It’s almost here! We’re actually, really, truly getting married this Saturday and I’m so excited I can’t sit still. This is the last post in this series on our reception food, and after that I’ll finally stop yammering to you about it — in three days, we’ll be noshing on these caramelized onion & Boursin tartlets, this spicy ahi poke parfaitini, and slicing into a real-people version of this cake, among other things (like a rosemary-perfumed short rib and vibrant purple Okinawan sweet potato puree, be still my heart). And as our wedding favors, we’ll be handing out this last recipe!
It’s the last installment in B2’s birthday series! You can see parts one (hurricane popcorn!) and two (chicken katsu plate lunch!) here.
These babes aren’t something that B2 actually ever requested I make — I think I mentioned homemade malasadas once, way back, and B2 chewed on the idea and said it just sounded like too much work to make at home. Usually, when he says he’s not so into something, I take it at face value (or else things happen like I know you said you didn’t want Oreos but, Oreos! And they were on sale! and then I have a pack of Oreos to finish by myself. It’s true, there are worse problems to have.) But I figure the thing about birthdays is that, hey, it’s nice to get something you didn’t have to ask for. And there are things that you might like a lot more than you suspect. As it turns out, a platter of warm, yielding, airy malasadas filled with smooth pastel curd, the kind that brings back B2’s childhood memories of school carnivals and afternoon runs to famed neighborhood bakeries, is one of those things.
Guys! This is one of my favorite things ever.
Okay, so I have a long list of “favorite things ever” — mostly involving cheese, chocolate, or not leaving the house — but seriously, this. This is a favorite of favorites.
I first had budae jjigae in a little upstairs joint in K-town, underneath a sea of fairy lights and soju caps dangling from a net-draped ceiling. It was in weather not unlike the kind we’ve been having this week, and the bubbling pot that appeared in front of us was all my winter-comfort dreams come true — spicy, noodly, Spam-y melty-cheese heaven.
Since then, budae jjigae has been a staple of every winter I’ve spent up North, the kind of droolworthy dish that had me waiting for the bus in snowy single-digit Boston weather and struggling through skyscraper wind-tunnels on frigid Manhattan evenings to find. It’s classic comfort food, one that gets its name from harder times, and true to its namesake, it’s loaded up with all things plain but wonderful — instant ramen, salty Spam, chewy rice cakes and silky-soft tofu. The broth is thick and rich, laced with earthy umami tones from kombu and anchovies, dyed fiery-red with kimchi and gochujang, spicy enough to make you sweat even when your fingers are still thawing from the cold outside. It’s a humble, hearty stew, a stew for sharing, and I associate it with the best memories of warm friends on cold winter nights.
It’s a holiday birthday cake!
One of my dearest friends and future bridesmaids (!) had her birthday over Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. As hallmates in law school, we bonded over a mutual love for Waffle House and thick-skinned potstickers. Instead of heated civil rights debates, we discussed the finer points of chicken versus pork ramen broths. (Best law students ever.) Then we both came to New York for work! We ended up just one serendipitous floor apart in the same building. She was one of the first “real life” people I ever told about this little space of mine, and somehow she never gets tired of discussing what I should make next or when I should post what. (Our work situation also means she’s usually the one who gets leftovers from blog shoots on Mondays — I hand them off to her in our shared elevator bank like hot potatoes or illicit contraband and then we run into our separate elevators like be cool, man, be cool!)
Last week I woke up to find that all the leaves outside our window were gone. Now that the trees are mostly bare, we can see a little sliver of the East River from our dining table; it glints blue-green and looks deceptively peaceful on cold, sunny mornings like the ones we had a whole spate of last week. Lately it’s been typical late fall, early winter fare around here — jam-packed schedules and everything hurtling at breakneck speed. Has it been like that for y’all? We’re staying put this Thanksgiving since we’re travelling for Christmas, and even though we’ll be missing our families, I think we’re both looking forward to a peaceful oasis later this week. (Plus, we’ve got oodles of Thanksgiving dumplings in our plans and we’re pret-ty pumped about them!)
Pinch dishes from The Fortynine Studio.
We had a mini impromptu Friendsgiving last weekend! Even in miniature, it was my first time putting together anything remotely like a Thanksgiving meal on my own, and it was so much fun. For the main, I braised an abundance of chicken legs using Jamie Oliver’s milk chicken recipe, which was life-changing and totally worth the hype, at least in my opinion (also, one day I will stop being scared and I will roast a whole chicken, I swear). For the salad we had mixed greens with ridiculously ripe Bosc pears and shaved Parmesan, drizzled with a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil — simple and easy. But my favorite dishes — as it should be with Thanksgiving — were these sides.
This week, a new class of associates is starting at my firm. This is strange for a whole host of reasons (like, wait, I still don’t know anything, how can anyone be junior to me?) but mostly because it doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed since I started. Maybe the thing that stands out to me most about this new “grown” quotidian is that time suddenly feels a little unchained. Instead of living life in neat, segmented bites of time, fed to us through semesters, summer breaks, and midterms, it’s now nebulous seasons, the next three-day weekend, a new wave of co-workers.
