December 17, 2014

Nutella Rugelach, Two Ways


I’ve never been much of a holiday person, but for some reason, I’m feeling especially festive this year. So far, I’ve published a gift guide, bought an advent calendar, drank my first glass of honest-to-goodness eggnog (thanks Organic Valley, for sending me my first carton of eggnog ever!) as well as dedicated an afternoon to making Christmas wreaths with a friend (although my wreath was beyond ugly and not even worthy of InstagrammingTumblr and Pinterest make it look so easy, dammit).

Unfortunately, because all those things are primarily Christmas-related, my Jewish side is feeling a little bit left out. And with Hanukkah already underway, I decided it was time to celebrate with a batch of Nutella rugelach:


Growing up, traditional rugelach filled with jam and nuts always appeared around the family table during Yom Kippur and Purim. As a little kid, I always avoided the stuff. At the time, cookies with nothing but fruits and nuts just seemed like the most depressing thing and ruined the whole point of, you know, cookies.

Little did I know that I was kind of missing the point of rugelach — because rugelach is basically pie crust, rolled up into little crescents resembling mini croissants. Fresh from the oven? It’s flaky, buttery and everything you want good pie crust to be. The fruit and nut filling is almost an afterthought. Almost.

Because as an homage to my childhood, I decided to whip up a batch of rugelach that my young self would heartily approve of: rugelach filled to the brim with Nutella. I spent last Friday afternoon testing out different fillings — jam, peanut butter, halva (as the wonderful Molly Yeh recommends), almond butter... but the clear winner for me was Nutella. No surprises there since I've basically been having a love affair with the stuff since my youth (and yep, I just admitted to loving a sandwich spread on the internet), BUT the very competitive and way-too-close-for-comfort second place winner? Speculoos, the gingerbread cookie butter that is basically dessert crack. I stuffed a test batch of my rugelach cookies with a generous swirl of both Nutella and Speculoos and ohhh boy, those cookies were devoured within minutes.


Other test batches included more solid ingredients to give my rugelach the somewhat gritty texture I remember from my childhood. Contenders included mini chocolate chips, chopped up nuts like pistachio and hazelnut and dried fruit like cherries, peaches and strawberries. I was fully expecting my sweet tooth to proclaim chocolate chips the winner, but I found that they were too one-dimensional and didn’t add anything special to the Nutella rugelach. Instead, the dried cherries worked best, adding a wonderful chewyness to the cookie’s texture, as well as bursts of tart fruity flavor that played well with the Nutella.

I’m including the recipes for both the Nutella and Speculoos / Nutella and Dried Cherry combinations, but know that the recipe is super flexible and you can swap out my fillings with your preferred fillings. Happy Hanukkah!


Some baker's notes:
  • I've written the recipe the way I made the rugelach — using a food processor to cut butter and cream cheese into the dough. The trick is to just pulse the ingredients for a few seconds at a time until they come together; do not overmix the dough or you'll be in danger of tough cookies! I realize that not everybody has a food processor though, so note that you can also make the rugelach by hand by cutting the cream cheese and butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives. Stop when the dough forms large curds.

  • Rugelach usually comes in two shapes — pinwheels (where the dough is rolled around the filling and then sliced into individually cookies) and crescents, like you see here. Crescents tend to be more labor intensive, but they're the shape I remember from my childhood and so I'm biased and think they have a better texture. To get the crescent shape, you roll the rugelach dough into a circle and then proceed to slice them into wedges. This process is greatly helped by a pizza slicer (if you're looking for a good pizza slicer, I recommend this beauty by Savora), but you can also use a sharp, serrated knife or a bench scraper.

December 10, 2014

Olive Oil Citrus Cake


For the past few years, I’ve noticed a silent but ever-waging war going on between different types of cooks. One group of cooks firmly believes that good food starts with good ingredients. Folks from this camp often justify expensive purchases like $30 tiny bottles of vanilla imported from Tahiti and $20 packs of dairy that come from grass-fed, free-range cows and chickens. It appears that this side is winning — these days, we have entire culinary movements with cute names (ehem, farm-to-table and bean-to-bar) based on this notion alone.

