Missions Accomplished: DIY projects and plenty of Pok Pok

Sweet braised pork/Pok Pok cookbook

Muu Waan, Thai sweet pork, with coconut rice. Made from the Pok Pok cookbook.

While I have slacked on blogging these past few months, I can say — at the very least — I have been successful at some of my food goals for 2015.

Back in February, I made homemade Fritos (Faux-itos?), using a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen DIY cookbook. My corn chips weren’t an immediate win, but the more I ate, the more I craved “just one more.” They were very crunchy and full of corn flavor. The downside was that the texture was a little too gritty from the cornmeal rendering them a bit tough on the teeth. Some day I’ll have to give them another go — though I have doubts they will ever reach the greatness of the packaged kind.

Masarepa and corn meal

Masarepa and corn meal

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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 One: Oysters & Pearls

Thomas Keller's Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving, Course 1: Oysters and Pearls, French Laundry Cookbook

The first installment of “A Very Thomas Keller Thanksgiving”

My husband and I like to make lists.

But instead of “things to do” or “places to go,” most of our lists revolve around food that we’ve already eaten. One list is the fullest we’ve ever been. For me, hands down, the winner is after our meal at the (now defunct) Incanto in San Francisco. I was so stuffed I almost cried when the kitchen sent us a complimentary dessert and champagne at the end of the meal. It felt more like a punishment than a gift.

We also talk about the longest meals we’ve had (the Herb Farm is definitely up there – so much food!) and, of course, the best things we have eaten. This list is constantly changing but for both of us the ultimate winner is the same — the Oysters & Pearls from our dinner at the French Laundry back in 2011.

This is one of Chef Thomas Keller’s most iconic dishes. The base is a custard made with small pearl tapioca, cream and oyster trimmings. The mixture is baked in individual ramekins and then topped with a gently poached fresh oyster, a silky butter sauce, a scoopful of caviar and a dusting of chives.

It’s perfection.

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What have I been doing and how is it almost December?

Um...what the hell happened to autumn?

Um…what the hell happened to autumn?

Basically this is my apology in case you’ve noticed I’ve been a bit behind in the world of WordPress. Life has been so hectic it’s kept me from reading and writing as much as I would have liked these past four weeks.

One of the reasons for the madness is because a month ago I decided to embark on the “Whole 30.” If you’re unfamiliar with the program it’s essentially a thirty day eating plan/elimination diet that helps participants rethink their food choices, overcome cravings, heal their digestive track and eat 100% clean for thirty days. (I don’t want to bore you too much with specifics so if you want to read more about the Whole 30, click here.)

Basically from Oct. 23 through Saturday, Nov. 22, I abstained from all sugars (natural or otherwise), grains (even whole grains), legumes (except green beans and peas), alcohol and dairy. That sounds like an overwhelming list of “can’t have’s” but I did eat plenty of meat, seafood, eggs and vegetables with a limited amount of fruits, nuts and seeds added in for good measure.

For someone who eats lots of grains and is known to indulge in a few pints of delicious beer, I was very worried I wasn’t going to complete the challenge. In fact, I vowed not to mention my mission on this blog until it was over — just in case I threw in the towel. Not very confident sounding, I know, but hey, I’m realistic. I work in the food industry, my husband cooks everything with cream, butter and cheese, and the holiday stress level at work usually has me and my co-workers doing mid-morning shots by now.

But I made it and it feels really good to say that. I do eat fairly well in general so my cravings weren’t too bad and I didn’t suffer a lot of the detox pains that many people do the first week. What made it difficult for me was the struggle of time. On this program you have to make every meal — there is no convenience eating on days when you’re feeling overwhelmed. No English muffins for breakfast or ramen for dinner. Instead I would make huge batches of soft-boiled eggs, curries and roasted vegetables just so I wouldn’t be caught hungry and off-guard.

I could talk on and on about the results from the program and how I feel about it (and maybe I will in another post) but this was just to let you know what’s been monopolizing my time lately. I love to cook and I relish time in the kitchen, but I am really  happy to be able to heat up a frozen burrito after a late night at work!

But don’t think I ate in misery for thirty days. Check out all the good things I scarfed down:

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

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Scenes from an Urban Garden Dinner Party: Part II

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Last week, I showed you the appetizers that I helped put together for a dinner benefiting the Portland Fruit Tree Project. My husband, the chef for the event, didn’t just stop at creative snacks. He prepared a five-course dinner as well, one that was so delicious we converted a 10-year vegetarian into a carnivore for the evening. I’d call that a massive success!

Here’s what we served after the passed appetizers were done.

Course 1: Salad of roasted beets, plums, goat cheese, mung bean sprouts and crispy quinoa.

Course 1: Beets, plums, goat cheese, mung bean sprouts and crispy quinoa

The beets were roasted, the plums firm but juicy, the cheesy was tangy and the fried quinoa added a happy crunchy texture.

Course 2: Homemade tomato leaf strozzapreti with Connie’s tomatoes and fresh basil in a  Parmesan brodo.

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