a cozy autumn dinner party

November 16, 2017

This post was done in partnership with Macy's, who sponsored this party by providing the compensation and beautiful wares from their Martha Stewart Collectors Enameled Cast Iron Collection and Martha Stewart Harvest Collection to make it happen. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

Can I share a little secret?

Despite moving back to Portland and having a big (well, not that big, but it certainly feels big after living in San Francisco and New York), beautiful house to fill with friends and family, the thought of having people over stresses me out.

It's all in my head, I admit it. The house is old — built in 1912, I'm slowly updating it room by room. The kitchen is great, but when I walk into the other rooms, all I see are the cracks and peeling paint on the walls, the dents and scratches on the floors that need to be fixed. I'm paranoid that my guests will judge me on these flaws (despite the fact that all they've ever done is tell me how beautiful it all is, because my friends are wonderful).

Another part is that cooking for a big crowd stresses me out. The last big dinner party I had in my house was in 2014; I was living with three dudes, all of whom were big eaters. We decided to host an Asian-style Friendsgiving with all of our friends, and I'd foolishly taken on more than I could handle. And believe me, there's nothing more stressful than trying to make six or seven dishes all at once with a room full of hangry boys yelling about how hungry they are. Ahh, Thanksgiving.

It turns out that the trick to actually have fun as a host and manage is to, well, keep it small. And keep it simple. Especially if you're new to the whole dinner party/entertaining thing. Invite a handful of friends—maybe just two or three—and just serve a handful of dishes that come together easily with little to no work. Soup is a great example; it's hearty, tasty, and comforting during the cold fall/winter season. The prep is easy — roast the vegetables before blending them, and serving them with handfuls of bright, beautiful herbs.

And of course, no good soup dish is complete without bread. I like to make my own bread at home to really impress everybody. People are often intimidated by bread; I know I was, for a long time. But you can actually put together a beautiful loaf without too much work. After stirring and kneading the ingredients together a few times, all you really need to do is wait. After that, the secret lies in baking it within a heavy, lidded enameled cast iron pot like this one from Macy's Martha Stewart collection. The pots conduct heat evenly and efficiently, and the lid keeps steam in to make the beautifully brown and solid crust that is the sign of a good, hearty bread.

So without further ado, here is an easy, breezy autumn dinner party menu for four complete with your own rustic, artisan bread. Enjoy!

Martha Stewart Collection Enameled Cast Iron, created for Macy's
Martha Stewart Harvest Collection, created for Macy's

(P.S. To check out the whole Macy's Martha Stewart Collection, visit the brandshop experience here.)

Some maker's notes:
  • Plan ahead for this one! Whenever I throw parties, I like to break up the work so that I'm not actually doing a whole lot on the day of the party. For this menu, that means mixing the bread and roasting the pumpkin the night before the party. The bread will slowly proof overnight, giving it a lovely, yeasty flavor and a fluffy, holey texture that we all know and love from the best bread. If you're throwing the party on Saturday night, a good schedule is to mix the bread at 7PM on Friday night, and shape the bread for its second proofing between 8AM to 10AM the next morning. The bread will be ready before lunch. As for the soup, you can probably make it about an hour or two before your guests arrive — the longest part of the recipe is prepping and roasting the pumpkin, which you can do either the night before or in the morning of your evening dinner party. 

  • There are a couple of quirks in the recipe for the rustic pumpkin seed bread. If you like to bake using volume measurements like I do, you'll need a 1/8-cup measure. However, bread baking is very precise, so I recommend using a digital kitchen scale for this recipe. The recipe will also seem like it doesn't have enough yeast in it, but believe me when I say that you don't need any more. A smaller amount of yeast extends fermentation time, which causes the dough to be more acidic and adds more complex flavors and aromas to the bread. Be sure to use instant dried yeast (as opposed to active dry yeast); you'll need to change the temperature of the water if you opt for any other kind of yeast. 

hummingbird cake + six years of hummingbird high

November 6, 2017

Happy sixth birthday to Hummingbird High!

Today is my blog's sixth birthday! I still can't figure out if six years counts as a lifetime or is just a blip in the internet world. There are some folks I talk to who are like whoa, what you've been doing it for that long?! whereas others are like pfft, that's nothing, I started my blog before blogging was even a thing, you baby. In any case, six years seems like a long time to me. In that time, I've lived in Denver, Portland, San Francisco, New York, and back to Portland. I've sold my car (the one I've had since I was a sophomore in high school, ahhh!), lived in five different apartments, bought a house, adopted a kitten from the streets (long story), had three different corporate jobs, and got a book deal. That's a lot of change for six years, with Erlend, my boyfriend of apparently 8 years (good god, I guess we should probably get married soon) and this blog being the only major constants.