The other half, however, believes firmly the opposite and that good recipes transcend bad ingredients. This explains James Beard-winner and Momofuku Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi using artificial vanilla in her birthday cakes, and famed blogger Deb from Smitten Kitchen shrugging off what kind of cocoa powder to use for her chocolate babka recipe. There’s whole articles contradicting the Good Ingredient Guys, explaining how cooks can easily rescue and save bad ingredients with some recipe tricks.

As for myself, I fall somewhere between the two. Although I mostly use generic pantry staples like flour and sugar, I’ve definitely been known to splurge for fancy ingredients. Because there are some ingredients that, once you’ve had the best version of it, it’s really, really, really hard to go back — stuff like vanilla extract, chocolate and olive oil.

Most recently, Red Ridge Farms sent me a box of olive oils to try from their olive oil milling branch, the Oregon Olive Mill. Their Arbequina extra virgin olive oil was impeccable — nutty and buttery, with rich floral and almost citrusy undertones. It was the perfect olive oil to use in a dessert, like this citrus olive oil cake:


Now, hold the phone. Olive oil? In dessert? Am I crazy? It’s totally a thing, I swear! Although most people associate olive oil with savory foods like bread and salad, it turns out that olive oil pairs very well with sugary fruit and nuts. Most recently, I’ve started noticing olive oil appear more and more in creamy desserts — olive oil flavored ice cream is on the menu at famed ice cream parlors around the country (San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe and Portland’s Salt & Straw have it as a flavor staple), and I’ve had my eye on this particular recipe for olive oil cake for the better part of the year now. Food52 describes the recipe as “genius”, declaring it as “olive oil cake at its best” with a “crackling crust and an aromatic oil-rich middle, which, if it held any more moisture, would be pudding.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve topped the cake with an extra portion of orange zest and a orange glaze to bring out the citrus notes in Oregon Olive Oil Mill’s extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!


Some baker's notes:
  • Be sure to use an olive oil that has floral and citrusy undertones! Avoid ones that are grassy and taste too much like olives — you don't want your cake tasting like a salad now, right? I recommend using extra virgin olive oil since it has a milder, cleaner flavor than regular olive oil.

  • This recipe contains almost half a bottle's worth of olive oil, which, let's be honest, can add up fast. I know that not everybody can receive boxes of fancy, local olive oil for free, so my budget option is a bottle of Whole Foods' 365 Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It costs $6.99 (give or take a dollar, depending on where you are) for a generous amount (one liter), and is the best generic olive oil I've ever had. I do not recommend Trader Joe's "Trader Giotto's Extra Virgin Olive Oil" — too olivey, grassy, and vinegary, all the flavors you do NOT want for the cake. I know it's cheap (something like $3.99 a liter bottle, which is really quite a deal), but you pay for what you get... no really. I promise I'm not being snotty — check out this olive oil expert's taste test of the olive oils at Trader Joe's! It's a really cool article, and you'll see that some of Trader Joes' generic olive oil bottles are better than others. 

  • This cake contains a lot of batter for a 9-inch pan. Like... a lot. When I baked it, I thought it was in danger of spilling over the pan and on to the bottom of my oven — miraculously, that didn't happen, but I'll be damned if it was pretty close. So feel free to split the batter into two 9-inch pans and shorten the cooking time to 35 to 45 minutes. If you're using a single 9-inch cake pan, be sure to use one that's at least 3-inches tall.

  • In my opinion, the cake is best when served warm from the oven; wait until the cake has cooled for half an hour or so, before pouring the glaze over it and serving immediately. The trick is to get it cool enough so that the glaze won't melt, but still warm and fresh. The cake is still good overnight (its olive oil flavor will get more pronounced!), but it also tends to get greasier and heavier.

December 7, 2014

Hummingbird High's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

With the holidays coming up fast, I've put together a little gift guide for folks who enjoy the same things I do: cooking, reading and lounging around the house wearing sweatpants and eating snacks. The products you see on this list are things I personally have and recommend, or things I've been lusting after for some time now. You'll find different price points in each category to accommodate every budget. Enjoy, and of course — happy holidays!

Cooking and Baking:
1. Crate & Barrel Non-Stick Wire Cooling Rack ($7.95): This is the best cooling rack I've ever owned: it's sturdy and the rungs lie flat and therefore don't leave any weird indentations on your baked goods. I own several that have lasted me a good five years or so without any signs of letting up.

