2016: Year of Asian Noodles

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Dear Readers,
Somehow it is February. And I've been "thinking" about several posts, but have made zero progress getting the words down, so instead here's one from the husband. Enjoy! 

Back in 2012, the wife and I declared a combined new year’s resolution: learn to make Korean food. Although we dug deep into various recipes in books and online (you still inspire me, Maangi), we never quite cracked the culinary code in a truly authentic way. We came close, and to this day our bulgogi, banchan, and kim chi stew are better for it. 

Here in 2016, my sights are set on homemade noodles. I’ve made simple egg noodles sporadically for several years, the process easily worth the extra effort in texture and flavor. I’ve even taught a community course on the subject! But one day recently, hungry and having opened the fridge one too many times thinking I’d find something new to eat, I grasped the container of plain leftover egg noodles I had made for an Italian dinner a few nights back. Too lazy to make a quick red sauce, my pasta thoughts began a trek from Italy, through Marco Polo (who just might share my Croatian ancestry) back to the source of the noodle: China.

4000 years ago, says my cursory research, the Chinese changed food history by mixing flour and water together and boiling it in stretched out ribbons. That great culinary moment in history came alive and crashed down on me as I made a quick sesame and oyster sauce, poured it on the noodles, and topped it with green onions from the garden. This wasn’t exactly traditional Chinese cooking, but I felt like a whole noodle world was opening up to me with each bite. From this very meal, I wanted to start refining my noodle-making abilities and establish legitimate Chinese sauces in my cooking repertoire.

My “cooking repertoire” is a loose term that is only half-defined by me in the kitchen. The other half, and most of the real cooking skills, is usually handled by the blog lady. It’s a common culinary theme between us that I engage in making the unglamorous things—bread, sausage, pasta—from the raw materials of the pantry. The wife then takes these ingredients, elevating them to the level of a satisfying meal. In this case, I mixed the water, flour, and eggs and got the noodles ready. The wife, craving something akin to Dan Dan noodles, got a pan out to create a peanut sesame sauce. My noodles still have more of an Italian pasta feel than an Asian one, but once topped with the Dan Dan sauce, it worked. Spicy, but cooled by matchstick cut cucumbers, earthy, and deeply satisfying, the dish was a success. On to the next noodle challenge.   
Recently, we spent a few hours at Descanso Gardens, trying to tire out the little guy. Instead, he tired us out, running wild, saying "HI!" to all the old ladies, and screaming after ducks. It was a blast, and below is one of my favorite shots from the day. 
Dan-Dan Noodles
loosely based on a recipe from FOOD52

5.3 ounces ground pork
chili oil (apparently you can make your own, but I had some on hand)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
4 cloves of garlic
1 piece of ginger, approximately 1 tablespoon
2 -3 tbsp douban chili paste, depending on saltiness (I didn’t have this or know what it is, so I used Koread pepper paste instead)
3 1/2tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter
1/2 tsp ground red sichuan peppercorn (omitted)
2 tbsp rice wine
2 1/4  cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bunch of Asian noodles
Chopped scallions or cilantro, for garnish (I used both, and added cucumbers as well)

1) Mix the pork evenly with soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside. Purée garlic, ginger, douban paste, and peanut butter in a food processor until smooth. You don’t have to do this if you don’t mind the sometimes chunky texture of douban paste (I didn’t do this!) -- just mince the garlic and ginger, then combine it with douban paste and peanut butter. In a medium heavy-bottom pot, nicely brown the pork in 1 tbsp of oil. 

2) Add the ground red sichuan peppercorn, puréed paste and sauté until fragrant, with some brown bits forming at the bottom of the pot, approximately 2 minutes.

3) Add the rice wine and deglaze the pot, then add the chicken stock and simmer for 5 or so minutes, until the sauce thickens.

4) Meanwhile, bring another big pot of water to boil and cook the noodles according to package instructions. I would suggest NOT using fresh noodles as they absorb the sauce too quickly once combined (WOOPS, WE USED FRESH NOODLES!). Drain the noodles once cooked, toss with sauce, and divide them into 2 bowls. Divide the sauce into the same bowls, drizzle with chili oil, add cilantro, scallions and cucumbers. 


2015 Holiday Season: Starring Cheesecake

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Somehow, everything post our Oregon trip just flew right by and now it's 2016. From November to December, we managed to host at least four get-togethers with family and friends. AND we succeeded in keeping Viggo from destroying the Christmas tree. Although he really, really wanted to. 

