Warm-You-Up Thai Curry & Coconut Chicken Soup

Thai Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Curried Coconut Soup with Chicken and Vegetables

It’s been cold and dreary in Portland this week and with every increasingly strong gust of wind, it’s becoming very clear that winter is approaching. A few weekends ago, the wind was so relentless that it took down trees all over town. We were lucky to only lose a 14-foot branch from the fir tree in our backyard. After talking to some of my co-workers, it sounds like we fared pretty well.

Since then, the wind has died down but the rain has not. Being a daily bike commuter means I come home every evening drenched, peeling off my soaked rain jacket, rain pants and booties.

It’s days like these that call for soup — something both warming in temperature and in spiciness.

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Homemade Tamales: Good things come to those who wait

Homemade tamales with chicken, queso fresco & pico de gallo

Homemade tamales with chicken, queso fresco & pico de gallo

Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly trying my hand at making some of my favorite Mexican dishes at home. My homemade tortillas and sopes were so successful that I soon started dreaming about tamales, something I had never considered making from scratch.

Just as I was thinking about them, my husband (who must have been reading my mind) brought me home two bags of fresh masa from Three Sisters Nixtamal, a Portland company that specializes in masa and tortillas. We had some leftover chicken, a wheel of queso fresco and all the makings for pico de gallo so I figured my project would come together lickety split.

However, this is one of those times when taking a few minutes to do some research really pays off — it turns out I was woefully unprepared for the project I was about to begin! Luckily I found this article, which had oodles of helpful advice and saved me from certain tamale doom.

First off, I had no idea that (unlike when making tortillas, pupusas or sopes), the dough for tamales is not straight masa mixed with water. Instead you need to whip the masa with a fat, most often lard, resulting in a fluffy aerated mixture.

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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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Sopes Fabulous!

Homemade Sopes

Sopes with seasoned ground turkey, black beans, tomatoes and cilantro.

I have been trying to put a dent in the giant bag of masa I bought and so far I’ve been pretty successful. I used the tortilla press my husband brought home ages ago and made a dozen or so homemade tortillas, which were crazy good. I also went on a bit of a sopes bender.

Sopes, pronounced so-pez in case you’re unfamiliar, are like little masa bowls — ready to be filled with whatever delicious things you want. I discovered the magic of sopes fairly recently. I had eaten them before but it was the chicken and chile sopes at Portland’s La Taq that really haunted me. I’ll admit, mine were not quite that good but they were still pretty awesome for a first attempt!

I started by making a dough from the masa by blending it with warm water and a bit of salt. Once the mixture came together and was moist but not tacky, I divided it into eight pieces. Those pieces were then rolled into ball and flattened into disks, resembling thick tortillas.

In a hot pan with no oil, I heated the sopes on one side until brown spots started to appear. Then one at a time, I removed them and crimped the edges up to form a small shallow bowl. Once I had them crimped, it was time to fry them. While I’m fairly certain you can deep fry these guys (and I’m sure that makes them even tastier), I went for just enough oil to get them all brown and crispy.

Bottoms up! I did think the masa was a bit bland so I sprinkled salt on each shell after it was fried.

Bottoms up! I thought my masa dough was a bit bland so I sprinkled salt on each shell after it was fried.

Then the hard work is done! Seriously, you are already half-way to eating.

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Lemongrass Chicken & A “Wish it was Summer” Cocktail

Ginger Lemongrass Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs marinated in coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass.

I almost titled this “Mother Nature is a bitch” but I didn’t want to get on her bad side.

See, I’m a summer person; I tend to daydream about sunshine from October all way until June. So it’s no surprise that last week my mind was on white sandy beaches when Portland got buried under 7 inches of snow.

Within the first hour of “Snowmageddon,” most of Portland was in a panic. People left work in droves, restaurants closed and the roads were flooded with cars as everyone tried to make it home before the worst of the storm hit.

I, on the other hand, was simply mad.

Sure snow can be pretty, but come on — I got through all of December and January marveling at how mild the weather was only to let my guard down in February. It was just cruel, and the cruelness continued for three days, ending with a stint of freezing rain that coated the streets in a layer of ice.

And even as the days finally warmed up and the snow began to melt, I continued to give in to thoughts of tropical beaches, palm trees and fancy umbrella drinks. It was not a good mental path to go down when the city you live in is covered in dirty slush.

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Christmas Peking Duck: When no traditions lead to new traditions…

Peking duck, steamed buns and accompaniments

Peking duck, steamed buns and accompaniments

Usually there are many traditions that I look forward to at Christmas. There’s the smorgasbord my family puts out on Christmas Eve where I double up on the potato sausage and avoid the pickled herring. There’s deciphering my grandma’s occasionally evil gifts (sometimes she makes us translate Swedish or sends us on treasure hunts) and seeing who found the almond in the rice pudding, earning themselves a year of good luck.

This year, with the way the calendar worked out, it made more sense for me to visit my family the weekend before Christmas. On Sunday afternoon we set up the smorgasbord — loaded up with all of my favorites — and opened our gifts to each other. There were Christmas cookies, card games, my mom’s cranberry bread and plenty of wine. It was lovely.

And when it was over, it felt like Christmas was over — even though it was only Dec. 22.

With family and traditions over with, my husband and I spent our first Christmas ever home alone. Deciding to make the best of it, we thought we’d take a less traditional route to our Christmas dinner: honey glazed Peking duck, steamed buns and roasted pork belly.

After all no matter where you are and who you’re with, good food is a must for any holiday.

We started the process by air-drying our pekin duck for two days. (note: Pekin duck is a breed, Peking duck is a dish.) Basically this means we left it unwrapped on a rack in our fridge for a few days. This dries out the moisture in the skin allowing for more crispy goodness — the best part of any duck.

Air-dried pekin duck

Air-dried pekin duck

Next we brushed the inside and outside of the duck with a glaze of honey, soy, ginger, five-spice and Mandarin orange juice.

Brushing on the glaze

Brushing on the glaze

We let the duck come to room temperature for a few hours before putting it in the oven. It roasted for an hour or so, getting a fresh coat of glaze every fifteen minutes until it looked like this:

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