September 13, 2014

Feast Portland Preview: Bunk Bar Sandwiches

Along Portland's southeast waterfront lies a nondescript neighborhood filled with anonymous warehouses and industrial buildings. But Portlanders in the know have pegged this seemingly derelict area as the next up-and-coming foodie destination. Because indeed, the neighborhood's main drag, SE Water Avenue, is dotted with some of the city's most beloved restaurants and coffee shops — Olympic Provisions, Clarklewis, Water Avenue Coffee, Coava Coffee, Boke Bowl and so on.

In the heart of the strip is what I consider to be the hood's crowning jewel: Bunk Bar. Bunk Bar is actually the second outpost of the very popular and successful Bunk Sandwiches, a cramped storefront only a few blocks away serving some of the meanest and tastiest sandwiches you'll ever eat. Bunk has been a local favorite for some time now, but after being featured in shows like the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Travel Channel's Best Sandwich in America, the humble sandwich shop was suddenly deluged with national fame and fanfare.

Cut to a few years later, when the founders of Bunk, Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood, decided to combine their love of sandwiches and indie music. And so Bunk Bar was born. In addition to serving up their famous sandwiches, Bunk Bar frequently brings in indie, punk and metal bands to perform late-night shows:

Even during the day, Bunk Bar gives off a slick cooler-than-thou attitude. Huge windows fill the space with natural light, highlighting the bar's industrial-chic vibes, sharp angles of concrete, mirrors and metal. Behind the bar contains a huge chalkboard filled with today's menu and specials; walk up to the hipster bartender and place your order:

In our case, we ordered two classics — a roast beef sandwich (complete with horseradish, caramelized onions, dijon, and cheddar) and a tuna melt (made with Oregon albacore tuna and topped with cheddar, mustard, and pickles). Big thanks to Erlend for acting as the hand model (as usual):

Both were absolutely delicious. Salty, toasty, and buttery, these were not your typical roast beef and tuna sandwiches. All that fame and hype? Totally deserved.

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September 10, 2014

Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

When I first arrived in Oregon after years of living in Texas, I had no idea what Trader Joe's was. There was one a few blocks away from my college campus, and I remember walking over with the intent of purchasing a bottle of Coca Cola and some trash bag liners, unaware that Trader Joe's sold neither of those things. I'd mistaken it for a regular supermarket, and was miffed by the Trader Joes brand snacks, cereal, sauces and more.

Eventually, I came to rely on Trader Joe's. To say that I did my grocery shopping there during my college years was a bit of an understatement — I survived off of their frozen foods section, and purchased the obligatory servings of fruit and vegetables needed to be healthy there. I'm pretty sure there was a good three or four years of my life in which every meal I'd made for myself consisted of food entirely from Trader Joe's. Later, as I grew older and tried to eat healthier, I eventually realized that I could purchase far superior and fresher produce at farmer's markets and other local grocery stores.

Which leads me to today. These days, I only ever head to Trader Joe's when I'm feeling particularly uninspired for my blog. Specifically, I'll head straight for their snacks section — because although Trader Joe's is lacking in their produce department, they've got their snacks game DOWN. I'll troll up and down the aisle to examine every single one of those plastic buckets filled with chocolate covered nuts and other candies to see if there's anything I can use in my baked goods.

And on my latest trip, I decided to purchase this plastic bucket full of mini peanut butter cups. Now exactly how mini are these peanut butter cups? Pretty mini. Like, the size of a chocolate chip-mini. I've daydreamed about using these mini peanut butter cups in cookies since college, but it's only now that I've actually come around to doing it.

And how was the result?

So... I'm usually not a fan of peanut butter cookies — I find them too dry and crumbly. Instead I opted to use these mini peanut butter cups in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, substituting about half of the original recipe's quantity of chocolate chips for the mini peanut butter cups instead. The result was great; chocolate chip cookies basically, but with just the right amount of peanut butter to keep things nutty and interesting. Oh, and of course, minus the dryness that I hated in a regular peanut butter cookie. And when fresh out of the oven? The peanut butter turns molten, just like the chocolate chips. Absolutely delightful.

Some baker's notes:
  • No Trader Joe's in your area? No worries! You can still purchase mini peanut butter cups online at King Arthur Flour's store. Alternatively, you can use peanut butter M&Ms or Reese's Pieces, but the texture will be different on account of their candy coating. 

