The Kim’s House of Prime Rib

My mom makes a great prime rib. She roasts potatoes and bell peppers in the roasting pan along with the meat so they cook in all the drippings. It’s so good. In her words, “It’s my favorite entertaining meal. So easy, yummy, and you get to enjoy your guests without concentrating on the food.” I’ve never made her prime rib recipe before, but last weekend I had my chance.

On Saturday, Andrew and I hosted our friends Cory and Margaret, and Shane and Savannah for dinner. I have no photo of them. Despite telling them I was going to take their picture specifically for this blog post, I had too much fun merrymaking that I completely forgot. So it goes. Anyway, I wanted to make a good ole’ meat and potatoes meal, and what better way to do that than with prime rib? So I emailed my mom for the recipe (full recipe at the end of this post).

Although three ribs worth serves six (2 people per rib), I wanted to make sure I had leftovers so I opted for four ribs. Little did I know how much meat that was. I came home with almost 10 pounds of beef, including the bones (because of course I’m going to make stock with it). My mom only gave me a general cooking time: 1 1/2 hours for three ribs, 2 hours for four. Because I had so much meat, I wanted to make sure I cooked it long enough so I Googled prime rib cooking times and came across this great post on prime rib by Simply Recipes.

It was quite thorough about cooking times:

  • 12-14 minutes per pound for rare (115°F)
  • 15-17 minutes per pound for medium rare (120°-130°F)

The post goes into more detail about other factors that affect cooking times, so if you are planning on making this at any point, I highly recommend reading it. I found it really helpful and adapted my mom’s recipe to include some of their tips. (And by the way, my mom was almost spot on about the 2 hour cooking time. Without the bones, the roast came to 7 1/2 pounds. Do the math and you are at just about 2 hours depending on how rare you want it. Goes to show you should always listen to your mother!)

When I seasoned the meat and added the chopped the veggies, my roasting pan was quite full:

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I popped this baby in the oven and it didn’t take long for the apartment to start to smell amazing. While the beef was roasting, I prepped a salad of radicchio, butter lettuce, shaved fennel, and a champagne vinaigrette. It’s a simplified version of Bon Appetit’s Crunchy Winter-Vegetable Salad, and looks very homey in my grandmother’s wooden salad bowl set.

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The salad didn’t take long to prepare and with the rest of the meal in the oven, not needing any attention, I had over an hour to spare before our guests arrived. I actually had time to test-drive the featured cocktail of the evening and actually finish it! Cory and Margaret are big whiskey fans, so I decided to make whiskey sours using a recipe from RecipesPlus. I had a bunch of Meyer lemons thanks to a colleague who literally brought in buckets of them to work, and with the orange syrup leftover from my candied orange peels, I had the ingredients to make the best whiskey sour I’ve ever tasted. Now I need to candy more orange peels just so I can get the syrup so I can keep making this cocktail. It really was that special ingredient that lifted it from being a good cocktail to Captain Awesome.

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The prime rib was done just about when my friends arrived, which was perfect because we were able to have a cocktail while the meat rested. It turned out beautiful. It was juicy and tender and pink and silky from all the marbled fat that makes this cut of meat “prime.” I was quite impressed with myself. I will be the first to tell you everything that I did wrong with a dish. That’s kind of what this blog is all about, but I really can’t cut myself down this time. I did a fantastic job and I don’t mind tooting my own horn at all. We joked about never needing to go to The House of Prime Rib when you can just come to the Kim’s.

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Look at that perfect pink!

But I’m not done yet. Because there is still dessert. Andrew and I were in Napa the weekend before last and had a great pots de creme at Zuzu, one of our favorite restaurants up there. As I was eating it, I thought, “I could make this.” So I did. I found recipes for pots de creme that call for baking the custard like creme brulee. That’s kind of pain to do, so I opted for a simpler Pots de Creme recipe from the Food Network where you slowly thicken the milk, cream, egg yolk, and sugar into a custard and blend it with chocolate. From there you pour it into whatever dishes you want to serve it in and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. Because it needs a few hours to set, make this in the morning you are going to serve. Then all you need to do when it’s dessert time is top with whipped cream, grate some chocolate over it for pizzaz, and you have one hell of a dessert.

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This was the most stress-free dinner party I have thrown yet. I wasn’t scrambling to set the table, or running around crazy doing the final steps for multiple dishes. Everything was ready, on time, with space to enjoy a cocktail and most importantly my guests. Prime rib is now my favorite entertaining meal. So easy, yummy, and you get to enjoy your guests without concentrating on the food. Words (and food) never rang truer.

