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)…

The best ramen in San Francisco

It’s December 28 (29th by the time you read this), Christmas is over and 2016 is almost here. Andrew and I were very busy this holiday season and with New Year’s Eve still to come, we are not quite done with our social engagements. I’ll be in my kitchen on New Year’s Day preparing not one, but two, dinner parties we’re hosting this weekend. So in these few quiet days in between, we won’t be cooking much.

Andrew and I have our usual quick and easy restaurants when we don’t feel like cooking. Recently, we added a new one to our list: Coco’s Ramen. It’s in Bernal Heights, on Mission Street, not far from our apartment, and it’s my favorite ramen place. I will even go so far as to say that it is the best ramen in San Francisco. I usually can’t eat an entire bowl of ramen in one sitting. The portions are always too big and often too rich or too salty, depending on what kind of broth I choose. Coco’s Ramen has struck what seemed to be an impossible balance, at least for my palate. Now, whenever it’s cold and we want something warm and comforting, we go to Coco’s. And I eat it all.

Andrew always gets the shoyu ramen, the chicken and pork stock having an aged soy sauce base. It comes with the usual toppings, pork (of which you can choose between two different cuts), nori, egg, and some sprouts, green onions, and bamboo:

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shoyu ramen

I tend to get the miso ramen, which, as the name tells you, has a chicken and pork stock with a miso base. Not that the miso ramen looks much different than the shoyu, but here’s a photo of it anyway:
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miso ramen

I’ve also tried the veggie ramen when I wanted something a little lighter. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as the miso (because how can veggie stock beat pork?), but it was just as good, if not better, than the miso. The broth is very flavorful and you get to choose which kinds of veggies you want, so you can customize it to your liking. I am partial to bamboo, cabbage, and bean sprouts, but you can also get tofu and corn.
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veggie ramen

After eating, our bowls look like this:
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empty ramen

And then we feel like one of these:
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I ate so much I feel like a cow but I’m so happy ramen

Andrew says I should learn to make ramen. But ramen is all about the broth, and I do not have the time or patience to perfect ramen broth, so I will gladly leave it to the professionals at Coco’s. And for my fellow San Franciscans, I know Bernal Heights is out of the way for most of you, but it’s worth the trip. If you need extra incentive, I will gladly be your dinner date!

Project Open Hand (a volunteer’s experience)

The company I work for has an annual day of service, traditionally held on the day of the holiday party. There were a number of places we could choose to volunteer, and I chose Project Open Hand, a non-profit that provides food to seniors and those with illnesses such as cancer, HIV and diabetes. These individuals tend to live in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, a food desert where access to fresh produce tends to be at a liquor store. This population also, in general, live well below the poverty line where every dollar counts, and who really can’t afford fresh, nutritional food.

Project Open Hand is not a soup kitchen serving hot meals. They provide groceries and frozen meals (prepared with fresh, whole ingredients by their in-house kitchen staff and volunteers) for an entire week to clients. Clients choose if they want groceries or prepared meals. Some people want the independence and control of cooking for themselves. Others, based on their medical condition, don’t have the energy to cook healthy meals and need to have meals prepared for them. The frozen meals range from typical American fair to Indian and Chinese food, all adhering to some kind of dietary guideline (vegetarian, dairy-free, etc.), and clients choose what they want based on the diet prescribed by their doctor. They also provide recipes and nutritional education so that clients can prepare meals from the groceries they receive.

Project Open Hand works with the SF health care system. Clients need to provide proof of their condition in order to qualify to receive food. Eligibility is not based on income, just health needs. Mark Zuckerberg could theoretically come in with diabetes (not that he has diabetes) and be eligible. But in general, it’s doctors serving the low-income community who refer patients to Project Open Hand, and as a result of their work, health care costs have gone down. Because when people are taking care of themselves and eating well, they go to the doctor and emergency room less.

Fun Fact: Project Open Hand serves something like 2,500 meals a day and on average have 125 volunteers come in a day. They have regulars who have been volunteering for over 20 years. That is how dedicated these people are and how much purpose and meaning they find through this organization. It’s absolutely astounding.

As a volunteer, there are many areas in which you can serve. My group was split between packaging food and groceries, like you would at a food bank, and chopping vegetables to prep for whatever meal(s) they were cooking that day. I was in the chopping group because, as you know, I like to cook and figured repetitive chopping would be good practice. It was so fun to be in a professional kitchen with the giant mixers and metro racks full of bulk spices. And the staff was amazing. The woman who supervised our chopping was super sweet, and the chef who runs the kitchen was all smiles. Everyone there was in a good mood and having a good time no matter if they were staff or a volunteer. We laughed and sang to 80’s music as we chopped our vegetables. Definitely my kind of cooking.