I wish I had something insightful about blogging to say this year like I did in years past, but the truth is, I don't. Because the truth is, more often than not these days, I find myself wondering if blogging is still something I really want keep doing. Don't get me wrong — I still love to bake and will probably continue to do so forever and ever, long after this blog dies. It's more that the other stuff that comes with blogging these days is, well, a drag. I talked about this last year so I won't go into too much detail again, but something inside of me breaks a little bit every time I hear bloggers talking about their blog as a "brand", turning it into a scalable business, and whatever else.

And I know I probably offended some of you (especially if you're a blogger yourself) right there with that sentence, but you have to understand: for 95% of my blog's life, I worked traditional 9-to-5, 40-hours-a-week jobs that I weren't too crazy about. My blog was where I escaped from all that, well, frankly, corporate bullshit. The place where I didn't have to make decks, waste my time in useless meetings, justify ROI for everything I wanted to do, deal with sprints and burndown rates, etc. To see more and more of it bleed into this world has been really difficult and heartbreaking for me.

Part of the reason why blogging became my sanctuary was because unlike in my various day jobs, it felt like I was creating tangible things that I was proud of: delicious recipes, beautiful photographs, and a vibrant, loyal community of readers. But it seems that blogging these days is shifting away from that and it's now less about the thing you're blogging about and more about the act of blogging itself. A lot of big bloggers don't even create their own content anymore and are just always in search of the next *thing* that will bring in more followers, likes, sponsorships, whatever.

So maybe this makes me a dinosaur in the world of blogging today, but these days, I find myself ignoring those abstract, corporate-y goals like growing my followers and instead focusing more on the tangible stuff. What that exactly means, I don't 100% know yet. Maybe it means posting less and taking the time to really, truly perfect a recipe. Maybe it means posting more, but less of the bakes I'm known for and more of the other stuff that interests me too. Maybe it means reaching out beyond the digital world and trying to turn this online craziness into something more real: a studio, a bakery, a store. Who knows? But I intend to find out this year for sure.

Anyway, to celebrate my blog's sixth birthday, I decided to make its namesake hummingbird cake! This is actually the first hummingbird cake recipe on my blog, and it's about freaking time because hummingbird cake is actually delicious. Think of it as a banana bread in layer cake format studded with tangy pineapple and pecans, all topped in delicious cream cheese frosting. Enjoy!

See previous years' anniversary posts:


Some baker's notes:
  • Baking time will depend on the ripeness of your fruit; riper bananas means a moister and sweeter cake that will need 10 to 15 minutes extra in the oven. Fresh or canned pineapple can be used without too much difference in flavor (unless you live somewhere in the tropics, where pineapple actually tastes good). But if you're using canned pineapple, just make sure to drain the fruit well! You want it as dry as possible or it will potentially affect the leavening agents in the recipe.

  • The cake is adapted from my dear friend Tessa and her awesome cookbook, Layered. I also used her watercolor technique frosting method to decorate (check out that link for awesome visual step-by-step instructions!), along with different shades of brown, yellow, orange, and pink from this Americolor Nifty Fifty food coloring gel set

matcha cream fruit tart

November 1, 2017

This post was done in partnership with Pure Leaf, who sponsored this recipe by providing compensation and the tea that I use in this recipe. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and my awesome sponsors!

The last few days weeks months have been absolutely crazy for me. With the cross country move, my travels, and the renovations to my living room, I haven't spent as much time in the kitchen as I would like. And when that happens, truthfully, I get grumpy, pessimistic, and uninspired. Because to me, baking is a form of meditation and is a way to reset my groove: there's something really calming about the whisking, the breaking of the eggs, the measuring of flour. I'm weird, I know.

So the first thing I did when I got home (from four weeks of travel, blurgh) was bust into the kitchen and make this matcha cream tart. And after I did, it felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I'm not exaggerating! Because despite my cheery announcement about my cookbook deal, I'd been feeling sluggish and stressed out about it since. It was almost like I had writer's block or something. But after a few meditative hours in the kitchen — cooking this matcha cream, cleaning the fruit, and preparing the tart dough — I suddenly felt inspired. I found myself chipping away at my Intro chapter, perfecting my Recipe Index, and extensively researching ingredients for "deep-dive" essays that will explain the their roles in the baking process.

Maybe it's because of my analytical background, but I've always been really fascinated about the science behind baking — what effects different ingredients have on each other, how it all affects the final product, etc. I also find that understanding the science of it taught me to become a better and more intuitive baker. So usually, when I'm working with a new ingredient or trying out a new baking method, I do a bunch of Googling and cookbook-sleuthing to learn as much as I can about it.