RECIPES

Prime Rib

(serves 6)

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 ribs of prime rib (bones removed). If you’re my mom you give the bones to the dog. If you’re me you freeze them for stock.
  • Herbes de Provence
  • Rock salt (or any course salt you have on hand)
  • 4 russet potatoes
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 1 large yellow onion

METHOD

  • Take the meat out of the fridge 3 hours before roasting to get it to room temperature. Place in roasting pan and cover the entire roast with rock salt.
  • When it’s time to roast, preheat the oven to 500°F.
  • Meanwhile, dice the potatoes, bell peppers, and onion. Mix together and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Pat the roast dry with a paper towel. Generously season all over with with Herbes de Provence.
  • Add the potatoes, bell peppers, and onion around the prime rib.
  • Roast for 15 minutes at 500°F, then turn down to 325°F and roast for about 1 hour and 15 minutes (12-14 minutes per pound for rare and 15-17 minutes per pound for medium rare).
  • Take out prime rib and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
  • Mix the potatoes and taste for doneness. If the potatoes are not fully cooked, leave the oven on and continue to cook while the meat is resting. If they are cooked, turn the oven off and keep the potatoes in the oven to keep warm.
  • Slice the prime rib and place on the serving platter. Arrange potatoes around the meat and serve!

Pork Soup Dumplings–Valentine’s Day 2016 (part 1)

Valentine’s Day is just another day for the Kims. We don’t buy each other gifts or go out to a nice restaurant, but it does provide a reason to get flowers for our table and make an elaborate meal at home, not that you ever need a reason to do either. This year’s V-day menu was pork soup dumplings (all from scratch), green beans, and homemade tangerine sorbet with candied tangerine peels, with French 75 cocktails to enjoy throughout.

I spotted this recipe for pork soup dumplings in an issue of Bon Appetit about a year ago and saved it as a “someday” cooking project. Then sometime in the new year it popped up again in BA’s daily email, and with my mild success at making pork buns, I thought I would try it for Valentine’s Day. It was also an excuse to buy Asian soup spoons, which I was thrilled about!

There are three components to soup dumplings: soup, filling, and dough. The soup is made with pork skin, pork bones, and a pig’s foot (as well as some ginger, scallions, and Shaoxing wine). The skin contains so much collagen that when you chill the finished stock, it turns into a Jell-o like consistency, or meat Jell-o, if you will. Then you cut the jelled soup into small cubes and add it to the pork filling. As you steam the filled dumplings, the jelled soup melts and that’s how you get the soup inside the dumpling. The soup itself is simple enough to make–it’s like any other stock, but it does require a trip to an Asian market as conventional butchers don’t necessarily have pig’s feet and straight up pork skin you can buy. It’ll also be the best place to get black vinegar and Shaoxing wine, which you’ll need for the filling and dipping sauce. I also recommend making the soup the day before.

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chilled and cubed jelled soup ready to go into the filling

The filling is really easy. You just mix ground pork with some scallions, garlic, ginger, and other Asian sauces like Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, and sesame seed oil. And if you already cook a lot of Asian food, you will have most of these ingredients in your pantry. If not, as I mentioned above, a trip to the Asian market will get you those ingredients very inexpensively. Once all those ingredients are mixed, you add the cubed jelled soup to it.

Now for the dough. Compared to pork bun dough, this was a breeze. It’s literally just flour and water. You let it rest for an hour (I prepared the filling while it was resting), and then divide it into pieces to be rolled into dumpling skins. I knew shaping the dumplings would be difficult (18 pleats!), but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to roll out the skins themselves. The dough was very sticky, so even when I got the dough into a nice round shape, it would stick to my countertop when I pulled it up, stretching it out and ruining it. I then added more flour to the dough to prevent it from sticking, but then it would get tough.

On top of that, I could not get a handle on how to get the appropriate thickness. The middle of the skins should be thicker (so they don’t break when steamed), and the edges should be thinner so that when you make all those pleats, the top of the dumpling won’t be tough and chewy. My dumplings were the exact opposite. The middle was way too thin, the edges way too thick. In the photo below, you can see my scrapped skins in the top right corner. And those skins on the top left are not exactly circles.

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Luckily, I had a back-up plan. I told a colleague of mine (who happens to be Chinese) that I was making soup dumplings. She commended me for the attempt, but also advised me to buy pre-made skins just in case the dough failed. So while at the Asian market picking up pig’s feet and Shaoxing wine, I grabbed a package of dumpling skins as well. Or what I thought were dumpling skins (there were so many kinds!). I was glad I took my colleague’s advise because the dough failed me, or more accurately, I failed the dough. But when I tried to pleat the store-bought skins, they didn’t stick! I was surprised and frustrated by this, and ended up using my homemade dough anyway because at least I could get it to close. At that point I lost all patience with trying to roll and shape the dumplings correctly, so I just filled and sealed the dumplings anyway I could just to get them made. I figured however misshapen, they would still taste good. It wasn’t until after I made all the dumplings that Andrew stepped in and told me that you have to wet the edges of store-bought skins with water to get them to seal (an embarrassing display of my ignorance, and frankly, my whiteness).

