Friday, May 28, 2010

Buddha Bellies Update

Ever since our return from Asia we've had some questions about the fate of Buddha Bellies. Our extended journey to Asia did drain our funds and there's the wedding to pay for as well. We were both very lucky to come back to jobs and are on our way to recovery, let's hope the same goes for the economy.

We can say that this pause in Buddha Bellies activities has provided us with some time to scan the dining scene in Portland. In the last few years things have greatly changed and we're just taking it in. We occasionally hear about similar adventures and a knot turns in our stomachs, but we can't rush into things simply because we are feeling the pressure. We realize for us to succeed we need to define ourselves well and purposefully.

With summer slowly approaching we realized we didn't really take much time to enjoy our summer last year. We had been home for a few months, but was still catching up mentally, emotionally, and financially. But this year we have decided to start enjoying our beautiful city, attempt to tackle our restaurant to-eat list, explore areas of the city we haven't spent much time in, definitely cooking more and continue to work on our business plan.

So, yes Buddha Bellies is still in the works and we feel things ramping up soon. We plan to continue updating on our progress right here at the blog. We'll be sprinkling bits and pieces of our meals, research, life, observations, interest, and basically whatever we feel like talking about. Sorry if that seems random, but sometimes life is just that - random.

So that is our update in a nutshell. What about you? What are your plans for the summer?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Red Velvet Birthday

I've been a little obsessed with baking lately and decided I wanted to make my own birthday cake this year. Surprisingly more than one person found that somewhat sad. I even had a few people offer to make me a birthday cake or at least buy me one. But I was more interested in making one for myself.

Baking sweets can be so simple. The basic ingredients are items we have around the house at any given time - flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract and sometimes cream, milk or buttermilk. I had been successful in applying my kitchen clean-up skills to other baked goods such as chocolate cupcakes I decided on a whim to make on a random Sunday night that turned out terrifically moist and yummy!

Soon I had another late night craving for butter cream, and also because we had a ton of butter sticks for some reason, had me whipping up cookie sandwiches with butter cream frosting on the inside that were moist, chewy, chocolaty and buttery - dangerously delicious.

So what kind of cake did I want to make for myself? I love cream cakes and a Boston Cream cake seemed like the obvious choice, but I decided I wanted to make a more traditional cake. I did an internet search for cake recipes and found myself drawn to the look of a Red Velvet Cake. I liked how the vibrant red cake hid behind the white cream cheese frosting.

Red Velvet Cake is basically a mild cocoa cake with a ton of red food coloring. I liked the idea of a tangy cream cheese frosting counterbalancing the cocoa cake. Yup, Red Velvet Cake it would be. Since this was a baking adventure planned well in advance I was able to research and look for that unique Red Velvet Cake recipe. But I found that most of the cakes were basically the same with very little variation among the recipes.

Known traditionally as a southern cake, I found it interesting that most of the recipes were from a historic recipe from the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The inclusion of vinegar and buttermilk in some recipes did heighten my interest and I set out to bake a small personal birthday cake. My secret ingredient? Tandoori chicken raspberry food color we had bought at the Indian store a while back. The intense red color only needed a little of the powder tandoori food coloring compared to the ounces of traditional red food color.

The recipe I used was portioned for a normal cake size with 3 layers of cake. Well I may have the basic ingredients for baking, but I fell short on the cake pans. I didn't even have one. I improvised and used souffle pans, which meant lots of left over batter. I decided to make cupcakes and take them to my birthday brunch, which didn't travel well, especially since they were transported in my bicycle rack - ooopppsss. And the cream cheese frosting looked best when cold. So, the cupcakes weren't pretty, but they sure tasted good.

And don't even ask about the frosting. There was so much cream cheese frosting that I ended up splitting some of the cupcakes and rebuilding them with frosting in the middle. And when that still left me with cups of frosting I thought I'll just embellish my cake with some decorative frosting over the already generous frosting. It may not have looked pretty, but I made it with my own two hands and it was good.

A week later I realized I still had buttermilk and again decided to do a late night clean up and made sugar cookies and chocolate brownies from recipes calling for buttermilk. The sugar cookie dough was rolled up in parchment and placed in the freezer for late night cravings and last minute cookie gifts. With only having to buy a container of buttermilk and some more sugar I was able to make 3 baked goods, a triumph in my opinion.

Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake Recipe 2 1/2 cups of sifted cake flour 1 teaspoon of baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder Red food coloring 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup buttermilk 1 teaspoon white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour cake pans

Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl, set aside.