Take matcha, for instance. I feel like matcha really exploded into the culinary scene a few years ago and has maintained its stronghold ever since! But most people only know matcha for its distinctive green color, and little else.

The matcha in today's recipe is made with Pure Leaf's new Home Brewed Matcha tea, whose high-quality leaves are shadegrown and sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified tea estates from Kagoshima, Japan. To make this matcha, Pure Leaf uses Camellia Sinensis plants that are shade-grown for approximately three weeks before harvest. Pure Leaf then plucks, dries, and grinds its matcha leaves to allow their genuine tea essence to shine through. Within 24 hours, Pure Leaf steams, cools, and dries the leaves before removing the stems and veins to create "tencha". This tencha is then ground into a very fine powder using a stone mill, yielding Pure Leaf's Matcha.

The matcha gave the cream a green tea taste that went wonderfully with the brown butter tart and fresh fruit. Note that Pure Leaf Pure Matcha and Pure Leaf Matcha Tea with Ginger, while wonderful in recipes, is even better for drinking — it's full-bodied, smooth, and just simply perfect for a soothing cup of tea.

also featured:

Some baker's notes:
  • I made this tart in a 5 x 14-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom; in a pinch, you can also use a regular 9-inch round tart pan. The ingredient quantities and tart shell bake time will stay the same. 

  • Unless you live in California, it's likely that some of the fruits I used for this recipe are no longer in season. Don't fret — a lot of fall produce also works wonderfully with matcha! I recommend subbing in fresh honeycrisp apples and pears for a fall vibe. If you're feeling ambitious, roasted grapes would also work wonderfully. And of course, there are still raspberries in some East Coast cities like New York.

gingerdead men cookies

October 25, 2017

This post was sponsored by Crisco®, who invited me to the Bake It Better Bootcamp with Brandi Milloy and provided the ingredients and compensation to make it happen. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own — thank you for supporting Hummingbird High and all my sponsors!

I used to pride myself on NOT being a food snob. I've been to my fair share of Michelin-starred restaurants, even the bigwig ones like Eleven Madison Park, and still — push comes to shove, I would choose a burger and fries over any prix fixe dinner as my last meal on Earth. I also have a weird, undying love for Panda Express, Whataburger, and other fast food chains. I'm as content with a tasty meal from a dubious, hole-in-the-wall restaurant with Styrofoam plates than one with white tablecloths and crystal stemware.

I always assumed that this "food populism" (for lack of a better word — because what's the term for the opposite of a food snob? Is there even one?) extended to my own kitchen and home cooking, but in the last few years, I've found myself gravitating towards higher-end groceries and ingredients. As my disposable income has grown, I find myself choosing organic/sustainably made/grass-fed/free-range ingredients over their alternatives for many reasons. These choices are based not only on taste, but because of moral ones too — it turns out that I'm a hippie at heart who often finds herself thinking about the amount of unnecessary waste we create and the welfare of animals that we eat.

Unfortunately, I know that buying for sustainability and animal care comes at a high cost. There are many folks who can't afford to make the same sorts of consumer choices that I do. Alternatively, there are folks who can, but simply don't want to because they have different priorities and values. And that's perfectly okay. I'm not here to judge or shame anybody for their choices. Because despite my penchant for fancier ingredients, I actually believe that the best recipes transcend ingredients. Like, if a cookie recipe is good, it's gonna taste good no matter if you're using generic butter or the organic/grass-fed/free-range kind.

So when Crisco® invited me to a "Bake It Better" Bootcamp in New York City, I was initially hesitant because with the exception of a few recipes, I rarely bake with shortening. But I realized that was my own snobbishness betraying me. Lots of people choose shortening over butter for its incredible value and consistent results. And beyond that, there are plenty of reasons to choose shortening over butter in baking recipes — for instance, Brandi Milloy, the baking expert leading the boot camp, taught us that shortening has a higher melting point. This means that flour and eggs in cookies have extra time to set before the shortening melts, resulting in sugar cookies that are thicker, light-texture, and more tender. Shortening works especially well in roll-out sugar cookies, resulting in cut-out cookies that hold their shape better without even needing to be chilled in the freezer!

So today I'm sharing the Crisco® rollout sugar recipe from Brandi's bootcamp; in honor of Halloween (which is coming up fast!), I decided to make some Halloween colored "gingerdead" men (get it, get it???) cookies to hand out to my neighbors. Each color is a different flavor, with black being licorice (I know, I know, a controversial flavor... sowweee), orange being citrus, and purple being lavender (another controversial flavor). So if you're in the SE Portland area and you get one of these in your kid's candy bag, be rest-assured that I didn't put any poison or razor blades in them. Just flour, eggs, sugar, shortening, and regular ol' #hummingbirdhigh love. Enjoy!