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my ugly dumplings

With the dumplings finally made, I set about steaming them. That was when I truly discovered why you don’t want the bottom of your skins to be too thin, because all the dumplings broke and lost all their soup. So in the end I just made regular dumplings. They were pretty thick and chewy on top because of how I carelessly shaped them, but otherwise they were pretty good, especially with the dipping sauce made of black vinegar, soy sauce, scallions, and ginger. Served with Chinese style green beans and a strong French 75 cocktail, it turned into a rather nice meal.

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I would definitely make this recipe again, but using store-bought skins (making sure to wet the edges with water, of course). It’s just not worth the trouble making the skins by hand. And despite how much I love making meals entirely from scratch, I’m learning that a good home cook also knows when to cut corners and still keep the integrity of the home-cooked meal intact.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post to get the inside scoop on the tangerine sorbet I made for dessert (pun most definitely intended).

Recipes

 

Pizza Party!

When I was growing up, Saturday was pizza night. My mom would order pizza, spread out an old table cloth on the family room floor, and my family of five would eat picnic-style in front of the TV. As kids, it was our weekly treat, and for mom, it was her night off from cooking, so a treat for her as well. Usually we’d watch Jeopardy, or James Bond movies when TNT hosted its annual 007 marathon. It’s a mundane childhood memory, but a fond one all the same.

As an adult, I don’t have a TV, let alone cable. And I don’t have to wait for TNT to watch James Bond movies thanks to Netflix. Instead of ordering in, I can be fancy and make it myself. I also don’t have to wait for Saturday to have it. But there is something comforting about pizza on a Saturday night.

Before I moved in with Andrew, my former roommate Andrea and I would make pizza every so often. Actually, one of the first meals we made together after she first moved in was pizza, which made it very fitting when she and her boyfriend, Scott, gifted us a pizza steel for our wedding. So of course when Andrew and I hosted Andrea and Scott for dinner last Saturday, we had to make them pizza using the pizza steel they got us.

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Andrea and Scott

With me being me, I wanted to make the dough and the sauce from scratch. That was actually the easy part. I found a good dough recipe on Smitten Kitchen, which is honestly a little complicated to read through, but the recipe itself is very easy. You mix flour, yeast, a little salt, and water in a bowl with a large spoon and let it sit over night. That’s it. You don’t need a standing mixer with a dough hook. You don’t have to kneed. You don’t need to adhere to a precise proofing schedule. The dough will look like this after first mixing:

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Then it turn into this after sitting for about 20 hours:

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The dough is a bit sticky and you do have to work it a little to get it into a nice, round pizza shape, but flour your hands and the sticky dough is not much of a problem. Smitten Kitchen’s dough recipe also contains an easy and tasty pizza sauce recipe as well.

Of course, you don’t have to make the dough and sauce from scratch to have good homemade pizza. You can buy dough and sauce at the store and still have damn good pizza. I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. We know it’s delicious. For me, the difficulty in making pizza at home is with transferring the prepared pizza onto the hot pizza steel for baking. Raw pizza dough is notoriously sticky, and it always sticks to whatever I roll it out on, and through my scrambling to try and get it on the steel, I often ruin the pizza entirely or it ends up misshapen. Using cornmeal to coat the bottom does work, but I have to use so much cornmeal that it changes the texture of the bottom of the finished pizza, making it rough and a little grainy. Like sand. Bleh.

What ended up working the best, for texture and for ease, was to prepare the pizza on parchment paper, coating it a little with cornmeal to help keep the dough from sticking while you’re shaping it. Then slide the prepared pizza, parchment and all, onto the hot pizza steel. It slides on without a problem and if it’s not positioned well on the steel, you can take the corners of the parchment and easily adjust the pizza’s position without burning yourself. It’s probably cheating on some level, but it beats ruining the pizza and getting frustrated.

So after some trial and error with our transferring strategy, we came away with four pretty good pizzas. One pizza did perish in the process, requiring me to dip into one of the Trader Joe’s doughs we bought just in case there was a mishap with one of the pieces of homemade dough. At least I planned that well. In the end our plates were a smorgasbord of bread and toppings, with some salad to make ourselves feel like we were being healthy.

