August 21, 2014

Blackberry Rosé Granita with Basil Whipped Cream


Guys!

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


Guys!

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.

Learn More:

August 14, 2014

Bubble Iced Coffee


It's been one month and a half since my old kitchen was demolished in favor of a new one; I wish I could say that I'm halfway through the remodel, but the truth is, I have absolutely no idea when the kitchen will be finished. The contractors are refusing to give me an end date, and this past week was spent doing almost nothing as the recently refinished floors are supposed to dry for 3 days straight. In fact, I'd say a good two and a half weeks was probably spent idle, waiting for parts and the like.

At first, I didn't mind not having a kitchen. As much as I love baking, it's been a really, really hot summer in Portland, with temperatures hitting 90 degrees every day. Since I don't have an air conditioner and most of the windows in my house don't open, the break from the constantly running oven was more than welcome. I relished in the grilling with friends and the constant dining out. But as much as I love eating out in restaurants, I'm starting to crave the simplicity of my old home cooked meals. Almost every restaurant meal these days now feels too heavy, salty, fatty and rich, especially in this hot hot heat. Not to mention expensive. Yeesh.

And four weeks without baking has made me realize what a calming effect it has in my life. When I'm in the kitchen, the world seems to make sense. That if you follow the recipe in front of you, after some work with your hands and time on your feet, you'll end up with a beautiful chocolate cherry pie or a plate of gorgeous, caramel swirled cookies. That’s such a comfort, especially since without it, I spend most of my time being as unproductive as I can be — that is, watching bad movies on Netflix and checking my social media accounts wayyyy too often.

So forgive me for posting this incredibly simple recipe for bubble iced coffee. With only a hot plate to work from, I don't have a whole lot of other options for home cooking and baking. But I just missed standing around a mis-en-place, around the bottles and jars of ingredients, feeling as if I have a purpose.

In this particular case, my purpose was to bring bubble iced coffee to Portland, Oregon:


Because the recipe was borne from my realization that none of the bubble tea shops around town — from the oh-so-fancy Townshend's Tea, to the more casual Asian chains like Bubble Bubble and Fat Straw (both of which I quite frankly prefer) — serve bubble iced coffee. You'd think that it would be such a big hit, especially considering what a big coffee drinking town this is! After all, this is the birth place of the much beloved Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

It's not really much of a recipe, with boiling up some boba pearls and mixing it in with some milk and pre-made bottled cold brew coffee. I guess I could have made more of an effort and gone through the best way to cold brew your coffee, or discussed the iced coffee revolution that seems to have taken over Portland. But who am I kidding? I'm not going to pretend to be a bigger coffee drinker/expert/snob than I actually am. Stumptown's bottled cold brew is probably better than any iced coffee I'll ever make, so I might as well just help myself.

To make the bubble iced coffee, begin by pouring a healthy amount of iced coffee into a glass (in my case, miniature tulip Weck jarsSteph accused me of being a hipster for doing so, but aren't they adorable?) filled with a generous tablespoon or two of prepared boba pearls. Big thanks to my homeboy Erlend for being a willing and able hand model for these gifs:


Now comes the fun part, in which we add some sort of cream. You have loads of options here. First, there's the standard dairy additions: milk, cream, half-and-half, or maybe even a few tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk (for those who live big — I salute you!).

And of course, we also have the non-dairy and vegan options of soy, rice, almond or coconut milk. I know that some people would consider it blasphemous to add coconut milk to coffee, but I've done it before and... ohmygod, liked it. I have friends who probably just disowned me for saying what I just did. But see what I mean when I say I'm not a coffee snob?

So once you've chosen your creamer of choice, pour as much (or as little!) as you want over the boba coffee:


At this point, you can also add some sort of sweetener of your choice. Because it's a cold beverage, it's best to go with some sort of sweetening liquid like a simple syrup. Granulated sugar won't work as well because the cold temperature won't allow it to dissolve quickly and integrate properly into the drink. You can also throw in a few spices for fun — a dash of chicory for a New Orleans style iced coffee, or maybe give coffee snobs another heart attack by adding some mint leaves (which is apparently a trend these days, as demonstrated by the always-lovely and crazy-talented Jessica).

Once you've added any sweetener and/or spices of your choice, give your pretty beverage a good stir:


Add a couple ice cubes and use a fat straw to enjoy!


Some maker's notes:
  • Stumptown's bottled cold brew is available in Whole Foods Supermarkets and most hipster coffee shops that serve Stumptown coffee. There are also other pre-made bottled cold brews, all of which Serious Eats taste tested. Of course, you can also make your own cold brew iced coffee.

  • Both black boba pearls and the fat straws for sucking up said boba pearls are available online or most Asian grocery stores. I've included the recipe for cooking boba pearls after the jump below. Note that a bag of boba pearls will go a long way. Since cooked boba pearls don't keep well (they tend to get either too slimy or too dry), I recommend cooking a few batches at a time, only when you're craving a bubble drink. It's best to cook with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of boba pearls, depending on your serving size and how much you actually want to chew your drink.

