Deus Ex Machina

15 07 2014

I feel like I am in a trance. A dreamlike state where everything just goes according to plan. A whirlwind of events that were all well conducted, fluid and graceful and without error. In retrospect, everything was gold-hued and warm-toned, gilded in a surprising amount of good fortune. That’s how my last few weeks have been – there is definitely some sort of deus ex machina at work here.

After being engaged for 2 years, we finally celebrated our engagement – a 160+ people party held in my parent’s backyard. By all accounts, it had the potential to be a crazy, disorganized event. At 160 people, it’s bigger than some weddings. But thanks to early planning, frequent communication between all the stakeholders (aren’t I such a great management consultant?), lots of time spent on personalized DIY-ing, and purposeful execution, the event went without any major hitches. And it was fun and beautiful:

Collage

I also helped out at a number of events last month with Vo Floral Design – I cannot compliment these girls enough. They are magicians with flowers. If anyone in the Bay Area has an event that needs a lovely touch, I highly recommend reaching out to VFD. They always go above and beyond what’s required. As an intern I’ve learned so much and as a future bride, I can totally appreciate what these girls go through for their brides.

Collage

My weekends have been pretty busy as you can tell. I also (quietly) celebrated my 26th year and also (quietly) closed on a house. Yes, after a year of searching and about 10 rejected offers later, we officially have a home. We couldn’t be more thrilled (or more in debt!). I never thought it would come to this – up to now, the market seemed just unrelentingly impossible, but there must have been a bit of divine intervention, because here we are! I can’t wait to blog from my new kitchen and give you a photo tour after we decorate. Until then, here’s a great summer staple. Grilled corn on the cob – delicious as is, but easily transformed in countless ways. I detail three ways below.

Tray

Corn on The Cob

Ingredients
Corn cobs, husks and silk removed
*alternatively, you could leave the husks on and remove after grilled, but I find it’s faster this way

Directions
Over a hot charcoal grill (gas grills just aren’t ever as good), place de-husked corn cobs and grill, rotating often to ensure an even brown. The kernels will blister and you may even get a few too-dark ears, but I swear, there is a ton of flavor in that char. Overall, the cooking process should take about 10 minutes per ear. Once the kernels of corn are bloated and swollen with steam and heat, remove to a plate and prepare to dress with the following toppings.

Grill

Grilllllz

A la Cafe Habana
If you’ve ever been to Cafe Habana in NYC, you will know exactly what I’m talking about – the pinnacle of hot summer days in the concrete jungle are made special by spicy, sweet, buttery cobs of corn from Cafe Habana washed down with a tall lemon-limeade.

Ingredients
4 ears of corn, grilled
2 tbs butter, very soft
1/4 c mayonnaise
1/2 c grated cotija
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
small handful of cilantro, leaves and tender stems minced.
a few wedges of lime to serve

Directions
In a small bowl, combine the butter and mayonnaise. Spread mixture over the still hot ears of corn, then generously sprinkle on the cotija and the cayenne pepper to taste. Top with cilantro and serve with a wedge of lime.

Elote

Cajun Corn on the Cob
This Cajun corn relies heavily on a strong spice mix – the Cajun trifecta of powdered garlic, powdered onion, and paprika. Of course, some cayenne, oregano, thyme, and fresh cracked pepper are thrown in for good measure. You can easily sub this with a store bought blend (like Emeril’s Essence or McCormick’s Cajun) and it would work just fine.

Ingredients
4 ears of corn, grilled
2 tbs butter, very soft
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano or dried thyme or both (both is obviously better)
tiny dash of cumin
1/2 tsp freshly cracked pepper

Directions
Combine butter with all the spices. Use a brush and spread over the hot ears of corn. Alternatively, to get those cajun flavors deep into the corn, go ahead and spread the butter spice mixture over RAW ears of husked corn. Wrap in tin foil, then cook over the same charcoal grill until kernels are cooked through. As the kernels cook, they will absorb the salt and those spices, so you’ll feel the tingly all the way through the juicy cob.

Vietnamese Corn on the Cob
In Viet Nam, grilled corn is served by street vendors who serve out of a little stall or those yoke baskets surreptitiously suspended on the shoulders of stooped Vietnamese women. I take a bit of poetic license with this recipe, as it incorporates some of the elements found in that street food but with a twist.

