You guys, I am so excited about these next few months. It’s Thanksgiving soon, which means feasting galore (and sides-a-palooza!), and after that it’s the run-up to Christmas, which is pretty much a giant, no-holds-barred excuse to bake every single holiday cookie I can think of, and then it’s Christmas for real, and we’ll be flying out to see my family for the first time in over a year! Such good things ahead.
Guys, guess what! Jessica’s having a baby, and we’re throwing a How Sweet It Is baby shower! I love babies and I love How Sweet It Is and I’m so excited.
Do you read Jessica’s blog? (Your answer: Duh.) The first post I can really remember sticking on is this one, and I think it fairly sums up all the things that are so special about this lady. Luscious, crackly-topped chocolate (dipped in more chocolate with chocolate sprinkles on top) plus a story on living out of your suitcase for a week after coming home — hers is the kind of writing that you can’t read without smiling, and without saying me too me too! It’s that sort of voice that makes her feel instantly known to you, a forever friend in 200 words (or 2300 words), even if she might not ever know you’re reading. It’s the happiest sort of blogging — sharing a part of yourself to bring sunshine into someone’s day and delicious food onto their table. And I mean, sentimentality aside — she puts bacon in her cinnamon rolls. Enough said.
So, if you’ve been around this blog (or on the Internet in general) for more than half a second, I think you just might be familiar with the work of art that is my dear friend Stephanie’s i am a food blog. It’s got awards galore under its belt; it’s home to my favorite Sunday reading. It’s always got something unbelievably cute and mini, or else it’s swoon-worthy melting and cheesy (or cute, mini, and melting-cheesy), and no matter what her latest post is, it’s always delicious, and always as stunning as it is delicious.
Long story short, Stephanie’s created one of my favorite places on the web — and now the best news is that she’s morphed it into a cookbook that’s every bit as wonderful! I’m in awe of this book. It’s 99 flawless recipes, each with their own endearing, catch-up-over-coffee anecdotes, vibrant photos, and their own graphics. And every page, cover to cover, is designed by Steph herself. I read it on the subway home from work last week, and one stop from home, I looked up to find both my seat-neighbors craning over my shoulders to read it, too. It’s that great.
If you read Stephanie’s blog, you’ll know that she’s not just one of the most talented bloggers around — she’s also one of the most cheerful, genuine, and caring people I’ve had the honor of calling a friend. (Not to mention the humblest!) The best part about Easy Gourmet is that that fun-loving, approachable personality shines through in every page. For every recipe that breathes new life into an old classic with joyful, Stephanie-esque spirit, there’s a recipe that makes an otherwise intimidating technique seem accessible, fun, and inviting thanks to her guiding words.
For me, risotto was the latter, and I knew instantly that if I ever successfully made it, it’d be with Steph as my guide. Sure enough, Stephanie’s easy-going, friendly instructions led me straight into these plates of savory, comforting, Italian goodness. One bite took me straight back to the first revelatory taste of risotto I ever had, and if I didn’t see my own hands make it in front of my eyes, I might not have believed it was me. So good.
In a book that’s all about the easy, Steph has done what is, in a lot of ways, most difficult — she’s put a finger on the real, the wholesome, the crave-worthy food that’s accessible yet fantastic (or, should we say, easy yet gourmet?!) I’m in love with it, and I have no doubt you will be, too.
Courtesy of Page Street Publishing, I’m giving away one copy of Easy Gourmet: Awesome Recipes Anyone Can Cook! To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below telling me a kitchen skill or special dish you’ve been meaning to conquer. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents, and ends next Tuesday, September 30th at 11:59 PM EST!
The giveaway has closed! Big yays for Lily Sheng! Look out for an email with more details. I hope you adore Stephanie’s new book.
So here’s what happens when you live with someone who is usually indifferent to food. You’ll go for weeks racking your brain for what to make for dinner or what to post on your blog, procrastinating at work by making lists and going down Pinterest rabbit holes, feeling generally uninspired … and then one day, as you’re drifting off to sleep, he’ll pipe up casually with something like, “Hey … what about bulgogi nachos?” And then you won’t go to bed for another 20 minutes (while he falls asleep right after) and you’ll spend about 10 seconds of that thinking why didn’t I think of that! and the other 19 minutes and 50 seconds contemplating whether making nachos at 1 AM on a Wednesday is a normal and worthy endeavor.
