Staying In for Korean BBQ

My circle of friends have one shared interest that really brings us together: food. We. Love. Good. Food. It's not a celebration if there's not a nosh. Our potlucks have assignments and themes. Everyone is eager to try one another's cuisine and yell for the recipe. Even on a simple nature walk, someone is packing cheese and crackers.  It's pretty awesome. 

For a friend's birthday, Young and his sister plotted an awesome surprise dinner. The birthday girl is a notorious eater and lover of coffee. We knew the best celebration would involve copious amounts of good eats. The dining room and kitchen had too many windows so our options were tight. While he distracted her outside of the house, the rest of us hid in the garage surrounded by delicious smells and holiday twinkle lights. 

Young's family is Korean so when they prepare a meal - you fast the days leading up to it. His sister, bless her heart, prepares a feast of meat, fish, kimchi, and tofu soup. My favorite part is always the mushroom caps! As they heat up, condensation builds up in the center making it like a tiny shot of mushroom soup. What spoiled kittens are we!

The main event, of course, is the strips of pork belly. It is insanity how much meat goes into these feasts (like a Portuguese person should talk). It's cooked conveniently on a portable gas grill and everyone pitches in making sure it doesn't get overcooked. As soon as the meat is ready, an army of chopsticks and forks battle it out for the choice pieces.

Then we realize there is still a whole package of uncooked meat and there's no need to act like savages. Ahem.

For little old me though.... it's all about the grilled vegetables. Onions, slices of garlic, those mushroom caps, all served up on a bed of white rice and topped with my sweet darling kimchi. I love all that has vinegar! You don't need to eat meat at Korean BBQ to be satisfied, there are plenty of options. Take a big old piece of lettuce and make a happy burrito with your choice of fillings. Divine.

If you ever want to make this yourself at home, do the homework and invest in a gas grill or do it the good old fashioned way on the barbecue. Food and Wine put together a list of Korean recipes to try at home. Personally... I'm just going to stalk Young until he teaches me!

The surprise birthday party was a total success with the beautiful birthday girl showered in tasty treats. We almost got her completely but she knew something was off when Young wanted to get into the house through the garage. Close enough! Happy Birthday lady!

Special thanks to the family for hosting and making such an amazing dinner! 고맙습니다!

Healthy Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins

It's always a win-win when you find a recipe for a classic that adds a healthy twist AND preserves the taste factor. Let's face it. Anybody can throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds and claim a recipe is now suddenly "healthy" (though these are still yummy). It takes a deeper dive to figure out how to walk the line.

Fortunately, that's what Bren did over at "What Bren Did." What a fitting blog title. She took the standard chocolate muffin recipe and shook it up a little. 

For starters, there is no flour in the mix. That's not to say flour is bad for you but it adds simple carbohydrates which have minimal nutritional value. Instead, she uses straight oat flour made from old-fashioned oats as the base. These oats are great because they have soluble fiber, complex carbs, and vitamins. All positives for your digestive tract and cardio. 

Holding the mix together is your choice of ripe bananas or unsweetened apple sauce. No need for oils or butter. Unprocessed, natural goodness with potassium. 

The dark color is thanks to the unsweetened cocoa powder which has all the health benefits of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa) with less calories. It supports cardiovascular health by soothing internal inflammation and is full of essential minerals like zinc, manganese, and iron. 

Sweetness has to come from somewhere! Fortunately, it's from honey as opposed to straight sugar. Honey is filled with all sorts of benefits but be weary of the type you purchase. Pasteurized honey is stripped of most of its nutrients in the heating process. Shop for the raw and local stuff.

Lastly, don't black out on the chocolate chips. I always opt for the darkest chocolate possible, with the minimum being 70% cacao. All the health properties of dark chocolate are in that percentage because the less cacao, the less nutrition. The rest of the chocolate bar is generally butter and sugar. Go hard or go home.
Minor adjustments can be made for those with dietary restrictions. Instead of regular milk, I opted for almond milk because it's my favorite and that's that. For the vegans, you all know the culinary magic trick of substituting eggs with flax seeds! Also, the cocoa powder can be substituted with carob powder but you may want to reduce since it packs a kick of flavor.

We thoroughly enjoyed these muffins and they were great in the morning on the run. They are light yet filling without the guilt of the standard grab and go carb. This will be a go-to recipe when we have extra bananas lying around the house.

The recipe for these Healthy Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins can be found on Bren Did It. Hat's off to a tasty treat!

Take 1: Hazelnut Mocha Cake

There's this magical cake that I want to learn how to make.... it's the Hazelnut Mocha Cake from Society Fair located in Old Town Alexandria, VA. I'm not easily seduced by cake quite frankly - it's not my dessert of choice. However. This cake is packing a triple threat of hazelnut, chocolate, and espresso. How could my knees not go weak?

