I am starting a new series called Imagineating which will highlight some of the best foods I’ve found in the Portland food scene. For once, I get to step out of the kitchen!
This week’s Imagineating is Handsome Pizza– a garage turned pizza joint in NE Portland where pizzaiolo Will Fain tosses the dough, adds toppings, and bake neapolitan pizzas fresh to order in a wood-burning pizza oven. Handsome Pizza’s menu is simple by design so that the flavor of each ingredient and the thoughts behind the combination of those ingredients really come through. I got to try the seasonal pizza (which has pine nuts, goat cheese, and arugula), the pepperoni, and the garlicky herb flatbread. Next time I will definitely try the Rico Suave.
They do run out of dough from time to time and sometimes you have to wait a while for your pizza but it is definitely worth it. The location is particularly nice to visit in the summer when the weather makes it easy to sit outside and pop over next door to Scoop for ice cream.
I made yet another pizza. Who can resist the temptation to make a pizza when all the ingredients that you happen to have on hand make the perfect combination for a white pizza?
This time I made my own crust using this handy and extremely easy pizza crust recipe. For the sauce, I just used olive oil and grated garlic. The cheese was grated fresh mozzarella and the toppings were thinly sliced leeks and mushrooms, a few anchovies, a handful of pistachios, and some leftover raw sheep cheese for the topping cheese.
The result was so tasty. The crust turned out very well for a recipe that requires only 5 minutes of resting time and the combination of flavors from the topping was just right.
Cheese boards are a staple meal in my life. Sometimes when Casey and I want to treat ourselves to a special meal but don’t want to spend too much money by eating out, we have a cheese board for dinner. In Portland, there are various places where you can get truly great cheeses for affordable prices. Farmers markets offer local cheeses, the Murray’s cheese counter in Fred Meyer offer a wide variety of cheeses and so do stores like New Seasons or Whole Foods. One of my favorite sources of cheese, however, is the Cheese Bar on Belmont (owned by cheesemonger Steve Jones).
The cheesemongers at the Cheese Bar are all extremely knowledgable about cheese and they are not at all pretentious or intimidating. Don’t be afraid to get help from them because they want you to taste the cheese before taking it home, and they want you to be happy with your selections! Also, don’t be afraid to tell them about your budget and what kinds of cheeses you know you like or would like to try. For this visit, I wanted to get 3 types of cheese– soft, hard/aged, and blue. While there, I also picked up some Chop salami to serve with the cheeses.
If you’ve never put together a cheese board before and need some guidance, here is a helpful blog post from Design Mom that would give you the confidence of a cheese expert in putting together your board! Here are a few key items that I live by:
- -Let your cheeses almost get to room temperature. Taking the chill off makes a world of difference in flavor.
- Have a different knife for each cheese.
- Pick out a wide variety of side items for people to pair the cheese with. One of the funnest parts about eating a cheese board is the experimentation between flavors and textures. Side items pictured above are (clockwise): Chop salami, peach chutney, Pink Lady apple slices, cornichons, flatbread crackers. Other favorite side items are: stone-ground mustard, honey-covered walnuts, pate, baguette slices, figs or apricots, and cherry compote.
Have fun putting together your own cheese board and share with me your favorite combinations!
Salad of Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower & Tofu in Fish Sauce Dressing
This dish was cooked in a valiant effort to imitate the popular dish from local Portland restaurant Bokebowl. It’s simple enough that you don’t need a recipe. To recreate this dish, toss some brussel sprouts and cauliflower in olive oil, season with s&p, and roast in a hot oven. In the meantime, fry up some tofu (or you can use packaged fried tofu available at Asian markets). Whisk together some fish sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and chili pepper flakes. Toss roasted veggies and tofu in dressing and serve.
The salad is delicious, complex, and satisfying enough to be eaten by itself, but to have a complete dinner meal or impress friends or family, serve it with teriyaki salmon and noodles. The huge cracker pictured above is an Indonesian egg noodle “kerupuk” that I fried up (since I had the hot oil going and all that).
March 31, 2013:
Our friends Allison & Michael came over and we cooked dinner for them. They are mostly vegetarians and I wanted to make something that is easy and not fussy to serve. I settled on making Smitten Kitchen’s ratatouille recipe. The recipe is an easier version than Thomas Keller’s ratatouille recipe that was used in the animated movie. Instead of just using straight tomato puree, I added mushrooms, onions, and garlic into it, similar to a pasta sauce. Served on a mound of polenta, the dish was extremely comforting and delicious; it was also very easy to make and impressive to look at. We had a wonderful time eating it!
April 3, 2013:
I rarely go to Trader Joe’s for my grocery shopping but when I do, I like to get some specific items that I think they do very well. One of those things is their pizza crust. Sold in the refrigerated section, their pizza crust is easy to use as it doesn’t involve thawing a frozen piece of dough. The crust also comes in a variety of flavors. Having tried most of them, I decided to try the only I haven’t tried–the whole wheat crust.
