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Life has been crazy ever since I started school last fall. Then I got the hang of it and things slowed down. Around holiday time, Casey and I decided that we would have our wedding in 2014. Sometimes you plan ahead to be prepared to focus on the 1 thing in your life and sometimes you realize that it’s not worth your time to wait around. I didn’t want to put off my wedding until I graduate from my program, so I decided to just go for it! That’s when life gets interesting anyway.

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at wedding resources, I mean A LOT. It is ridiculous to me that brides and grooms-to-be’s have to go through this much work and research to make decisions on their wedding. Here are some things that helped simplify my thinking:

  • A Practical Wedding. A wedding blog/resource for couples who want to keep their celebration practical but still meaningful. I love that their Real Weddings section actually seem like real weddings, with real people. The essays and posts are also well-written, insightful, and best of all–totally rational.
  • Talk to other married couples. The best way to simplify your planning and brainstorming is to talk to people you know about their weddings. Ask them what they love about it and which parts did not work. This may help you decide what matters to you the most and what you want to get out of it.
  • Think outside the box. The wedding industry is set up in such a way that you think it’s okay that services and products cost insane amounts of money. How can a wedding cake and a regular cake of the same size have such difference in price? Or even a venue when it’s used for a networking event vs. a wedding? The fun and satisfying part of wedding planning is the opportunity to be creative. What better way to be creative than to come up with alternative solutions to the traditional ways of doing a wedding?

This doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in spending too much time browsing Pinterest and The Knot. It just means that for your own wedding, focus on what you really want and don’t let the overwhelming industry set expectations for you. I know that for my wedding, I want all of my family, friends, Casey, and myself to have a fun and relaxing time. I want the ceremony to be simple and intimate, and the reception to be the an amazing party. Most of all, I don’t want anyone to have to work during the wedding, whether it’s stressing about the food or decor, or having to clean up after other people. When I figured that out, all other decisions are easy to make!

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Friends, I got a new laptop for my graduate school adventure and I am unfortunately have been dealing with the fact that I no longer have Adobe Photoshop on my computer. Thus, I apologize for the terrible quality of photos for now. Basically I have to use my work computer now to edit my photos.

I find myself always craving for food a season too early. Case in point, the other day, I REALLY REALLY wanted clam chowder even though everyone else was enjoying things like squash and vegetable soup. Lucky me I had frozen clam meat and juice in my freezer. Also, my mom dropped off a hefty delivery of hand-picked chanterelles to which I said, they must be fried!

The chowder base is milk, clam juice, and chicken broth. If you have cream, it’s probably better but I like my chowder to be really runny. I used Alton Brown’s recipe, because I know it would be good :)

The chanterelles were cleaned and then dipped in a wet batter made of milk and egg and dry batter of panko. In retrospect, a tempura batter would work better for these. Either way, fried chanterelles are amazing luxuries and something you should figure out how to make before Burgerville does.

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Chanterelles fried with panko

 

 

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Here is another story about a gift I received. My lovely friend and ex-coworker recently moved back to her home state of Colorado and she got a job at a Fort Collins specialty food store called Crescendo. When I saw her a few weeks ago (on her visit to Portland), she gave me 2 bottles of infused vinegars.

The one I experimented with tonight was the star fig chili balsamic vinegar. I ate these with some bread and thought that they were a bit too robust and syrupy for a traditional bread, oil, and vinegar combo. I decided to incorporate them into a pork dish that I’ve made before. I had foraged some figs from a neighbor’s overhanging tree (yes, some would call this stealing). But really, the figs were abundant and left unpicked for days.

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Raw ingredients

I started by seasoning the pork chops with Hawaiian sea salt (just ’cause I had them laying around). While I seared the chops, I roasted the halved figs with a little bit of olive oil in a hot oven. I was roasting potatoes and cauliflowers to go with this dish, and pre-roasting the figs made sense because the pork wasn’t going in the oven for that long.

I seared the pork in an oiled cast iron pan. Once all sides of the pork were properly seared, I deglazed the pan with white wine, the fig chili balsamic, and a little bit of chicken broth. I pulled the figs out of the roasting pan and placed it face down into the reduction. Then I placed the chops above the face-down figs, and put the entire pan in the hot oven to finish cooking (pictured below).

