermarkets. Chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their weight when soaked in liquid, and soaking chia seeds in a batch of yogurt overnight is what gives the pudding its thick, gel-like texture. Be sure to plan ahead and let the seeds soak overnight to get the thickest, creamiest pudding possible!

  • You can make this recipe with a variety of yogurts, but I like to use unsweetened 'plain' yogurt. Keep in mind that you're going to be adding syrup from the champagne roasted rhubarb, which will add to the sweetness of the dish. If you need a little bit more sweetness, you can also drizzle in some honey over the pudding. I've also made this recipe with Greek yogurt, but found the result to be too thick — but some people are into that, so feel free to experiment!

April 29, 2015

Rhubarb and Marzipan Upside Down Cake (And Some News)

Hi guys, tomorrow is the last day you can vote for my blog in Saveur Magazine's Best Food Blog Awards, where Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Food Blog Awards. Winners are determined by popular vote, so I'd really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog! It'd mean the world to me.

To vote for me, head on over to SAVEUR Blog Awards!

Now on to this cake... and my news.

Over the last few weeks, I've had to visit San Francisco for one reason or another. San Francisco and I have a very tenuous, delicate relationship. I lived here for a few years after I graduated college, and, to be completely honest with you guys, I absolutely hated it. I've written about it before, but the short of the long is this — as a clueless 22-year-old, I was unprepared to live there. I moved to the city spoiled by Portland's cheap rent and affordability; my time in San Francisco was very lonely and fraught with the stereotypical issues of a young millennial trying to make her way in a big, expensive city. After a couple of years, I moved away to Denver crying the praises of cheap rent and spacious apartments before eventually re-settling back in Portland.

However, since my day job is in software, I often find myself taking business trips to the major tech hub that is San Francisco. I expected to hate the trips, but they turned out to be an unexpected perk — as a person who now worked at a startup, I suddenly belonged with the city in a way I never felt like I did when I had worked here in the past. On these trips, I spent all my evenings sharing many meals at my old haunts with Bay Area-based college friends, roommates, coworkers, etc.

Over time, the city grew on me. Since I wasn't faced with its annoyances everyday, I found it all to be quaint, nostalgic, and just a part of the Big City Experience before I went home to quiet and clean Portland. I would willingly stand in the line skirting around the block to get a morning bun from Tartine Bakery, battle crowds for a cup of the New Orleans iced coffee at Blue Bottle, and enthusiastically dodge poop and tech bros at Dolores Park. I would return to Portland with bags of 4505 Meats' chicharrones for Erlend, lamenting the fact that we couldn't get good katsu curry or pork belly bao buns in Portland. Ultimately, I was grateful for the few days in the city, but glad to be back home.

Lately, however, my trips to San Francisco have started feeling a little bit melancholy. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something a little bit heartbreaking about being able to navigate a city like it's your own but not calling it your home. The friends that I left behind here have gone on to do interesting things and built wonderful lives from themselves. At our reunions, it's easy to imagine myself as a part of their life in San Francisco as I listen to their complaints about the city. Heck, even riding my old Muni and BART lines, not even having to look at a map, it's easy to imagine that I'm still a part of the city's narrative and that I still lived here. Is this what life would be like if I had stayed? What kind of life would I have built for myself? Would I have been happier if I'd just... persevered? In the end, I think that it's regret that I feel — for leaving the city and not trying harder when I was here. I know that if I moved here now, I would appreciate all the things that I took for granted back when I was a whiny, bratty, and scared 22-year-old.

Which brings us to now. A few weeks ago, I accepted a job offer from a major tech company whose product I love and use on an almost daily basis. It's a dream job and one that my 22-year-old self back in the day would have killed for. Heck, it's one that my 27-year-old self would kill for, considering how stunted and stagnated I've felt in my current job. So what does this all mean?

I'll be moving back to San Francisco in less than a month's time. 

It's sudden, unexpected, crazy, thrilling, and scary all at once.

Despite my excitement for the job and the opportunity to "re-do" my time in San Francisco, it comes at a high cost. First off, I love Portland. I see it as my home, and where I ultimately want to end up. I'll be putting my house, the one with the beautiful kitchen that I spent all of last summer painstakingly renovating, on the rental market. Goodbye baking station and herb garden... hello teeny, tiny studio that I'm paying an obscene amount of money for. That is, if I can even find one, considering how obscene San Francisco's rental market is. But that's another story, one that you'll probably hear a lot about in the next few weeks.

And of course, the elephant in the room — Erlend. The boyfriend of 4-and-a-half years is heading the complete opposite direction, starting a graduate program in New York City at the end of the summer. We had planned for me to move to the city with him, but now, that's just completely flown out the window. I'm disappointed and sad (I've always wanted to live in New York — I had even picked out a neighborhood in Brooklyn for us to live in), and he's even more so. But we both know that this San Francisco opportunity is too good to pass up (especially after several of my interviews in New York leading absolutely nowhere), and we're going to give the long distance thing a try. Sigh.