2. Savora Hand Grater ($29.99): Again, this is the best grater I've ever owned. The hand grater has a nifty little compartment that catches whatever you're grating, preventing any mess. Plus, it comes in several cute colors! In fact, I'm actually a huge fan of almost all of Savora's cooking tools — every single one I own is incredibly functional and adorable at the same time.

3. Le Creuset 5 1/2 Quart Round French Oven ($280): At this point, who hasn't heard of Le Creuset? Their products have been endorsed by the likes of Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow. This particular french oven is a classic workhorse, and its size is perfect for a wide range of recipes for soups and stews. You can even use it to bake bread! I'm particularly in love with the matte colors.

4. Falcon Enamelware Bake Set (~$85): I bought my first set of enamelware plates when I moved into a house with three dudes prone to breaking nearly everything in sight. Enamelware is light, durable, and adorable to boot. This bake set comes from my favorite enamelware brand and comes with five different pans, perfect for a variety of desserts.



1. Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich ($35): Ever since I took a tour of the Bob's Red Mill Factory, I've been wanting to explore baking with wheat-flour alternatives. Alice Medrich's cookbook is the perfect introduction, using teff, buckwheat and rice flour to recreate classic baked goods like brownies, yellow cake and more.

2. Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi ($35): Although I was initially underwhelmed by my visit to Yotam Ottolenghi's flagship restaurant in London, his cookbooks have never let me down. In particular, his Plenty book series actually gets me excited about vegetables, which is a pretty impressive feat in itself. Plenty More is a companion to his earlier Plenty, but with even more valuable techniques and recipes to boot.

3. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg ($40): The Flavor Bible series are not conventional cookbooks by any means; instead, what you'll find in each is an index of ingredients and a list of other ingredients and flavors they pair well with. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is a vegetarian update to Page and Dornenburg's massively successful The Flavor Bible, and even though I'm an incredibly avid meat eater, I cannot recommend this book enough. A large number of my recipes that have been inspired by one of their flavor pairings.

4. The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum ($40): Even though Rose Levy Beranbaum is much beloved and respected in the baking community, I've always found her previous cookbooks (in particular, The Cake Bible) in need of a refresh. The Baking Bible, however, provides the detail-oriented instructions and ingenious tips that she is celebrated for with the much-needed ingredient and flavor pairing updates I've always desired.


Clothes:
1. West Elm Tech Knit Gloves ($14): Even though the heat's on high, it's not unusual to find me wearing gloves indoors since my hands tend to run cold. I like to wear this pair from West Elm with touchscreen compatible fingertips that allow me to use my laptop and cell phone without having to take the gloves off.

2. Uniqlo Polka Dot Lounge Pants ($14.90): I once bought these sweatpants on a whim while attending a tech conference in San Francisco since I'd forgotten sleeping attire. These have turned out to be the best pants I've ever owned, period — the cuffed pant bottoms prevent any dragging of the pants on the floor (a common problem with pants for short people like myself) and trap body heat in, making them the warmest, coziest pair of pants I own.

3. Everlane Weekender Bag ($95 - $135): Although I'm admittedly very much a homebody, Erlend and I sometimes like to plan overnight trips to nearby gems like the Olympic Peninsula. This is my go-to travel bag — functional and sturdy, but beautiful and glamorous enough to make me feel like I'm about to embark on a scenic train ride along the Cote d'Azur.

4. Tieks Starstruck Ballet Flats ($265): Are you one of those ladies who's always struggled to find a comfortable ballet flat? Well, look no further because Tieks ballet flats the solution to all your woes. Their leather flats seriously feel like running shoes on my feet! Soooo comfortable. I'm a big fan of the glittery Starstruck color, which straddle the line between casual and dressy depending on your outfit. They come in a wide range of colors and patterns, and I seriously would not say no to a pair in every color.


Home:

1. CB2 Glass Terrariums ($4.95 - $6.95): Over the past few years, terrariums and succulents have exploded in popularity thanks in part to Pinterest. In Portland, it's become a bit of a challenge to find reasonably priced bowls and vases for the succulents; I've seen folks selling containers for $30 and upwards!!! CB2, however, offers two great terrariums in adorable shapes (a bubble and a teardrop) for unbeatable prices.

