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.

April 8, 2015

Lucky Charms Marshmallow Ice Cream

Before we start, I'd really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog in the Saveur Magazine's Food Blog Awards. Hummingbird High is a finalist in the Best Baking & Desserts Blog category!!! I am beyond floored that my blog was even re-nominated in the first place; it's honestly because of all YOUR support. So thank you to everybody who took the time to nominate me, is taking the time to vote for me, or, honestly, is even just reading this at all. And a HUGE congrats to all the other nominees, of course — I can't wait to meet everybody in June!

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

There's an ice cream shop in my neighborhood that's famous for their crazy ice cream flavors. You'll frequently find flavors like Pear and Blue Cheese or Tomato Water and Olive Oil on the menu. On Thanksgiving, Salt & Straw rolls out a salted caramel ice cream that's flavored with turkey juice and caramelized onions. One summer, there was a flavor that combined berries, barbecue sauce, and baked beans.

As a dessert enthusiast, I dive right in. I'll try a scoop of everything, including the ice creams with the pig's blood (Blood Pudding flavor, usually shows up around Halloween, yup), the meat juices, and even sea urchin. Do I enjoy it all?

Er... no, not really.

I know that makes me a bad Portlander, and I'm sure as I write this, the locals are gearing up to throw me some sticks and stones like they did in the comments section of this article. But maybe I'm just a simpleton at heart because the flavors I like best are their "classic" ones: chocolate gooey brownie, coconut with caramel bars, and Stumptown coffee with bourbon.

Every so often, however, I'll try one of their seasonal flavors and be blown right out of the water. Last month, it was a flavor called "Pots of Gold & Rainbows", a cereal milk based ice cream that was studded with all the marshmallows from pounds and pounds of Lucky Charms cereal but without any of their whole grain companions (because let's be honest, the only people who eat Lucky Charms cereal do it for the marshmallows, AMIRITE). It was perfect. There's no other word for it — the ice cream hit the perfect mix of creativity and deliciousness, balancing somewhere between a timeless classic and a more disruptive future demanding change amongst tried and true flavors. I found myself craving the ice cream again and again, lining up in Salt & Straw's obscenely long lines twice a week to buy myself a rather pricey scoop of the stuff.

But since I've never been the most patient person, I figured it was time to learn how to make it at home:

To reverse engineer the ice cream at home, I started by flipping through the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. Cereal milk dessert isn't a Salt & Straw invention; instead, it was popularized a few years ago by famed pastry chef Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar fame. Her New York bakeries actually sell cereal milk by the bottle, and she has pretty solid recipe for cereal milk that I've used in previous recipes (like these cupcakes!). But honestly, it's something that you could easily make without one, AND, if you eat cereal for breakfast every day, you probably already even do. Because here's the secret: cereal milk is nothing but cereal-infused milk. Like you know how when you eat a bowl of cereal, the leftover milk in the bowl once you've eaten all the cereal will have all these tiny cereal crumbs and will taste a little bit like the cereal you just ate? THAT'S CEREAL MILK. That's it. That's all! Seriously.

And so after sorting out the marshmallows (more on that later, grumble), I used the leftover whole grain cereal to make the cereal milk, which I then used in my favorite vanilla ice cream recipe (from Humphry Slocombe, a San Francisco-based ice cream parlor also known for its crazy flavors), churned it all into my ice cream maker, and hand-stirred in the remaining Lucky Charms marshmallows. Oh! And let's not forget — because I am a hedonist, I also bought some waffle cones, dipped them in some melted chocolate and marshmallows and BOOM! Chocolate and Lucky Charms marshmallow-lined waffle cones. Thank you, and good night.

Some baker's notes:
  • To make this ice cream, I used the cereal and marshmallows from one family size (20.5 ounces) box of Lucky Charms cereal. I hand sorted out the marshmallows, which gave me around 1 1/2 to 2 cups worth of marshmallows (sorry, I'm not exactly sure since I ate a lot of them while I was doing the sorting, lol) that I needed for this recipe. HOWEVER, thanks to comments from my trusty Instagram followers, I found out that you can actually just BUY straight-up marshmallows from Amazon! So do yourself a favor and make your life easier and buy that instead. 