I thought the final dish suited the flavor profiles and texture of the balsamic much better. The play between the acidity of the balsamic with the sweetness of the figs and the subtle heat of the chili really worked well with pork as a protein. It certainly felt like a shortcut to holiday season food, but still felt like an appropriate autumnal meal. It also doesn’t hurt that there were real figs to go with the fig balsamic ;)

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Before the pork goes into the oven to finish, put the halved figs face down in the deglazed reduction. The juices from the pork drips into the reduction creating a delicious sauce.

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For my birthday this year I received a lovely gift from a friend. She grew up in Louisiana and gifted me the Junior League of New Orleans Jambalaya cookbook, which is a recipe book that the women in her family has always used. The Junior League of New Orleans is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism and community development. They release this book as a way to raise funds for their organization.

I decided it’s only fitting that the first recipe I try out of the book should be a jambalaya! There are several jambalaya recipes in it as well as other cajun and creole recipes, but I decided on the sausage & shrimp one. I didn’t have any shrimp on hand and used a smoked sausage kielbasa instead of ground smoked sausage.

The other "trinity": onions, garlic, bell peppers -- sweated

The vegetables are very important in jambalaya

Deglazed with white wine, sausages go back in to party

Deglazed with white wine, sausages go back in to party

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Then the tomatoes and herbs go in, followed shortly by the raw rice. Simmer covered for 25 minutes.

This recipe is so, so good, and it really makes you understand why jambalaya is such an integral part of the food culture in the south. There are many other interesting jambalaya recipes in the book, like ones with oysters, all-vegetarian, or even a dessert jambalaya! I’m excited to explore the book more and try out recipes that I’m less familiar with.

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Mascarpone Brownies

I’m starting graduate school at the end of September! Hence, the cute notebooks that I got for my birthday included in the photo. Speaking of my birthday, I actually made these brownies for my birthday party! Yes, I cook and bake for my own parties. It’s what makes me happy.

I love recipes that are classic but with a twist added. The Kitchn’s Mascarpone Brownies recipe is just that. It’s extremely easy to make too and the process reminds me of making muddy buddies in the winter (maybe it’s the microwaving of chocolate, butter, etc.) These brownies were more of a fudge consistency, which is ideal for me. I don’t like dry, flaky brownies! They are great for parties because it’s a rich, small bite.

They keep well in the fridge but it’s best to eat them after they come to room temperature. That’s when you can really taste the chocolate and mascarpone. They are extremely addicting, especially for chocolate-lovers, and the recipe was written very well.

Pesto Potatoes

Pesto should never go out of season. If you see some new potatoes at your farmer’s market, toss them in olive oil and throw them on the grill. They cook much faster than russet potatoes and are delicious tossed in fresh (or frozen) pesto.

Earlier this summer I went to Canada for the first time. Casey and I took the 6-hour drive to Vancouver, British Columbia to eat and explore the city for a better part of a week. It has been a common trend for us to plan our activities around food destinations and important meals when we travel.

We did wonderful things like bike around Stanley Park, tour the private Rennie art collection, vintage clothes shopping, and watched the Celebration of Light fireworks exhibition. But we also ate an enormous amount of food in cuisines as varied as the world itself. From pork hocks to Earl Grey Tea Cartems donut, from a rotato to fried cod straight off the boat. Here are some highlights.

Go Fish before & afterBefore and after shot of our amazing lunch at Go Fish (right before the entrance to Granville Island). The item on the left is fish & chips and the right is an ahi tuna sandwich. Go Fish is a little food shack that serves the freshest fish, usually caught that very morning, and cooks it in a simple and delicious way.

Granville CollageWe had an amazing time exploring at Granville Island, which is a public market chock full of artisanal goods and fresh produce & meats.

Granville Island MealAt Graville Island we picked up some ingredients to cook a dinner in (the advantage of staying at an airbnb house!). Pictured above is Siegel’s Bagels bagel, roasted figs, caramelized mushrooms and leeks, and sausages from Armando’s Finest Quality Meats.

Slickity Jim's BurgerOur meal the first night we arrived there, a few blocks in the neighborhood of our rental, on Main St. I fell in love with Slickity Jim’s Chat n’ Chew when I did internet research of places to eat around the rental. Their menus that are posted online are clever and witty and I was pleased that their food equally matched the menus.