In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste with lumps, set aside.

In mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, then vanilla extract and the red cocoa paste. Beat in a third of the sifted flour mixture to the butter. Beat in half of the buttermilk. Beat in another third of the sifted flour mixture and then add the second half of the buttermilk. End with the last third of flour mixture. Beat until well combined scraping down the bowl inbetween.

In a small bowl mix vinegar and baking soda. Add to the cake batter and stir in well. Divide batter evenly between the cake pans and place them in the oven for approximately 25-30 minutes. Check a little before time is up with a toothpick. It is done when the toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting 16 ounces of cream cheese (2 packages) softened 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick) softened 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted pinch of salt

Blend cream cheese and butter together with a mixer until smooth. On low speed blend in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Once fully blended either use immediately or refrigerate. If refrigerating allow frosting to come to room temperature before applying to cake.

If you like sweeter frosting add more powdered sugar up to 4 cups, but know that will lessen the tangy flavor of the cream cheese

Monday, May 24, 2010

Springtime Themed Dinners

Holiday themed dinners are great. It takes the guess work out of deciding a reason for having people over and what to make for those people. We are fortunate enough to have friends who love to cook and eat as much as we do and we'll find any excuse to do so.

Since spring doesn't officially start until third week in March we'll start there with our springtime themed dinners. First one of the year - St. Patrick's Day. Ok, so St. Patrick's Day barely makes it onto the springtime list, but after the winter holiday meals, Valentine's Day and Marti Gras we can say it's usually the first official reason to get together and celebrate for the sake of celebrating.

This year we made a to-die-for corned beef. Seriously it was amazing! The meat was tangy, tart and very tender. Since we already had colcannon (Irish fancy mashed potatoes), vegetable pasties and Irish soda bread, we decided to make the corned beef in a crock pot and not make any of the usual potatoes and cabbage. It was fantastic and went wonderfully with the spongy, light and dense soda bread and cabbage mixed colcannon!

The vegetable pasties were a modernized version of a typical pub pastie. Using mainly root vegetables, the firmly cooked vegetables in a light gravy wasn't heavy and allowed the puff pastry top to remain firm and crispy. The peppery starchy vegetables balanced really well with the potato colcannon and soda bread.

Next up was Easter. Which was a fun holiday to celebrate food-wise. This was an all adult themed Easter, so no egg hunts or chocolates. Instead we had bottles of red wine and a DVD of the Godfather. Everyone said the same thing about the Godfather - "I've seen parts of it". Well it truly is a great piece of American cinema, so many great quotes:

"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."

"It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."

"If you gotta go. You gotta go."

"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

We decided to make a ham. We've never made a ham before and we learned nobody makes a ham, that's left to the professionals. People simply heat up hams and gussy them up with fancy things like pineapple glazes. So that's what we did. Doesn't it look like a ham gussed up with a pineapple glaze?

Easter to some of us pagens in the room means celebrating with spring items like asparagus and eggs. We decided to defrost some items from last fall and made a cauliflower and brussel sprout gratin that was light and creamy, sort of reminiscent of spring. It looked springy at least.

Our friend brought over an Italian Easter Pie to help celebrate. This impressive tall all around crust pie was filled with light and delicious spring items like the before mentioned eggs and asparagus, as well as leeks, peppers and cheese.

The side dishes consisted of simply roasted asparagus, a creamy red potato salad and southern style macaroni salad, mainly to go with the ham.

We had thought about going to an Easter Brunch, which are usually great with all the fresh early spring vegetables, but this year, boy are we glad we decided to skip the brunch and make our own! One of the best Easter plates we've ever had. The wine and the Godfather movie only enhanced it all.

Our latest and greatest Spring Theme Dinner was our Ocho De Mayo BBQ. Since Cinco De Mayo fell on a Wednesday and the following Saturday was a gloriously beautiful sunny day we decided to wait and celebrate the faux Mexican celebration on the 8th, instead of the 5th. And we started the celebration off with a bike ride to our neighborhood carniceria for some supplies and beer!

Our contribution this year was an authentic take on chili rellenos. No fatty cheese filled deep fried chilis for us! We were inspired by a Rick Bayless's Everyday Mexican episode where he sampled the best street food in Mexico City. What was that? Street food? Where? Mexico City? We're on it!

This verison of chili rellenos consisted of roasted chilis that are then stuffed with a grilled onions and soft mexican cheese mixture, wrapped in corn husked and grilled again. This version is far superior to the traditional batter dipped deep fried version. The roasting of the chilis prior to stuffing them with the cheese mixture allows for the robust flavors of the chili to be the star of the dish, only heightened by the smokey flavors of the grilled onions and tangy cheese.