  • Toasting the Lucky Charms in the oven before steeping them deepens the flavor of the milk. I didn't add any additional sugar to my steeped milk since I was going to be adding plenty in the ice cream custard base, but if you want your ice cream a little bit sweeter, add up to 2 tablespoons tightly packed light brown sugar. The recipe for Lucky Charms cereal milk below makes more than is needed for the ice cream custard, so you can drink the rest (and it definitely tastes better with a dash or two of sugar). It'll keep in a clean pitcher, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

  • The ice cream recipe I use is a custard base containing cream, milk, and eggs. Before starting the cooking process, make sure you have the bowl and ice bath ready to cool down your base as soon as its finished cooking. This is essential, since the hot custard will continue to cook for a while, and if you overcook the custard you'll end up with sugary scrambled eggs for ice cream. Which... no thank you.

  • To make the chocolate and marshmallow dipped waffle cones, I used about 1 ounce of melted dark chocolate and 1 tablespoon of Lucky Charms marshmallows per cone.

April 1, 2015

Sushi and Mushroom Salad... for Dessert!!!

So even though I've had this little April Fools' prank planned for a few weeks now, I'm going to go ahead and ruin it with this teeny, tiny announcement:

Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Blog in 

Saveur Magazine's Food Blog Awards!!!

When I found out the news a few days ago, I was completely stunned. I can't BELIEVE that my blog was re-nominated; all I know is that I'm pretty sure that it's because of YOU GUYS. I'm beyond grateful and thankful for all your support. It really means the world to me. Really and truly.

The winner of the award will be decided by votes, so I would really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for me. And of course, be sure to check out all the other amazing blogs that also made the shortlist. I'm beyond honored to be a part of the ranks!!!

To vote for me, click the badge below to head on to the SAVEUR Blog Awards:


And now back to my ruined April Fools' joke:

Today I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes: sushi and mushroom salad... for DESSERT.

Say what??!?


Okay, wait. I can hear you thinking to yourself. What's the joke here? Has Michelle just lost her mind? I mean, is she just eating raw fish and mushrooms for dessert, or what???

Well, look at the pictures. Look closely this time.

Because things aren't exactly what they seem:

Still don't see it?

Here's the trick: nothing in those photos is what it looks like on first glance. Take that box of sushi — THAT'S NOT RAW FISH! The raw "fish" are actually dried mango slices prepared in three different ways. From bottom to the top, we have a regular dried mango slice, a dried mango slice brushed with a layer of cocoa powder, and a dried mango slice with its edge dipped in leftover black sesame sugar (leftover from these black sesame and goat milk rolls). Each slice sits up top a bed of sweet sticky coconut rice, mimicking traditional nigiri pieces:

And of course, you didn't really think that I would let you eat mango and coconut sticky rice with real soy sauce and wasabi now, did you? The little ramekin is filled with a chocolate dipping sauce, while the so-called "wasabi" is actually a little clump of marzipan that's been rolled in matcha green tea powder. That goes much, much better with the mango fruit and sticky coconut rice than, well, the real versions.

But as awesome as my fake sushi skills are, I must say that I'm prouder of the mushroom salad, whose mushrooms are actually made of flour, butter, sugar, and cocoa powder:

That's right. Those mushrooms up top are actually plain old sugar cookies! I rolled the cookie dough into little balls and used an empty beer bottle lined with cocoa powder to stamp out stumps in each cookie. It's a genius recipe from the cookbook of Sprinkle Bakes, who also happens to be one of my favorite food bloggers.

Happy April Fools' Day! I hope I didn't freak you out too much with this recipe. Because like, real sushi for dessert?! NO THANK YOU (although I will eat as much real sushi for lunch, dinner, and snacks as I can — it's one of my favorite foods). I'm really not crazy, I swear.

Some baker's notes:
  • Go crazy with this one! It's April Fool's Day, after all. You can use a ton of different dried fruit to mimic the look of sushi — I used mango because I felt like it mimicked the pastel colors of traditional sushi best, but dried papaya with its orange hue would also be a great substitution. And of course, you can always use fresh mango but I am a mango snob and only eat mangos when I'm in the Philippines

  • Sticky rice is available at Asian supermarkets, or online. You can also use Japanese short-grain rice, but your dessert won't be as sweet. I just cooked my sticky rice in a rice cooker, but you can be hella legit and steam it, or simply cook it in a regular saucepot. I won't include instructions on how to make the rice, however, since different brands instruct you to cook it in different ways, with slightly variant ratios of rice to the water. It's best to follow the instructions on the packet for the best results!

  • Admittedly, the coconut sticky rice was a bit of a pain to form by hand (it's super sticky... like, really). You can buy a nigiri sushi mold to make your life easier, but I'm a cheapo who repurposed an ice cube tray in my fridge to mold the rice — hey, it also works!