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Slices from four pizzas: BBQ chicken w/ cilantro; ricotta with za’atar and ricotta; sausage and mushroom; prosciutto and arugula.

And of course, there was dessert. What kind of Kim dinner party would this be without dessert? I dug into one of my Food 52 cookbooks and found a recipe for Aunt Mariah’s Lemon Sponge Cups. It uses simple ingredients, most of which I already had, and is baked in ramekins, my favorite dessert-delivery method. What intrigued me about the recipe is that it is described as a mix between a souffle and a custard because as the “cups” cook, a spongey cake forms on the top while a lemon custard naturally pools on the bottom. Yes, please!

The trickiest part about this recipe is beating egg whites and folding them into a very liquidy batter. I always have trouble beating egg whites, you know, the two times a year I need to do it. I never really know when they’re stiff enough. How stiff can egg whites really get? I usually end up over beating them so that they start to liquify again, which did indeed happen while I made this recipe. I should YouTube this and get some tips. Or call my mom, who can give cooking advice on almost anything. (Mom, please leave a comment on this post if you have suggestions for me!)

Because the batter was more liquid than batter, I found it difficult to  fold the egg whites into it really well. It just didn’t meld well. There were  definitely some lumps of egg whites. But I didn’t want to over fold and lose the airiness that would give the cups their light and fluffy texture. So I stopped before I could do real damage.

In the end I would give them a score of 7 out of 10. The cake part of the dessert was excellent. It was spongey, had a lovely lemon flavor without being overpowering or too sweet. Look at my beautiful tops:

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But I lost points on the custard. While it tasted good, the texture was off. It was not very smooth, was a bit runny, and did not hold it’s shape when I turned out the ramekins onto a plate. It just spilled all over the plate in a yellow mess. I’m pretty sure this had to do with my egg white problem. This was the only serving that came out decent:

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I will definitely make this again, but next time, I will serve this directly in the ramekins rather than try to be fancy and turn them out. It’ll hide my custard flaws.

Momofuku Pork Buns (part 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, Andrew and I hosted two dinner parties New Year’s weekend. The first dinner was with our siblings, and the second was with our good friends Katy and Josh. They shared valuable wedding tips with us when we first got engaged, and continue to be a support during our first year of marriage. It’s good to have friends who have forged ahead in the Game of Life to help guide those of us coming up the rear. This is their Christmas card. This is how stinking cute they are.

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Katy is a fellow food-lover and blogger and she and I have swapped many recipes and kitchen stories over the years. She’s also very encouraging of my kitchen adventures when I make things way beyond my skill level. So when deciding what to make for her and Josh, pork buns easily made it to the top of the list. It was adventurous, something she probably wouldn’t make herself, and she would be extremely gracious even if it turned out terribly. (Which, we already know it didn’t, thank goodness!)

Since the hard part of the meal (the pork buns) was made the day before, I had time to supplement the meal with additional dishes. To keep with the Asian theme, I served spicy pan-fried noodles, Thai salad (made by Andrew), and mango pudding.

Spicy pan-fried noodles is one of my go-to weeknight recipes. It’s really easy to throw together and the leftovers reheat well. I’ve made it with all kinds of Asian noodles, whatever I had on hand or could find in the store, and it turns out well every single time. The only mishap I had with it this last time was that I forgot we ran out of soy sauce and had to run down to the corner store to get some. It was an inconvenience but nothing earth shattering. But then, right when I drained the cooked noodles, I realized that I didn’t have enough—I meant to double the recipe and realized that I only bought one package of noodles. Noodles are the main ingredient, and I forgot to double it! What is wrong with me? How could I have missed that detail? I was pissed. Making that kind of amateur mistake is just not acceptable to me, especially when I’m hosting. So I was huffing and puffing during the rest of my preparations, disappointed in myself, and rushing because I was running behind (as usual). It was an embarrassing display of childish attitude, even if Andrew was the only one to witness it (God bless his patience), because in the end it was fine. There were plenty of noodles to go around without doubling the recipe.

The Thai salad is Andrew’s take on the Thai chicken salad at Park Chow, a lovely and homey SF restaurant. The key to this salad is the dressing. It’s citrusy and spicy and has a quintessential Asian flavor, which we learned can really only be re-created using two essential ingredients: fish sauce and ground dried shrimp. You can’t taste their individual flavor in the finished dressing, but you can tell when they’re missing. Other than the dressing, the salad is comprised of basic salad ingredients: romaine, red bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, red onion, and roasted peanuts. You can find the full recipe at the end of this post.

So, in addition to the pork buns (which Katy said tasted just like Momofuku’s!), we had a well-rounded menu.