2. Ikea MAFFENS Basket ($18): I have a love/hate relationship with Ikea — although I've grown to despise their signature cheap furniture, I'm always pleasantly surprised by their other home accessories. If you take the time to poke around their many offerings, you'll find gems like this cute and functional multipurpose basket that could almost pass as a unique, one-of-a-kind find.

3. Secret Holiday Co "Yes" Banner ($60): Secret Holiday Co has a host of meticulously handcrafted banners encouraging everybody to be their best self with phrases like "BE BRAVE" or "BE KIND". I like the classic — a simple banner that reads"YES", because sometimes you just need a simple "yes" for an answer.

4. Schoolhouse Electric Ion C-Series Tabletop Light ($119): These adorable tabletop lights come from Schoolhouse Electric, one of my favorite Portland-based companies, and provide the perfect pop of light and color in any space. You can customize the lamp by choosing different Edison bulbs (West Elm has a great collection).


Portland Made:
1. Heart Coffee ($17 - $22): Although there's a wealth of small, independent Portland-based coffee roasters to choose from, Heart Roasters remains my absolute favorite. An article I once read described Heart's roasting style as "lighter-than average", designed to "showcase the beans flavor and complexity, rather than cooking it away". The result is a wonderful, full-bodied coffee that manages to be both bold and subtle at the same time, and for some reason doesn't make my stomach ache as much as other coffees do.

2. Pok Pok: The Cookbook ($35): In 2007, Pok Pok singlehandedly lead the way for Portland's food scene to thrive and develop its reputation as the world-class food city it is today. Pok Pok's cookbook is a fascinating account of Pok Pok chef and founder Andy Ricker's travels in Southeast Asia, all the while offering faithful and attainable recipes of Pok Pok's iconic dishes

3. Woodblock Chocolate ($45 for a pack of 10): Currently, chocolate is in the middle of a bean-to-bar revolution — more and more purveyors are focusing on owning every step of the chocolate making process, leading to deeper, smoother and bolder chocolates. Woodblock Chocolate is an example; a husband-and-wife team sources all the cacao for their chocolate, before roasting and making the bars themselves in an elaborate process. Their chocolate is my absolute favorite. 

4. Kinfolk Magazine Yearly Subscription ($60): Although I've written about how lifestyle blogs and magazines like Kinfolk sometimes make me feel bad about my life, I really do admire some of the practices and aesthetic that Kinfolk advocates. Their magazines are always such a wonder to hold, filled with beautiful pictures and words that can fully immerse and transport you to their world.

December 4, 2014

Cranberry, Ginger and Satsuma Clafoutis


With thousands of food blogs out there on the internet (and growing everyday), it’s becoming increasingly harder to get your blog noticed. Sometimes I’ll get emails from bloggers who are just starting out, asking me for their advice on how to grow their blog audience. I always tell everybody advice that seems like it belongs in a cheesy, after-school special: focus on creating good content (that is, tasty recipes and pretty photographs) and don’t try and pretend to be something you think people want. There are a wealth of blogs out there, but only one you with your own unique voice, experiences and life that people want to read and know about.

And while I generally believe my advice to be true, sometimes, I have to give in to the mean, cynical little voice in my head that says,

But you have to admit... some people just have better lives than others; far better than YOURS.

My mean little voice is, of course, referring to people like Mimi Thorisson, the famed blogger behind Manger. Her blog first skyrocketed to fame several years ago when it was heralded for seasonal, regional and locally-sourced recipes that celebrated provincial French cuisine. Pretty soon, however, Manger inevitably became more about Mimi and her picture-perfect life: because besides the tasty cuisine that she cooks herself, she is also stunningly gorgeous and lives in the French countryside in a beautifully restored farmhouse with her seven children, fourteen dogs and an Icelandic photographer husband named Oddur Thorrison (what a name!).


