Monday, January 30, 2012

Beet Tart with Blue Goat Cheese and Frisee, and a visit to Portlandia



Portland, you are awesome--and a food-lover's dream. I spent five days in your misty city-straddling-the-river at the beginning of January, and not once in those days did I eat a single un-delicious bite. Every mouthful was beautiful and fresh and thoughtful, and made me wish that we could have our national linguistics conference in your city every year (no offense to Pittsburgh or Baltimore, where the last two conferences were held in previous years). Of course, I have to include the customary mention of the mammoth Powell's Bookstore, but by the time I made it there at the end of the conference, the impressively-large linguistics section had already been pretty picked over, and there are only so many hours (and, more restrictively, dollars!) one can spend in the cooking section, so instead, we ate our way through the city once all of our official business was through. (Also, thank you all for your suggestions via Twitter and blog comments and email on where to visit and eat in Portland! :D)

[pictured top to bottom: Thai Peacock's tofu tom yum soup, Stumptown coffee, Salt&Straw's ice cream tasting]

My favorite, favorite, favorite thing we had in Portland was the tofu and vegetable tom yum soup at Thai Peacock, a few blocks away from Powell's. Seriously, you guys, this version of the soup was the best I've ever tasted: rich, spicy, delightfully sour, a bit sweet from the stewed tomatoes and vegetables, and all around, incredibly soul-warming. It was so good that I went twice in two days, and seriously considered trying to take a thermos of it home with me (darn TSA security restrictions!). Other stand-out favorites that we tried were the fabulous Salt & Straw ice cream (recommended by many of you, so thank you!), with their inventive and perfectly creamy flavors (particularly, the sea salt ice cream with caramel--yes, the ice cream base is sea salt flavored!--and the lemon-basil sorbet); freshly-made and fantastic Japanese curry from Kalé (not heavy like you normally think of Japanese curry, but light and oh-so-spicy and flavorful!); and the adorable Little Bird Bistro, on the recommendation of Language of Food writer, where we ordered a plethora of small French plates to share, including butternut squash+parsnip+apple soup and beet tart. We even managed to spend one night at the cozy Living Room Theater, watching Melancholia, and feeling oh-so-hipster amongst the cool, twenty-something crowd that populated the place.

Here's a list of where we ate--all wonderful.
Kalé - so good I'd like to beg the owner to open a branch in the Bay Area.
Little Bird - the bread served here comes with local butter, salted with crunchy Maldon salt. 'Nuff said!
Rogue Brewery - they have homemade root beer! (which I'll take over beer any day. :))
Salt & Straw - dare I say it's better than some of the gourmet ice cream places I've had in the Bay!
St. Honore Boulangerie - the Normandy apple tart. Try it.
Stumptown Coffee - though I maintain allegiance to Philz here in SF
Thai Peacock - the tom yum soup: you won't regret it.
Voodoo Donuts - to my surprise, I particularly liked the Butterfingers doughnut/donut
Wildwood - wonderful, wonderful food. The garlicky butter of the mussels is perfect with the crusty toast it comes with, the caesar salad is inventive and novel, and the lobster risotto was exactly what a risotto should be.


One of the marks of a fantastic food experience is that it should inspire you, and my visit to Portland most definitely did. Over the following few days, my friends and I recreated at home some of our favorite dishes that we had had in Oregon: butternut squash, parnsip, and apple soup; crunchy, Maldon salt-flecked butter; and this beet tart with blue cheese and goat cheese and frisee salad.

Before having a version of this tart at Little Bird Bistro, I seriously never thought I would like a beet tart. Beets have just never been a vegetable I voluntarily run to, even though I've had very good beets before in my life (also very bad ones, like the canned beets my parents would insist on putting in our salads when I was growing up, which probably contributed to my aversion). But, for whatever reason, the beet tart looked really good on the bistro's menu, and when I had my first bite of it, it was even better than the menu's description. I think what really did it for me with this tart was how the saltiness of the blue and goat cheeses balanced out the sweet juiciness of the al dente roasted beets, with the buttery, flakey crust and the slightly bitter and acidic frisee on top.  It's something I would never dream up on my own, but once I did have it, I had to have more!


One last thing, though not food related: right around my Portland visit, I managed to watch all of Portlandia. I had a few Portlandia moments while I was there (e.g., waiters volunteering detailed information on the origins of the food; little birds everywhere), so watching the show made for was a very hilarious representation of my own experience. I would highly suggest it, in addition to this beet tart. :)


Read on for recipes....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

TGIF: Picnic in the Redwoods



I'm so lucky where I live: within an hour's drive, I can be in a big city, or in quirky suburbs, or standing on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, or gazing up and up and up at the tall tops of majestic Redwood forests. During the same visit in which we plundered the citrus trees on campus for marmalade, a few of my good friends and I packed up an amazing vegan feast--complete with wild rice salad, curried carrots, sweet sauteed mushrooms and kale, roasted acorn squash (and onions and garlic), Blue Chair Fruit jams, a crusty Tartine loaf, and cold-brewed tea--for a picnic under the shady canopy of the Big Basin Redwoods. Then we went hiking to give our over-stuffed bellies a rest and promptly got lost wandering through the damp, dark green forest on a soft carpet of redwood tree needles. It's days and picnics and hikes like this one that provide a wonderful, analog antithesis to the always-on-the-go, always-connected life that I live the rest of the time.


