I can’t quit you: My summer love affair with shakshuka

Homemade shakshuka: adding spice to my life!

Homemade shakshuka: adding spice to my life!

This summer was the Summer of Shakshuka.

It started on a whim (“hmmm…never made that before…”) and turned into an all-out obsession (“must make more!”). Months later, my infatuation is still going strong and even though I’m no longer using tomatoes from my garden, I have happily discovered it still tastes great using high quality canned tomatoes.

If you’re not familiar, shakshuka is a spicy stewed tomato dish, usually made with onions, chilies and cumin. Most versions boast a simmered-to-perfection egg and the best versions (in my opinion) also include a nice salty cheese. While the egg certainly makes it seem more “breakfast-y,” this one-pot wonder makes a great lunch or dinner as well.

It’s also a fun dish to play around with, adding or subtracting ingredients depending on what’s in season — or by what’s in your fridge. My favorite batches this summer included sautéed zucchini and summer squash and lots of kale. I’ve even thrown cooked farro or quinoa in at the end to bulk it up.

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Fish Sauce Wings and the Pinnacle of Pok Pok

Ike's Famous Fish Sauce Wings

Ike’s Famous Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

Given the numerous Pok Pok posts on this blog, it’s clear I’m a girl with a serious hang up. Maybe it’s because I eat there often enough to know how good the food is, giving me extra motivation to replicate the dishes at home using the cookbook. Or because I know Chef Ricker’s recipes are spot-on and precise, which makes going through the effort all the more rewarding.

But, besides delights like yam khai doa and phat si ew, if you also own this cookbook, it’s possible you bought it just for one recipe: Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings. It’s okay — no judgment here! Ike’s wings are killer. The most perfect bar snack since beer nuts, they are at once salty, sticky and sweet. Every bite is full of umami bliss.

I can say with certainty I have never been to Pok Pok without ordering these wings. (Wait! The very first time I was there the wings hadn’t even been put on the menu yet!)

However, since I don’t do much deep frying at home, and rarely stray from my favorite, super easy and very delicious chicken wing recipe, it’s taken me seven months to get around to trying these at home.

After having eaten them, I can say those seven months were totally wasted. I should have been eating wings, wings and more wings.

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Boozy Watermelon Jello Slices – because fruit loves alcohol

Watermelon Vodka Jello Slices

Watermelon Vodka Jello Slices

I have mentioned, oh, once or twice at least, my obsession with boozy Jello. These little summery beauties mixed that obsession with my love for party food and determination to try one of the many things I’ve pinned on Pinterest (I accomplish this about once a blue moon).

Since party food tastes better with company, I invited some girlfriends over for a Bubbles & BBQ party on Saturday. We had a serious spread of goodies — numerous cheeses, pasta salad, homemade pickles, Caprese salad and even a bowl of larb with butter lettuce. There were also some crazy good bacon-wrapped, shrimp-and-cheese stuffed jalapeños. Yeah, my friends can throw down when it comes to eating!

So much good stuff!

So much good stuff!

Stuffed peppers and Shrimp Poppers

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Phat Si Ew: With patience and persistence comes perfection

Making Phat Si Ew, Pok Pok Style

Making Phat Si Ew, Pok Pok Style

This is a story about a restaurant empire, an unfulfilling trip to an Asian market, the ensuing trials and tribulations and, finally, a meal worth blogging about.

It all starts with a girl who loves to eat…

I’m usually pretty easy to convince when it comes to dining out. I can be happy eating conveyor-belt sushi or sitting down to a multi-course dinner with wine pairings. However, in a rare show of culinary defiance, I hadn’t been very interested in checking out Sen Yai, Portland’s noodle-based spot by chef/owner Andy Ricker. I have no idea why I wasn’t drawn to it, considering I love his other restaurants immensely, but every time my husband would suggest it, I’d push to go somewhere else.

Finally, last week we joined an out-of-town friend for beers and food industry gossip. After a few pints, it seemed like a perfect time to meander over and eat some Thai food.

In an ironic twist my husband was a bit meh on his entree, but my dinner totally bowled me over. It was nothing crazy or unique, in fact Phat Si Ew is probably right up there with Pad Thai for its ubiquitous placement on all American Thai restaurant menus.

But this rendition was spot-on — it was slightly sweet, smokey from the char on the noodles and the pork was tender and delicious. The thin sprigs of Chinese broccoli added crunch and a touch of bitterness. It was a winner. And that’s not just the beer talking!

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Homemade tortillas, smoked brisket tacos & a trip to Texas

Smoked brisket tacos on homemade tortillas

Smoked brisket tacos on homemade tortillas

My mind is on BBQ, Tex-Mex and tacos.

This could be because my husband and I will soon be traveling to Austin for a week to eat and drink our way through the city. (Hello Franklin Barbecue — we’re coming for you!)

Or it could be because of Podnah’s Pit — a Portland BBQ institution that within the last few years opened La Taq, their sister restaurant. La Taq specializes in seriously tasty Tex-Mex and is responsible for introducing my husband and me to a previously unknown form of deliciousness: smoked brisket tacos.

Ever since January, when we first dined there, my husband has been dreaming of them. In fact he’s already slipped away once without me to indulge in a late-night taco fest. Not that I’m bitter. Well I would be but he was smart enough to bring me home a chicken sopa.

A few weeks ago I found myself at home with the remainder of my bag of masa and a pound of smoked brisket (bought straight from Podnah’s). It seemed like the kitchen gods had a plan for me!

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Pearl Sugar & the Liege Waffle: A story of sweet obsession

Liege Waffle w. Fresh Berries

Liege Waffle w. Fresh Berries

I have always been a waffle lover. I remember my mom making them for my friends the morning after slumber parties and as an adult, they remain a favorite of mine.

While nothing beats the beautiful simplicity of a buttermilk waffle with melted butter and real maple syrup, I have branched out quite a bit in the waffle department: gingerbread waffles, corn waffles with pork belly, waffles with berries soaked in vanilla rum. Heck, I even threw a Waffle Party once, a slightly crazy soiree filled with fruit curds, compound butters, whipped cream and lots of sparkling wine.

But, sadly, I didn’t discover the reigning ruler of waffles until a few years ago — the liege waffle, made with Belgian pearl sugar. The specialized pearl sugar is added to the unsweetened batter before cooking and melts in the waffle iron, creating crispy crunchy pockets throughout the waffle.

Belgian Pearl Sugar

Belgian Pearl Sugar

The sugar also caramelizes the entire outside of the waffle, making it sweet enough to eat on its own. In fact, these are a popular street food in Belgium where people often buy a waffle to snack on while they walk. The sweetness of the waffle negates the need to dress it up with messy toppings (though that’s part of the fun!) making it a great thing to eat on the go.

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