For the first time in recent memory, easing back into the “real world” after the holidays hasn’t been as gruesome as I expected it to be. After our fair share of family fun and impromptu New Year’s parties and various friends in town, I think these quiet January weekends are still suiting us all right. Any brief attacks of post-holiday bluesy-ness have been quelled by things like: spending a Saturday night giving B2 an impromptu man-makeover (new discovery: I love buzzcuts), eating leftover Christmas chocolate for breakfast, streaming Friends on Netflix, and ugly-crying super hard at the latest episode of Parenthood. (That show gets me every time. But at least bawling my eyes out is cathartic?)
B2 and I spontaneously decided to work from home together yesterday. As mundane as it sounds, I think it was the best decision we’ve made in weeks — instead of the usual Monday malaise, feeling sluggish amid a flurry of phone calls and emails, we spent a quiet, pajama-clad day at our sun-warmed dining table, with home-brewed coffee and baked oatmeal, getting more done than we — or at least I — ever would have in the office. (Except when B2 farted in the middle of my conference call and I spent the rest of it laughing instead of listening to my co-worker.)
Here is a rough portrait of my skills and strengths when I was 18: Falling on my face on the soccer field. Organizing a MySpace Top 8. Driving badly. Sending 120-character text messages on my awesome flip phone (but only to ask when we’re meeting up to get burritos or if so-and-so needs a ride, because no one has real conversations over texts, don’t be crazy). Composing AIM away messages with carefully curated song lyrics that mean things. And making Kraft macaroni & cheese.
I say all this because, in slight contrast, a gal we all know and love spent her 18th year (and 17th!) single-handedly cooking for, shooting, and writing a cookbook. While continuing an award-winning blog. And still attending, and casually kicking butt in, high school. A cookbook, you guys! Izy is literally too cool for school.
The thing is, Izy’s gorgeous book isn’t a cookbook that’s marvelous because she’s 18 — it’s a marvel all on its own. Every page is filled with a keen sense of taste, a love for food, and an eye for art that age doesn’t bestow. Not to mention the most wonderful, genuine personality (which I can attest to, having met the lovely Izy in person back in May!) that shows that the greatest inspiration is both inside and out.
When I came across this recipe for double chocolate muffins in Izy’s cookbook, I knew instantly what I’d be making first. I’ve been on a years-long hunt for the perfect chocolate muffin — the kind that draws you in at the coffee shop, your face to the glass of the display window, and has you clutching a wax-paper bag before you know what hit you; the ones with a satisfying layer of chocolate chunks studded on top and a comfortingly dense crumb, decadent without being too sweet. I’ve tested a few recipes, but with middling success, and after awhile I just shelved the idea in pursuit of less classically legendary desserts and more attainable goals.
But when I flipped to Izy’s version, I knew the search was over. Izy’s recipe is stocked full of whole grains and hefty oat flour, but also an extra generous helping of cocoa and dark chocolate — together, the combination yields a muffin that feels just hearty enough to enter totally-justified breakfast territory, while still chocolate-y enough that you know you’re getting away with eating dessert for breakfast. And that’s the whole beauty of Izy’s book. It’s the perfect balance between decadence and nourishment, healthfulness and flavor, without suggesting that there’s ever been a compromise.
I kind of think any day that begins with homemade pancakes is bound to be a good one. Our Fourth of July began with these. There was no work for either of us (a real rarity for Bowl #2), no grand cookout plans or things that needed doing, just a quiet, rainy day with these pancakes, video games, and the glorious return of the fireworks to the East River on the horizon. (By the way, I also think any day that begins with the boot-up jingle of a video game console is guaranteed to be a winner. Regardless of how old you are.)
The idea for these began in the leftover cream and milk from the ricotta I made a few weeks ago, but it didn’t become a plan until I was digging around in the recesses of our crisper drawers and found (in a fit of excitement) a hefty bag of Meyer lemons that our friends left us when they moved out. (If you have friends moving out of their apartments, especially super cool and food-savvy friends with penchants for fancy brands of mustard, move in. They will leave you three types of jam you’ve never heard of and Thai drinking vinegar and hardy fresh oregano that refuses to die under your black thumb. And three weeks later you will find inexplicably fresh Meyer lemons.)
Lemon ricotta pancakes are as fluffy as their buttermilk counterparts, but the ricotta lends them a creamier, denser texture and flavor, while an extra egg adds a hint of custard to the mix. The “Meyer”-ness of the lemons is at its height when zested, and the extra zest on top is lively, yet sweet. But what truly stole my heart was the chamomile whip — the light floral notes from the tea add an irresistible buoyancy to heavy cream, even without any extra sugar. Whipped cream at breakfast (waffles!) always seems to add a touch of celebration to the whole meal, but this delicate chamomile confection takes it to a new level. The perfect start to a long weekend.
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!
I never used to be interested in anything red bean, growing up. Which is funny, given that it was one of the first Asian desserts I’ve made on this blog. Maybe like the Eastern equivalent of vanilla ice cream, it struck me as boring, and (knowing me and my tendency towards decadence) I always liked to opt for the sweeter, creamier yellow custard steamed buns, or the lotus paste mooncakes, leaving their red bean sisters to my parents. But recently good old red beans have experienced a little resurgence for me — as richer foods tend to overwhelm me more easily these days, red bean paste and sweets have truly grown on me as a comforting, home-like sweet that is flavorful but not cloying.