  • So, this recipe allows for some flexibility. I threw in a lot of salt because I love the flavor of salted chocolate and salted peanut butter — for a more tampered taste, reduce the salt in the recipe by 1/2 teaspoon. Similarly, I love cookies that are soft on the inside, and crunchy on the outside. If you prefer cookies that are soft, bake for 10 minutes and allow to cool on the pan. For extra crunchy cookies, bake for 14. Bear in mind that you can choose your cookie texture by altering almost all cookie recipes in this way.

  • Also, in this recipe, it'll seem like the ingredient quantities are off — that is, there's not enough flour to hold the chocolate chips and peanut butter cups together. But trust the recipe! It'll work, I promise. But it's very important that you chill the dough for the time I suggest, otherwise the cookies will spread too thin and flatten out.

September 4, 2014

Matcha Marble Pound Cake with Blackberry Brown Sugar Compote

You guys!

My kitchen is so close to the end. There are just a couple hardware pieces that need to be shipped, and a cabinet panel or two that needs to be screwed in and aligned. But I'm so close. SO CLOSE. Soon you guys will have all the before and after pictures I've been teasing you with on Instagram, but taken with my big-girl camera to capture the big picture, as well as the nooks and crannies. Soon!

I can't believe that I lasted two months without a kitchen. I'm not going to lie — those two months without a kitchen were painful, painful, painful. Erlend and I got around the lack of an oven and a range with grilling, sandwiches, and salads, but I'll be honest with you: I'll be a happy girl if I don't ever eat one of those things again, for a long time. No, really. I need at least a six month break from anything grilled or raw. Or eating out for that matter. I used to love eating out, but these days, all I want to do is stay in and make myself eggs.

I've baked a couple things in the kitchen so far — first, there were those failed cupcakes that didn't make it onto the blog, but I eventually finagled those into these beautiful salted chocolate, pistachio and raspberry pots de creme. Then came this matcha marbled pound cake:

Looking at the humble loaf above, I will admit to being slightly disappointed after pulling it out of the oven. Loaves always just look so bleh by themselves, just a weird heavy lump of a baked good with an unsightly crack or two up top. This loaf, while delicious, just looked too boring to merit its status as one of the first baked goods to come out of my kitchen. So I decided to gussy it up with some white chocolate glaze and fresh blackberries from a local farm.

This was a BIG MISTAKE.

I'd fallen into the trap of over-designing my recipe and ruining the final product — that is, throwing together too many damn flavors and drowning out the subtleties. Why bother having so many flavors if you can't taste any at all? Because sure enough, the white chocolate overpowered the cake's subtle green tea flavor, and the blackberries' tart, fresh flavor. So what even was the point of having a matcha swirled pound cake if I couldn't even taste the matcha? Might as well have made a plain-jane vanilla loaf.

So I decided to make it again. This time, I decided to keep it simple and pair the matcha cake with a straightforward blackberry and brown sugar compote. It was absolutely wonderful; the blackberry compote added a tartness to the pound cake, pairing wonderfully with its delicate green tea and vanilla flavor. Spooning the compote over the cake was a wonderous act — the cake absorbed the juices from the compote like a sponge, and every bite was so incredibly melt-in-your-mouth moist:

Let me declare this now: blackberry and green tea is a combination that people do not use often enough. I'm hoping that one day, some day, I'll flip open the latest edition of The Flavor Bible, a canonical cookbook dedicated to indexing ingredients and all the other flavors they pair with (seriously — if you are a serious cook or baker, you need this book), and find my blackberry and green tea combination written there. But for now, this recipe is my contribution to helping it get set in stone.

Some baker's notes:
  • Matcha is a vivid green powder made from compressed green tea leaves; you can also use it to make green tea, matcha lattes, and of course, baked goods. Matcha usually has a "grade", which is determined by the age of the leaf that is milled for the tea. Ceremonial grade matcha is made with younger leaves are more delicate and flowery, and ultimately used for traditional tea ceremonies in Japan. As a result, it is very expensive. I would recommend getting culinary grade matcha, which isn't as delicate (quite frankly, ceremonial grade matcha will probably have too delicate of a flavor for baking), but is within a more reasonable price point.  It is available online, specialty tea stores (Portlanders — you can buy it at my favorite tea shop, Townshend's Tea, by the ounce!) and some Asian super markets.

  • Not really a baking or a culinary tip, more a word of caution: this blackberry brown sugar compote stains like a jerk. Don't wear white when you're making it, and godspeed if you have marble countertops. Wipe up any spills immediately. Don't say I didn't warn you.