And just like that, my whole world has been turned upside down. Which, yes, is a cheesy way to segue into talking about this cake, but oh well... cut me some slack, I'm a bit of a mess right now. I don't have much to say about the cake other than it's tasty and easy to make, which is what you should do because rhubarb is finally in season. The cake is a study of contrasting textures and flavors: the rhubarb is added in raw, which helps retain some firmness and contrasts with the soft sponge base; the woody toasted almond flavor of the marzipan crumbles versus the tart sourness of the fresh rhubarb fruit. All in all, it's the perfect late spring snack cake, with or without a life-changing event.

Some baker's notes:
  • This recipe works with a variety of different summer fruits, especially stone fruits like plums and berries. You can experiment with different combinations and quantities of fruit, just be sure to adjust the quantity of granulated sugar accordingly. The amount of sugar you use should also depend on the fruit's ripeness — just remember that you're also adding marzipan in, so definitely use less sugar than you think you need.

  • Be sure to use a cake pan with deep sides — this cake makes a ton of batter, which then sits up top a pretty sizeable layer of fruit. I used a 9 x 3-inch round cake pan, but you can also use a springform pan.

  • When making upside down cakes, it's best to invert the cake 15 to 20 minutes after pulling it out of the oven, while it's still warm. Waiting until it's cooled to room temperature will cause the cake to stick!

April 27, 2015

Weeknight Dinner: Blue Apron's Chile-Blackened Cod & Red Rice Salad with Avocado, Grapefruit, and Epazote

Hey guys — I'm starting a new column on my blog called "Weeknight Dinner", where, once a month, I'll share the meals I make for myself that AREN'T desserts or a baked good of some kind. The rules are the following: each weeknight recipe has to be prepared in 40 minutes or less with minimal prep work beforehand. And, to stay true to the spirit of simplicity of these dinners, photos of the meal are taken and edited by cell phone only (!!!), with little styling or extra propping. The first "Weeknight Dinner" post is sponsored by Blue Apron.

One of the questions I get asked most often is what I eat besides desserts. What do I do for breakfasts, lunches, or dinners?

Well, with so much sugar and fancy baking in my life, I like to keep the rest of my meals pretty simple. And when I mean simple, I mean simple — I have a handful of recipes that I rotate through throughout the week, and each of them usually takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and consists mainly of some kind of protein and whatever vegetable is in season.

And while my diet is pretty good for, you know, balancing out all the sugar and desserts in my life, my routine gets old fast. To switch things up, I decided to try Blue Apron. Blue Apron is a delivery service that sends you a recipe complete with farm-fresh ingredients to allow you to create delicious, chef-designed meals at home.

The first meal that I tried was a recipe for pan-fried, spice-rubbed cod with a red rice, pickled onions, avocado, and grapefruit salad topped with fresh epazote:

I was immediately impressed with the quality and freshness of the ingredients. According to Blue Apron, all their ingredients are sourced from small, quality suppliers and local artisans. Each box came with all the ingredients in exactly the right proportions, which I really appreciated. It can be really hard to shop for just two people, and Erlend and I sometimes find ourselves with way more ingredients than we can finish. To complete the package, each meal has its own recipe card complete with step-by-step pictures of the cooking process:

And although I'm a pretty adventurous eater and baker, I'm actually a bit of of a boring cook. You can select your dietary restrictions at Blue Apron, but since I don't have any, Blue Apron sent me a recipe for a chicken dish, this cod dish, and lamb meatballs. I make chicken dishes for myself on an almost daily basis, but cod and lamb are definitely meats that I rarely cook with. I was a bit panicked at first, but I also appreciated that Blue Apron allowed me to try recipes that I normally wouldn't have tried for myself. Blue Apron constantly adds new recipes to their already pretty extensive selection of recipes also changes every week, so I imagine that a subscription would really allow me to expand my repertoire. Clicking through Blue Apron's recipe archive, for instance, I've already spotted a couple of recipes that look freaking amazing, like this beef dukbokki with sugar snap peas or these roasted Japanese sweet potatoes.

But let's not forget about my original dinner, the chile-blackened cod. How did it taste?

It was delicious. I really couldn't believe that I had made this meal myself, with such little effort and in just 30 minutes. And I didn't even have to leave my house! It really seemed like something I would ordinarily at a nice restaurant on a date night out with Erlend.