Happy Friday, everyone!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Saffron and Blood Orange Caramel Macarons, with blood orange sorbet



It's been many, many years since I've celebrated Lunar New Year properly  ...until now! Hi from Asia! *commence emphatic waving*


Last time I was here for the new year festivities was decades ago (omg, 'decades' makes me sound so old), when I was five. My only memory from that visit was my grandfather taking me outside on the street in front of our relatives' large apartment building at night and lighting up sparkler fireworks to play with. How they shimmered in the dark, specks of light dancing off the ends of the wands! After that, we never really celebrated Chinese New Year's in the US: there just isn't the same hubbub of excitement and fun brewing around you that makes it feel like a holiday. And, given that the lunar new year never falls during school breaks, I didn't have the opportunity to freely leave and visit again until now. (Yes, one of the wonderful advantages of dissertating, and shhh, don't tell my advisors.)


In preparation for the new year celebration, I whipped up my own version of a few new year's desserts before leaving on my trip. It's traditional to have oranges during the Chinese New Year--for luck--and to wear red--an 'auspicious' color. Lo and behold, what did I stumble upon at the market a few days before leaving: blood oranges! The perfect combination of red and orange, in a delicious fruit. :)

With the blood oranges, I made a blood orange sorbet, that turned out the most gorgeous orange-red color (rivaling the vibrant purples of the last sorbet that I made). Oh, and not to mention that it tastes deliciously orange-y. :) I also whipped up a batch of saffron and blood orange caramel macarons, which I thought were very fitting for celebrating New Year's, with the red and gold of the saffron and caramel, the nuts that traditionally represent blessings for long life, and, of course, the blood oranges. (Recipe inspired by this wonderful little macaron book.)

[click on photo above for a larger image]

I'm hoping that all of this orange and red really brings good luck to everyone for the Year of the Dragon! The last few days of the Year of the Rabbit were quite unlucky for me. On my second day here, this happened when I fell down a pile of unsecured bricks. I freaked out. Luckily, the repairman here managed to fix it because none of the internal glass elements were broken--you don't know how incredibly relieved I am. Anyways, I have been told that since I clearly used up all of my bad luck and misfortune right before the end of the old year, I should be having an auspicious new year! :)


Happy New Year, everyone!


Read on for recipes....

Thursday, January 19, 2012

TGIF



Little known fact about me: I used to be the Spoons -playing champion of my youth group when I was young. I dominated at that card game. :)

Happy Weekending, everyone!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Almond and Stanford Citrus Marmalade Crostata



It is surely one of the laws of the universe that grad students are the only people who inhabit campus 365 days a year, even over the holidays, and even during that vacation week between Christmas and New Year's. But, you know? I don't care. Because this means that I had first dibs to the bountiful citrus harvest from the trees on campus this year! Haha, suckers! So the lesson? When life gives you lemons and forces you to work over Christmas break...   ....make marmalade! :D


I don't often say a lot of nice things about Stanford (after all, I have to maintain allegiance to my undergraduate alma mater--Go Bears!), but one thing I'll give it is the wonderful plethora of fruit trees on campus (plus, I would be hesitant to eat anything out of Berkeley trees, for I've heard those stories of toxic waste run-off in the creek!). In the corner where the history department is located on the Stanford campus sit loads and loads of citrus trees, with branches brimming full of white grapefruits! and oranges of all types! and lemons! Usually, when classes are in session, the low-hanging fruit gets picked off pretty quickly, but during the winter break, far more fruit remains in reach. So when two good friends (incidentally, from my undergraduate days at Berkeley) came to visit after Christmas, we made sure to go and plunder the Citrus Corner to our hearts' content.