March 25, 2015

Overnight Black Sesame Buttermilk Rolls with Goat Milk Glaze

Before I share today’s recipe, I just wanted to thank everybody who read and commented on my last post containing my thoughts about blogging. Those thoughts have been marinating in my mind for some time now, and I briefly wrote that I was initially hesitant to write about them in the first place. At best, I was worried that some people would think that I was knocking their careers and chosen professions as bloggers. At worst, I feared folks would call me hypocritical (since, after all, I monetize my blog and benefit from all the same sponsorships and networks too). But not publishing the post for fear of upsetting people and losing followers would have been the exact opposite of what I advised people to do, so I took a deep breath and hit “publish”.

Since publishing the post, I’ve received a number of comments and emails from other bloggers sharing their own experiences. It’s been wonderful and eye-opening reading everybody’s take, and it made me realize that what I wrote about was a pretty universal experience for bloggers. If anything, it made me realize that we need more opportunities to talk about the behind-the-scenes stuff and about the doubts and fears we all share. I don’t know exactly how to provide that (and, quite frankly, it’s kind of asking a lot from a food blog), but hopefully taking more risks will eventually pave the way for such opportunities.

Speaking of taking risks, the recipe I’ve got for you guys today is one that I’ve kept near and dear to my chest for fear of alienating some of my audience. Black sesame and goat milk aren’t exactly the most accessible ingredients, although black sesame is a staple in Asian desserts. Usually black sesame appears in subtle desserts like panna cotta or pudding, often accompanied by lots of honey, syrup, or sweetened condensed milk to take its slightly bitter edge off.

My favorite kind of black sesame desserts, however, are ones that are un-subtle and un-delicate in flavor. The kind that, where if you take a bite of it, there’s no hiding that black sesame at ALL. And that’s exactly what’s going on with these rolls; you’re not gonna find a “light, floral touch” here — there’s no mistaking the nutty, toasty and almost woody flavor from the sesame. And that’s because they’re filled with nothing but butter, sugar, and black sesame seeds; there’s nothing there to distract or take the edge off the main star of the dessert.

Well… except maybe the goat milk. Since I’m mildly lactose intolerant (though in severe denial about it), I’ve been playing around with goat milk as a substitute for regular milk. When I bought my first bottle, I’d envisioned it to have a flavor similar to kefir — tart, and almost yogurt-y. My imagination ran away, thinking that using it as a substitute for regular milk in baked goods would give the final product a subtle tangy flavor, similar to using sour cream or yogurt. I was more than disappointed to find that goat milk kinda tasted like... well, regular milk.

But goat cheese? Whole other story. Turns out that you can easily replace cream cheese with goat cheese in almost any recipe, giving you that awesome goaty, farmy taste. This goat milk glaze is more technically a goat cheese glaze, with that unique farmy goat cheese flavor playing very, very well with the black sesame, adding tang to all that toasty goodness.

And of course, if you’ve been sitting there wrinkling your nose this entire time, you can always, always just go with a more traditional cinnamon sugar filling and a cream cheese glaze. Which is always good too.

But I promise you’re missing out.

Some baker's notes:
  • Black sesame seeds are available in the bulk sections of fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods and Asian supermarkets. You can also find them online.

  • I let the dough develop overnight in the fridge because I found that the slower rise brought out more flavors in the bread. I also liked breaking up the work into two portions, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just sitting around waiting for things to happen foreverrr. But if you’d like to just get it all out of the way, no worries! After kneading the dough, allow the dough to proof for about 1 1/2 hours in a lightly greased bowl covered with plastic wrap. During this time, it should double in size — after it's done so, follow the instructions in the recipe to roll out and re-proof the rolls a second time.

  • If you don't have a deep-dish pie pan to bake these rolls in, you can also use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or sheet — simply lay them out in rows of 3, spacing each about an inch or so apart. They actually bake more evenly and consistently this way (but I liked the look of the rolls baked in a pie pan 'cuz I'm a sucker).

  • The recipe starts by instructing you on how to make black sesame sugar using an oven and a food processor, thanks to this utterly genius recipe by Mandy of Lady and Pups. The recipe will make slightly more than what's needed for the rolls, and you can store whatever's leftover in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month (similarly, you can make the sugar in advanced for up to 1 month). It's important to refrigerate the sugar since black sesame seeds have a ton of oil in them and go rancid fast. However, my leftover sugar never lasts that long — I often find myself reaching for it and stirring it into my green tea or coffee.