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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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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Day 1 in Seattle and Vashon: Doing what we do best…eating!

Brunch at Joule, Coulotte with eggs

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my husband and I drove up to Vashon Island from Portland to spend Labor Day weekend away from the city. On our way up, we made a side trip to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood for brunch at Joule. We had both heard rave reviews about their food but had never been in before. In all honesty, I went in with fairly low expectations simply because of the hype but was totally blown away.

First of all, I loved the concept of their brunch menu. You can pay $17 for a walk through their buffet and you get to order an additional entrée as well. For $12 you can do one or the other, but it was well worth the money to try both. The bonus is that you get the best of both worlds — you get to eat something immediately (and we were SO hungry after the three-hour drive) but you also get a hot dish made to order, which can’t be beat.

The buffet isn’t the basic cafeteria-style line up of eggs, pancakes and toast. Instead it’s a small table of fabulously prepared items, all based on a theme. While we were there, the dishes were southwestern inspired: peaches in habanero syrup with cilantro, jalapeño pimento cheese with homemade crackers, green tomato jam, corn salad, corn bread, pickles and more.

I filled my plate and cleared it in record time. Everything was so good, but the peaches were the winner, perfectly ripe, sweet and spicy.

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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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Salted limes make vodka happy…

Salted Lime Vodka Collins

Salted Lime Vodka Collins

I’ve been on a real Pok Pok tear lately — I’ve been cooking out of the book for the past few weeks and my daydreams have begun to feature fish sauce wings (a recipe I haven’t made yet). But even more than Ike’s famous wings, I have been craving a certain cocktail from Pok Pok — the salted plum vodka collins. Besides the odd beer here and there, this is the only thing I drink while dining there.

It is sweet, tart, tangy and intriguingly different from any other cocktail I’ve had. Once I discovered it, it was all I ever needed.

In fact I used to sit at the bar in the early days of Pok Pok (when it was less busy and you could actually just walk in and sit there) and stare down the bartender as he made it. I was determined to figure the recipe out — and after a few drinks one evening, I had it on mental lock down.

But alas, the day I was craving it the strongest, I didn’t have any salted plums on hand to get my fix. However I did have salted limes, which one of Pok Pok’s sister restaurants, The Whiskey Soda Lounge, uses in their salted lime vodka collins. Unsurprisingly, that is my go-to cocktail when I eat there.

Clearly there is a theme in my life — I like vodka drinks, I love salted things and put an Amarena cherry in there and I’m sold!

The ingredients for both cocktails are the same, except for the limes and plums, of course.

The basics...not pictured is the soda water.

The basics…not pictured is the soda water.

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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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