Some baker's notes:
  • I'm terrible at icing cookies (I'm no Vickie Yo or Patti Paige), so I bought these cutters that stamped a stencil onto each cookie and made the decorating process soooo much easier. 

  • Note that regular shortening traditionally doesn't have any flavor, so if you're looking for a buttery cookie, I suggest using either Crisco® Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening or Crisco® Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening Baking Sticks for a more traditional sugar cookie flavor.

  • If you find that your dough is too soft and the shapes aren't holding when you cut the dough, don't be afraid to knead your dough a little bit more with some extra flour. The recipe is SUPER forgiving, so you can probably add up to 1/4 cup of flour without too much consequence.

  • It's really hard to tell when sugar cookies are finished baking; their color doesn't change too much! Be sure to follow the recipe times and look at the edges to see if they've browned. And don't panic if the cookies are too soft when you pull them out — they'll firm up as they cool, I promise.

apple cider crullers

October 11, 2017

Last year, when I first moved out to New York to join Erlend, I told myself that we would take advantage of living out on the East Coast. It was closer to Europe; think of all the budget flights we would be able to catch for long weekend trips! Plus there was the whole New England region that I hadn't explored since I'd biked across the country many years ago, and Southern cities like Nashville and Charleston that are much closer to New York City than anywhere from the West Coast. We got this.

Yeah, no.

Of course, that didn't happen. With the exception of a much needed vacation to Portugal (which, quite frankly, only happened because I had a free credit card/air miles situation that was expiring in a few months), both Erlend's and my schedules were far too busy to allow for anything else. The year went by, and I found myself moving back to Portland unceremoniously and plunging solo into house repairs and remodelling. Oh, and my book.

But as fate would have it, the moment I moved back to the West Coast, several opportunities popped up that enabled me to have the East Coast travels that I'd dreamed of nearly a year ago. With Stonewall Kitchen (one of the past sponsors of my blog), I took a lovely overnight trip to Maine full of lobster rolls, stunning views of rocky beaches and beautiful New England houses on cliffs, and of course, lighthouses. I then stopped in Boston, where I was schooled by a hotel pastry chef on how to make macarons and had a wonderful, mini-reunion with two old high school friends. As we ate lots of pasta, drank lots of wine, and talked about how lame all of our high school exes were, I deeply regretted not being able to see both of them more often. And then there was my week with Vermont Creamery, in which our lovely hostesses drove a wonderful group of bloggers and myself all around Vermont to tour farms, cideries, chocolate factories, and more — it was impossible not to fall in love with its quiet, rural beauty.

Today's recipe is a tribute to my New England travels, of sorts. For years, I'd wanted to make crullers after seeing them on an old school cooking blog, Use Real Butter. My first attempt many years ago was terrible—I didn't have the right pastry tip and wasn't as confident in my piping skills as I am now—the crullers came out shriveled and sorry. I vowed to make them again one day, but then found myself living in tiny apartments in both San Francisco and New York that would have caused all my clothes to reek of deep fried oil had I attempted deep frying anything in their kitchens. Fast forward to now: years of pastry piping experience under my belt and my somewhat more spacious kitchen in Portland afforded no excuse. So here we are. Classic crullers, but with an apple cider glaze vaguely inspired by autumn and my New England travels. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • I mentioned this in the post, but you will need to use a piping bag and the right tips in order to make the crullers of your dreams. I used a large star tip from this Ateco set, which I highly recommend as I use it for everything (but really, a star tip from any large decorating tip set will do). The process for making crullers is weird, and a little on the high maintenance side. Basically, you pipe a circle onto a square piece of parchment paper, let it fry for a bit, and then pull off the paper with a pair of tongs. There's no way around this — the paper helps keep the crullers' shape, and forgoing it will result in churros rather than crullers. They'd be just as tasty though, so go for it if that's your jam. 

  • Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a deep fryer to deep fry things. I like to use my trusty Staub cocotte, which has a heavy bottom and thick sides to help retain the heat. In a pinch, a cast iron skillet would work too, but watch out for oil splatters since its sides are considerably lower! 

  • The first time I made these, the crullers looked beautiful when I first pulled them out of the oil... only to deflate sadly within a few minutes. Turns out I was severely undercooking them. Pay attention to the temperature of the oil in the recipe — too hot and your crullers will get brown too fast, causing you to pull them out too early and leading to deflation. Too cool and your crullers will get too soggy and oil laden. The perfect temperature and cooking time is in the recipe and will help prevent these problems! 
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