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Noodles and salad

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Now, for the dessert. I am not all that familiar with Asian desserts. So, as one does, I Googled Chinese desserts and mango pudding was one of the first recipes that came up. It’s pretty straight forward to make, like a slightly more involved jell-o. You just have to make it a few hours ahead of when you want to serve so the gelatin can set. I used Chowhound’s recipe and made it for both dinner parties to keep planning simple. The first night I used fresh mangos that weren’t quite ripe enough, and the second time I used frozen mangos to see if there would be a difference in taste. There wasn’t really. Andrew and I noticed a slight difference in texture, but the taste was basically the same. If you make this recipe, use whatever kind of mangoes you prefer. Fresh or frozen, it doesn’t make that much of a difference except in the mess you make cutting the fresh mangoes. Also, no matter which kind of mango you use, you will have leftover mango puree, which I froze and intend to use for mango margaritas next time I host a Latin-themed dinner.

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It was a busy weekend in the kitchen for sure, but a successful one, even with all of my ups and downs. I came out of the weekend with a number of takeaways, including my 2016 New Year Cooking Resolutions:

  1. Improve my planning skills, really reading and understanding recipes before setting out to make them.
  2. Give myself grace when I make mistakes, which I inevitably will.

So cheers to 2016, when I will forgive my flaws, learn from my mistakes, and laugh when all else fails. Happy New Year!

Recipe Links

Thai Salad Dressing

Adapted from Bruce Cost’s “Thai Cucumber Salad” recipe published in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook Volume 1.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 ½ tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp red chili pepper (Serrano or jalapeno works too), sliced into thin rounds
  • 2 tbsp dried baby shrimp (ground)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped red onion and/or cucumber (optional)

METHOD

Mix all the ingredients together. Adjust the fish sauce and/or lime juice to taste. Then, dress your salad with however much dressing you like. For the actual salad, we typically chop romaine lettuce, add red bell pepper and carrot (preferably julienned), red onion, cucumbers, scallions, and top with roasted peanuts. If we want to make it a main meal we’ll add chicken. You can also keep it meatless by adding edamame or tofu as the protein.

 

Momofuku Pork Buns (part 1)

Momofuku is one of my favorite restaurants in New York City. Every time I visit I drag my friends to the noodle bar  so I can have their ginger scallion noodles and pork buns. A few years ago Food 52 posted the recipe for Momofuku’s Pork Buns and I’ve been wanting to make them ever since. The main reason I waited so long to try them was because I didn’t have the necessary cooking tools, specifically a roasting pan, standing mixer, and a steamer. The wedding registry took care of the roasting pan, I was able to borrow a standing mixer from a friend, and the steamer was cheaply procured from a local Asian restaurant supply store. I finally had the necessary tools, a long New Year’s weekend to spend time in my kitchen, and a group of family and friends willing to eat this experiment of mine, because it certainly was an experiment. There was a high likelihood this recipe was going to end in a complete disaster.

Originally, Andrew and I were just going to host our friends Katy and Josh for dinner the day after New Year’s Day. We wanted to make them something they wouldn’t necessarily make themselves, and I took it as a great opportunity to try pork buns. But as I looked at the recipe I realized it made 25 pork buns. Pork buns are delicious, but 25 pork buns for four people is a bit excessive. So when I realized Andrew’s brother, Fred, was still going to be in town over New Years, I invited our siblings over for a New Year’s Day dinner to spend more time with family, but really to have them help eat the leftovers. Well, technically Katy and Josh ate the leftovers as they came over January 2, but they are gracious friends and didn’t take offense that I served them leftovers. Emily Post would not approve, I’m sure. Katy and Josh’s dinner will be recounted in Part 2 of this post, coming soon.

Because I was hosting two dinner parties back-to-back, I had to plan well. I have a bad habit of not reading a recipe in its entirety before cooking. I’ll skim it and say, “I got this,” only to get to mid-way through and realize I missed something critical in the prepping phase and the whole recipe gets thrown off. Then I’m left frantically scrambling to recover and get the recipe back on track without doing too much damage. Pork buns are not something you can just throw together and I made sure I took the time to read through the recipe and plan my day so everything would come together.

I had my schedule of when I was going to start each phase and was ready to roll. Everything was going well. I made the rub of sugar and salt and marinated the pork belly over night. Then I put it in the oven the next morning. While that was cooking I prepped the mango pudding for dessert (more on that in Part 2). That put me right on schedule to start the dough for the buns. Success! I planned well! And then… I missed something critical, in pure Without a Cellar fashion. You need 1/3 of a cup of the rendered fat from the pork for the dough, so you have to make sure the pork is done before you start the buns. I didn’t plan for that. My pork wasn’t going to be done for another hour! In a second I went from being right on time to running behind schedule an hour. UGH. So while I waited, I prepped what I could and cleaned the apartment.