Ingredients
4 ears of corn, grilled
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs butter
3-4 sprigs of green onion, green and whites thinly sliced
2 tbs crispy fried shallots, store bought or homemade

Directions
In a heat proof bowl, place vegetable oil, butter and thinly sliced green onion. Heat in microwave on high heat for about a minute or until the onion is fragrant and wilted, but still green. Do not over heat as the onion will brown. Slather this scallion-oil mixture over each hot ear of corn, then top of sweet crispy shallots. The shallots give this texture and sweetness, while the oniony scallions give a bit of bite and richness.

Corn

If you can’t find crispy fried shallots at your local grocery store, you can home make them by simply deep frying the shallots twice. The first fry will be a low/slow heat at around 300*F for about 8 minutes to achieve a golden brown color. Place on a towel lined plate to drain. The second fry will be a quick/hot heat at about 375*F for no more than a few seconds to achieve that crisp texture. Enjoy.

I feel that my summer truly has been guided by the hand of God (no soccer/World Cup reference intended) – it’s been just too blessed, too fortunate, too perfect. Is this even real? Feels like a dream. I hope your summer has been going well so far – hopefully blessed in sunshine, kissed by the sea, and covered in the juices of summer’s ripest harvest. Until soon readers,
AnhD





Late Afternoons Lately

18 05 2014

The last few days have been surprisingly blissful. New job, picking up old hobbies, more blogging, more cooking, more introspection time, more downtime to do things for myself. For the first time in a loong time, I don’t feel trapped or stressed or pressured. There’s definitely a bounce in my step. My lunches for the past few days haven’t been huddled over my laptop in a dark cube somewhere – instead, I get to walk out to the Embarcadero and soak in all that lovely vitamin D. And just as my favorite time of the day hits – those gorgeous golden late afternoons – I grab a cold cup of iced Blue Bottle coffee from the Ferry Building. Oh those beautiful late afternoons.

Last weekend was Mother’s Day, and I spent the late afternoon arranging these lovely things with the help and direction of my friends at VFD. I’d like to think that I am improving, take a look:

Collage

Yesterday in the late afternoon, my sister convinced (manipulated) me to make poke for dinner. Refreshing and perfect for these balmy nights – not to mention NOT much work at all! As long as you have good fish, there is no need for much work – just a light touch will do. A touch of soy sauce, a bit of sesame, a bit of creamy avocado. If you want to get really fancy, maybe a bit of Sriracha mayo or a bit of crunch from some crush macadamia nuts. The variations are really endless, so here’s a basic recipe for you to start with -

Ahi Poke
Ingredients
1 lb sushi grade ahi tuna, small cubes
1/2 c light soy sauce
3-4 stalks green onion
1/2 small Maui onion, small dice
2-3 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs toasted sesame (black or white)
2-3 tbs wasabi
1 sheet of nori, cut into thin strips
2 avocados, small dice

Directions
In a large bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients – soy sauce, sesame oil, wasabi. Fold the ahi tuna and avocado into the wet ingredients and coat with the sauce. Throw in the onion, green onion, toasted sesame seeds, then top with the thinly shredded nori. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Ahi

Salmon Poke
Ingredients
1 lb sushi grade salmon, small cubes
1/4 c mayonnaise
2-3 tbs Sriracha
2-3 tbs light soy sauce
1/2 small Maui onion, small dice
3-4 stalks green onion
1 sheet of nori, cut into thin strips
2 avocados, small diced
2 tbs toasted sesame (black or white)
drizzle of sesame oil

Directions
In a large bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients – mayonnaise, Sriracha, and soy sauce. Fold the salmon and avocado into the wet ingredients and coat with the sauce. Throw in and mix together the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Salmon

I served these 2 versions of poke with sushi rice and teriyaki fish and a bit of seaweed salad. It makes for a gloriously simple meal and oh-so-satisfying.

Rice

How have you been spending your late afternoons? Everything is hit with that warm saturation and glows golden under the sunlight. Any who,, I hope this spell of bliss lasts a bit longer and I get to keep at my favorite hobbies. Until soon!