I know this cake will not be there forever... that's how restaurants work. They need to rotate their selection. One day I will walk in there and it will be gone. In preparation for that dreadful day, it has become my mission to create a similar cake. It doesn't have to be exact! Just close enough that I can get through those long cold nights of withdrawal. Kidding. It's good but it's not gold.

As timing would have it, my brother's birthday was around the corner. Taste testers!

The buttercream is easy enough to edge in the right direction. This one is a Swiss Buttercream with hazelnut paste. It was smooth with a delicate flavor however, I would be curious to try adding a touch of nutella with hazelnut extract instead.

It's hard to go wrong with ganache, it depends on the consistency you prefer and the level of gloss. General guidelines that I follow- 1:1 ration of chocolate and heavy cream for a layer cake filling/glaze; 2:1 ratio chocolate to heavy cream for a thick, truffle weight; and 1:2 ratio chocolate to cream for a soft icing. I did equal parts chocolate and cream for the filling with just a touch of instant espresso powder.

Where things hit turbulence was finding the right recipe for the cake. Naturally, I turned to a recipe from Smitten Kitchen for a Hazelnut Brown Butter cake and totally, 110% bombed it. I'm still in shock. The cake looked fine but when I took a bite, it oozed out clarified butter. This must have been an error on my side. I'll be back to redeem myself.

The Hazelnut Cake recipe in this post is from a site that I've never visited before, Trampling Rose. The proportion of hazelnut to flour reminded me of a standard issue yellow cakes. I decided to play it safe and doubled the recipe for a three layer cake.

The comment that I received the most was, "this isn't a very sweet cake - but that's a good thing!" The texture is soft and color is lovely but the flavor is incredibly docile. I really thought the addition of hazelnut syrup as the coffee element would take it to a whole new level. It could be that the brand that I used was too mellow? If I were to make this cake again, I would brush it over with a little simple syrup to lock in more flavor. Serve as is to a more adult audience.

The "oh shit" factor of this cake was the finishing touch of draping ganache. My thought was it would class up the cake. Instead, it made the language coming out of my mouth very UNclassy. This was my first time working with draping ganche and man, did it school me. Here's the thing about draping ganche - temperature will make or break you. 

For the first attempt, my cake was chilled in the fridge and the frosting was just about room temperature. The cold of the buttercream with the already cool chocolate made it lock position faster than I was moving. Poor cake looked like it was wearing a toupee and not a good one. It looked like one of Three Stooges.

Fortunately, I was able to chip it off without much damage to the buttercream. This go around, the chocolate was too hot... so  much so... it started to melt the buttercream on the top of cake, hence the run off on the sides. 

All around. This was a nice cake. The sweetness of the buttercream is balanced with the subtlety of the hazelnut. It missed the mark in terms of matching the cake from Society Fair but I will keep trying!

Take 1: Hazelnut Mocha Cake

Hazelnut Cake
recipe doubled from Trampling Rose

Cut out three circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of a 6-inch road cake pan. Brush or spray with a little melted butter and line the bottoms with the paper. Make the batter and divide batter evenly between pans.

Hazelnut Swiss Buttercream
recipe from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
12 tabelspoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon hazelnut paste (or to your preference)

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Add the vanilla and hazelnut paste

Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip. Don't lose hope - it goes through a curdled cheese phase. It it starts to break - remain calm, you can fix it

Ganache Filling
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
20 ounces fine-qualify bittersweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Place chocolate in heat proof bowl. Heat milk to the point before boiling. Whisk in espresso powder. Pour over chocolate and let sit for about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth and let cool.
To assemble - frost with buttercream then layer with ganache. 

Draping Ganache
75 g dark chocolate (70%), coarsely chopped
3 tbsp (45 g) butter

Place the chopped dark chocolate and butter in a saucepan and melt on low heat. Set aside until room temperature (but still liquid, not firm). Pour the glaze over the cake and quickly spread it over the edges of the cake to make it run down the sides.

Biscuits and Blizzards

As you can see, our little home made it through Blizzard Jonas 2016 in Virginia without a hitch! We are grateful that we didn't lose power or have to wait too long for a snow plow to come through our neighborhood. There was a lot (as in a dumb amount) of shoveling involved. 

In preparation for the blizzard, we made sure our grocery list was thoughtful and delicious. If you're going to be holed in, you best be holed in right with tasty food and lots of coffee. There were chocolate chip cookies with tahini hot cocoa, biscuits, roasted chicken, chickpeas, and espresso cinnamon buns. Not too shabby. As things came out of the oven, we shared with our neighbor to help fuel the shoveling.

Our strategy was simple: eat well, keep warm, and stay ahead of the game. We didn't give the snow a chance to pile up to it's highest potential. We hit it in rounds during the morning and evening, using lots of pet-safe salt.  It truly did pay off by the end of the weekend as we watched others labor for hours trying to dig out their cars. Go team go! See picture below to get an inkling of how high it piled on our back deck alone - our little Remington was so puzzled. 