In hindsight, I could have taken the fat I needed before the pork was done cooking, but at the time I thought that would hurt the final outcome of the pork so I just waited. Lesson learned. But finally the pork was done, looking absolutely beautiful, and I had my fat.

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That’s a beautiful lookin’ belly!

I proceeded to mix the dough in the standing mixer and set it in a bowl to rise for an hour. After an hour, I went to punch it down and start on the next step. Only the dough didn’t rise. UGH. Again. I suspect a few things could have gone wrong with the dough:

  1. The yeast was bad, which I doubt.
  2. The room temperature water the recipe instructed to use to dissolve the yeast was actually too cold and I should have used lukewarm water instead.
  3. I should have let the yeast sit and activate for at least a few minutes before adding the other ingredients, an instruction the recipe didn’t say I needed to do.

I suspect bullet #2 was the culprit, so the next time I make pork buns (and I definitely will) I’ll use warmer water. But with siblings coming over in a few hours, it was way too late to try another batch of dough. I just had to move forward with what I had and hope for the best.

The next step was diving the dough and rolling it into balls. The balls were supposed to be about the size of ping pong balls and weigh around 25 grams. After making a few mistakes already with the buns, I didn’t want to take any more unnecessary chances so I literally weighed each ball on my scale.

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Then I let them sit for another 30 minutes so they rise some more. They didn’t. Not that I was surprised since the dough never really rose to begin with. The next step was to roll out the dough in 4-inch ovals, fold them into buns using a chopstick, and place them on individual squares of parchment (cut out while I was waiting for the pork to finish).

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Because the dough didn’t rise, my buns were a bit on the small and thin side, but I did my best. This was fairly time consuming because even though the recipe says it makes 25 servings, you end up making 50 buns, probably because if you are going to go through all of this trouble to make them, you might as well make enough to freeze for later.

After the buns are folded, you let them sit for another 30 – 45 minutes. Then you steam them in batches (on the parchment so they don’t stick) for 10 minutes.

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This is another instance where I miscalculated. With one steamer that only fits 5-6 buns at a time, it didn’t fully register in my brain that it would take about an hour to steam all 50 buns. My plan was to have at least most of the buns steamed by the time everyone arrived. But with my hour delay, I didn’t start cooking until everyone had arrived. Fortunately, I had a few things going for me so that this circumstance didn’t ruin the dinner:

  1. People had food to eat while I finished the buns. I knew making the pork buns would take up all of my time, so I assigned side dishes and appetizers to my sister and sister-in-law.
  2. The pork buns can easily be assembled in batches. As soon as I had enough buns steamed for everyone, I filled the buns with hoisin sauce, pork belly slices, quick-pickled cucumbers, and scallions. And then kept on steaming.
  3. Because I live in a studio, being confined to my kitchen doesn’t mean I have to be away from my guests. They are literally sitting right next to me while I cook. So while it’s not ideal to still be stuck at the stove, at least I can still interact easily with everyone.
  4. I warned everyone this may not turn out well, so I didn’t feel as much pressure to have everything be perfect.

Considering all the mishaps with the dough, the pork buns overall turned out pretty well. The pork belly itself was excellent. Crispy, salty, with excellent texture for being such a fatty cut of meat. The buns were decent. They were a bit dense and dry, and some broke apart at the seams when you opened them. If the dough had risen properly I imagine they would have been softer and more pliable. But they weren’t rock hard and still soft to bite into, and they tasted really good. Not bad at all for a first attempt!

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Sibling and Co. party! From the left: Audrey, Sam, Kristin, Andrew, Fred, and Daniel.

Stay tuned for Momofuku Pork Buns (part 2)…

An EatWith Experience (a semi-review)

My friend Renee’s birthday was a few weeks ago. To celebrate, she organized a group of us to enjoy a meal with EatWith, one of those shared dining experience companies where you go to a chef’s home and they cook you (and 8-10 strangers) dinner. The only other time I’ve been to something like this was with Emily’s First Class Cooking when Andrew and I helped cook the meal. With EatWith, you just show up and eat.

Renee, being the publicist and event extraordinaire that she is, planned this dinner as a private event, so it was just her friends. Here is a picture of the beloved birthday girl:

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Because Renee doesn’t have boring friends, conversation was easy and laughter abounded. It also didn’t hurt that the food was delicious. The meal was Argentinian from start to finish, cooked by Carina Casco, an adorable woman whose hospitality and warmth made the evening even that much more special:

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Here’s a play by play of the evening:

The décor. Carina lives in a charming apartment in Russian Hill/Cow Hollow area. The table was friendly and inviting, set with bright, warm fall colors and mixed-matched tableware.

