Capturing the magic of the daikon “carrot” cake

I was so happy with this meal, I almost cried. For real.

I was so happy with this meal, I almost cried. For real.

I have mentioned the Pok Pok cookbook on this blog a few times, as it’s one of the few cookbooks I actually use. The majority of the (hundreds of!) cookbooks in my house belong to my husband, and at most I just peruse them for the pretty pictures. But Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok, makes food that is so addictively good I can’t help but want to make it at home — as often as possible.

Despite Ricker’s nation-wide fame, some people might not know about Ping, a restaurant that he ran in Portland’s Old Town until it closure 15 months ago. I ate there several times in its heyday, but I quite clearly remember my first dinner there — only because of the dish that made me fall head over heels in love, the savory “carrot” cake.

I had no idea what to expect from such a dish when I ordered it. The menu described it as a stir fry made with eggs, bean sprouts and seared daikon radish cake. It made no mention of carrots whatsoever. And when the dish arrived, there was not a carrot to be found. Instead it was a plate of pure magic.

It’s hard to describe what made the dish so perfect. Perhaps it was the Kecap Manis, the sweet soy sauce that seems to make every stir fry taste ‘just right.’ Or the crispy squares of daikon cake, which were chewy but tender and so full of umami flavor. Or the eggs, which were scrambled in such a way that they helped the sauce coat every single bite.

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Nothing says spring like lemons & asparagus

Creamy spring pasta with lemon, parsley and asparagus

Creamy spring pasta with lemon, parsley and asparagus

I love lemon pasta — in fact, it’s even made it onto this blog before in the way of a baked lemon pasta. And while it was delicious, it hasn’t stopped me from exploring other renditions of lemony carb-filled goodness.

Which is why I felt the overwhelming need to try out a recipe for Spaghettini with Creamy Lemon Sauce from Liz of My Favourite Pastime. Liz makes all sorts of fabulous looking food but I just couldn’t get this particular pasta dish out of my mind. Maybe it was because she mentioned making it once with coconut milk instead of cream, which really piqued my interest.

Ad while I am still very curious about using coconut milk in this, I thought for my initial attempt I should go straight for the cream. After all, cream plus cheese plus butter must equal delicious. That combination has never steered me wrong before!

I did, however, stray just enough to add in some blanched asparagus. I splurged on a gorgeous organic bunch from the market and their flavor, pumped up by the lemon in the pasta, was divine. This meal, eaten on a surprisingly sunny spring day, was the perfect dinner to make my Monday less painful.

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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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Homemade pupusas turned me into a greedy food hoarder…

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

In the past few years I’ve gotten really into pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. They have taken over my mind and made me do things like brave a rather shady looking pupuserie that shares its parking lot with an even shadier looking porn store. (Totally worth it, by the way.) I’ve also eaten pupusas from a few food carts around town. Each pupusa journey ended in happiness, but the more I ate, the more determined I became to make them myself.

Finally last Saturday, after spending the morning googling recipes, I decided the time was right.

I picked up a huge bag of masa (I’m envisioning tamales, tortillas and endless pupusas in my future) and some queso fresco. I decided to skip making the typical pupusa accompaniment, curtido (a pickled or fermented cabbage salad), since I had some homemade pickled veggies to use up. I also had some braised beef that needed a good home and so the project was a pretty affordable one — always a good thing when you don’t really know what you’re doing!

But regardless of my inexperience, by following the recipe and instructions from The Kitchn carefully, my pupusa adventure was a delicious success.

Masa!

Masa!

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Farro & Edamame: A new adventure with an ancient grain

Farro Pasta with Edamame, Almond and Mint Pesto

Farro Pasta with Edamame, Almond and Mint Pesto

I am an out-and-proud farro devotee. For the past few years I’ve been borderline obsessed with the ancient grain — utilizing it in as many applications as possible and encouraging other people to give it a try. So I was pretty excited when my husband recently brought me home a pound of farro pasta (which was especially sweet as he is not as enamoured with farro as I am).

Farro Pasta

Farro pasta — love its pretty color!

The pasta had been sitting in my cupboard, patiently waiting, while I investigated online looking for a perfect debut recipe. Finally I decided on a winner, this recipe for Farro Pasta with Edamame Pesto from The Kitchn. Given how well-known this web magazine is, I felt comfortable trusting their opinion and excited to try something new.

And I’m happy I did because this a recipe I’ll be utilizing again and again. I love different forms of pesto — broccoli pesto in particular, yum! — but hadn’t tried this combination before.

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Pâte à choux, I love you: Adventures in Parisian Gnocchi

Gnocchi with nasturtium pesto

Gnocchi with nasturtium pesto

The French pastry dough pâte à choux has a delicious reputation. It’s used to make familiar treats such as profiteroles, éclairs and gougères (yum, cheesy poofs!). But one of its lesser known abilities is to make a pillowy soft gnocchi.

Parisian gnocchi is different from its Italian cousin — instead of potatoes it’s made with a combination of water, flour and eggs. It also doesn’t require any rolling or forming. Once the dough is made it’s simply put into a piping bag and slowly cut into boiling water, forming little dumplings.

I am a sucker for all things gnocchi related, so when my husband asked me if I’d like to learn the art of Parisian gnocchi, I immediately agreed.

His favorite recipe to use is the one from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. You can find links to it all over but here’s a good direct one. We followed it except for the mixture of herbs. Instead we used minced nasturtium leaves, echoing the flavors in the pesto.

The pesto was a simple, off-the-cuff experiment. Using nasturtium leaves from our garden, we pureed them with toasted pine nuts, grated Parmesan and minced garlic, drizzling in olive oil until the consistency was right. You can mix in basil if you’d like less kick but I really liked the spice of the leaves — blended with the buttery nuts and the rich cheese, it was a lovely combination.

Here’s our dinner in the making:

Cooking the pâte à choux

Cooking the pâte à choux

Mixing in the eggs and herbs

Mixing in the eggs and herbs

Piping the dough into lightly boiling water

Piping the dough into lightly boiling water

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