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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A happy {sweet potato} hash worth waking up for

Sweet potato hashbrowns with sausage and egg

It is really easy for me to get stuck in a breakfast rut — often it’s a “peanut butter toast with honey or jam” rut. I’ll branch out into oatmeal, quinoatmeal or other more hearty things for a while, but, in the end, my old ways win out and it’s back to my trusty favorites.

The only break in my habit tends to be the weekends. Finally I have the time and motivation to create something a little more involved. This breakfast is one I whipped up a few weekends ago. It was so good I’ve brought it back for several encores.

I think the part I love the most is how the flavors in the pork sausage combine with the sweet potato in such a perfect “tastes like fall” type of way. The sausage is actually one I made myself — much easier than it may sound — and contains onions, shredded apples and sage. It seems like pork, apples and sage should be their own holy trinity, especially this time of year. It’s really hard to go wrong with that combination!

The hash doesn’t play second fiddle though — its crispy in parts and slightly sweet from the caramelized sweet potato and onion. Take all that, put an egg on it (in true Portland style) and dig in to a breakfast so good you’ll wonder why you didn’t make it sooner.

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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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If you can’t stand the heat…

Pork Blanquette with Spring Vegetables

Pork Blanquette with Spring Vegetables

If someone had told me two weeks ago that I’d be braising pork on a sunny 75-degree day, I’d tell them they were crazy. I don’t stick to strictly seasonal meals but heating up my kitchen to slow cook something doesn’t make any sense when it’s already hot enough out there.

Nonetheless, I was so captivated by a recent recipe from Gourmandistan that I couldn’t help myself from doing just that. The recipe in question was a blanquette of pork, or braised pork shoulder in a happy broth of stock, cream and lemon. While the pork and the cooking liquid sounded lovely on their own, it was the pretty and colorful spring vegetables that called out to me. Just look at Michelle and Steve’s version of this Pork & Sons recipe and tell me it doesn’t look mouth-wateringly delicious.

And so, eager and excited, I thawed out a little two-pound pork butt that was nestled in my freezer and got to work. While I was clearly easy to convince, here are a few words of encouragement in case you need some enticement  to turn on your stove and make this:

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Pork fried rice finds perfection, Pok Pok style

Khao Phat Muu (Thai fried rice with pork)

Khao Phat Muu (Thai fried rice with pork)

I’ve made a decent amount of fried rice in my life. On this blog alone, I’ve posted it three times — once made with farro, once with potato chips and again with pork and pineapple. And each time it’s delicious, but I’ve always felt like the seasoning wasn’t quite right. Often it would taste a bit flat and so I’d tinker with it — adding more and more things and then it would have too much soy or sesame or lime and yet somehow it would still lack “oomph.”

That all changed when I cooked my second recipe from the Pok Pok cookbook — Khao Phat Muu (fried rice with pork). Next to the fried egg salad, this is probably one of the easiest recipes in the book which brought it to the top of my “must make” list.  More encouragement came from a girl at work who kept telling me it was the best fried rice she had ever eaten.

And once I took a bite, I totally agreed. It was spot-on fried rice perfection and the best part was the amount of ingredients and fiddling is kept to a minimum. Simplicity is key — as is the great unbeatable umami flavor.

While I still think you should buy the book, I’ll give you a rundown on the basics of the recipe.

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