AnhD





Many Firsts

6 05 2014

So last weekend, I survived my first wedding event – as in, working the event from the vendor side. Despite a lot of hard work and manual labor, it was incredible to see the process end-to-end, and the results were gorgeous. This lovely wedding took place at the Harvest Inn in St. Helena. If you follow me on Instagram, these pictures may look pretty familiar:

Wedding

Here’s a close-up:
Close Up

We also provided flowers for a large fundraising event held at the San Jose Fairmont Hotel – the tables were decorated with these lovely freeform and very unique centerpieces. These were much more difficult to do as they required more creativity (no one formula here) and dexterity. This picture does not do the arrangement any justice – they were lush and vibrant and looked like they were just plucked from the grounds of an English garden. You wouldn’t believe the complexity of these arrangements either – layers on layers of foliage – from maple to genko to bamboo to olive, then lovely pops of color from the sweet peas, peonies, poppies, ranunculus, etc.

AoDaiFestival

As you can see, I still have tons to learn and my “floral intuition” is not as nimble as it could be. I’m learning a ton with Vo Floral Design and I will be regularly updating the blog with my floral education learnings, so please be sure to check back!

I also started my first day on the new job – it is awesome so far. Located about 2 blocks from the SF Ferry Building, the office has a great location and awesome views of the city. The people I’ve met so far are super nice – and for the first time (in a very long time), I actually feel like what I say and think matter, and that what I say and think are respected. It’s refreshing and something I’ve sorely missed. Also, there’s a KEGERATOR in the office. WHAT?!? I have high hopes for this new gig – all I need now are some reliable lunch buddies :)

All this hard work needed a reward, so with the little energy I had left, I baked up (yet another) batch of chocolate chip cookies. My favorite Joy The Baker is coming out with a cookbook soon, and KAF was able to share her Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Recipe. It is incredible – very fragrant and rich in flavor. I slightly over baked my cookies, but if you prefer a softer cookie, just pull them out of the oven sooner. You may be asking how this is any different from the similar Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I also love? Both recipes require melted butter, but I appreciate that this recipe does not require bread flour, which I do not always have on hand. And just maybe, these might be a teeny tiny bit better in terms of caramely flavor… I have yet to do a side-by-side comparison, but if you do, please share!

Cookies

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Joy The Baker via KAF

Ingredients
1 c (16 tbs) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp molasses
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 c chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped pecans
Coarse sea salt, optional

Directions
Lightly grease (or line with parchment/silpat) two baking sheets.

Place 1 stick of butter (8 tbs) in a shallowpot and melt over medium heat, swirling occasionally. The butter with foam, froth, and crackle. Continue swirling intermittently, until brown particles form at the bottom. The butter will become fragrant and a dark amber brown. Remove the pot and pour the butter into a separate bowl (along with any solids). Let cool for >20 minutes. To speed up the process, I usually dunk the bowl in ice water or keep it in the fridge.
With a stand mixer, beat the remaining stick of butter (8 tbs) with the brown sugar until very smooth, about 3-5mins. Add in the vanilla and molasses and continue to mix. Pour in the cooled browned butter and granulated sugar until smooth and light and fluffy. It looks something like this:

Dough

Now add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for another minute until incorporated. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat just until combined. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans.

The dough is quite soft at this point, so form the cookie dough into a flat disk then wrap with plastic or parchment, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Again, I usually cheat and just stick it in the freezer.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350°F. Scoop the dough into balls (mine weighed about 0.80-0.95 oz each). I was able to comfortably fit 12 cookies on a sheet – so make sure you allow your cookies space to spread as they bake. This is an optional step, but you can sprinkle a tiny bit of fleur de sel or other delicate flakey salt over the cookies to get that salty/sweet flavor profile that’s all the rage these days. Bake the cookies for 10-13 minutes, until a nice brown. Remove from oven, and let rest briefly before removing to a cooling rack. Don’t let these sit in the pan too long or your chewy cookies will be too crispy – granted, it’s completely a personal preference. Enjoy with a nice cold glass of milk or sandwiched with some ice cream.

Pacman

Thanks for stopping by! Can’t wait to show you what’s cooking next!
AnhD





Changing Winds

29 04 2014

It is a gorgeous day here in the Bay Area. Sunny, blue skies, balmy temperatures, a gentle breeze – it’s as if the world approved of my departure from my current company. It was my first real job out of college – full time, generous benefits, an opportunity to learn and grow professionally – all good things and I am incredibly fortunate and appreciative. But when push comes to shove, it was time for a change and a move to bigger and better things. I don’t regret it. I told my students earlier this week during our last lecture that the world spins too quickly for us to be caught standing still. Standing still means you’re already behind. So I urged them, as I urge myself, to constantly keep progressing, keep moving forward, and never get too comfortable or too complacent. Hopefully, the message resonated with some of them.