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Appetizer. The evening started with empanadas and a cocktail of gin, orange juice, and yerba mate. The yerba mate lent the drink a slight bitter tea flavor that cut the sweetness of the orange juice nicely. I never thought about adding tea to cocktails and I highly recommend doing so. The empanadas were also delicious, filled with minced beef, onion, and spices.

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First course. After empanadas, our chef moved us to the main table where we started the first course. The menu said it was chorizo over homemade country bread topped with quail egg, but what it didn’t say was that it also had chimichurri sauce and this bell pepper gremolata-like mixture that was absolutely phenomenal. It had vinegar in it, hence why I loved it, and made the entire dish come together. It was my favorite course of the whole meal. The chorizo was Argentinian and was less salty and fatty than other kinds of sausage. The homemade bread was thick and light, and adding an egg makes any dish go up a few points. I could have just eaten that for dinner and would have been happy. I mean, look at this!

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Main course. Colita de cuadril Rellana (tri-tip) with chimichurri paste in a malbec and carob reduction sauce, served with a side of rustic smoked mashed potatoes. When you break this down, it essentially comes down to meat and potatoes. However, the tri-tip was perfectly pink, the sauce flavorful but not too rich, the chimichurri adding an herbal brightness to liven it up. The potatoes were made with smoked salt to give it a smokey flavor. I’ve never had smoked salt before and it really made the potatoes seem like they were put in a smoker. I wouldn’t have smokey potatoes at every meal because they had a strong flavor, but they went well with the meat and added to the cultural culinary experience we had. Also served was a simple salad of arugula, sprouts, heirloom tomatoes, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and a dressing of salt, parmesean-reggiano, and some sort of acid I couldn’t quite place because I was too busy eating and enjoying everything to bother pin-pointing it. At some point you have to stop analyzing your meal and just enjoy it.

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Cultural Fact: Menus in Argentina often don’t mention salad being served with a meal because it is assumed salad will always be served. Kind of like how we assume French fries will be served with burgers.

The finale. Dessert! The meal concluded with cheesecake de dulce de Leche. Served with a berry compote to add a little tartness to combat the sweetness, this dessert stole the show for the party. You just have to look at it to know how good it was. It was so good, in fact, that Andrew and another member of our party raced to see who could lick their plate clean the fastest. This certainly is not the best dinner etiquette, but the great thing about our EatWith dinner was that we enjoyed the food of a high quality restaurant, but in the atmosphere of a good friend’s home. Granted, if we were at an EatWith dinner in mixed company I doubt this competition would have taken place, but being in a private party allowed us certain liberties. Also, wine was flowing pretty steadily. Enough said.

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Culinary Fact: The difference between dulce de Leche and caramel is that caramel is cooked very quickly with sugar and cream, whereas dulce de Leche is cooked with sugar and milk for a long period of time. Carina cooks her for four hours!

EatWith provided a wonderful evening of great food to celebrate a much loved friend. I look forward to the day when Andrew and I live in a bigger place where we can host 8-10 people so our table looks like this all the time:

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A Vietnamese Themed Dinner

A few months back I saw Jamie Oliver post a recipe for Sweet and Spicy Beer Can Chicken. Not to toot my own horn, but I was quite successful the first time I made it. The flavors were bold, the chicken was juicy, the skin nice and crispy. It’s essentially like a five-spiced chicken and I thought it would go well with a Thai or Vietnamese dish. That’s when I came up with the idea of using it in vermicelli bowls. I’ve never made vermicelli bowls before, but figured it couldn’t be that difficult. Noodles, some vegetables, and a fish sauce to pour on top. Easy peasy.

So when Andrew and I invited our friends Nick, Joe, and Zack over for dinner last week, I decided Vietnamese was the theme for the evening’s menu. We know these sweet fellas through my sister, Kristin. I would tag along with her to her friends’ parties when I was younger and didn’t have very many friends in the city. In those early days I was affectionately referred to by Nick as “the sister.” After years of tagging along to social gatherings, Andrew and I eventually established our own friendship with these guys, and Nick now addresses me by name when we hang out. Friendship.

From left: Zack, Nick, Joe

From left: Zack, Nick, Joe

The full menu of our dinner was Thai shrimp lettuce wraps (courtesy of Andrew), chicken vermicelli bowls, and creme brûlée. I justified that this dessert tied into the dinner’s Asian theme because of Vietnam’s French connection. Also, we added creme brûlée dishes and a blow torch to our registry and I wanted to use them. I’ve never made creme brûlée before and preparing it for the first time for a dinner party was definitely a bit of a gamble, but I have little problem making my friends my culinary guinea pigs even at the risk of public failure. More on the result of this in a little bit.