August 31, 2014

Feast Portland Preview: The Parish

In case you missed my earlier post on Nong's Khao Man Gai, I'm working with Feast Portland, Portland's food and wine festival, to do a sneak preview of some of the chefs and restaurants who'll be attending some of the Feast's famed events like the Sandwich Invitational, Night Market, High Comfort and Brunch Village.

Today's sneak preview is of The Parish, whose chef Ethan Powell will be cooking at Feast's Tillamook Brunch Village. After gaining success with his North Portland oyster bar, EAT, Ethan opened up The Parish to bring New Orleans cuisine to Portland's ritzy Pearl District. The Parish occupies a beautiful space in the heart of the neighborhood, complete with a full bar and large windows that flood the place with beautiful, natural light:

Despite having a large space, The Parish keeps its setting intimate by adding personal touches to each table like outfitting them with their own collection of vinegar and chile sauces. The booths along the wall also receive their own vintage table light:

The Parish has a great happy hour and dinner menu (their oysters and fried chicken is just to die for), but really, I'm most excited about their lunch menu. As somebody who's worked in the Pearl District for the last 3 years, I can attest that our lunch options tend to be far and few between. But the Parish has an extensive lunch menu filled with Cajun and Creole classics like po'boy sandwiches, jambalayas and gumbos.

And so last week, I dragged my coworkers here for lunch. Between the four of us, we had quite the assortment of po'boy sandwiches and deep fried seafood:

Pictured above is the Fishwich (a crispy catfish fillet topped with white cheddar, pickles and house mad tartar sauce) and a shrimp po'boy (a spongy submarine sandwich filled with deep-fried shrimp, shredded cabbage, tomatoes and pickles), both with healthy servings of fries, both delicious.

And have you guys ever had deep-fried okra? Normally I'm not a fan of okra since it tends to get mushy real fast, but deep-frying it turns it into quite a wonder. Think of it like a tater tot, but with a teeny, tiny bit more nutritional value. The Parish's fried okra comes in this adorable little setup:

And for those of you who are not a fan of deep-fried things (though honestly, if you're not a fan of deep-fried things, I don't know how we can be friends), you also have a couple of options. There's the debris po'boy:

Which consists of slow-cooked, marinated and shredded beef accompanied by aioli, tomatoes, pickles and cabbage.

You can also order gumbo, which is a classic Creole stew usually made with okra and some sort of shellfish. The Parish makes their gumbo with crab, shrimp, and oysters:

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August 27, 2014

Salted Chocolate, Raspberry and Pistachio Pots de Crème

Last week, my kitchen contractor set up my shiny new Kitchenaid double-oven range. I had big plans to christen the oven with an epic triple layer red velvet cake made from scratch, but decided to play it safe and stick with a tried-and-true recipe: the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook's recipe for vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting. A few years ago, at the very beginning of this blog, I'd once spent months baking this recipe over and over for a good two weeks in my attempt to figure out how to bake in high-altitude. It was the kind of recipe I knew like the back of my hand, one I could recite in my sleep.

That Saturday afternoon, as I prepared to bake the cupcakes, there were plenty of things already amiss before I even turned on the oven. It was a hot, hot, hot day — the butter I'd left out only a half hour ago to soften was now only barely solid, slowly melting to create a yellow puddle on my brand new kitchen countertops. I couldn't find any of my regular mixing bowls, spatulas and measuring spoons as I'd packed them away almost two months ago and promptly forgotten where I'd placed everything. I didn't have enough powdered sugar, and I had just realized my baking powder had expired three months ago.

But I wasn't going to let any of these things stop me, nope. I was going to bake these damn cupcakes. It had been way too long until I had baked something in my kitchen, in my oven.

Needless to say, it was a disaster.

With the expired baking powder, the cupcakes didn't rise and produce their usual beautifully domed tops. It also turns out that the top oven of my brand new range (yep the one with the double oven that I was so, so, so excited about) ran about 25 degrees too cold (if you don't have an oven thermometer, I highly suggest investing in one — it's the best way to learn about a new or current oven's quirks) and created underbaked, overly pale cupcakes that looked like they needed 10 or 15 more minutes in the oven. And with no powdered sugar on hand, I couldn't even make any frosting to hide the cupcakes' sad appearance.