My new position starts next Monday, so I have some down time to rest and rejuvenate and do some catching up. I’ve picked up an “internship” aka fun freelance gig with one of my favorite florists – Vo Floral Design. So far, I’ve learned quite a bit about the flower industry, and a bit about the business and how to design and arrange. It’s been a great experience, and has only increased my appreciation for that form of artistry. In my remaining down time, I’ve finally had a chance to play in the kitchen. With the markets brimming with fresh berries, I just had to make this cake – a lovely Chiffon cake topped with a mildly sweet whipped mascarpone cream and a generous and messy handful of strawberries – this to me, is quintessentially summertime.

Lawn

Chiffon Cake with Mascarpone Cream
Source: Adapted from AllRecipes

Ingredients
Chiffon Cake:
2 c cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 c vegetable oil
7 eggs, yolks and whites separated
3/4 c cold water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 pint of strawberries, cleaned and hulled

Mascarpone Cream:
6 oz mascarpone, at room temperature
1/2 c heavy whipping cream, very cold
3 tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter (or PAM) and flour 2 9″ cake rounds. You could alternatively use 8″ cake rounds, just bake longer.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer until very stiff. Meanwhile, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and almond extracts. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and beat to combine. Fold the stiff egg whites into the cake batter with a rubber spatula, trying to minimize the number of strokes required as to not deflate the cake too much. Pour batter into 2 9″ cake rounds and bake until golden brown or when a toothpick comes out clean from the center. For me, this took about 25 minutes. Once done, loosen the edges of the cake with a knife, and invert pan onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before assembling.

While the cakes are cooling, whip together the mascarpone filling ingredients and set aside. To assemble, simply layer the 2 cake layers and fill with the mascarpone cream. Top with sliced strawberries and a flurry of powdered sugar or shredded basil or mint leaves or whatever your heart desires. Serve and enjoy.

Sliced

This is probably my favorite chiffon cake recipe of all time. It’s easy and pretty much fail proof. The flavor is subtly sweet and reminiscent of Asian chiffon cakes. True of a chiffon cake, it’s not too dense and not too delicate – it holds up to layers well but is still soft and springy. I chose to flavor the cake with vanilla and almond extracts, but lemon extract would work well here too. Paired with a mild mascarpone cream, the strawberries take center stage, so be generous with the berries. In other variations, I’ve seen berries macerated in balsamic vinegar or a bit of sugar – the strawberries I bought today were perfect and would not benefit from any adulterations, so I left them as is. Also, as you all know, I am a terrible cake decorator. Luckily for me, this naked cake trend is all the rage now – I’ve seen it on all these blogs and food magazines – and it’s perfect, even for someone like me.

 

So yes, quite a few changes in my life – and I’m looking forward to every single one of them.

Thanks for reading,
AnhD





Review: Michael Chiarello

17 03 2014

In the last couple of months, I’ve been fortunate enough to land reservations at 2 Michael Chiarello establishments – his flagship Bottega Napa in Yountville, as well as his new foray into Spanish tapas at Coqueta on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Here’s a run down of both meals.

Coqueta
Pier 5, The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 704-8866

The presentation at Coqueta is stunning. My friend Annie and I sat at the bar and were able to watch the chefs put magic on plates – a flurry of color, shapes, textures, smells – it was lovely!

The Pinxtos.
App

Grilled Octopus.
Octopus

Meatballs.
Balls

Grilled Branzino.
Fish

I think Coqueta was a gorgeous experience. Perched right over the water on the Embarcadero, the ambiance is warm and vivacious and oh-so inviting. I will warn that the food is not as delicious as it is stunning – I favor Alta in the West Village or Boqueria in the Flat Iron or Contigo in Noe Valley over Coqueta in terms of overall food, but Coqueta wins hands-down in experience and presentation. I recommend going at an odd hour or making reservations well in advance, as Coqueta is currently the “IT” place to be – it is trendy and crowded and caters everyone from the glamorati to the techies to the foodies.