IMG_0703We ventured out of Vancouver to visit the Richmond Night Market in Richmond, which is where many Asian-Canadians live. The market is a foodie adventure in and of itself. It was full of grilled seafoods, meat skewers, novelty snack items (from places like Taiwan and Hong Kong), and traditional desserts (I had an es cendol, which was quite authentic). Above is the takoyaki, which is a Japanese octopus & cabbage balls grilled in a batter.

I was happy to find Vancouver BC to be such a terrific food destination, especially because it is not too far away if you live in the Pacific Northwest. I will definitely visit again, if not only to smuggle back in some immeasurably delicious Asian beef jerky from BKH Jerky.

Beet Salad 1

I think beets are incredible joyous, simply because it has such a sweet and satisfying flavor and it is usually best with minimal preparations. This is a recipe that I created myself and it’s very reflective of my own mind in that this is a recipe that is composed of leftover items and is a time-saver when prepared ahead of time.

Beets & Cold Rice Salad

  • 3 golden beets, 2 red beets
  • 1 cup of cold, cooked rice
  • 1 fat clove of garlic
  • 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TBS chiffonade of basil (thinly sliced)
  • pinch of salt & pepper
  1. First you will want to roast the beets and cook the rice. I like to roast beets whenever I turn on a grill or oven, even if I’m not using them that day. You’ll want to coat the beets in olive oil and wrap them in foil. Then you can pop the foiled beets into a hot oven or grill while you’re cooking something else. They should be roasted for 20-30 mins or until you can pierce it with a fork. Once they are roasted and have cooled off, peel off the skin with your fingers and trim off the ends. Slice the beets into 1-inch cubic pieces. The rice you can cook when you are making another meal that utilizes rice. We only need 1 cup, so it’s a perfect way to use up leftover rice. 
  2. Grate the garlic clove and stir with balsamic vinegar in a large bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Mix in basil leaves and pinch of salt & pepper.
  3. Incorporate cubed beets and cold rice. Mix thoroughly. Eat or save for the next day when it is even better.

 

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Donut birthday cakes have been in my life for forever! I remember when I was 6 or 7 having a birthday cake made entirely out of Dunkin’ Donuts. It had bigger donuts on the bottom and donut holes on top.

A few years ago I replicated the same cake for Casey’s birthday to some lukewarm results. At the time, I didn’t get the right shape of foam for the core and the varying sizes of donuts I got were too hard to work with. This time, I got it right and Casey got to have an awesome birthday cake that is basically a donut hole MOUNTAIN.

How does one make a donut hole cake?

Donut Cake Skeleton

The most important part is that you need a piece of foam (such as one you would use for flower arrangements) and some wooden skewers. The foam core I got above was $1 at the Dollar Tree and it came already wrapped in plastic. If you get one that doesn’t come wrapped, you need to make sure to wrap it with saran wrap.

I affixed the foam to a wide bowl with poster putty so that it stay put. Then you want to break your wooden skewers to a variety of lengths. This well help give your cake a layered look. From there you will want to start building the cake by hanging the donut hole on each skewer.

I bought 4 dozens of donut holes for $7, and I coated some of the holes with chocolate syrup, coconut, and sprinkles. All in all the cost comes to below $10. Not bad for a eye-catching birthday cake!

Xico Idaho Trout Pozole final

My life has been absolutely insane with the onslaught of summer events & family obligations and not to mention getting ready for a change in jobs and graduate school in September. That’s why I’m writing this short and sweet post of a meal I had back in June.

In Portland, June is Dining Month, where you can go to participating restaurants and get a 3-course meal for $29. Casey took me out to Xico on Division Street. Quickly becoming the new Restaurant Row, Division is now full of eye-popping restaurants with great food, decor, and atmosphere. You can probably find enough places eat or drink for every day of the month just on that street alone. Xico is fairly unassuming compared to other restaurants but the food and cocktails are oh-so-good.

ESPECIALLY the one pictured above, the Idaho Trout Pozole. This dish is great because it’s full of the rich, traditional flavors of pozole but done through incredibly modern preparations. The fish was fried perfectly so that the crispy skin soaked up the broth nicely and the flesh was white and tender. The broth was built from fish stock, ancho chiles, and orange. The dish is also full of playful textures making it fun to eat, like the smooth avocado puree forming islands, or the firm organic hominy, and the shroud of shredded cabbage and cilantro on top.

Overall Xico is a great place to try, though it can be on the expensive side for some of the more basic offerings, but a dish like the trout pozole is a stroke of brilliance and shows off great promise for a second visit.