There is something about home that is indescribable. We haven’t finished purchasing all the things we need for our new apartment yet, like shoe racks and lamps and soap dispensers. But still, this place feels more like home than any place I’ve lived in a long time. We picked the curtains and the plants, our art is hanging on all the walls, and I have all of my kitchen appliances in one place – no boxes, no storage, no knowing that one day I’m going to have to go through all these cookbooks to figure out what belongs to whom. Nope – it’s all ours.
And now that we have a table and enough chairs for a few extra bums to sit in, all I want is to have people over all the time. We’ve been pretty successful so far – having people over almost twice a week since we’ve moved in. It has reinforced my love of cooking for people, of making an excuse to get together. But why should we need an excuse? Isn’t good company enough? Add to that a home cooked meal and a bottle of wine and how could anyone turn you down? I feel lucky that we’ve gathered a little community who feels the same way, that there’s no better reason to be together other than it’s been a few days since we’ve last seen each other.
It helps that it’s spring – dusk drags its feet a little more each day, the tulips on our walkway have come and mostly gone at this point, and they’ve put up the annual rosé wine display at the local grocery store. It’s the time of year when people come out of hibernation, itching to wear their short sleeves and dig out their sunglasses, ready to get their hands dirty in the garden (we’re hoping to plant ours this weekend), antsy to go on evening strolls. For me spring means always having a pound of rhubarb in the fridge, ready to roast into a compote for topping ice cream or simmer into a syrup for mixing into cocktails or slice and bake into a galette. I would do the same if I were you.
Almost a year ago, there was a piece in the New York Times. I’m not sure where I found it – most likely someone posted it on Facebook – but it struck a chord. It’s called “When a Food Writer Can’t Taste,” by Marlena Spieler, a James Beard Award winning food writer. In the article, she writes about how a car accident, in which she broke both arms and sustained a concussion, completely demolished her ability to taste and smell.
Now, that sounds horrible no matter who you are. But when a food writer loses the senses that bring her the most joy and allow her to work, it’s devastating. Her descriptions of tasting what had once been some of her favorite foods are heartbreaking: “Cinnamon drops, a childhood favorite, were bitter, horrible.” “Bananas tasted like parsnips and smelled like nail polish remover.” “Gently sautéed mushrooms seemed like scorched bits of sponge.” Luckily, the nerves were only damaged, not severed, meaning that she would, in time, recover. She created her own rehabilitation plan, eating and tasting a huge range of foods, forcing herself to taste things like chocolate over and over again, starting with milk chocolate and slowly upping the cocoa content. Things she hadn’t particularly loved before – fish, especially – became a daily craving.
In the end, she recovered most of the way, and though her senses still occasionally go haywire, she can enjoy food to an incredible extent. But I’d like to focus on a specific part of this story: about halfway through the article, she tells us how, though she used to “lack a sweet tooth,” her sweet tooth now couldn’t be ignored. She lists a few things she baked, and they all sound delicious, but one jumped out at me: miso sticky toffee pudding.
When I studied abroad in London, I became a fan of sticky toffee pudding. It’s not pudding like we think of in the states. It’s a cake that is sweet but not too sweet, drenched in a warm toffee sauce that seeps into the cake, resulting in a moist, warm, absolutely fantastic dessert. Now I have looked for a recipe for Spieler’s mystical dish, and I am not the only one. The day after the article was published, someone tweeted at Spieler asking for the recipe. There’s a Chowhound thread asking if the recipe can be found anywhere (yes, I commented). But I couldn’t find it, and it seems, neither could anyone else. There are recipes for miso toffee, and for sticky toffee pudding with miso ice cream, but not this exact dessert. So, after talking with my baker friend Caitlyn, we decided to make one ourselves.
We decided to adapt David Lebovitz’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, and really, there were only a couple simple changes to be made. (In retrospect, I should’ve used Spieler’s sticky toffee pudding recipe, but I never happened upon it until I was sitting down to write this.) The resulting dessert is sweet, salty, caramelized, strong, and unique. Its flavors are perhaps a bit confusing at first, but I think the way they swirl around your tongue, combining to create a balance of sweet and savory is a fun adventure.