And now, Mimi’s just come out with a new cookbook: A Kitchen in France. The cookbook is every bit as stunning as her blog, if not more so. There’s something so wonderful about being actually able to hold this heavy, hardbound book and fully immerse yourself in Oddur’s beautiful and dramatic photographs of Mimi and her family, their meticulously prepared meals and the French countryside. Every page I turned got me more lost in their elegant, dreamy lives — do real people actually live like this, in restored farmhouses in tiny, pastoral villages where locals stop their cars to pick mushrooms from the road? Apparently so, according to Mimi.

If there’s one complaint I have about the book, it’s also what I love about it so much: the entire thing just seems like a damn fantasy. Undeniably gorgeous on paper and Pinterest, but in real life? Incredibly impractical, bordering almost on inaccessible. The recipes in the book look great, sure, but where on earth was I going to find the the time to make a pie crust from savoy cabbage leaves or find ingredients like black locust flowers to fritter and grapevines to grill quail on? When will you?

Yeah, exactly.

But still, I wasn’t going to let my Negative Nancy ruin the day. I decided to bake one of her more accessible recipes: cherry clafoutis, a baked French dessert that’s somewhere between a custard and a flan that is traditionally studded with black cherries. Taking a leaf from Mimi’s book, I decided to cook seasonally and replace the cherries with cranberries and generous amounts of satsuma zest:


I was surprised to find that the recipe was relatively easy and fuss-free, using only a mixing bowl, a whisk and a baking pan. But truth be told, Mimi’s recipe reminded me more of a giant popover or a Dutch baby pancake with its dramatically puffed up edges. My end result differed somewhat from her own version, but that’s likely due to my substitute of seedless cranberries in place of heavy unpitted cherries. And while the pastry was extremely tasty (I loved Mimi’s use of orange blossom water to flavor it), it was quite the departure from the traditional flanny and custardy clafoutis I’d made in the past (a recipe from Tartine Bakery’s cookbook, which I highly recommend).

UPDATE: A French reader of mine just informed me that I’d actually made a flaugnarde instead of a clafoutis — apparently the two pastries share the same batter, but one is called a clafoutis only when cherries are used and the rest of the time it's called a flaugnarde when other fruits like cranberries are used. Flaugnarde pastries indeed have a more puffed-up appearance because of the lighter fruit, and therefore, a slightly different texture.


Some baker's notes:
  • Want to go the traditional route and use cherries? You can use frozen cherries, but be sure to use ones where the cherries are whole and there have been no sugar added. Using mashed cherries will make the clafoutis too weird and mushy — I tried this once and had to throw out the clafoutis in the end, it was too soggy. Same goes for frozen cranberries or any other fruit you use.

  • Some trivia: traditional clafoutis use cherries with the pits left in since the pits contain amygdalin, which is the active chemical in almond extract. During baking a small amount of amygdalin from the pits is released into the clafoutis, adding a complementary note to its flavor. So if you're the lucky person who managed to freeze a bag of cherries with the pits still in them, you're in luck!

  • Unfortunately the clafoutis tastes best when it's still warm, fresh from the oven. It really doesn't hold well for more than a few hours, when it starts to loose its crispness and puffiness and just turns soggy.

December 1, 2014

Sweet Potato, Maple and Cumin Galette with Goat Cheese Crumbles


Guys!

One of my blogging homegirls, Molly from My Name is Yeh, is getting married later this month! And this is her wedding pie!!!

(Well, technically it's a galette, but you know what I mean, right?)

Okay, let's backtrack here for a second. Who is Molly? And what is a wedding pie? Well, unless you've been living under a rock this past year, you probably know Molly Yeh, right? This past year has been THE YEAR OF MOLLY YEH, and she's been popping up everywhere from the New York Times to Cherry Bombe Magazine to Food52 and literally everywhere else. In the age where food blogs are a dime a dozen, her blog really stands out amongst us all — her photos are always, always so gorgeous, her recipes so creative and fun (I mean... look at these dinosaurs on this Italian cookie cake and ohmygawd these gingerbread TERRARIUMS) and it's so fun and exciting to read about her adventures going from living in the big city to a small farm in North Dakota.

And now, after a surprise engagement this past summer, she's getting married in just a few short weeks! To help celebrate the occasion, Molly asked me and a few other food blogger friends to come up with a wedding pie recipe that she and her mom will be baking for the special occasion.

