Adventures in dim sum: Sweet steamed buns of joy!

Homemade Chinese Pork Steamed Buns (char siu bao)

Homemade Chinese Pork Steamed Buns (char siu bao)

I ate Chinese steamed buns on New Years Day quite unexpectedly.

My husband and I had a lazy morning before finally deciding we were hungry enough to leave the house in search of food. To be on the safe side, we called our favorite neighborhood joint to check on the wait for brunch. Forty five minutes, they told us on the phone.

Given that their bloody marys and biscuits are good enough to make nearly any wait worth it, we scrambled to get dressed and drove with haste up the street. Moments later, we found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. Pleased as punch, we walked through the door…and that’s when things went awry.

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The best remedy for a lonely kitchen is a new project

Homemade Chinese BBQ Pork Loin

Homemade Chinese BBQ Pork Loin

My kitchen has been feeling neglected lately. With all the craziness of the holidays, it’s been weeks since I’ve had the time or energy to contemplate a cooking project, let alone actually accomplish one. This is probably why my list of resolutions is basically a list of foods to make!

To get back into the groove, I decided to start the new year with a two-part project: making Chinese BBQ pork and then using it as a stuffing in Chinese steamed buns (Char Siu Bao). Steamed buns are one of my favorite dim sum treats and since I hadn’t ever made them before, I thought it was about time to check them off my list of missions to accomplish.

For the steamed buns, I used a Fine Cooking recipe that I found online more than a year ago. The link can be found here. In that recipe there is a sub recipe for the BBQ pork so I started there. While I could have purchased the prepared meat from a Chinese grocer, I think there’s something infinitely more fun about a project if it’s all made from scratch.

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Cooking like Keller, Part Three: Pomegranate Glazed Quail, Caramelized Cabbage

Pomegranate Glazed Quail with Caramelized Savoy Cabbage, from the Ad Hoc cookbook

Pomegranate Glazed Quail with Caramelized Savoy Cabbage, from the Ad Hoc cookbook

The third installment of “A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving”

Over the course of this blog, I think we’ve established that my husband and I are practically professional eaters. There was the full lobe of foie gras downed in a single seating at Au Pied de Cochon and the time that we pre-gamed a 10-course dinner at an elegant Italian restaurant with back-to-back meals at two other restaurants…before heading to a serious pork-athon the next day.

Then there was our three-day road trip to Napa. We knew we needed to make the most of our time since we had no idea when we’d ever be back — this is always our excuse for gorging ourselves — so we planned to get in as many meals as our stomachs would allow.

We left Portland at 5 am on a Friday morning on a mission to drive nearly non-stop to San Francisco. I say nearly because we made a pit stop in Redding for my very first In-N-Out burger. Hours later, we suffered through an excruciatingly good meal at Incanto, followed by a two-course brunch at SPQR the following morning.

From there we went to Yountville where we pillaged the paté case at the Fatted Calf, a lovely charcuterie shop, before venturing on to our hours-long dinner at the French Laundry. The very next morning we hit up Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc for brunch, stopped at the Bouchon bakery for sweet treats and then started our 10-hour drive back home.

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Cooking like Keller, Part Two: Scallops with Braised Endive

Seared Kodiak scallops with citrus-braised endive

Seared Kodiak scallops with citrus-braised endive

The second installment of “A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving”

Our dinner at the French Laundry wasn’t the first dining experience my husband and I had at a Thomas Keller restaurant.

We hadn’t been married more than a year when we spent a spontaneous three-day weekend in Vegas. The trip was a blast — we saw a Cirque du Soleil show, had a fancy dinner at Mario Batali’s B&B Ristorante and even took a rather hilarious gondola ride through the Venetian hotel. You’ll notice the one thing we didn’t do — gamble.

Neither of us is really into casinos and the only chips we put down were the two free ones we got from the front desk when we checked in. The trip — like our lives — focused on food, ending in a fantastically elegant meal at Bouchon a few hours before we left town.

That meal would end up being our downfall.

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Spicing Up Meatballs with Homemade Harissa

Lamb Meatballs with Homemade Harissa

Lamb Meatballs with Homemade Harissa

While I’ve made my fair share of mayonnaise, salad dressing and even ketchup over the years, there are quite a few condiments that I have never tried to make myself — things like curry paste, mustard and harissa. While I’ve been curious to try my hand at these, in the end laziness and convenience have always won out.

However, a recent recipe for homemade harissa from my friends of Gourmandistan piqued my interest. It seemed like a fun challenge and I was curious to taste the end result.

The whole process seemed more daunting than it turned out to be and in less than 20 minutes I had a beautifully smokey and spicy spread. I should confess that I have a deep hatred for caraway (something my husband seems to find equally baffling and entertaining) so I’ll straight up admit I omitted it, but the garlicky mixture of cumin, peppers and tomato was still finger-licking good.

Homemade Harissa

Homemade Harissa

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Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup & Holder’s Last Hurrah

 

Sweet potato, ginger and coconut milk soup

Sweet potato, ginger and coconut milk soup

My friend Oliver and I have a tradition  — every Wednesday we cook dinner and watch TV together. Throughout the years, we have made it through the many seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias. More recently we have veered toward trashier things like Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries, and even went so far as to watch the Real World when it filmed in Portland.

A year or so ago we found ourselves in a lull between episodes of something and decided to check out The Killing, which we had both heard good things about. The show follows two Seattle detectives, Linden and Holder, as they solve the mystery of Rosie, a 17-year-old missing girl.

We were instantly hooked, until we realized the show was only planned to be two seasons long. Cue instant distress and sadness. This show was too good, too engrossing, too suspenseful not to continue!

And then the Netflix Gods, the same ones that brought back the final season of Arrested Development, blessed us with a surprise third season of The Killing. Even better, we were further surprised with an unexpected fourth season. Linden and Holder were coming back to us!

Last week, full of bittersweet excitement, we watched the last three episodes. While our emotions were riding an adrenaline roller coaster, our hunger was being soothed by a bowl of the most delicious sweet potato soup I’ve ever eaten.

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