The grilled onions are taken off the grill to cool and then mixed with the cojita cheese before stuffing into the roasted (now skinned and seeded) chilis. Wrapping the chilis in a corn husk allows the grilled onion/cheese mixture to slowly melt into the walls of the roast chili. Seriously delicious stuff, what real street food is - simple, flavorful and not full of bells and whistles.

There were enchiladas, beans and rice, and we made a spanish pasta dish fideo, just in case we needed some more carbs to go with the negro modelos!

Oh and Mike made his famous roasted pineapple salsa and we grilled chicken. All of the leftovers made for a serious plate of nachos the following Monday.

We'd like to try a Passover or Seder dinner next year, we're thinking a brisket and matzo ball soup. What do you think? Wanna join?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

mmmm Moussaka

Interesting enough our first meal in Singapore was the Greek dish Moussaka. Our Singapore host and cousins served it to us our first night there and we instantly liked it. Being in Asia, the layered meat and eggplant casserole was served with rice and we still liked it.

Motivated by a tub of feta cheese we had somehow obtained, we decided to take a stab at making the dish at home. Our cousins' recipe, as we found out from a copy left on the kitchen counter, was a very simplified recipe off the internet. We set out to find a more authentic version.

Moussaka is very labor intensive, but the end result is worth every multi-step part of this recipe. We prefer to always use fresh ingredients over canned or frozen, unless we froze it ourselves. So the prep work from the raw ingredients seems to be the most time consuming part, such as plucking, washing and drying the spinach; washing, cutting and roasting the eggplant; and peeling, slicing and seasoning the potatoes.

After the prep work is done comes the fun part. Sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs at the bottom of a baking sheet (the bread crumbs helps prevents the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the baking dish). The meticulously lay out the potato slices.

Then layer with the roasted and seasoned eggplant.

Then a layer of beef, tomato and onion ragu

Then yet another layer, this time steamed spinach covering as much of the top as possible.

If all of that weren't enough, prepare a cheese "custard" and pour all over the layered dish. We told you this is serious stuff!

Bake in the oven until the top turns golden brown and bubbly. We wish we had smell-o-vision right now.

The custard is unbelievably light and airy, adding mainly tang and tartness to the salty beef/ tomato/onion ragu. The potatoes and eggplant were starchy and the spinach add an earthy bitterness to the whole dish. Moussaka is worth all the labor and love. Make it for someone you love.

Moussaka recipe courtesy of Food Network Magazine

For the Casserole

- 3 large eggplants (about 4 pounds) cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices; brushed with olive oil, salt & pepper, bake in a 450 degree oven until soft (about 30 minutes)
- 1 large bunch of swiss chard (we used spinach because it was what we had)stems trimmed and wilted (4 minutes) in a heavy pot over medium-high heat in olive oil, salt & pepper. Transfert to a colander and let cool and drain of excess water
- 3 Tablespoons of butter
- 1 Medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef or lamb
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 Cup dry white wine
- 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained or fresh chopped tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Bay leaves
- 2 Tablespoons of dry breadcrumbs (we used panko because that's what we have
- 1 Medium all-purpose potato, peeled and thinly sliced

For Cheese Custard

- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
- 5 cups whole milk at room temperature
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups grated kefalotiri cheese or 1/2 cup grated parmisan mixed with 1 cup crumbed feta

- 2 large eggs plus 3 egg yolks

To make beef, tomato, onion ragu: heat 3 Tablespoons of butter in a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot. Add the onion and cook until golden brown (about 4 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the meat and break up into pieces and add in oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg and 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper to taste. Cook until meat is slightly browned (about 2 minutes). Add the wine and cook until the meat is slightly brown, but still pink on the inside (about 1 minute). Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, worchestershire sauce and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

In a 9-by-11-inch baking dish sprinkle breadcrumbs on the bottom and top with sliced and seasoned potatoes.

While beef/tomato/onion ragu is cooking make the cheese custard.

In a medium heavy bottom pan melt 6 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook slightly to form a soft paste. Take off the heat and whisk in milk, nutmeg and 2 teaspooons of salt. Return to the heat and bring to boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat again and add in only 1 cup of the cheese. Allow to cool a bit more and whisk in eggs and egg yolks.