Which brings us back to the beginning and back to this sweet potato, maple and cumin galette galette:


This is a recipe I developed specifically for the occasion for the future mr. and mrs. egg. Since it's going to be a winter wedding, I knew that I wanted to make something that was seasonal and hearty and comforting. For me, sweet potatoes automatically came to mind. They've have always been one of my favorite winter comfort foods (Have you guys ever had mashed sweet potatoes with orange zest, brown sugar and brown butter? I could eat bowls and bowls of that stuff). After some online stalking like a creeper, I was pleased to find that Molly appears to think the same, considering that one of her favorite foods is sweet potato tempura rolls and that she thinks sweet potatoes are the best part of Thanksgiving (which I heartily agree with, despite the unfortunate omission of sweet potatoes from my Thanksgiving table this year).


Now, I wish I could say that I came up with the most epic and delicious combination of sweet potatoes, maple syrup and cumin all by myself but the concept is actually stolen from Tasty n Sons, one of my favorite brunch places in Portland that does this really awesome maple and cumin glazed yams as a side to their egg dishes. I thought it would be a fun way to incorporate a little bit of Portland's own whimsy into Molly's undoubtedly whimsical North Dakota farm wedding. I baked the maple and cumin tossed sweet potatoes on my trusty cornmeal crust (also seen in this goat cheese and Concord grape galette and this plum and marzipan crumble galette), whose snappy and almost slightly crunchy texture complemented the softened sweet potatoes wonderfully. And to top it off, I tossed a few goat cheese crumbles on the finished pie to give each slice little bursts of creamy umami here and there. It's not quite a main dish on its own, but it's a nice galette to have as a vegetarian side accompaniment to other plates.

So CONGRATULATIONS, Molly! I hope you and eggboy have the most wonderful wedding!!! Can't wait to hear about it! Sending you guys love and best wishes all the way from Portland!!!


Some baker's notes:
  • You can make the galette dough up to a week in advance, as long as you keep it tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator. The dough can also be frozen for up to 1 month; thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using. Unfortunately the galette as a whole does not freeze well because of the maple syrup in the recipe — I'm worried that the maple syrup would likely crystallize as it freezes, and will be grainy after it thaws. You can, however, make ahead and refrigerate several of the recipe's components (that is, the dough, the sweet potatoes before they're tossed in with the butter and maple syrup) before throwing it all together on the final day to save time.

  • Maple syrup in the United States comes in two grades: A and B. Grade A maple syrup is thinner and has a lighter flavor. Grade B is thicker with a richer and bolder flavor. Use Grade B maple syrup if you can! It makes a big difference. 

  • I wrote the recipe for the cornmeal galette dough the way I made it, which was using a food processor. I know that not everybody has a food processor though (and to be fair, I only got my food processor pretty recently), so you can also cut the ingredients together using a pastry blender, two knives, or even your hands. 

November 28, 2014

Hummingbird High's Asian-Style Thanksgiving


As I mentioned in my earlier post, Thanksgiving in my household is a very non-traditional affair — for the last three years, Erlend and I have roasted a duck in place of the traditional turkey and have had varying sides and guests as an accompaniment every year. Since neither of our families celebrate Thanksgiving, we've been having a lot of fun working out our own traditions and customs.

And so this year was more thematic than previous years — I decided that our dinner was going to be primarily Asian-influenced, but with an homage to traditional Thanksgiving flavors. The menu was centered around a roasted beer duck recipe adapted from the crazy-talented Mandy of one of my favorite food blogs, Lady and Pups. Erlend and I decided to roast our duck using none other than Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, because what says America besides some bald eagles and a can of PBR?

Exactly.



Accompanying the duck was a garlic butter and scallion cornbread drizzled with garlic infused honey— now, I actually did not make the cornbread from scratch and instead used a box of Fleischmann's Simply Homemade Cornbread baking mix instead. Although I love baking from scratch (no duh), Erlend and I had made a deal that he would deal with the duck (a four-hour affair, including prep the day before) and I would make ALL the sides and desserts. And of course, I overcommitted and agreed to making three sides... so using a box mix in the end saved me a lot of time and stress. Fleishmann's mix was super easy and flexible, allowing me to incorporate my mix-ins without any issues — with my addition of fresh garlic and scallions, the cornbread went well with our Asian dishes and was still traditional enough to make it our meal feel more Thanksgiving-y.