  • I've also included a recipe for an easy and quick simple syrup. The syrup can keep up to 1 month refrigerated in a glass jar, which is good since the recipe will probably make more simple syrup than you actually need for a drink or two. 

August 7, 2014

Grilled Oysters with Champagne Mignonette



With my kitchen in the middle of a major remodel, Erlend and I have been spending much of our summer grilling in the backyard. I've always thought that grilling was a fun novelty — something to do with a bunch of friends and a few glasses of cold beer on warm summer nights. However, when you come to rely on it as your primary source of cooking, it quickly loses its charm, becoming too time-consuming and leaving all food with the same charred aftertaste. So when Erlend texted me to grab something to grill for dinner, I sighed. We'd been grilling meat and vegetables for nearly four weeks straight. I was sick of all the blackened chickens and sausages. I wanted something else — but what?

I looked up from my phone and realized that I was standing in the seafood aisle of the supermarket. Erlend and I had tried grilling fish before, but without much success. Our various fish filets had always turned out too dry on account of our failure to preemptively soak a cedar plank for a few hours for the fish to grill on (because, yeah, apparently to grill a fish properly you have to grill it on a wooden plank — what gives? Who has time for that?). As I scanned the fish counter looking for inspiration, the fishmonger caught my eye. "It's hot out there today," he grinned. I shrugged noncommittally, but my aloofness didn't throw him off. "Perfect grilling weather. Are you looking for something to grill? Have you ever tried grilled oysters?"

I raised my eyebrows and he beckoned me to come closer. "We just got a fresh shipment of Pacific oysters from the coast this morning," he whispered. "They melt in your mouth. Grilled to open, then topped with some butter and shallots? You're in for a treat."


I looked at the pile of oysters he was pointing at. They did look fresh and inviting, with their outer grey shells glistening and shiny. As I came closer, I swear I could smell the ocean water on them. "They do look good," I finally admitted. "But I've never grilled oysters myself before."

"No? I'm not surprised, not a whole lot of people have. But it's easier than eating them raw and trying to shuck them yourself. Shucking's a nightmare, but you don't even need to do that. You just throw the oysters over the fire, and they'll open up on their own." He grinned at me again. "What do you say?"

"Get me a dozen," I said. Why not? It was something new, something different from the charred meat we'd had for dinner every night in the last four weeks. I mean, after all it was the middle of the summer — now was the best time to be spontaneous and make questionable life choices like buying a bunch of expensive delicacies to eat for dinner. When else was I going to be able to have the excuse to buy a bunch of oysters and then grill them?


"What'd you get for dinner?" Erlend said, as I arrived home.

"Oysters," I said sheepishly.

He gave me a look. "Oysters. Really. Have you ever tried shucking them? They're a huge pain to open!"

"Not necessarily," I hastily explained the fishmonger's description of grilled oysters.

He gave me an amused look and helped himself to one of the Bud Light Limes I'd also picked up at the supermarket. "Well, let's hope you didn't get played by that dude. Guess we'll find out soon enough."

I scowled behind his back and made plans to secretly look up grilled oyster recipes. My fear of being taken as a fool by the fishmonger was unfounded, however. Several of the recipes I found online instructed me to prepare them in the way that he had suggested.


Later that evening, Erlend and I stood over the grill and stared at the oysters we'd placed over the fire. After five minutes on the grill, almost all of the dozen oysters had popped open a quarter of an inch and were glistening at us through the smoke, as if challenged. Erlend carefully plucked them out of the fire and gently pried one open. I handed him the champagne mignonette I'd made earlier in the afternoon, and watched as he spooned it over the oyster. He popped it into his mouth.

"How is it?" I asked.


"Really, really good."

I grinned, took an oyster for myself, splashed a generous amount of champagne mignonette over it, and popped it into my mouth. The fishmonger was right. Grilled oysters were heaven. The grill had imparted a smoky, toasted flavor onto the oysters that was unique and different from the grilled meat and veggies we'd been having for the last month — it was almost like I was eating a creamy, smoky slice of the sea. Additionally, the champagne mignonette, which I'd refrigerated earlier to thicken, added a tart and cool contrast to the toasty oyster.

We both helped ourselves to more oysters, complemented by another Bud Light Lime. I'd spontaneously placed lemon and lime slices in both our cups, providing our smoky seafood meal the refreshing break that it needed.

"Why didn't we think of grilling oysters earlier?" Erlend finally said, as we simultaneously picked up the remaining two oysters from the plate. "Beats me," I shrugged. "But we should do this every summer. A night dedicated to eating nothing but grilled oysters and citrus beer."

"I'd be up for that."


This post was sponsored by Bud Light Lime, who graciously provided the beverages for me and Erlend's spontaneous oysterfest!


Some chef's notes:
  • Oysters and other high-quality seafood is available at Whole Foods' supermarkets at relatively affordable prices; I believe I paid $1.30 per oyster, which is quite a steal considering some of my favorite restaurants around town charge anywhere between $3 to $5 per shell. Whole Foods fishmongers will even shuck them for you for free, should you wish to consume them raw (which is what Erlend and I did the next day after our grilled oysterfest, because we're ridiculous like that).