Miso Sticky Toffee Pudding
Note: I have made this recipe now with both red and white miso paste. While I personally liked the white miso better, Caitlyn, Jonah, and Caitlyn’s boyfriend Dylan liked the red. On one hand, I think the deeper, more caramelized flavor of the red miso was nice, and on the other, the white provided a little more brightness, while bringing the same level of saltiness. Both are good, so it’s up to you which you use.
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup muscovado sugar (if you don’t have that, demerera or dark brown sugar will do)
2 1/2 Tbl molasses (we used Blackstrap)
2-3 tsp miso paste (start with two teaspoons, and add up to another teaspoon to taste)
1-2 Tbl toasted sesame seeds
6 ounces pitted dates, snipped into small pieces
1 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup candied ginger, chopped
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, preferably fine
4 Tbl unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
toasted sesame seeds, to serve
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter an 8 1/2 inch porcelain soufflé dish, or something of a similar size.
In a medium sized saucepan, bring the cream, muscovado sugar (or other dark brown sugar), molasses, and miso to a boil, stirring often to melt the sugar, and keeping a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat and let simmer for about five minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened and coats the spoon. Try your best to break up any chunks of miso. Pour roughly half the sauce into your buttered baking dish, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the toffee sauce, and place the dish in the freezer. Set the pan with the rest of the sauce aside for serving.
In another medium saucepan, bring the dates and water to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and ginger. Set aside, but keep slightly warm – leaving it on low heat isn’t a terrible idea.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large mixing bowl (you can use an electric mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, stirring to combine. Add half of the flour mixture, then the date mixture, and then add the rest of the flour mixture, stirring between each addition. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.
Remove the baking dish from the freezer and pour the batter in over the toffee and sesame seeds. Bake for 50 minutes, or until it passes the toothpick test. Allow it to cool slightly before serving. To serve, warm the toffee sauce, spoon portions of the pudding onto plates or bowls, and top with the warm toffee sauce and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream will make a nice topping. I’ve also topped mine with some homemade anise-cardamom ice cream (based on the anise ice cream from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop).
According to Lebovitz, if you’re making the pudding in advance of serving, bake it without the toffee in the bottom of the dish. Close to serving time, poke the cake about 15 times with a chopstick or skewer, and distribute half the toffee sauce over the top. Cover with foil, warm in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes, and then follow the serving instructions above.
Lately, I feel like there have been quite a few occasions surrounding, well, drinks. In the summertime, it’s easy to settle in on the deck with a cold beer, but the cold weather seems to bring out some more interesting, unique cocktails, or a glass of that red wine you’ve been saving in the basement for the past few months. (Yes, there is a bottle of red I’d been saving for my birthday, and yes, it was opened over the weekend.) So let me tell you a bit about what I’ve been drinking lately.
Brunch for Dinner with ZICO Chilled Juice Blends
To celebrate the launch of their new line of chilledjuices, ZICO Coconut Water threw a “Brunch-for-Dinner” fête. These juices are a perfect blend of the hydrating benefits of ZICO’s coconut water with the taste of your favorite fruit juice. Noshing on brunchy bites like fruit and yogurt, flapjacks with apricot chutney, and breakfast sandwiches, the evening was a lovely celebration of both healthy and delicious. Because why not have the best of both worlds? As for cocktails, the Sunset in Paradice was on the sweeter side, made with gin, sake, ZICO Chilled pineapple mango juice blend, bitters, and a lime cordial. The Spicy Orange was my favorite – a little spicy from the ginger, not too fruity or sweet, and bubbly from the champagne. You can find the recipe at the bottom of this post.
The Heathman Restaurant and Bar’s New Fall Cocktails
If you find yourself in downtown Portland, looking for cocktails after a show at the Schnitz or a long day at the office, might I recommend The Heathman Restaurant and Bar? They just launched their new fall cocktails, and let me tell you, they are stellar.
Collaborating with Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen, the new drinks are refreshing, wintery, fun, and most of all, awfully tasty. Combine them with a few bites from Chef Michael Stanton, and you’ll be a happy camper. Trust me. My favorite might have been the new 50 Shades of Gin beverage (inspired by the book set at the Heathman) with gin, fresh tangerine, pomegranate juice, lemon, and fresh thyme. Or the Orchard Old Fashioned, an old fashioned featuring clear creek pear brandy and apple bitters. It’s hard to decide.
