Yesterday, we hosted a homemade dumpling party in our garden to fundraise for our new nonprofit, China Residencies. The process of wrapping dumplings by hand is one of the most interactive and delicious forms of cultural exchange, aligning perfectly with our mission to help more artists experience China firsthand.
Brilliant Green Pesto
I have been searching for a pesto recipe, trying to find one that holds a vibrant green color and has a soft, balanced flavor. After a few failed attempts of my pesto turning dark as soon as I stirred it into a bowl of spaghetti, or when I opened my fridge the following day, I started buying jars of it, rather than making it myself. It was also a rather messy process: the unruly, voluminous basil had to be processed in small bunches. I never liked the spicy, strong aftertaste of raw garlic, either, but when I made pesto omitting the garlic, I could sense a flavor missing. The jars were convenient, though they did lack the essential fresh grassy taste of homemade pesto. And the portions were tiny for a steep price.
Carrot Almond Cake
Breakfast: Banana Bread
(Adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book)
I still remember when I first baked banana bread not so long ago in a west Philly kitchen. The recipe was from a Tyler Florence cookbook. I’d never tried banana bread before, but I had a handful of overripe sweet-smelling bananas that crumbled in my fingers as I unpeeled them and I didn’t know what to do with them. I’ve eaten bananas prepared many ways: chopped into fruit salads or Greek yogurt, caramelized with butter in a pan, poached in coconut milk. But it always struck me as strange to cook them in a cake. That is, until I tasted banana bread freshly baked, still warm from the oven, so moist its consistency was of challah French toast, with the occasional pop of a nut and pocket of molten dark chocolate.
A little while ago I bought a bag of rice flour with the ambition of baking gluten-free cookies for my mother, but along the way I was side swept by buckwheat flour. The rice flour sat in my kitchen in a glass recipient on the back of a shelf, untouched, until this weekend. The inspiration came two weeks ago. While visiting a Thai store in LA, I tasted these marvelous coconut sweets called Khanom Krok. They are crisp on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. The interior tastes like a smooth coconut rice pudding. The ones I had were small and bite sized, and I devoured them until my younger brother accidentally tipped our box of Khanom Krok onto the ground (we still salvaged a few). But I had tasted enough to feel hungry for more. The main ingredients in this recipe are rice flour and coconut cream. They are cooked like tiny pancakes in a skillet specially constructed and sized for these desserts. Since then, I’ve been thinking about rice flour and the creamy texture of those Thai pancakes, and as I flipped through my cookbooks, I wondered how I could make my own breakfast treats without the special skillet.
Then I found Salvadoran breakfast quesadillas. Close to the end of food52’s Volume Two cookbook (one of my Christmas gift acquisitions from a friend who noticed how obsessively I browse their website), this recipe intrigued me by its photo: muffin shaped, with a snow-white interior, golden crumbed edges, and sesame seeds speckling its top. I am always on the hunt for unusual breakfast treats. When I saw the list of ingredients, and spotted the Parmesan, I set down the book, slipped on my shoes, and headed for the grocery store. Any breakfast dish that combines a salty edge with a sweet base deserves my time.
The last time I was in Los Angeles I was ten years old, gangly, with a boy haircut, visiting my mother’s filmmaker cousin in the Hollywood hills. After a few days on the West Coast, away from the loudness and cold winds of New York, I’m enthralled by the palm trees, the expansive roads, the flat houses, the beaches lining the shore and bursting with bronzed bodies even if the weather is too brisk for swimming. My father moved to LA for a new job and he’s only just found a house to rent, so there are boxes strewn in the living room, no soap in the showers. The house is sparingly furnished, leaving wide spaces for my lively brothers to stampede around on the hardwood floors.
Sole Two Ways:
Jazz (We’ve Got) A Tribe Called Quest
I’ve always been a great fan of sole, ever since I was a kid. My dad loves fish, and as a result we found it entering our meals as the main protein at least once a week. But we rarely ate sole, and at the time I despised other species of fish, salmon especially. Sole was for special occasions, and so when I found it at the Food Co-op a few weeks ago, I bought it right away, and once again, only days later. Sole is a delicate, flaky white fish, with sweet tender meat, making it a versatile ingredient. Sole stands up to citrus, tomatoes, wine, butter and everything in between. Sole can also be flaked into a rice or pasta dish. It pairs nicely with a white or red wine.
Lately, shiitake mushrooms have become a favorite of mine. As a mildly fragrant mushroom, it never overpowers a dish, but lends a recognizable, meaty flavor, that combines with both western and asian flavors. I throw them into fried rices, pastas, and more recently I’ve developed a strong affinity towards Hugh Acheson’s shiitake slaw. Like the rest of his dishes the shiitake slaw is a marriage of two culinary identities — it’s a refined play on a typical Southern American BBQ side dish. With a creamy olive oil based vinaigrette and the sharp aftertaste of shallots, the delicate mushrooms simply explode in your mouth. It’s an ideal accompaniment to many dishes and is to be eaten in small portions, as the mushrooms reduce when cooked. Though you’ll find yourself nibbling at the shiitake slaw until there’s none left for tomorrow.
On these two occasions, I liberally adapted a Hugh Acheson recipe for Mahi Mahi, and inspired myself from a Floyd Cardoz dish I’d recently sampled at North End Grill.