Being a total pizza snob, whole wheat pizza crust is a little bit of betrayal to my soul, but I was also really curious and I genuinely like whole wheat-flavored dough (not really for its health reason, but for the subtle sweetness). Another layer of betrayal is adding bacon to the margherita pizza but it had to be done. I used a pizza stone to bake the dough though you can use a regular cookie sheet too. The crust was definitely more fragile than the other types. Because of this, it was more difficult to toss it to an even thickness. While the outer edge of the pizza was cooked correctly and tasted great, the center of the pizza was doughy and hard to eat. The dough would have worked better if it was evenly rolled instead of stretched/tossed by hand. I would also suggest limited the amount of wet ingredients (tomatoes, mozzarella, etc.) and making sure not to overload the middle.
April 8, 2013:
One of my neighbor’s friend is a commercial fisherman who once a month would set up a canopy tent and sell fresh and smoked salmon from the driveway of his friend’s house. The quality of both the fresh and smoked salmon is very good compared to ones available in the store. Cooking salmon is a real practice of restraint. Once you go beyond 3 ingredients in the seasoning you are risking yourself of over masking the natural flavor of the fish. This is validated by the amount of people who gets sent home from various cooking competitions on the basis of over seasoning and overcooking salmon.
I prepared this salmon with dill, lemon, s&p, and butter. I cooked it simply under the oven’s broiler for about 10 minutes. I then served it one a bed of quinoa salad (with grape tomatoes and mushrooms). I don’t eat salmon very much so it’s a real treat when I get to have it!
April 10, 2013:
The Thai soup Tom Kha Gai is one of my favorite soups to make because while it is served hot, it is a very refreshing soup in flavor. It is also relatively easy to make as long as you have the fundamental ingredients. The main components of the soup are: coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms, coriander, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, and lime juice. For this soup, I added thin slices of potato and carrots, and a topping of radish tossed in fish sauce.
The combination of flavors are very satisfying because of the balance between the richness of the coconut milk, the hearty sumptuousness of the chicken broth, and the acidic punch of the lime juice. I always make a giant pot of this so that I can give some to my mom, who also loves this soup.
Last weekend I was supposed to go to a new brunch spot in Portland called Hatch and plans changed which resulted in a somewhat disappointed boyfriend. As an effort to console his disappointment I told him I can make the southwestern biscuits & gravy he wanted so badly.
For the biscuits, I used the classic Alton Brown biscuit recipe.The strange thing is that the recipe definitely did not make a dozen biscuits, more like 8, so plan ahead!
For the gravy, I decided to be creative and create my own concoction of chorizo gravy. I started with a pound of chorizo, sauteed it in medium heat until it releases its fat. You will need the fat to make the roux base for a thick gravy. I also threw in a few Mexican chiles so it has an element of smokiness.
Once the chorizo is properly browned, I stirred in 1/2 cup of flour and let the flour brown a little bit in the pot. Once the flour clumps into the chorizo, I poured 2 cups of 2% milk and turned up the heat. Once the milk simmers, the gravy starts to take form and thicken. I sprinkled in some salt & pepper and a dash of oregano.
I finished plating the dish with putting an over-easy egg on 2 biscuits, ladling a heaping amount of gravy on it, and topping it off with some fresh raw sweet peppers. It’s definitely not something you can eat everyday, but it is an adventurous take on the country classic and definitely a great consolation prize.
For a recent get-together with friends I decide to make the most chili from scratch. Little did I know that making chili from absolute scratch is an epic cooking adventure, especially when one chooses to use Serious Eats’ Best Chili Ever recipe written by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. The list of 30+ ingredients is only slightly less intimidating after reading the detailed explanation as to why certain choices are made resulting in the perfect chili. I couldn’t help to wonder– is it worth the time, effort, and money to give the recipe a try?
After the several hours I spent in making this chili I realized that it was a great learning experience. Here are some of the things I didn’t know or know how to do before I made this chili:
- The best way to soak kidney beans overnight is to soak them in salt water. The salt helps preserve the beans’ skin from peeling.
- Types of dried chiles commonly used in Tex-Mex cooking and how to concoct a chile puree out of them. I don’t think I will go back to using chili powder from now on as chili powder gets old and stale really easily.
- The various components that make up a great chili: heat (chiles), meat, beans, spices, dark flavors (coffee and cocoa), umami flavors, citrus, and condiments. Each of these components should be prepared with equal attention and the best chili maintains a balance between these various strong flavors.
Not to worry, if you don’t have the exact ingredients needed for the recipe, substitute with what you have on hand to make the experience as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. Here are the substitutions I made:
- I didn’t have 5 lbs of bone-in short ribs. Instead I substituted it with a combination of meat flavors. The main meat I used was a sirloin roast. I pressure cooked the roast and some lamb neck bones to save time and to gain a rich broth that was then used for the chili. I also used bacon in the chili to give it more depth.
- I omitted marmite as I didn’t have it on hand.
- I didn’t have unsweetened chocolate and used cocoa powder instead.