Back to appetizers. Andrew made Thai shrimp lettuce wraps. Not surprisingly, the recipe he used was based off of Gordon Ramsay’s Chili Beef Lettuce Wraps. Andrew swapped out the beef for shrimp, and used this recipe mainly for the sauce, which is really good. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good pictures of this dish. We were a bit strapped for time and had to scramble a bit to get everything ready in time, which meant I wasn’t able to take as many photos as I would have liked. I’ll do better next time.

The vermicelli bowls were easy to prepare, but a little time consuming. They’re essentially the Vietnamese bi bim bop: a lot of simple, but separate ingredients thrown into a bowl. While the beer can chicken was roasting, I boiled the rice noodles, julienned cucumbers and carrots (which I quick-pickled with some rice vinegar and a little sugar), washed the sprouts, and cut lettuce and mint into thin strips. I put the noodles in a bowl and arranged the remaining ingredients on top, leaving space to place the chicken.

For the sauce, I wanted an authentic recipe, so Andrew (half-joking) told me to find one from someone whose name was Nguyen. Coincidentally, as he was talking, I just happened to be looking at this recipe for Nuoc Cham from Andrea Nguyen. Recipe found. I was unfamiliar with her before I did my search, but she has her own Vietnamese cooking blog with a decent following. Next time I want to cook Vietnamese I will definitely go to her for recipes. You do need to taste the sauce as you make it and adjust the acid and sugar to your liking. Fish sauce can be a bit pungent if not toned down. I also recommend adding chili garlic sauce (tuong ot toi). It really helped balance the flavors.

Again, due to timing constraints, I don’t have a lot of pictures of the chicken or the finished bowls, but I do have a couple good shots of our overall spread. You can see the chicken towards the back, ready to be carved:

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And now for the creme brûlée. I chose Alton Brown’s recipe for no real particular reason other than he makes a mean cheesecake (so his creme brûlée must be pretty good, right?), and because the video in the recipe was helpful. Making the actual custard was simple enough. Infuse heavy cream with vanilla, whisk it with some egg yolks and sugar, and bake. The trouble came with the baking. You’re supposed to put the ramekins filled with the custard in a cake or roasting pan and fill it with water so that it goes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I used two different sized ramekins so the water level wasn’t even for all of them, and I also had trouble fitting them all into one pan, but I managed.

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Brown recommends placing a tea towel into the pan.

Then, because I used two different sized ramekins, I had to take the shallower dishes out of the oven earlier so they wouldn’t overcook. When they’re tightly packed into a pan surrounded by boiling water, this is not easy to do. Andrew suffered a burn on his forearm rescuing them, but luckily no other injuries occurred. When they were all done baking, we put them in the fridge to chill for a few hours before serving. You may be asking at this point why I didn’t use two different pans for the two different sized ramekins. Well, I didn’t have a smaller pan that could fit all of the wide, shallow ramekins and I couldn’t be bothered to use three pans. So I decided to make do with one. I may choose a different approach next time, but this ended up working out okay, if not being the most elegant solution.

After dinner was eaten and we were on our fourth or fifth bottle of wine, we took out the creme brûlée and went to caramelize the sugar on top for that quintessential crust. Alton Brown makes this look really easy, and in theory it is, but in reality it takes some practice. Some of the issues we ran into were:

  • Getting used to the blowtorch and finding the right flame setting
  • Not using enough sugar
  • Using too much sugar, making the crust too thick
  • Not rotating the ramekin enough to get an even crust
  • Heating it for too long, melting the custard back into a cream
  • Having too much wine before caramelizing

We had eight ramekins of baked custard for five people, and ended up eating seven of those eight because we kept trying to get the crust right. We still never quite managed to make a perfect one, but each attempt was still delicious. We just have to make more and keep practicing. Oh darn.

To show you how we struggled, here is a video of one of our later attempts at caramelization. It comes complete with running commentary from our friends on how to do it correctly. Because that’s what friends are for.

And this was the result of that attempt.

The custard was still a little melted, and I suppose if we were patient enough to let it sit or perhaps put it back in the fridge to firm up again that may not have been a problem. But after five or six bottles of wine and halfway through a random bottle of prickly pear liquor (because apparently that is what we drink when we run out of wine rather than walk to the liquor store like normal people), patience was not a virtue we held onto at the time.

In the end the evening was full of good food, good company, and many lessons learned. Keep it in the center!