And then, as soon as you can (though maybe not at 1 AM), you make them and post about them. Because dude, bulgogi nachos. With kimchi, and plenty of melted cheese, and a pile of spicy greens on top? Perfection. Of course, Korean Mexican fusion is nothing new, and it receives a healthy share of ire as the poster child (it seems) of what people perceive as unnecessary fusion cuisines, but I really feel like it works here. The well-salted tortilla chips are a fantastic balance to the savory-sweet beef bulgogi, and the tang from the kimchi helps liven up those otherwise heavy flavors. And anyone who’s been here in Cambridge knows that there’s nothing closer to heaven than a healthy pile of melted mozzarella on tender Asian-marinated beef.
The best part is that I’m not the only one feeling the need to put Asian food on nachos this week (which is how you know you’re onto something!) because Steph at I Am a Food Blog put a California roll all on tortilla chips and it looks so, so good. Can I just start a diet where I eat only things on nachos? I feel nothing but good things and low cholesterol can come of this.
According to my mother, ours is a wonton household. I grew up watching my parents deftly fold armies of plump little wonton soldiers at the kitchen table, watching my mother boil plate after plate of them, slurping copious bowls of soup, and, if I was lucky, crunching into a panful of fried wontons on a special occasion. But when it came to dumplings, our consumption was mainly of the frozen variety — bought in bulk and boiled or pan-fried by my dad on weekend lunch duty. (The other two members of the rotation were ramen and Papa John’s. In other words, weekend lunches were the best.)
So, when I set out to make dumplings from scratch last year, I didn’t have a whole lot of experience behind me. But it turns out they’re delightful. The dough is simplicity at its best, and I find the pleating miles easier than the flip-and-twist-and-seal dance that wontons call for. I think they’d be perfect for an afternoon when you have a little extra time on your hands, or a DIY dinner party (which, I guess, is why dumpling parties are a thing). You can find my take on potstickers, plus recipes for three different fillings, over at Verily Magazine this morning. Hope you’re all having lovely weeks!
My mom makes a killer pan-seared salmon. I don’t know whether I’ve devoted any time yet here to my mother and her cooking, which is honestly a travesty, since she’s one of the best cooks I know. In that je-ne-sais-quoi Asian mother way, with no recipes or measuring cups in sight, just an unflappable fearlessness and an apparent instinct in the kitchen. (Also, an apron with fluffy sleeves.)
Anyway, her salmon is only one of the many killer foods she has at her disposal, but it has to be one of the best. It has all the most fundamental elements you’d expect from home-cooked Chinese food — healthy slices of ginger, smashed garlic, and green onions, the deafening hiss-roar when cold food meets a smoking-hot wok (when it’s me at the stove, usually also popping oil and yelps of pain), a splash of shaoxing rice wine, a sweet soy sauce glaze. Done right, the fish is melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a crisp and flavorful caramelized skin.
Unfortunately, there are about seventy-four million ways it can be done wrong, all of which I handily did when I asked how to make it a few years ago — cooking it on too high heat and burning it black before the center cooks through, cooking it on too low heat and ending up with a flavorless pink slab, adding too much soy sauce and feeling like you took a wrong turn and ended up in a hibachi joint by accident. And though you can get the hang of it through practice (or through whatever culinary gifts are mysteriously bestowed upon Chinese mothers), sometimes you just don’t feel like sweating over a sizzling wok, right?
Which is why I’ve recently taken to steaming the salmon en papillote. With the one caveat that you don’t get that crisp, buttery salmon skin (arguably the best part, for some people), steaming in parchment is amazing. It’s easy as pie (easier, actually, since pie is kind of hard) and it’s so predictably delicious, every single time. It’s kind of my favorite way ever to make fish, and I’m sharing it over at Verily Magazine this week. You can check it out here, along with a few super easy recipes for broccoli stem salad and steamed broccoli. Hope you’re all having a wonderful week!
It’s Bowl #2’s birthday today! Hip hip hooray!
Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed this year, because our recent life whirlwind bit me in the butt and I didn’t have anything particularly special planned for him – unlike last year’s Hawaii food–stravaganza. It’s particularly tragic because my man has been so downright amazing lately — powering through my brother’s visit, an estrogen-packed few days in Vegas, and an apartment move (hyper-organized and virtually stress-free, all thanks to him). On top of that, he’s been absolutely slammed with work. To say he’s been a trooper and the best fiance a girl could ask for is a gross understatement.
Luckily (or, even luckier) for me and my lack of birthday planning, Bowl #2 is low-maintenance, especially when it comes to food. In a sharp and somewhat baffling contrast to me (indiscriminate gluttony personified) he has about six edibles and potables that he’s wild about:
- Spicy ahi poke.
- Bacon, scrambled eggs & rice. (Every single time I make this he says, “This looks amazing!” like I just whipped up a tower of soufflés.)
- Kimchi fried rice. (In fact, kimchi anything.)
- And lastly … chamchi kimbap.
After such a long and lingering winter this year, it feels like this late, coy spring is hurtling into summer faster than I can keep up with. One moment it was snowing in April, a perpetual winter, a movie on pause, and the next it was everything at once — an 80-degree Memorial Day, violently green foliage everywhere we look, another year’s worth of friends getting illustrious degrees, my brother finishing his freshman year and coming to visit New York for the first time. A wedding venue booked (!), a date set, a trip to Vegas to celebrate some amazing friends. Our first New York lease on the cusp of expiring, an apartment move next weekend.
With the whirlwind of things that have been happening lately, this past long weekend could not have been more welcome. There were things to do, but spread out over three days instead of two, it gave us the chance to take a couple much-needed deep breaths, pump the brakes a little, and relax. We took a break from packing to watch Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, which appealed to every sentimental whim of my English major heart; we enjoyed our favorite things about this creaky “has character” apartment in our last weekend before the move, like the green-tinged, dappled sunlight that filters lazily through our vine-covered balcony in the early afternoons. (And the in-apartment washer-dryer. We’ll miss you, world’s oldest and smallest washer and dryer. You may have been highly inefficient, you may have threatened to explode, but you were in our apartment.)
Back when I lived in Boston, I used to catch a bus to New York on weekends that let off at the corner of 34th and 8th. Just near there, squeezed between a Wendy’s and a Burger King, there was a tiny no-name bakery (unless it was called “$5 lunch & dinner,” which was the only sign I could see) that sold some of the tastiest steamed buns I’ve ever had in New York — enormous, fluffy, snow white, and just a couple bucks apiece. For a time, every return trip from New York found me clutching at least two (or three, or four) of those buns, tucked neatly in their wax paper jackets, for the ride back.
As a full-time New Yorker (and Brooklyner) nowadays, I don’t have much occasion to be in that area anymore. But the awesome thing about these buns is that they’re actually pretty simple (albeit a little time-consuming) to make on your own. My version is up on Food52 today, with a couple of incarnations included for red bean steamed buns, pork & vegetable, and my absolute favorite, shengjian bao, or panfried pork steamed buns. Which is fitting, since they’re a Shanghainese specialty (though I actually didn’t know that it was until I was raving to my dad about how much I loved them recently. Let’s call that being unconsciously Shanghainese, not being uninformed-ly Shanghainese.)
You can check out the recipe(s) here. (Or, if you’re feeling extra badass, check out this breakfast-sandwich-meets-SJB lovechild that only The Molly Yeh could dream up — bacon & egg shengjian bao. Oh yeah.) Happy Friday!
Sometimes it tickles me to realize what a sliver of things show up in this little blog life of mine. For instance, an abbreviated list of the wide expanse of Things that Happen and are Not Pictured in my Non-Blog Life:
- Cleaning up artful mess
- Cleaning up artless mess
- Fits of food rage (RIP mini cakes)
- More dishes
- Realizing a long time later that I forgot to clean up artful mess because I was too excited about eating
- Sometimes work
- Spilling flour
- Spilling everything else
- Lots and lots of delivery pizza*
*By delivery, I really only mean Papa John’s. I know, I know, in New York. A New York slice is a thing much appreciated. But for elastic-waistband-pigging-out, there’s no love like our Papa J’s love, y’all. To the point where we’ve adapted their weekly specials into our everyday vocabulary (“Early Week Mania” Monday through Wednesday guys, just sayin’).