Like I was saying. 

Being holed in, we were going to at least enjoy some good home cooking. One food that I know Mike will always destroy is biscuits. He loves them in every shape and size, from drop biscuits to carefully rolled and layered. I think it's their versatility that makes them so special. You can enjoy them with a smear of jam if you're feeling naughty or pile on eggs for a hearty breakfast. 

This recipe {insert glam shot of biscuits} is one of my favorites because it's perfectly lazy: light and tender Cream Biscuits. That's right - cream biscuits. I learned about them by accident a few years back when I had extra heavy cream in the fridge. Unlike the traditional biscuits, there is no slicing butter into pea sized crumbles. It's as easy as measure, mix, mold, and bake. Freaking. Awesome.

As for the taste, they do not have a "buttery" flavor but the cream has the butter fat to make it sinfully good. They have a bit of a crumb to them but they hold their shape very well. Just make sure that you do not over mix your dough or else it won't rise as well when baking.

Since the basement was super cold, we turned the living room into head quarters with a pop-up table from my college years courtesy of Asako. Anything to get some natural light. It was like having an indoor picnic (with fresh out of the oven biscuits). Stay toasty everyone! Spring is just around the corner!

The recipe for these quick and easy, oh so dreamy Cream Biscuits can be found on Serious Eats.

Tahini and Chocolate Pudding with Coconut Whipped Cream

So I've been on a bit of a sesame rampage. My bad. 

This recipe was inspired by the tahini hot cocoa that I made over the course of the blizzard weekend here in Northern Virginia. I haven't gone all America's-Test-Kitchen on it with dozens of trials and modifications. This recipe is fresh out the gate with fingers crossed and bated breath.

What can I tell you about it?

Well. Gloria hallelujah it's tasty.  The base is lite coconut milk lightly heated on the stove with maple syrup, tahini, semi-sweet chocolate chips, a pinch of salt, drop of vanilla extract, and cornstarch*. The pudding is silky smooth and intriguing. You can tell it's not chocolate pudding and there's that nutty aftertaste that I so love about sesame. The best part is, you control how much tahini goes in so you can go hard in the paint for those that love it or be more demure for those who want to stay in the comfort zone.

The topping is coconut cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla extract again. Super easy to make but requires a little planning to be safe. Pro tip: let the can of heavy coconut milk or coconut cream sit in the fridge over night to make sure it gets nice and solid. 

Just like the pudding, you have power over the flavor. I honestly didn't measure the amount of confectioners sugar and added it a tablespoon at a time to meet my preference. Coconut has it's own sweetness, why bury it?

Top with the optional toasted black sesames - these have a potent flavor so base it on your audience.

This batch got crushed. The smooth, mild flavor of the pudding goes beautifully with the sweetness of the coconut whipped cream. 

When I make this again, the only adjustment I would consider is swapping the chocolate chips for unsweetened cocoa. Just to see what would happen. Pure curiosity. 

*On the use of cornstarch, I know some avoid it because the corn can be genetically modified or think that it has a slight aftertaste. It is possible to substitute with arrowroot but you would need to heat the coconut milk very low and slow - just keep an eye until it thickens. Another option is to skip the thickeners all together and the heat coconut milk (before adding the rest of the ingredients) till it is condensed. You'll have a slightly smaller serving because it's reduced.

You can easily make this vegan if you use the right chocolate chips! I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

Tahini and Chocolate Pudding with Coconut Whipped Cream

Tahini and Chocolate Pudding
13.5 can of light coconut milk
3 tablespoons maple syrup (add more if you want it sweeter)
2 tablespoons cornstarch* (see not from above post)
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 ounces chopped, semi-sweet chocolate chops
1/4 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
sprinkle of toasted black cinnamon (optional)

Coconut Whipped Cream
13.5 can of full-fat or coconut cream, chilled over night in the fridge
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the coconut milk into a small pan and cook until warm, not boiling (unless you plan on reducing coconut milk rather than using cornstarch). Pour 1/4 cup of the warm milk into a small bowl and add cornstarch. Stir until completed dissolved and then return to the pan with the rest of the coconut milk.
Add tahini, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk thoroughly. Let the  mix cook on low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, the mixture will being to thicken.  Add the chocolate. Continue whisking just a few more minutes, until the pudding is smooth, thick, and all the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. 
Optional: for mega smoothness, pour into blender and pulse. 
Pour directly into a serving cups. I use a cup measure with a spot to reduce mess. Place in fridge. Ready to serve in 30 minutes!
While the pudding is resting, spoon the solid coconut from the can into medium bowl. Whisk with hand mixer until smooth. Gradually add confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup at a time to your desired level of sweetness. Finish with vanilla extract. Dollop on top of solid pudding or get fancy with a piping bag and tip.