So it all feels more free-form, and hallmarks seem to ambush me a little more. (Do not let me say “I can’t believe it’s almost [insert month or holiday]” again. … But really I can’t believe it’s almost October.) I realized while making this bread that it was only about a year ago that I first ventured into baking with yeast. Which is remarkable, because even though I still find rising dough completely crazy — it’s alive — it’s now hard to imagine a kitchen without it.
This loaf might just be my favorite yeasty recipe in my nascent bread-making life. I was a tad freaked when I first started testing recipes for it, given that Hokkaido milk bread has a reputation just about as lofty as its sky-high crumb — but thanks to a recipe adapted from this one by Christine’s Recipes, the result was everything I imagined it would be. Soft, wispy sheets of bread with a rich, tender crumb and just a touch of sweetness, good enough to eat plain, but even better toasted and smothered in condensed milk. You can find the recipe on Food52.
Wishing you all lovely weeks ahead!
Summer has arrived! After the obstinate winter and temperamental spring we’ve had this year, I was convinced that New York was going to throw down the humid-est of humid New York summers on us, just to be the cruelest mistress it could possibly be. But instead, the universe has reminded me Cynthia, be a smidge more optimistic — and this summer has been nothing short of spectacular (so far). With the exception of a few rainy days earlier this month, June has been just an abundance of breezy, cool mornings, warm summer nights, and gentle sunshine.
On the table, there’s been tart raspberries and ripe figs, icy-cold affogatos and our first homemade corn on the cob. Off the table, we’ve had lazy afternoon strolls, evenings with cool air wafting in through open windows. A balmy, sun-soaked picnic in Prospect Park, where I met the most incredibly lovely people, gave my shoulders a good toasting, and my heart to this little guy. The days are gloriously long, the kind where you get home after a long productive trek and find that it’s only 3 PM, the sunlight is streaming through the windows, and you still have practically an entire day laid out before you — one of my favorite feelings.
A few weeks ago, I posted some teeny pies with a dollop of vague, cryptic dazed-happy-whirlwind news on the side. The news was … as some of you dear friends guessed … that we’re engaged! The Two Red Bowls are getting married!
(Also, yes, I got him a ring too. The party line is that it’s egalitarian and modern, but really, I was just impatient and love buying shiny presents.)
I really wanted to think of a food for this post that meant something to B2 and me. And ideally something that would go in the two red bowls that started this whole blog off. Then, after Mandy posted these incredible pineapple buns, it came to me — BBQ pork pineapple buns, as inspired by Tim Ho Wan. And now I will tell you a long and hopefully not boring story about us, our bowls, and where these buns fit in. You can go to sleep and wake up at the end for the recipe, I won’t mind.
Bowl #2 says his first impression of me was in one of our first classes in law school. Some of our professors have a lovely tradition of “cold-calling,” or calling on students at random to answer questions instead of asking for volunteers. Some people handle this process with grace and dignity. Others, like me, black out in terror and lose their handle on the English language. So Bowl #2’s recollection was something like this: “Oh, yeah, I noticed you really early. You were that girl who got cold-called first that day. And I remember thinking, boy, she looks scared sh*tless.” The first time he told me this, I fluffed up like a vain little bird in anticipation of what he’d say and then deflated somewhat suddenly.
That actually has nothing to do with Tim Ho Wan, I just think it’s funny. We were friends for most of law school, and didn’t begin dating until just before the beginning of our third year — or, right before a semester where I’d be studying abroad in Hong Kong. (Impeccable timing.) Long-distance relationships are always crazy fun (sarcasm) but never more fun than when they start that way, so it was a little bit of an uncertain time for us, with a few ups and downs.
Bowl #2 came to visit me about halfway through the semester. We did a whole lot of eating, but for only being in Hong Kong two weeks, I took him to Tim Ho Wan an embarrassing number of times, always for these baked buns. They’re the love child of two of Hong Kong’s best treasures — their famous pineapple buns, sweet and pillow-soft rolls with a crisp, sugary crust baked on top, and their char siu baked buns, rolls with juicy, sweet and savory caramelized roasted pork chopped up and tucked inside. We had an inappropriate number of these — and at a time where things were falling into place, and where what we were was becoming clearer and steadier and more and more wonderful. So I think they’ve come to represent a time that was truly special to us.
So, this weather, huh? I’d originally planned to post this ice cream that I can’t stop talking about, but then I heard it was supposed to be, you know, kinda cold outside this week. And somehow it seems like bad form to post something frozen when people are in danger of actually freezing. (Stay warm, folks!) So let’s talk about the ultimate warming food instead — chili. With chocolate!
The beauty of cooking for yourself is that you can make your food taste exactly how you like it best. It’s probably why I started cooking in the first place — dislike of overcooked pasta that mushes in your mouth, thinly tart tomato sauces, puckery-sour and flat at the same time. I like tomato-based sauces sweet, thick, and robust, with a healthy dose of brown sugar. In the same way, I love chili that is hearty, full of ground beef, sweetly smoky and spicy. (And, of course, cheesy as f.) No watery chili with more beans than beef for me.