Turn on oven to 350 degrees and begin to assemble the Moussaka for baking. Layer half of the eggplant on the potato/bread crumbs at the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with half of the meat sauce and half of the cook chard or spinach. Layer the other half of the eggplant, meat ragu and chard/spinach. Pour the cheese custard over the whole casserole and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake uncovered until the custard is set and lightly brown, about an hour. Let rest for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Outdoor Markets

We love, love, love open markets. And springtime in Portland means outdoor markets and events until the last colorful deciduous tree leaf has fallen in late autumn. The first day of the Portland Farmers Market in the downtown park blocks usually is the only day the whole year we actually go to the big downtown farmers market due to us not liking the large crowd and over-priced items.

The farmers markets used to be affordable, but the day they started to sell $2 cucumbers we knew we'll come to the downtown market for breakfast, unique plants for the garden and a good excuse for a bike ride, but days of coming down to the market for a weekly grocery trip are long gone. However, if you are looking for some unique plants for your garden, be it a herb garden, vegetable garden, shade garden or flower garden, the farmers market is a good place to go.

We've found some unique varieties of vegetable starts for our garden here such as pineapple tomatillos, a huge variety of heirloom tomatoes, and if you haven't had a proper heirloom tomato, you're seriously missing out; exotic chili peppers and herbs, such as chocolate habeneros, japanese perilla and lemongrass. It's also nice to know your money is going directly to the people who grow your food.

The Portland Farmers Market is a great place to go for breakfast as well with many neighborhood restaurants getting their feet wet at the farmers market, such as Pine State Biscuits, with their ridiculously long lines at their SE Belmont store, only rivaled by their farmers market line that practically looped around the Portland State University library building. They sure looked good, but we couldn't muster up the energy to stand in line.

The Saturday market has been expanded and it's much easier to wander through the rows of fresh produce, locally made prepared foods, pastries and treats. The Portland Farmers Market has 3 weekly markets:

Saturday mornings in the South Park Blocks downtown Wednesday afternoons in Pioneer Square downtown Thursday evenings on NW 23rd and in SE at Col. Summers Park

So where do we head to if we do want to pick up something special to throw on the BBQ or the freshest, yet somewhat expensive ingredients for an exotic dinner? We head to one of the many other farmers markets held in various neighborhoods throughout the city, such as our local King Market held at King Middle School in NE. And it was a glorious sunny day opening day and the hipsters were even out at the park playing kickball!

The King market only started last year and is still growing in size, but that means the produce is much more affordable, even the organic items!

But if we want to do some serious farmers market shopping we head to the Hollywood District's market. In between the size of the Portland Farmers Market and the cute little King Market, the Hollywood Farmers Market is more manageable, hasn't gotten too big and has a great selection of vendors.

The Hollywood Farmers Market is situated next to the Grocery Outlet parking lot, across the street from the new Whole Foods and around the corner from the newly remodeled Trader Joe's. Who said you can't get it all in one place?

But with such interesting varieties of local produce and beautiful rustic displays there's really no need to go to a grocery store.

About a month before the farmers markets started we jumped off our spring market fever with the big Crafty Wonderland Art and Craft Extravaganza Super Colossal Spring Show.

Held in the convention center twice a year, once in the spring and once before Christmas, Crafty Wonderland is a collection of local arts and craft makers selling everything from dye cut cards (a personal favorite this year), the best collection of odd, funny and ironic t-shirts, jewelry, artwork and clothing, all personally handmade.

Weeks before the official outdoor market season started and only a week after the Crafty Wonderland spring sale, Portland's local French/English school was host to its annual French Market on the grounds of the school.

Less food and home-made craft vendors than most neighborhood markets, the Portland French School's French Market invited local boutiques specializing in French or European Imports and local artists to participate.

There was a wine vendor selling classes of french or local wines, however we were hoping to get french inspired food at the market. There was no produce vendors, but there were a few food vendors and yes - a crepe vendor! We think it belongs to the school because of it's cute awning and mural on the front.

We were hoping for an inspiring authentic crepe that would make us run out and find the perfect ingredients for a crepe dinner, but what we got was a bland mush wrap with skimpy and average ingredients. Tres decevant!

It's hard to believe that its only mid-spring and we have already done and seen so much in our beloved city. So to our surprise last weekend as we were biking over to meet a friend for lunch, we ran smack dab in the middle of the Alberta Street Art Hop.

Not very arty and more hoppy, a large portion of Alberta Street Art Hop consisted of many items and artist found at the local Saturday Market downtown. It was a nice afternoon so we decided to bike on by.