  • Oysters should be refrigerated out of water, since they will open and consume available oxygen if refrigerated in water. In order to not get sick, oysters must be eaten or cooked alive. How do you tell if an oyster is alive? Live oysters snap to a close if tapped lightly on its outer shell. If the shell stays open, the oyster is dead, and therefore cannot be eaten safely.

  • In this particular recipe, cooking oysters in their shells kills them and causes them to open by themselves. If the oysters do not open even after cooked, you can assume that they had died before cooking and is unsafe to eat.

July 30, 2014

No-Bake Graham Cracker Crust for Chocolate Mascarpone Cherry Pie


Hi guys!

Today I'm guest posting over at Better Homes and Garden's Delish Dish blog with this recipe for no-bake chocolate mascarpone cherry pie. Although the original recipe used raspberries and raspberry jam, I decided to swap them out with these beautiful bright red cherries and fresh cherry jam from nearby Washington state. I mean, after all, it's currently the height of cherry season and who could resist these beauties?


In addition to the cherries, I also made one other alteration to the original recipe by swapping out its pie crust with my trusty no-bake graham cracker pie crust recipe. It's perfect for the summer time, especially when it's 90-degrees out and nobody wants to heat up their house any more than they need to. I've included the recipe for the pie crust below, but be sure to check out my blog post on Better Homes and Gardens for a story on what it's like to bake without a kitchen (I'm currently remodeling my kitchen; follow me on Instagram to keep up with the progress!) and the full recipe for chocolate mascarpone cherry pie!


Some baker's notes:
  • Stored in an airtight container, the graham cracker crust will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or for 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

  • Despite me calling it a "no-bake" crust, he crust is incredibly flexible and can also be baked in the oven. If no-bake (like in this chocolate mascarpone cherry pie recipe), the pie crust will be softer and add a nice, extra layer of salty deliciousness to your baked good. If baking (like in this hot fudge brownie sundae pie recipe), the crust can bake for about an hour or so max and will turn into a crispy, crunchy graham cracker wonder. 

July 23, 2014

Blueberry Brownies


I am week four into my kitchen remodel. What does that mean? That I've been without a kitchen for nearly a month now. How am I surviving? Lotttsss of takeout (me and my waitress at my local Thai restaurant are like best buds now) and eating out. Paper plates and plastic forks for salads, sandwiches and tons of stuff from the grill. Without a stove or cooktop at our disposal, Erlend and I have been grilling like crazy! At first it sounded really epic, paleo and primal — cooking our meat and vegetables over an open-flame, just like our ancestors — ROAR! But now, if I'm perfectly honest with you guys, the next time I see a vegetable or some meat whose outer edges have been charred by the grill (as modeled by my friend Noah), I might just hurl it against the wall... because believe me, that charcoal aftertaste loses its appeal fast when you eat it every night.

To prepare for the remodel, I spent the entire month of June frantically baking up a storm to have some blog posts to last me through the kitchen-less weeks. I was like some kind of tornado, baking every night and hastily snapping pictures before moving on to the next recipe. Unfortunately, my carelessness shows — flipping through my camera, I'm disappointed by the quality of my work. In the pictures, you can actually see that I literally just plopped down the dish, took a picture, and moved on with my life. So now I'm torn: is it okay to publish a great recipe with bad photos, or just omit it from the queue completely?

Some of the recipes I decided to file away and just reshoot for later. No point publishing a delicious recipe for key lime pie if it looks like unappetizing green-tinted slop, right? But others, like these blueberry brownie bars, seemed cruel to withhold — especially since blueberries are currently at their prime:


I'm a big fan of throwing fruit into baked bar recipes (ehem, these blondies and these cheesecake bars). Brownies are one of my favorite baked goods, and I couldn't resist throwing in a handful of fresh blueberries to one of my standby brownie recipes and seeing what would happen. It took a couple of times to get the brownies right — at first the extra moisture from the blueberries wouldn't let the brownies set, but after a few tweaks like dredging the fruit in flour (see baker's notes) and increasing my original brownie recipe's baking time and temperature, they came out perfectly. The blueberries are a wonderful addition to the fudgy brownies, giving the brownies' dense, fudgy chocolate flavor a fruity edge while maintaining the classic papery and crinkly brownie top.


Some baker's notes:
  • The first time I threw fruit into a recipe's batter, the fruit sank to the bottom and made the bottom of my baked good incredibly soggy. No bueno. I've since learned the secret — toss the fruit in a tablespoon or two of flour, just enough to give them a light coating. The flour coat absorbs some of the liquid released by the fruit as it bakes and keeps the fruit in place until the crumb has set. A good rule of thumb is to use more flour for riper, juicier fruits and less for less juicy fruits. Be careful not to abuse this rule too much, or you'll end up with dense baked goods whose proportions are all off due to extra flour.

July 15, 2014

Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet


Hi friends! Today I'm guest posting over on my friend Eva's wonderful blog, Adventures in Cooking. I've been a long time fan of her work now and I'm absolutely delighted that she asked me to contribute a post. I'm sharing this wonderful recipe for blackberry and cabernet sauvignon red wine sorbet.