As a special treat for my readers, I'm offering a discount that will allow the first 50 readers to get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order! Just use the link below to take advantage of this offer:

Some additional notes:
  • To see the full recipe for the chile-blackened cod and red rice salad, check out the recipe card and with step-by-step picture instructions from Blue Apron

  • If you're worried about the logistics of having ingredients like fresh vegetables and herbs and raw meat delivered to your home while you're not there, don't! One of the other things that really impressed me about Blue Apron was that the ingredients came in a refrigerated, ice-packed insulated box that kept things from spoiling. Although the box was delivered during the midday, when I came home from work at around 5:30pm, everything was still cold and fresh. You can also choose the days you want your meal delivered.

April 22, 2015

Lilac Sugar Donuts

Hey guys, I know you're probably sick of hearing me say this (and I promise I'll stop soon), but Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog Award in Saveur Magazine's 2015 Blog Awards! There's only a few days left to vote, and I would really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog.

To vote for Hummingbird High, head on over to Saveur Blog Awards!

And now on to these donuts!

Whoever invents a camera that can capture smells will be a billionaire one day. Think of how different our world would be if our iPhones and laptops emitted smell. Because as much as I love taking photos of food, I sometimes think that the photos do a disservice to the dish at hand. Sure, it looks tasty, but that's just one component, right? Because what about the way the food smells? To me, there is nothing more comforting than walking into a house and finding it filled with the smell of something baking in the oven or cooking in the stovetop. For me, smells are more powerful than these photos could ever be — they can make me lose or gain an appetite immediately, or transport me back to a different time or place.

These donuts, for instance, were inspired by a smell. Specifically, the smell of my backyard in in the early spring at night time, after the rain. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but humor me for one second here. My neighbors to the east have a beautiful garden — come spring, the trees that divide our property burst into bloom, flowering lilac flowers that fill the air with their sweet, floral scent that intensifies as the sun sets. Erlend and I leave the back window open, hoping that the fragrance will waft inside the house, but it never does. It's almost like the flowers know how special they are, how much delight they add to our lives, and are saying: Bitch, please. We're not gonna be around that much longer — stop wasting your time inside doing whatever the hell you're doing and come appreciate me.

I say that jokingly, but Portland is changing every year, especially with new folks moving in every year and old properties like my house and the ones that surround it being torn down every day. There's a good chance that those ancient lilac trees will be gone within the next 20 years, and that magical smell of blooming flowers intermingling with the wet, mossy wood from my deck will be lost and gone forever. And I know that, several years down the road, when I no longer live in this house or even in this city, the smell of lilacs will always remind me of this house.

Which brings us to this recipe. This is my ambitious attempt to preserve some of that magic in a baked good. The donuts are adapted from my default donut recipe, which is made with the brioche dough from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, a cookbook that enables bakers to beautiful, delicious bread with hardly any work. Fresh from the fryer, I then tossed each donut in a generous bowl filled with homemade lilac sugar made with flowers from the neighbors' garden. The lilac scent in the sugar was subtle and almost ephemeral — it was almost lost in the brioche donuts' chewy, buttery goodness — but anything more intense would have been too perfumey.

Some baker's notes:
  • The lilac sugar is made by infusing granulated sugar with freshly bloomed lilac petals. If lilacs are no longer available in your area, you can replace the flower with fresh rose petals or lavender instead. The more fragrant the flower, the better! You can make the lilac sugar up to one week in advance — in fact, it's better if you do since the flowers will impart a stronger flavor the longer they're together. If using flowers from the garden or florist, make sure that they are organic and do not contain any harmful or inedible pesticides.

  • Remember that yeast is a living thing, so be nice to it. Don't activate it by using boiling hot water — if the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Instead, be sure to use water that's pleasant for a warm bath; you should be able to stick your finger in it and not scald yourself. I find that using water from the tap when it's just starting to get warm is the perfect temperature for activating dough. I've also included the specific temperature in the recipe.

  • The recipe requires you to roll out the chilled brioche dough before stamping out donuts. The dough may need to rest for about 10 minutes before you can roll it out easily. To get a bit more stretch in the dough, knead the dough for around 30 seconds by taking the ball of dough and folding it over on itself several times on a floured surface. It's the only kneading you'll need to do for this recipe.

  • You don't need a deep fryer to make donuts. I actually have a deep fryer, but prefer to use a cast iron skillet to fry donuts since I feel like it's safer and easier to clean. Make sure your pot is deep enough to hold at least 2 inches of oil, with at least 2 inches of clearance from the top of the pot. You also don't really need a candy thermometer, but it makes your life a lot easier if you've got one — it's the secret to pretty donuts, I promise.