Looking at the failed cupcakes made me upset. I couldn't let my first day of baking in the new kitchen (the one I'd spent so much time and money on!) with a failure. I began to rip open boxes to see what ingredients I could scrounge. I mean, I guess I'd purchased some fresh raspberries and pistachios earlier that morning to eat as breakfast to eat before my half-marathon training runs, but this was an emergency. And sure enough, combined with the bar of unsweetened chocolate and a half-crystalized jar of blackberry honey that I managed to dig up, I managed to pull together a pretty decent, classic dessert — chocolate pots de crème:

A pot de crème is a French custard dating back to the 17th century. It's similar to a pudding, but with a smoother, silkier texture since it's baked in the oven and uses a crap-ton of egg yolks (unlike puddings, which are often cooked on the stovetop and thickened with cornstarch). Combined with fresh, seasonal berries and flowers from the garden, these pots de crème quickly became the appropriate "first-recipe" that my kitchen deserved: beautiful, seasonal and delicious.

Some baker's notes:
  • I used 100% cacao chocolate because this is the bar that I had available; feel free to substitute with any other dark chocolate that's 70% cacao or more. There's quite a bit of extra sugar and honey from the fruit, nuts and whipped cream, so anything less than 70% cacao might be too sweet.

  • It's important that you cook the custard ramekins in the water bath (as instructed in the recipe). This will allow the custards to cook evenly throughout, but please do NOT overcook the custard. 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. Custards, 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. 

  • Baked chocolate takes on a weird, almost-powdery and grainy-like appearance when it's over cooked. If you see this start to happen to the tops of your pots de crème, cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the tops from cooking faster than the rest of the custard.

August 21, 2014

Blackberry Rosé Granita with Basil Whipped Cream


I don't want to curse myself, but I thinkkkk I'm in the homestretch of the kitchen remodel? The kitchen now has working electricity (complete with countertop lighting and this beautiful fixture from Schoolhouse Electric), as well as running water, a working dishwasher and a disposal. Honestly, I thought I would be most excited by the dishwasher, but the disposal seems to be taking the cake — it's been years since I've had a disposal, and I've been washing dishes by hand simply out of the sheer novelty of being to rinse eggshells, crumbs and rice leftovers off my plate and down the sink without having to fish out a gross drain filter afterwards.

Me. Washing dishes. For fun. This is surely just the start of something great, right?

To celebrate the fact that Erlend and I had a functioning kitchen this weekend, we excused ourselves early from a Saturday night party in order to return home to the gleaming kitchen. I prepared us a makeshift charcuterie plate on the kitchen's shiny new gray countertops (yep, the countertops that the granita is sitting on in the pictures) complete with soft brie and Olympic Provisions chorizo salami. Erlend cracked open a bottle of rosé, and we then proceeded to watch Freaks and Geeks in the kitchen's new breakfast nook.

Ahh, the good life.

And because I'm a lamepants/lightweight who gets buzzed after she has too much Earl Grey tea (you can ask my friend Carroll about this — she'll verify that this is a fact), we ended up with about a cup's worth of wine leftover, enough to make this recipe for boozy granita that I'd spotted earlier this week on Food52 and been dreaming about since.

When I posted a picture of the granita on Instagram, however, a few people sent me a message. That looks good, most of them commented. But what's a granita? I wasn't quite sure how to describe it myself, so I turned to Wikipedia (my source for almost everything these days, as sad as that sounds), which described it as "an Italian semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water, and various flavorings". Indeed, I like to think of granita as a half-frozen sorbet with the texture of a snow cone:

More interesting to me, however, was the fact that the Wikipedia article describes the granita's texture varying between different regions. That is, in parts of Italy, some granitas are as smooth as sorbet, while in others they are coarse and chunky with ice crystals.

This particular recipe, made with crushed fresh blackberries and rosé wine, falls somewhere in between the two. The alcohol in the rosé wine prevents the granita from freezing into hard, sharp ice, and instead naturally creates a desirably smooth and slushy dessert. The original Food52 recipe recommends serving the granita with a scoop of silky whipped cream to create contrasting textures with each mouthful, so I paired my granita with basil-infused whipped cream to great effect:

Some baker's notes:
  • This is quite the boozy dessert (you can definitely taste the alcohol, even despite being watered down with additional water and blackberry juice), so I would be wary of serving this to children. Another thing to note is that the granita melts really, really quickly, so only remove it from the freezer once you've made the whipped cream and you're ready to eat and serve it immediately.

  • For this particular recipe, you'll want a dry rosé wine that’s fresh and acidic, without extra sugar to bury its mineral/fruity/whatever flavors and aromas. You're going to be adding in water and sugar for the granita, so you don't want anything that's already too sweet to begin with.