Winter Warmers in NE Portland
A couple of my favorite spots in my neighborhood, The Waypost (when I’m feeling like going somewhere relaxed and homey, where the bartenders are incredibly friendly and you can often find great music) and Box Social (where I go when I’m feeling a little fancier, or am out past midnight), have released their own fall drinks. When I go to The Waypost this time of year, you can pretty much expect to find me with a glass of their pumpkin infused bourbon. But the other night they had run out, so I let Antonio talk me into their cider toddy instead, and man oh man was it good – gingery, spiced, and just all around cozy. The Box Social, the last stop on my birthday celebration train, made it hard for me to decide on a nightcap. Do I go for the hot toddy, the mulled wine, or a delicious bourbon cocktail? No, I went for dessert in a glass: a hot buttered rum. I haven’t had a hot buttered rum in a long time – my mom used to make them around Christmas from a mix she bought at Williams Sonoma – but the one they made me at Box Social convinced me that they should rival hot toddies as far as winter warming drinks go.
Wine Tasting Class at WineUp on Williams
We’ve lived in our house for over a year now, which means we’ve been walking by WineUp on Williams for, well, a whole year. Why we’ve never gone in is beyond me. Jonah bought me a groupon for a wine tasting class there, which finally got us in the door, and now I have a feeling we’ll be there a lot. The place is owned by a fellow named Wayne, who is chatty and friendly, and will not accept any excuses for why you aren’t drinking more wine. He is crazy knowledgeable, the staff is very kind, and their wine selection is great. After class ended (it was an hour an a half, tasting 5-6 wines, chatting with fellow classmates, and noshing on bread and cheese), we sidled up to the bar for some more. If the class isn’t so much your thing (they happen every two weeks) consider just stopping in for a glass of wine and music (on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights). I recommend sitting at the bar and getting to know the folks who run this lovely spot.
So there’s a little taste of what I’ve been sipping. Have you had any must try (or must make) cocktails lately? Opened a bottle of wine you love? What are you planning on drinking with your Thanksgiving dinner? Whatever is your fancy these days, I hope it keeps you nice and warm!
I heard people were getting worried. In the week before I posted the recap of Feast last week, at least two people said to me, “I was looking at your blog, and noticed you haven’t posted in a month! Is everything ok?” Which at least means they hopefully like coming over to this little corner of the internet. Mostly though, it has just been a wildly busy month. But hopefully things are calming down a little bit, and as we settle into fall, I can get back to more cooking and writing.
A few weeks ago we cleaned out our freezer to make room for a giant tub of Salt & Straw ice cream, and discovered that we had so many frozen bananas. You know, every time a banana or two gets overripe, you throw it in the freezer, thinking “Oh, I’ll use it soon.” But you always forget. Anyway, I saw this pile of bananas and thought to myself, ok, the time has come. But of course I didn’t want to make just a traditional banana bread. So I took a standard banana bread recipe from Food52 and added a couple things: miso and crystallized ginger.
If you’ve never baked with crystallized ginger before, I highly recommend it. My family likes to put it in apple pie at Thanksgiving. It lends a nice bit of spiciness, and makes you feel a little bit healthy about whatever baked good you’re eating. What is it about ginger that makes everything it’s in seem healthy? How misleading. In this bread, you’ll find little zings of it as you munch on this moist quick bread, a perfect combination of sweet and savory (thanks to the miso).
Banana Bread with Miso and Ginger
Makes 1 loaf
3 large or 4 small ripe bananas
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbl butter, melted and cooled
4 tsp white miso (optional)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan (5×9 inches).
In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas. Add the egg and sugar, stir to combine, then add the butter and miso. Mix until thoroughly combined.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. In two additions, fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to overmix. Gently fold in the crystallized ginger. Pour into loaf pan.
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until a toothpick (or wooden skewer, which is what I had on hand) inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool for ~5 minutes in the pan, then remove onto a cooling rack. This bread is best served warm and fresh. If you’ve got some leftover, store in the fridge for best second-day results.