Now, let's talk about the sides. Although I live about four blocks away from the original Pok Pok (you know, the super-famous Thai restaurant that's been in all those articles and has a Michelin-starred outpost in Brooklyn, New York) in Southeast Portland, I still can't get enough of it. I purchased the Pok Pok cookbook the moment it came out last year, but honestly, flipping through it left me intimidated — almost all the recipes require a lot of prep time and treks to Asian supermarkets in the suburbs.


But Thanksgiving is the perfect time to throw yourself headfirst into time-consuming culinary endeavors, so I picked two stir-fries from the cookbook to make. The first was Phak Buung Fai Daeng, which was a stir-fry of water spinach (perhaps more commonly known by its Chinese name, Ong Choy, or kangkong in my native country of the Philippines), fish sauce and oyster sauce. It's one of my favorite dishes at Pok Pok, but admittedly a bit of a pain to make at home because water spinach leaves are so friggin' hard to find, not to mention large and unwieldy and take up a lot of space in your fridge once you do find them. If you do manage to find the leaves somewhere (I found them by looking for greens with long, hollow stems), they're worth trying for their mild, leafy flavor that then soaks up the sauces they're paired with quite wonderfully.

The second stirfry was perhaps the more seasonal and festive: Phat Fak Thawng, or, a Northern Thai-style stirfry made from seasonal squash mixed with Thai chili, shrimp paste and lots of garlic and fried shallots:


I used two of my favorite types of squashes in the stirfry: butternut squash and delicata squash. They cooked at different rates, and the butternut squash softened up faster than the delicata. The stirfry ended up having a really awesome texture because of this — the butternut's soft, creamy texture contrasting with the delicata, which still retained a slight snap. As a matter of fact, the whole dish was kind of a study of opposites: the sweetness of the squashes contrasted with the umami of the paste, and the stirfry caramelized and melded all their flavors together. This was honestly one of the best vegetable recipes I'd tried in some time, and worth the time it took to source shrimp paste. 

And now, dessert.


For dessert, I had this crazy idea to make pumpkin and coconut milk Chinese egg tarts. When I first ran this idea by one of my Chinese friends, she looked at me like I had just told her that I was planning on committing a crime. Admittedly, the components of this recipe — pre-made boxed puff pastry (sorry guys, I wasn't making puff pastry from scratch this time around — I'm still scarred from the time I did it for these palmiers and that took like the entire friggin' weekend), pumpkin puree, coconut milk and sugar — are pretty far from what traditionally goes into legit Chinese egg tarts. 

But can I tell you guys a secret? 

When I pulled these out of the oven and took a bite out of the oh-so-warm and oh-so-fresh pastry, they were everything I'd always hoped Chinese egg tarts would be. As a kid, I had always been so disappointed by the fact that traditional Chinese egg tarts weren't more flavorful and sweet, despite their sunny and inviting appearance. But the pumpkin and coconut milk in these tarts gives them the flavor and sweetness I always desired, all without having it be too overly-sweet or sickeningly so. Although the tarts are best when they are still warm from the oven, Erlend and I still managed to finish off about ten each at room temperature wish that we had more. 

So, a recap of my Asian-style Thanksgiving menu:
  • Roasted PBR Beer Duck (recipe from Lady & Pups)
  • Fleischmann's Simply Homemade Cornbread with Added Scallions, Garlic and Honey Butter
  • Phak Buung Fai Daeng; or Stir-Fried Water Spinach (recipe from the Pok Pok cookbook, available after the jump)
  • Phat Fak Thawng; or Northern Thai-Style Stir-Fried Squash (recipe adapted from from the Pok Pok cookbook and available after the jump)
  • Pumpkin and Coconut Milk Chinese Egg Tarts (recipe after the jump)

Happy Thanksgiving!!! Feel free to share your Thanksgiving menus in the comments below.

November 25, 2014

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Flan + A Giveaway!


Thanksgiving at my house has always been a very non-traditonal affair; neither Erlend's immediate family or mine really celebrates Thanksgiving, so we've been left to make up our own traditions. Slowly but surely, we're starting to build up a repertoire of Thanksgiving customs — for instance, for the last three years, we've roasted a duck instead of the traditional turkey and I've made momofuku's crispy roasted brussel sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette.