  • To infuse whipped cream with basil, you're going to need to do some advanced planning. It's best to leave the basil in the cream for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.

August 18, 2014

Feast Portland Preview: Nong's Khao Man Gai


With the city's famed food festival, Feast Portland, coming up in about a month, I thought it would be fun to do a little series on the different local restaurants and chefs who will be participating in the event. Expect a few more posts featuring local places and vendors within the next few weeks as I start my countdown to the event (also known as, the four days in which I do nothing but eat and stuff myself).

Let's start with Nong's Khao Man Gai, shall we?

Nong's Khao Man Gai has been on the city's Eater 38 lists for as long as I can remember, marking it as one of the MUST-EAT places in Portland, Oregon. It always struck me as an odd choice — up against established brick-and-mortars, often times it was the lone food cart on the list. Even stranger was that it was a food cart that served only one dish: khao man gai, a Thai rendition of Hainanese chicken rice. That is, chicken poached and simmer in chicken stock and a variety of herbs, sitting on a generous bed of white jasmine rice with a sauce made from fermented soybeans, ginger, garlic, Thai chiles, vinegar and say sauce. The chicken and rice is garnished with herbs and vegetables, and is accompanied by a smoky chicken stock.

But Nong Poonsukwattana, the chef and namesake of Nong's Khao Man Gai, is somewhat of a legend in Portland's local culinary scene. In 2003, Nong arrived from Bangkok with two suitcases and $70. She worked as a restaurant server for a few years (including a stint at the critically acclaimed Pok Pok) before opening Nong's Khao Man Gai, her first food cart, downtown. In a city of over 500 different food carts, this was a cart that specialized in one dish, and a relatively simple one at that. But the secret was out — it was delicious. And so lines began to form and the rest is culinary history. Last spring, Nong gave a well-received TED talk and launched her first, official brick-and-mortar, full service sit-down restaurant.

Although I'd visited her cart many times, this past weekend was the first time I'd ever visited her brick-and-mortar. Located on the corner of SE Ankeny and 6th, the restaurant occupies a non-descript building filled with minimal decoration and tons of natural light:

The restaurant's interior, while nothing particularly fancy or trendy, reminded me a lot of the small, mom-and-pop neighborhood restaurants you often find in Southeast Asia. Similar to my street food experiences in Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, you won't find any menus or waiters here; instead, you help yourself to cutlery, water and tea, and order off the small menu hanging over the kitchen from the folks who'll be cooking your food:

The restaurant's menu is a true homage to the food cart — if you check out the picture above, you'll notice that the menu only has six things, similar to the original food cart. Half of those things is the famous khao man gai in varying sizes or with a different sauce (peanut sauce is the one variant), alongside a tofu option for vegetarians and a pork dish called khao kha muu.

Erlend opted for a Thai iced float (Thai iced tea, with homemade coconut ice cream switched out for sweetened condensed milk — delicious) and Nong's famous, classic khao man gai:

And of course, you really can't go wrong with the signature dish. When you order, they'll ask you if you prefer white meat, dark meat, or a combination of the two. The 50/50 split of white and dark meat is the way to go. You can also customize your order with extra chicken, rice, liver or crispy chicken skin. As you can see up top, Erlend opted for extra chicken skin, which yielded chicharron-style chicken skin nuggets. I ate most of Erlend's before he even got a chance to sprinkle it on his dish, because I am a monster.

Bolstered by my appetizer of fried chicken skin nuggets, I then proceeded to eat my khao kha muu with such gusto that Erlend thought I was in danger of choking:

Because quite frankly, Nong's khao kha muu was a surprise hit for me. It was the first time I'd ever had it, since I had constantly overlooked it in favor of the khao man gai. But oh, how I regret all my past choices — because this dish is seriously one of the most underrated dishes in all of Portland.

Khao kha muu is another Thai rice dish, this time featuring big chunks of pork shank that are slowly braises in Coca Cola soda (!!!), cocoa powder (!!!!) and a variety of Thai and Chinese herbs and spices. Despite the use of soda and cocoa powder, the dish is pleasantly umami with strong tinges of garlic, vinegar and ginger. At Nong's, the khao kha muu also comes with a soft boiled egg, mustard greens and Nong's house-made Thai chili sauce. Spooning a little bit of chili sauce into the curry and rice added a wonderful heat and acidity to the dish. I finished my khao kha muu in less than 5 minutes, even despite my chicken skin appetizer.

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