With the resulting pounds upon pounds of random citrus fruits I ended up with on my kitchen table, I figured that the only course of action was to make marmalade--a Stanford citrus marmalade, to be exact--so that none of the fruit would go to waste waiting for me to eat it all. ... of course, then I had to figure out what to do with the resulting jars upon jars of the at once sweet and bitter but delicious through-and-through marmalade I ended up with after that. :)

Enter the almond and citrus marmalade crostata. For some reason, I used to be unconvinced that jam could make a robust-enough filling for a tart, eschewing it in favor of other types of tart fillings, like cream or even plain candied oranges. But then, at a recent Blue Chair Fruit event, I had my first encounter with a jam-filled crostata (an Italian-style tart). The nutty, substantially thicker, crumbly crust and the tightly-woven lattice top of a crostata, it turns out, make the perfect vessel for a thin but flavorful layer of sweet jam--better, in my opinion, than your average, more delicate pate sucree-style tart crust. Armed with my jars of marmalade, I jumped at the chance to try a crostata again, this time with the slightly bitter filling of the Stanford citrus marmalade.


I have to say that I think I prefer the marmalade version to a berry-based jam crostata, mainly because the sharp tangs of bitterness in the citrus punctuate the sweetness of the marmalade and almond buttery-ness in the crust. And, I also really liked the chewy chunks of candied citrus peel in the marmalade that texturally lend the tart a bit of bite every now and then. To serve, pair the crostata with some tea that has a spoonful of citrus marmalade mixed in for good measure. :)


Who says grad students can't have (delicious) fun over winter break?


Read on for recipe....

Friday, January 13, 2012

TGIF, from cruising altitude



2012 has already gotten off to an insane start: lots of traveling and projects scheduled for the first few months of the year, so you'll have to please excuse me if the blog scheduling turns out a bit erratic. In the meantime, though, I'll get to share wonderful sights like these. On a recent flight (on a prop plane, no less!), I was treated to the most amazing views of the SF Bay Area from above. It's always fun to have a change of perspective, and I rarely get to see the place I live so clearly from up so high!

[click on photo above for a larger image]
pictured: San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and good ol' Bay Area fog

Here's wishing everyone a great weekend!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Salt Roasted Pears with Cajeta



A few days before each new year rolls around, I always get the urge to do a retrospective review of the year, but when I finally sit down to the task, I always find that I'd much rather just leave the past year to the past and look forward to what's coming next. This 'onward' sentiment was particularly strong this time around with regards to the passing of 2011. For me, this past year has felt a lot like the middle section in any trilogy--not as much excitement or change as the previous year and just a lot of set-up waiting for more action in the next year. After 2010, which saw crazy changes and drama, 2011 in comparison was much less exciting: just a lot of chugging along and trying to figure out what "normal" life should be.


...not that I've managed to hit upon "normality" yet! (and not sure I ever want to!) But, I am very much looking forward to leaving 2011 and all of its stalled uncertainty and unanswered questions and stagnancy behind and having much, much more excitement and progress in 2012.


Don't get me wrong though--2011 wasn't uninteresting and dull! In fact, I got to meet a lot of wonderful new people and see plenty of new places, so I guess I really shouldn't be complaining. :) (2011 recap at the end of this post.)

To round out the year and kick off the new one, I turned to this simple but wonderful recipe that I've had bookmarked since this time last year: salt-roasted pears. I'd heard of salt-baked fish or even salt-crusted potatoes before, so when my good friend told me about baking pears in salt, I was immediately intrigued. I don't entirely understand the science of salt-baking, but these pears turn out amazingly: soft and juicy and supple in the centers with an ever-so-slight salty tinge on the skins to balance out the sweetness inside.

[click on photo below for a larger image]
 

Then, instead of the recommended caramel sauce to accompany the pears, I turned to a slightly more adventurous option: cajeta, which is a dulce de leche-type sauce made with goat's milk. The thick cajeta enrobes these pears beautifully when it's poured on warmed, and the sweet, just barely cinnamon-y caramel is perfect against the lingering flakes of salt on the pears. I love it when desserts are super simple, uncomplicated, a wee bit out of the ordinary, but oh-so-good. ...Hopefully what 2012 will turn out to be as well!


Here's wishing you all a fantastic new year!

P.S.  Starting off the 2012 excitement, I'll be headed to Portland, Oregon for a few days in January and would very much appreciate any recommendations you might have! Favorite Portland sights? Restaurants I *must* try? Please leave me a comment below!


--Addendum--

In 2011, I...

experienced life in snow climates for the first time on a trip to the East Coast, with old and new friends.
made a "heart attack in a pie" ... at least twice.
became obsessed with glitter.
was recognized by Saveur.
went to Edinburgh, Scotland and Manchester, England and, on the same trip,...
stopped by BlogHer Food in Atlanta for some quick food-bloggery fun.
had to bid farewell to friends moving away and welcome home friends moving back.
redecorated several parts of my house.
picked olallieberries and blackberries and strawberries.
photographed for some exciting folks.
instagrammed 300+ photos.
spent Thanksgiving in L.A. with my best friend, cooking up a storm.
spent an inordinate amount of time playing Monopoly Deal (and losing).
per tradition, had Korean fried chicken to celebrate Hanukkah.


Read on for recipes....


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