Which was why I decided a few weeks ago to stick it in a very new love of mine — glorious, glorious brioche. (Did I just say that rich foods tend to overwhelm me? Did I? Hmm.) Brioche has been on my to-make list for months, but I’ve been scared off by the idea of hand-kneading it, with its illogical 40% fat content, a stick of butter masquerading as a dough. And then the genius godsends that are Sarah Kieffer and Artisan Bread in 5 came into my life, and … the rest is history. The result is a slow-rise, no-knead (!) brioche that is just as decadent and delicious as its traditionally hand-kneaded counterpart — still fluffy, soft, and sweet, but with only half the butter and little to none of the fuss. I’m obsessed.
Can I just say, first, before anything else? Guys. This weather. I know it’s supposed to get chilly again this week, but this Sunday’s weather was in-cred-ible. I’m unabashedly one of those people whose moods are starkly affected by the weather outside, and this weekend was just sublime. It finally feels like spring! And just in time for Easter.
Happy first week of spring! Eeeee. Spring and early summer are my favorite times of year. Even though it doesn’t feel terribly spring-like yet up here, I’m still reveling in the abundance of sunlight from the longer days we’re having, the few spots of balmy weather here and there, and the promise of warmth to come.
In anticipation of longer and lazier days, today I have a small piece up on Verily Magazine (yay!) on how to make Clinton Street Baking Company’s venerated pancakes, scaled down for just two. This piece was one of my favorites to shoot — pancakes, for one, are always fun to style, but especially so when you have the freedom of making someone else’s tried-and-true recipe (let alone one Neil Kleinberg’s award-winning world-famous tried-and-true recipe), and especially especially so when I get to snag a certain Bowl #2’s good-lookin’ hands for a little cameo. There’s nothing I don’t like doing with him, and it was so much fun (for me, at least!) to incorporate the man I love into the endeavor I love. Now that I know how much fun it is to have him model for me, I don’t know if you’ll ever see my monster hands on here again. 😉
Hope everyone’s having a wonderful Monday!
Work has been busy lately. Before I started these law shenanigans, I dreaded the times I’d say that phrase. I had friends in undergrad and law school who used to say that they’d go stir-crazy with nothing to do for too long, which I never understood at the time. I thought of myself as the kind of person who’d always be totally okay with having nothing to do. I am so good at doing nothing, guys. (And then, usually, making way too many unnecessary messes in the kitchen.)
But it turns out I can get a little stir-crazy too. The nature of our jobs is usually cyclical, dependent on the case or the deal, and it’s naturally slow at times or crazy at others. And, contrary to what I expected, I’m finding that sometimes my stress actually comes from the slow times. My guess is that it all boils down to the simple fear of the unknown — a knot in my stomach from the feeling that if I’m slow now, and twiddling my thumbs now … then sooner or later it’s bound to come back to bite me in the form of sleepless nights and working weekends. So when the busy time does arrive, at least I know this is what I’m getting.
Without a doubt, though, the best part about work getting busy is the moment when it finally isn’t, and it settles down. How extremely Friday-like Friday feels when it comes at the tail-end of some long hours. And how luxuriously lazy a Sunday brunch at home is when my kitchen and my time is at my disposal.
I’ve grown up eating savory-sweet food all my life. I thought it was just a quirk of my mother’s to add sugar to everything until I looked up Shanghainese cuisine on Wikipedia a few years ago and found that, evidently, it’s a Shanghai thing. Nowadays, I follow exactly in my mom’s footsteps and add a bit (or a lot) of sugar to almost everything I make — pasta sauces, soy sauce glazes, stews, whatever. I drench my sausage links in maple syrup. (One of my earliest memories is dunking sausage links in maple syrup at Bob Evans. What an underrated restaurant. Did anyone else have family dinners there?)
But the advent of adding savory to sweet only came upon me recently — mainly in the addition of bacon. To everything. Most recently, chocolate chip cookies and pancakes. I can understand feeling squeamish about bacon in chocolate chip cookies — but in pancakes? The bacon’s usually right next to them anyway. It’s only right. It just makes life easier. And infinitely more delicious.
For these, I just used the same go-to “buttermilk” pancake base that I got from Joy the Baker. I’ve never looked back since trying it — it’s fluffy, pillowy-soft but substantial, and it gives your local diner’s version a run for its money. I put buttermilk in quotes because I’ve never actually used buttermilk in it — I always use a mix of half Greek yogurt and half milk (any kind, almond, soy, or regular) and it’s never steered me wrong. I don’t think you’d ever guess it wasn’t buttermilk pancakes straight from IHOP or your favorite diner.
And then I added bacon!
So. Good. (Oh yeah, and that’s me deciding that ramekin of maple syrup wasn’t enough and getting serious with the Aunt Jemima.) Edit: Since a lot of you don’t like savory and sweet together — totally understandable — I just wanted to add that this pancake base is phenomenal with pretty much anything. Slices of banana, blueberries, Reese’s Pieces (!), or, if you’re feeling super decadent, instant espresso, chocolate chips, and Nutella. My personal favorite after bacon might be Reese’s Pieces — seriously awesome. And I never find I need syrup with those, so it might balance out to be better for you?! Relatively.
This is what we’re having for Christmas morning this year — hope you have something equally comforting and cozy lined up, too. And if not, try this. 😉 Merry Christmas, friends!