Was it worth the effort? It definitely was! The final result was a chili that was so immensely full of flavor. It was so rich that I was satisfied after one bowl. Furthermore, the process of making the chili is a long process of learning and exploring unfamiliar cooking techniques that is extremely rewarding in the end.
Here is my bowl of chili, which I served with sour cream, cilantro, and fresh jalapenos. I also served buttermilk corn bread on the side.
Happy Lunar New Year! Though Lunar New Year is not as widely celebrated here in the United States, for Asian Americans it is a major holiday and a great excuse to participate in terrific food, both in home-cooking and dining out. I still remember fond memories of many meals with family centralled around Chinese New Year and this year I made an attempt to recreate this spirit in my own home by cooking Chinese meals for the week before Feb 10.
Above is a dinner comprised of pork shoulder stewed in Asian spices (chili, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar), long beans & garlic stir-fry, and deep-fried tofu. The recipe for the tofu that I followed is particularly great and easy. I encourage you to try it. In the photo above I added corn meal to the batter so that it has even more crispiness.
Another meal I recreated is the congee (rice porridge) meal that my family often makes at home. I actually used the pressure cooker to make the congee, which worked great and took only 25 minutes. The key is to include oil into your liquid so that the cooker can manage the amount of liquid in it. A more intriguing part of the meal is the Chinese tea eggs I made using a Saveur recipe.
The recipe was fun to make and yield a large batch of eggs for the week. First, you start with boiling plain eggs (be careful not to overboil), then comes the fun part of cracking the shells of the eggs without peeling them. The cracked eggs are simmered in a broth of soy sauce, sugar, lapsang souchong tea, and spices. Once the eggs are properly simmered and cooled, you can peel them. The resulting eggs are beautifully marbled and the perfect accompaniment to congee for its sweet and earthy taste and fragrant aroma.
Here is the resulting meal.
New Seasons is a great local grocery store here in Portland–think of it as a more affordable Whole Foods. My favorite thing to get out of their prepared food section is their kale & carrot salad. The salad is very easy to replicate at home and fun to make since it gives you a lot to last throughout the week. Here is my recipe for a replication of the salad:
- 4 carrors, peeled
- 1 head lacinato kale
- 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbs tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tbs rice vinegar
- 2 tbs sesame oil
- pinch of red pepper flakes
. . .
1. Grate the carrots. My food processor has a grate attachment so I chopped mine into 2-inch pieces and threw them in there.
2. Remove the thick stalks of the kale. Blanch the whole leaves into a pot of boiling water for no longer than 1 minute. I like my kale firm so I did mine for only 30 seconds. Quickly remove from the pot and dip into a bowl of ice water.
3. Once cool and dry, chop the kale coarsely. If you chop it too fine it will become too mushy.
4. Whisk the minced garlic, tamari or soy sauce, rice vinegar, and oil together until emulsified. In the meantime, toast the sunflower seeds in a dry sauté pan. Let cool completely after toasting.
5 .Toss the chopped kale, grated carrots, and dressing in a large bowl.
6. Stir in toasted seeds and a pinch of red pepper flakes. You can add more pepper flakes if you like a spicier taste.
My summer was incredibly busy this year. I saw my little sister walk down the aisle and marry her best friend and got to spend almost a month with my dad and grandpa whom I haven’t seen in several years. I still partook in delicious seasonal cooking and sharing of meals with family & friends, but it just means less time to get on this blog to write about it. I at least want to share with you one of my favorite meals this summer.
1. Cherry tomato, cucumber, pine nuts quinoa salad
2. Pesto pork and onions
3. Watermelon basil cooler
I make this quinoa salad all the time, always with whatever is seasonal and handy.
- Cook the quinoa well. I always undercook my quinoa by 2 minutes, drain it in a fine strainer so all of the liquid comes out, and let it sit on the hot stove for another couple of minutes so that the quinoa fully dries out. Then I drizzle a little bit of olive oil to keep it from clumping too much. This is the only way to get firm quinoa that is not mushy.
- Toast the pine nuts on a dry sautee pan. Make sure to keep stirring so it doesn’t burn too much on one side.
- Make the dressing. I like to put 1:1 ratio of vinegar and olive oil with 1 clove of grated garlic + pinch of s/p. My favorite vinegar to use is red wine vinegar. Dice veggies and toss them into the dressing.
- Once the quinoa and pine nuts cool, incorporate into veggies/dressing mixture. Make more dressing if it’s needed. Chill in the fridge.
The result should be a salad that highlights the beautiful texture of each of the item in it.
This watermelon basil cooler was born out of need rather than want. I had too much basil, way too much for more pesto or more preserving. I needed to use them fast.
- Boil 4 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar. This will make a diluted simple syrup. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, stir in 2 cups packed basil leaves, and turn off the heat. Let steep for 15 minutes then drain.
- While the syrup cools, cut the flesh out of half of a watermelon. Blend watermelon using either a blender or an immersion blender (in a large pitcher). At this point depending on the texture you want you can either strain the juice or keep the current texture.
- Pour in basil simple syrup and cool. Serve with ice, a spring of young basil, and optional vodka.