April 15, 2015

Banana and Chocolate Crunch Cake with Graham Cracker Frosting

In case you missed it, Saveur Magazine recently announced that my blog is a finalist for the “Best Baking & Desserts Blog” award in the 2015 Saveur Blog Awards. I got the notification email from Saveur a few days before the news was made public the following Monday — it was around 9:30AM, and I was sitting in a meeting with my coworkers discussing the intern role we were hoping to fill, when my phone buzzed with a new email contaning the subject line:

Congratulations - You’re a SAVEUR Blog Awards Finalist

You know how in movies sometimes, when somebody receives any kind of shocking news, everything else goes blurry… the lights fade, the sounds mute, and there’s a strange ringing sound in your ears? Well, that’s kinda what happened to me! I spent the rest of the meeting fighting the urge to grab my phone, run out the room, shriek and do several cartwheels down the hallway. When the meeting finally ended, I took a couple of deep breaths, shakily opened the email, did a little jig, and spent the rest of the day grinning like a maniac.

I wish I could have ended there, but something odd happened. Later in the day, as the glow of the news faded, I proceeded to go into a weird state of denial. I spent the rest of the weekend in a mild state of quiet panic, regretting telling the handful of people I'd told since I was somewhat convinced that the entire thing was a cruel joke or hoax. I only finally chilled the frig out when, on Monday, I officially saw my blog listed along with the other finalists.

And if I sound absolutely crazy to you, it’s only because this nomination really, truly means the world to me. The Saveur Blog Awards are the equivalent of the Oscars in the food blogging world, and there’s really nothing like it — to have such a legitimate food magazine recognize the work that us bloggers do is an incredible honor. There’s even a big awards ceremony! It’s the one opportunity to finally meet all the folks and bloggers I’ve been following for years and years, all in one place, celebrating each others’ work.

This nomination is especially meaningful for me because, a few years ago, when I was first nominated in 2013 for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog Award, I wasn’t able to attend since the ceremony that year coincided with a rare family visit. I really, really regretted not being able to go — I felt like I had missed the opportunity of a lifetime, to say the least. I really didn’t think I would ever have the chance again, since it’s incredibly difficult to be re-nominated! So I cannot emphasize how grateful and thankful I am to have just made it to the finalists again this year (though of course, I wouldn’t mind if you took the time to vote for me in my category, winkwink). I can finally go to the ceremony!!! And of course, there’s no way I’m missing it this year, come hell or high water. Really. I think the only thing that could potentially stop me is a zombie apocalypse. (And gosh, I said really a bunch of times in that paragraph, didn't I? Sorry.)

To officially celebrate making it to the finals, I whipped up this wonderful banana and chocolate crunch cake. I’ve been wanting to make a banana cake for some time now to get rid of the crazy stack of frozen black bananas in my freezer. The banana cake recipe is adapted from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, whose recipe for banana cake is the best I’ve tried — the final product straddles the line between a banana bread and cake, maintaining all the fudgy denseness that I love from banana bread but light enough to be able to eat and layer with a generous amount of frosting. To make it a little extra special, I decked the top of each cake with a generous amount of Valrhona chocolate crunch pearls (literally rice puffs covered in Valrhona chocolate), which gave the cakes the texture of a Nestle Crunch bar.

As for the frosting… can we talk about this frosting??? Because it’s graham cracker frosting. It turns out that if you mix together any kind of cookie crumbs with a generous portion of milk, you can basically make cookie butter of your choice. You know, like Biscoff or Speculoos spread??? Imagine the world of possibilities though: cookie butter made from Oreos, chocolate and mint Milanos, those schoolboy cookies, and MORE. And you know what happens when you mix said cookie butter with some unsalted butter and a touch of sugar? You get cookie butter frosting. It’s amazing. In this case, I thought honey graham crackers would work best with the banana and chocolate cake. So yep, this is a banana and chocolate crunch cake slathered in graham cracker butter frosting. Oooh, baby, baby.

And again, thank you to everybody who took the time to nominate me. This cake is for you. And even if you didn't, please take the time to check out all the wonderful bloggers who were also shortlisted. It's an incredibly, incredibly talented and creative bunch and I'm honored to be a part of the ranks.

Some baker's notes:
  • Plan ahead for this one and use the ripest bananas you can find for this recipe. Buy bananas that are ripe and let them get overly black and brown — the riper they are, the more sugar in the fruit, and the more flavorful and caramelized the cake's flavor will be. Epicurious even has a guide that tells you how far in advance you should buy bananas and where you should them to get them to their ideal state. And if you're just not a planner, you can always use this neat trick from the Kitchn to ripen them in the oven

  • Valrhona chocolate pearls are available online at Valrhona's online store, or at Amazon. Alternatively, you can find some in the chocolate and bulk section of Whole Foods supermarkets.

  • If you want to instead use store-bought cookie spread like Biscoff or Speculoos instead of making your own, feel free to do so, but be sure to omit all the sugars added with the butter in the frosting recipe. Even if you do this, however, it will result in a much sweeter frosting than the one from the recipe I provide. I like making my own cookie butter because I can control the amount of sugar that goes in it (I prefer to make one that is less sweet than the store-bought version) and avoid the funky hydrogenated oils, though it admittedly doesn't last as long as the store-bought stuff.