Below are a few highlights from the last few months I actually took photos of, and a recipe for Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake, the best dessert I've ever made. 
 Thanksgiving table decor. I served champagne and cranberry liquor cocktails. 
 Trouble-maker in action.
 THE cheesecake. Recipe below!
 For the husband's birthday, we roasted a pig and had a massive potluck. Unfortunately, I didn't snap any photos of the impressive spread, but take my word for it, it was impressive. 
 Another caroling concert took place with year. Viggo had a blast eating meatballs and trying to sneak sips of everyone's wine. 
Our favorite day, Friends Xmas Eve Eve featured time-tested recipes like Scandinavian chowder and home cured gravlax.
 Our tradition of taking ridiculous group photos by the Xmas tree lives on. Although this year, due to Viggo's lack of patience , we only took six instead of 26, and let me tell, there was a lot of blurry going on. But here's a couple of my faves. 
 Christmas Eve dinner was two full courses - homemade linguine and clams and pan fried quail. Then, we made Viggo take MORE photos by the tree. 
 Cookies for breakfast on Christmas morning. Along with a delicious ham and cheese strata.
Viggo received a recycling truck from his daycare. Are they sending him a message?
After Christmas, we headed to Yosemite to enjoy the snow and ring in the New Year. Which I did from my bed. We went with a small group of friends and my brother (above).

Our family didn't have babies until Viggo, so it's been fun to watch my brothers interact with this crazy kid. I guess I wasn't really sure what kind of uncles they'd be. But their enthusiasm to see him and spend time with him is so sweet, I can't help but smile when they FaceTime or drop by for a quick visit. And it doesn't hurt that my one brother usually brings over a box of diapers so Viggo can "poop all he wants". The kid likes to poop.
Viggo wasn't the biggest fan of the snow. Mostly, because he could barely move. But, he sure liked to touch it, and was really into the melting icicles. He loves water, especially if it's falling from the sky.

Hope your holiday season was just as fun. We're looking forward to not being so tired in 2016. Although a 9 pm bedtime is pretty cool.

In the meantime, here's the cheesecake recipe. There's no reason to only make this in the fall. It's soooooo good.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
via Smitten Kitchen
Serves 12 to 14

For crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounce), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping
2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon
Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust: Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake: Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl.

Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping: Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 additional minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Baked cheesecake can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days.


Fall Trip to Oregon

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A few days before we left for Oregon in late October, it was in the mid 90s here in LA, and the heat was getting me down. I was ready for gloomy fall weather, lots of rain, and flannel shirts. Oregon did not disappoint. Although there was a whole day of sunshine, which I was not too pleased about, we got our fill of beautiful and crisp fall weather.

We took this trip because after our Boise adventure, we were back to the drawing board for a new place to move. And we knew we liked Oregon. We also knew we liked Oregon wines and wanted to check out a town called McMinnville, where over six years ago we spent the night after very long drive from San Francisco to Portland. So we rented a place on airbnb and spent three days exploring McMinnville and the surrounding area. Then, we spent a day in Portland, eating delicious food and visiting parks. And by the end of the trip, we had decided we preferred Portland to McMinnville and it was time to set things in motion for the move. Big changes to come in 2016!

In the meantime, here're a few photos from our trip.
Exploring McMinnville.

 This kid ate ALL our food.
 One of our favorite wineries was White Rose. It was a little, dark hobbit hole at the top of the hill. When we arrived, the fog had rolled in and it was misty. Viggo was into it.
Viggo is tired of being the designated driver.

Brunch at Broder in Portland. 
Mt. Tabor walk at night.
At the end of the trip, at a distillery, Viggo decided he was going to start walking for real. 


Two Soups: Crab Bisque & Thai Coconut Soup

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This past week, I made two soups. Woop woop, soup weather! I took no pictures of the process, but both of these soups were so good (and easy!), I thought I'd share the recipes anyway, with a few random photos.
This is our pumpkin tea cake (see previous post), topped with chocolate and pumpkin ice cream. We've been having this a lot, and enjoyed it after the crab bisque. 
Bourbon Collins for a nightcap.
This guy. What a little eater. By that I mean, he's a BIG eater. Here he's enjoying pasta with a goat sauce. He wants to eat everything we're eating, and then some. 

Crab Bisque

4 T. unsalted butter
1/2 c. minced shallots
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 bgay leaves
1/4 c. flour
6 c. seafood stock
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1  14.5-oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1/3 c. tomato paste
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 to 1 lb. fresh or thawed frozen lump crab meat (I used canned)
1/4 c. dry sherry, or dry white wine
1/3 c. minced fresh parsley

1) In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add shallots and garlic, and sauté until very soft, stirring regularly for 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring regularly, for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in 1 cup of the broth, whisking all the while to break up any clumping. Then pour in the remaining broth and whisk again to incorporate.
2) Turn heat up a bit to medium-high and bring broth to a boil. Then turn heat down to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Add cream and bay leaves, and bring mixture back to simmering, stirring and scraping the pan bottom occasionally. Stir in fire roasted tomatoes and tomato paste, and then very carefully blend the mixture with an immersion blender until very smooth. Stir in paprika and cayenne pepper.
3) Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the crab meat. Cook until heated through, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the sherry and heat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Ladle into bowls or mugs and garnish with fresh parsley, plus a sprinkle of smoked paprika and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with good bread.