The chopping itself was not all that exciting (because it’s chopping) but the volume was impressive. They were making ratatouille that day so we spent four hours chopping literally sink-fulls of eggplants…

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… and bell peppers…

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… and parsley and cilantro.

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It was a really fun morning in the kitchen with good people, helping out a great organization. I am definitely going to go back. If you’re in the Bay Area and need a place to go volunteer for your work or church group or even just yourself, I highly encourage you to check out Project Open Hand. It’s truly a remarkable organization that cares very deeply about the community they serve, taking great lengths to make sure their clients are treated with dignity and respect. And they know how to have fun while they do it. It’s a win-win all around.

An Apple Galette, i.e., My Attempt at French Baking

I don’t consider myself to be much of a baker. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I don’t find cake (or cupcakes) particularly interesting. Basically, I’ve dismissed baking sweets as something I don’t really do. As a result, baking is not a skill I have really developed (with the exception of bread, but that is another matter). However, the tides are turning and I am taking a bigger interest in the possibilities that flour, butter, and sugar have to offer a home cook.

Last week I had a potluck with a small group of friends and I signed up for dessert duty with the intention to exercise my weak baking muscle. And since I was going through all of the trouble to bake something for my friends, I decided to bake enough for my coworkers as well. Double the practice, right?

I wanted to make something that would be easy to transport to work, but I didn’t want to bake cookies or brownies. Too obvious. Too plain. I wanted something fancy. But easy-ish. I was making this on a weeknight after all. I ended up choosing to bake Jacques Pepin’s plum galette (i.e. a fruit tart) which is certainly fancy, simple enough in theory, but not the best for traveling via public transportation. I chose to ignore this last fact because I’m stubborn and wanted to make what I wanted to make, even if that meant cutting the thing in half and stacking the pieces into my largest tupperware. (True story, I really did have to do that.)

I liked this recipe because the dough comes together very quickly. Literally 30 seconds. I also liked this recipe because the ingredients are simple. Flour, sugar, butter, fruit, and some almonds and jam for extra flavor. The most time consuming part of the recipe was cutting the apples (I swapped the plums for apples because apples are in season).

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The hardest part of the recipe is rolling out the dough. The recipe says to roll it out on a floured surface. So I dumped it on my countertop and did my thing. When I went to “drape the dough over the rolling pin” I found that the dough had completely stuck to the counter. There was no saving it, even with a dough scraper, and I had to start all over. A number of things probably went wrong here:

  • I didn’t flour the counter enough.
  • I handled the dough too long and it got too warm.
  • I rolled out the dough too thin, despite the recipe saying to roll it into a 16 x 18 inch oval, 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick (that’s thin!).

Rather than try again on the countertop and risk a second failure, I had the brilliant idea to roll the dough directly onto my large rimless baking sheet. It worked like a charm. What wasn’t charming was my French rolling pin skills. This awkward shape is supposed to be a oval, and this was my second galette of the two I made.

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But apart from my dough and rolling pin issues, the rest of the galette was easy to put together. Spread a mixture of sugar, flour, and ground almonds over the dough.

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Add the apple slices on top. Then dot with butter pieces, and cover with more sugar.

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Then fold the edges of the dough over the apples. The dough naturally pleats so you really don’t have to do much in that regard. My problem was that I didn’t roll out the dough evenly and it was quite thin in places. This caused the dough to tear when pulling it off the baking sheet, resulting in not so pretty pleats. The unevenness of the edges was also a problem as it didn’t cover the apples adequately in some places. Below you can see where the dough tore (bottom right corner) and how the crust is larger in some places and smaller in others.

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But after the galette was baked and brushed with raspberry preserves, the cosmetic flaws were a little less noticeable. But more importantly, it tasted good. The crust was buttery and flaky, the fruit sweet. Between the two galettes I made, I had no leftovers to bring home. So while it didn’t score the most points in presentation and technique, it did well in taste, which is what really counts in my kitchen.

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Jacques Pepin’s recipe as taken directly from Food and Wine. (My notes are in parentheses.)

Ingredients

Pate Brisee (aka dough)

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup ice water

Filling

  • 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 pounds large plums—halved, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch wedges (or whatever fruit you’d like, though apples, cherries, and stone fruits work best. Depending on the fruit you choose you may not need exactly 2 1/2 pounds. Use your best judgement on how much would give you a good 2 layers of filling.)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small bits
  • 1/2 cup good-quality plum, apricot or raspberry preserves, strained if chunky or seedy (I used raspberry preserves and skipped straining the seeds because I’m lazy. Feel free to be lazy with me.)