And although the menu is starting to settle, the company seems to be ever-changing. Three years ago, we celebrated with Erlend's family in Littleton, Colorado. My blog was just beginning, and I made this berry topped cheesecake (those iPhone pics, oh my god). The following year was less ceremonious and consisted of me and Erlend eating our roasted duck in a tiny attic apartment in Portland. Last year, it was a friendsgiving complete with my two housemates (one who steamed buns for the duck, the other made full-blown traditional Japanese ramen) and a recently transplanted friend from San Francisco who brought Greek salad.


This year, it's another friendsgiving of sorts — a BLOGGER friendsgiving. The ever lovely Renee from Will Frolic for Food has organized a bunch of my favorite bloggers together to celebrate a virtual friendsgiving, centering around one crucial ingredient in both cooking and baking: salt. But not just any old table salt, mind you. We're talking about JQ Dickinson Salt Works salt; that is, high-quality, flaky sea salt, hand-harvested from the Appalachian Mountains. It's the kind of salt that you want to throw on almost everything to just give it that extra something-something, with its beautifully coarse texture able to enhance your dish's flavors.

Each blogger was tasked to contribute a recipe that prominently used salt for a Thanksgiving course; undoubtedly, I signed up for dessert and whipped up these plates of mini salted caramel pumpkin flans:


Side note: is flans the plural of flan? That seems... strange. I feel like it should be fancier than "flans"? Is that just me?

I feel like I've been bad about baking seasonally this fall. I mean, I completely missed apple season and tried to whip up these mini upside down apple cakes at the last minute that, of course, turned out to be a disaster. But I'm not making that same mistake with pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, nope. Bring on the gourds and the root vegetables, bring it on, starting with pumpkin.

Although pumpkin is traditionally paired with pumpkin pie spices, I'm a big fan of throwing it together with unexpected (but still complementary!) flavors — for instance, like this chocolate and pumpkin babka and these salted caramel flans. Because have you guys ever had salted caramel and pumpkin together? It's like... the best. No, really. Once you've had it, you'll wonder why on earth nobody has made pumpkin and caramel a mandatory flavor. And these miniature salted caramel flans are the perfect introduction to the flavor pairing:


Seriously — if pumpkin pie married creme caramel, these caramel pumpkin flans would be their babies. Their creamy, perfectly balanced between salt and sweet and pumpkin and caramel babies.

And as a special Thanksgiving treat, I'm giving away a 1-ounce sampler jar of J.Q. Dickinson Salt, along with some other baking tools to help you out in the kitchen. Enter the giveaway by simply leaving a comment on this post telling me about your favorite Thanksgiving tradition. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Sunday, November 30th at 5:00 PM PST. The giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only.

The giveaway is now closed! Thanks everybody for entering. The winner is ANNE. I'll be reaching out shortly!

Some baker's notes:
  • Making caramel can be a bit of a pain and a mess, especially if you have to divide the molten hot and burning liquid between tiny ramekins. So instead of cooking the sugar in one pot and doing exactly that, I've decided to caramelize the sugar in their individual ramekins by placing them on burners and cooking them one by one. Now although this method is cleaner, it does take some time and works best if you have a gas or electric burner — it won't work if you have an induction stovetop. If that's the case, you can also make the caramel by dividing it into their ramekins and broiling in the oven until the sugar is melted and caramel colored.

  • It's important that you cook the flan ramekins in the water bath (as instructed in the recipe). This will allow the flans to cook evenly throughout. But be careful NOT to overcook the flan. Overcooking will result in a weirdly crumbly and grainy custard texture and me crying tears of sadness for you. If you know your oven runs hot, constantly check your ramekins to see how done they are. Flans, unlike cake, are unaffected by the number of times you open your oven door. You can find the perfect custard texture by taking a heatproof utensil and giving each ramekin a gentle tap on its side. If the sides are firm but the center jiggles, you're good to go. If the center is firm, you've overcooked your custard. But note that the top of each flan will look weirdly spongy, instead of smooth and creamy — this is due to the pumpkin in the ingredients. If the tops start to brown too fast, loosely cover with an aluminum foil.