Thai Coconut Soup
(I looked over several recipes on Pintrest, and then combined a few that I liked)

1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
3-4 cups chicken broth
1-1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless thighs
1 large carrot, sliced into thin rounds
4 lemongrass stalks, bruised (cut off bottom 5 inches, peel off outer layer and smash the stalk with the back of a chef's knife)
handful of bamboo shoots
½ inch knob of fresh finger
1 tsp fish sauce
Fresh lime juice, to taste (I used almost 2 limes)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper

1) Combine milk, curry paste, broth, chicken, carrots, ginger and lemongrass in slow cooker.
2)  Cover and cook on LOW for about 4 hours, or on HIGH for about 2-3.
3)  Remove lemongrass and ginger.  Remove chicken and cut into small pieces or shred and then add back into the crock, along with fish sauce and bamboo to cook for another 30 minutes.
4)  Add in lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into serving bowls and top each bowl with a bit of cilantro.

I served this over a bit of brown rice.


Fall is for Pumpkin Tea Cake

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When someone asks the husband about bread baking and his best recipe, his reply is always "get the Tartine Bread book, it will teach you how to bake."

But when it comes time to make desserts, we rarely turn to the Tartine book. I think we've only made the lemon cream tart, which was delightful, bit not necessarily quick. Recently, the husband was inspired to open the big book of desserts again and found a super quick, super simple pumpkin cake recipe. It looked too easy to be good. But, it was better than good! It was super tasty and we made it again a week later. It's a great every day cake. If you like eating cake everyday, with a cup of tea, after dinner, curled up on the couch. Just saying.
 Stay away, baby!

Pumpkin Tea Cake
via Tartine

The ingredients are shown in the photo above.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

In another bowl, beat together the pumpkin puree, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides again, then beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. The batter should have the consistency of a thick purée. Make sure not to overmix, or you will end up with a coarse, tough crumb.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the topping sugar. Bake until a tester emerges clean from the center, about 1 hour.

Let cook in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Then invert the cake onto the rack, turn right side up, and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature. The cake will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 4 days or in the refrigerator for about 1 week.


Oktoberfest 2015 (plus Viggo turns one!)

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Last year, when the husband suggested we host Oktoberfest while I was 9.5 months pregnant, I was less than enthused. But, he insisted he and a friend would take care of most of the details, and it turned out to be a great event. Lots of brats, lots of beer, lots of friends. 

So when it was time to host Oktoberfest this year, I was fully on board. And since Viggo turned one a few weeks before, it was a good time to celebrate keeping this kid alive, well and happy for a WHOLE year. 

We made 40 pounds of sausage, 20 of bratwurst and 20 of Polish. It was a group effort. My dad trimmed the meat and did a lot of grunting and supervising, as the husband and his friend labored away. And because we have such awesome friends, who go ALL out, they made custom beer caps and labels, and brewed kegs of beer for the occasion. And the rest of the gang brought side dishes, desserts and good cheer. We had a blast catching up, having our house terrorized by kids and consuming all the deliciousness. 
Sausage-making day.
Labels and bottle caps in honor of Viggo.
This guy goes ALL out. He actually built that beer dispenser behind him! And brewed all the beers for the party. AND wore that ridiculous outfit. 

As always, I forget to take photos. So here's one our friends took, above, and my dad took, below.
And I did get a shot of some of the munchkins playing inside. Don't scratch my coffee table!

Oktoberfest made me realize that I've missed hosting parties this past year. Parenting has been tiring. I feel extremely fortunate that Viggo sleeps. He sleeps all night. He goes to sleep easily. He stays asleep. It's great. But, working all day and then rushing home to feed, bathe, and entertain a kid every day, has really taken a toll on my desire to host gatherings (also exercise, cook or leave the house). And it makes me sad because I miss spending quality time in the kitchen, where I'm not constantly saying, "Stop. Not there. That's not for babies!" 
 Viggo's first track suit is all the way from Texas.

Although I might not have practiced my hostess skills this past year, I did get lots of parenting practice. The last 12 months have been interesting and fun (and I think I already mentioned TIRING), while we adjusted our lifestyles, attitudes and emotions to raising a child. I've learned a lot about myself, my family and what being a good parent means to me. 

And without getting too serious on this fun Oktoberfest post, I hope as I evolve as a parent and celebrate many more birthdays with my little boy, I can set aside my own expectations and raise Viggo without stipulations of what it means to be my son.

We waited nearly 10 years after getting married to have a kid. There's a lot of reasons for that, and one of the main ones is that I didn't want to ever make my child feel like they OWE me anything because of what I gave up for them or will gladly give up for them in the years to come. What I choose to provide for my child, I want to do it with a pure heart, without expectation of some sort of repayment. I don't want to be a debt collector. Parenting has been a humbling experience. And if anything, I OWE him so much for teaching me that.

My only hope for future Viggo is that he continues to be healthy, good-natured and sweet. I'm sure there's lot of other good and bad qualities he'll pick up along the way, but that's what it means to grow up. I hope he can make his own path in life, without feeling like he has to look back over his shoulder to please his parents. I’m sure this will not be an easy task, and the husband and I are bound to stumble along the way, but it’s a start.
Our happy little guy celebrating his big day at daycare with cupcakes.
Best buds. These two make me smile.

 And here's our little family at Descanso Gardens this past weekend. One of our favorite hangouts.