METHOD

  1. MAKE THE PATE BRISEE Put the flour, butter and salt in a food processor and process for 5 seconds; the butter should still be in pieces. Add the ice water and process for 5 seconds longer, just until the dough comes together; the butter should still be visible.
  2. MAKE THE PATE BRISEE Remove the dough from the processor and gather it into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 16-by-18-inch oval 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick. Drape the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a large, heavy baking sheet. Chill the dough until firm, about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°. (I rolled the dough directly onto a rimless baking sheet to skip the hassle of transferring the dough. See also my problems with the dough in the above post, 100% caused by user-error.)
  3. MAKE THE FILLING In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the sugar with the ground almonds and flour. Spread this mixture evenly over the dough to within 2 inches of the edge. Arrange the plum wedges on top and dot with the butter. Sprinkle all but 1 teaspoon of the remaining 1/3 cup sugar over the fruit. Fold the edge of the dough up over the plums to create a 2-inch border. If the dough feels cold and firm, wait for a few minutes until it softens to prevent it from cracking. Sprinkle the border with the reserved 1 teaspoon of sugar. (The almonds are not 100% necessary so if you need to be mindful of nut allergies you can leave these out. I also am tempted to reduce the 1/3 cup sugar to a 1/4 cup. It was almost too sweet for me and one of my coworkers, but other tasters thought it was just right.)
  4. MAKE THE FILLING Bake the galette in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour, until the fruit is very soft and the crust is richly browned. If any juices have leaked onto the baking sheet, slide a knife under the galette to release it from the sheet. Evenly brush the preserves over the hot fruit; brush some up onto the crust, too, if desired. Let the galette cool to room temperature before serving. (It’s really best served the same day you make it. The next day the crust gets a little softer and loses some of it’s great flakiness.)

 

Old-Fashioneds with Candied Oranges

I am not a recipe developer by any means, but I do enjoy tailoring recipes and putting my own spin on things when inspiration strikes. Earlier this month my sister hosted her annual tree-trimming party and she requested I bring a fancy holiday cocktail. For her party last year, I made a spiced cranberry shrub which (per the recommendation of Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars) I mixed with bourbon and topped with champagne for a kind of Christmas cherry bomb. This year I didn’t have the time and energy to make a shrub, but I did have a whole bag of oranges and thought it would be fun to spice up the classic old-fashioned with candied oranges.

I chose Food and Wine’s recipe for candied oranges because it was the least complicated and took only 35 minutes. You really only need three ingredients: sugar, water, and a sliced orange. You can read the recipe yourself, but essentially you bring sugar and water to a boil, and simmer the orange slices until the liquid becomes a syrup and the oranges turn translucent.

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On paper this sounds simple enough, and I started off well, but rather than getting a nice orange-flavored syrup at the end (which I planned to use as the sugar for the cocktail), I instead got hard orange-sugar candy. The second the syrup cooled it solidified. I notoriously have problems with recipes that call for simmering anything with a high sugar content for long periods of time. One time I tried to make grape ketchup and all I got were solid jars of oddly savory grape candy. Part of my trouble is the fact that I continually fail to understand the science and finesse of cooking sugar at high temperatures, and the other part is the recipes I consulted failed to warn me to be mindful of the fine line between making syrup and candy. “Moderate heat” can be fairly subjective and as an inexperienced candy-maker, I did not interpret that instruction well. I knew I was in trouble when the sugar water had reduced to almost nothing and the orange slices started to caramelize/almost burn, as you can see here:

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I pulled the slices out and attempted to save the syrup, which again, was unsuccessful because it solidified into a sugary mass. Despite this complication, the slices themselves still turned out well enough. Some were more heavily coated in hardened sugar than others, but when you put them in glasses of bourbon, the extra sugar melts and adds the sweetness that the syrup would have provided. No harm, no foul.

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In addition to adding candied orange slices into the bourbon, Andrew made bitters-infused ice cubes, so that when the ice melted, the bitters slow-released into the cocktail. This made for a cocktail with a flavor profile that changed as you drank it, the bitters, orange flavor, and sweetness slowly intensifying as you drank. It was kind of like an ever-lasting gobstopper, a cocktail with constantly changing flavors that unfortunately was not as ever-lasting as you wanted it to be because sadly your glass would eventually empty, your only consolation being the delicious, mildly boozy candied orange slice you got to eat at the end.

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So if you go through the trouble of making candied oranges and bitters-infused ice cubes (which is just filling an ice cube tray with water and adding drops of bitters into the water before freezing), the recipe is a simple one:

  1. Pour the bourbon of your choice into a glass (however much you want because I never really measure, but 2 oz is probably good to start with)
  2. Add candied orange slice (you can muddle it a little if you’d like to excrete some more orange flavor, but you want to keep the slice in tact)
  3. Add bitters-infused ice cube
  4. Garnish with regular slice of orange (you can also play around with squeezing a little fresh orange juice into the cocktail)

As you can see, this is not the most precise recipe. Everything can be experimented with and adjusted to taste.

Cheers!

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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