I’m only here for the snacks

Party snacks by candlelight

Party snacks by candlelight – is there anything better?

There’s a song my husband plays sometimes that echos the refrain “There will be snacks.” Sometimes we sing it to each other even when the music isn’t playing.

And while the song seems to be about the end of days, mentioning survival kits and crumbled financial institutions, it still seems to imply that even the apocalypse can be made better by snacks.

Which is an idea I can totally get behind.

There’s just something about snacks that make me happy. Perhaps because making them (and eating them) suggests that friends, laughter, a nice glass of wine and plenty of fun are in my near future. Or maybe it reminds me of sitting exhausted on my couch, after the last guest has gone home, and being left alone to finish off the last odds and ends from the plates.

Whatever the reason, out of all the meals or menus I plan or partake in, it’s always the snacks that I love the most.

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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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I can’t quit you: My summer love affair with shakshuka

Homemade shakshuka: adding spice to my life!

Homemade shakshuka: adding spice to my life!

This summer was the Summer of Shakshuka.

It started on a whim (“hmmm…never made that before…”) and turned into an all-out obsession (“must make more!”). Months later, my infatuation is still going strong and even though I’m no longer using tomatoes from my garden, I have happily discovered it still tastes great using high quality canned tomatoes.

If you’re not familiar, shakshuka is a spicy stewed tomato dish, usually made with onions, chilies and cumin. Most versions boast a simmered-to-perfection egg and the best versions (in my opinion) also include a nice salty cheese. While the egg certainly makes it seem more “breakfast-y,” this one-pot wonder makes a great lunch or dinner as well.

It’s also a fun dish to play around with, adding or subtracting ingredients depending on what’s in season — or by what’s in your fridge. My favorite batches this summer included sautéed zucchini and summer squash and lots of kale. I’ve even thrown cooked farro or quinoa in at the end to bulk it up.

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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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Adios breakfast burritos, hola sopes benedicts!

Breakfast Sopes topped with chorizo, a fried egg and salsa

Breakfast Sopes topped with chorizo, a fried egg and salsa

Like most of Portland, I love brunch. Unlike most Portlanders, ninety percent of the time I am unwilling to wait for two hours to eat it. And while I wish my husband and I went to brunch more often, it’s just a huge time waster: wait forever, suck down a few cocktails at a nearby bar while waiting, finally get seated, stuff your face for 15 minutes because you are so hungry and then go home and nap the Bloody Marys off.

Going to brunch basically means that will be my only accomplishment of the day (which is not necessarily a bad thing, I admit).

But I’ve found cooking brunch at home is so more rewarding. My husband is usually still sleeping or just waking up when I start cooking, giving me free reign to make whatever I want.

Usually I go fairly standard — eggs and a veg-heavy hash for instance, but a few weeks ago I was feeling the need to mix it up. I had leftover masa dough from the night before and the idea of making breakfast sopes was too enticing to pass up.

I made the shells just like I did in this post and then focused on the toppings. I cooked up some chorizo, adding in some leftover carmelized onions and black beans. Garnished with a bit of queso fresco and paired with a cabbage slaw, they looked tasty enough…

Breakfast Sopes - chorizo and queso

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Nearly a Nicoise: A kitchen sink version of the French classic

In theory, I love the nicoise salad — I like green beans, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and olives, and I definitely like the idea of a big salad as a meal. However, I am a little weird when it comes to tuna (I really only eat it in tuna salad sandwiches, which I only eat when I make them myself) and I’m a little iffy in general on anchovies. So, considering my fish issues, it’s a little surprising that I even considered making a Nicoise salad for dinner last week.

The classic salad (made even more famous by Julia Child) is no stranger to change — give it a Google and you’ll see what I mean — tons of recipes will pop up. So given the multitude of variations, I didn’t feel bad at all taking liberties with it to create this version.

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