Bottega Napa
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 945-1050

Bottega is classic Michael Chiarello – Italy meets Napa, all the while showcasing his beautiful Napa Style aesthetic. Picturesque and bucolic and friendly and laid back.
My friends (and bridesmaids) brunched at Bottega – we brought a bottle of Carneros bubbly and were surprised that they charged us a $25 corkage fee. Yountville restaurants typically do not charge a corkage fee (except French Laundry I think), so I was a bit put off initially. Despite the initial hiccup, we swallowed the fee and began our lovely meal outside under the Bottega awning. Over chilled bubbly and conversations with our loquacious server, our meal progressed pleasantly over rounds of fresh pasta. Here’s the spread.

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad.
BrusselSprouts

Potato Dough Raviolo.
Raviolo

Seafood Cavatelli.
Cavi

Lobster Risotto with Shaved Asparagus Salad.
Risotto

I absolutely loved the raviolo that I ordered. Seemingly innocent and subtle at first, but when I cut into it, the little raviolo bled silky egg yolk. Along with the crispy sage and sharp cheese – it was a symphony of flavors. I think the raviolo is always on the menu, while the risotto changes weekly (or bi-weekly) and the other pastas are on some kind of rotation. I highly recommend going to Bottega – it really embodies the spirit of Napa Valley. You can also head over to the Napa Style store and buy all the serving ware they use at the restaurant.

Thanks for stopping by and catch you next time!
AnhD





Progress and Disorder

1 03 2014

This is a personal record – I haven’t written in over 2 months, and I even contemplated blog senescence or retirement. But then I remembered how incredibly happy blogging makes me, so once again, I had to return to my stage and pour my heart out on these pages until they runneth over. Some of my long pent up emotions are best left to diffuse on the webosphere. It’s very therapeutic.

The last two months have brought on a deluge of headaches. I’ve learned a few things about both house hunting and marriage planning, and would like to think that I’ve wizened up a bit. Firstly, if you aren’t constantly arguing with your partner, then I am positive you are doing something wrong. Whether it’s about white or silver linens, town home vs. detached single family home, or guest list, or how to most efficiently tabulate committed wedding expenditures in Excel – it’s almost impossible not to argue. We’ve bid on about half a dozen homes at this point and have been vastly outbid (the Bay Area real estate market is out of control), so you can imagine how many arguments we’ve suffered through at this point. The fact of the matter is, you have two people with vastly different backgrounds, and you expect them to harmoniously have the same expectations and visions and priorities – ha. Good luck! And while these differences in opinion scare me sometimes, I’ve learned (and still learning) that it’s not about the differences themselves, but how we choose to deal with those differences and move along. I didn’t ever think I could compromise or let go, but I’m (slowly) learning.

Lovely flowers in our garden…

Flowers

Of course, all this arguing naturally leads to some tension, which is quite difficult to diffuse if you are always with your partner. If anything, frequent contact exacerbates the situation. The best remedy is make sure to have some breathing room to let that tension subside. This takes many forms – i.e. a good venting session with your best girlfriend or a bar session with the boys – both options allow an individual to gain the needed affirmation and acknowledgement that sometimes is lacking in long-term relationships. It’s healthy, I swear. Just yesterday, I caught up with my college girlfriend for FOUR hours (thanks and I love you N!), and it felt SO GOOD just to have a lot of my feelings validated. I felt terrible for having said or thought things about my fiance and this relationship in general, but it’s great that others feel the same way from time to time. It just goes to show that no relationship is perfect, and that relationships are a constant work in progress.

Also with about 11 months to go until show time, we’ve completed most aspects of wedding planning, with only the invitations and musicians left to be decided. Not too shabby, right? As a management consultant and future bride, I highly recommend starting early, being proactive and decisive, and carefully scrutinizing each vendor so you have your dream team on your dream day. Good vendors will make or break your wedding planning and big day experience.

I will share more tactical home buying and marriage planning advice in the future, but wanted to get these two observations off my chest first. Despite the above, we’ve managed to make quite a bit of progress. We successfully completed our engagement photo session. Thanks to the wonderful Tyler Vu Photography who is a magician of light and composition, we were able to capture some amazing shots. Just one preview here:

Pier

I’ve been having a strange blueberry craving, and stumbled on the most delicious berries at the market recently. Perfectly plump and non-bruised little things that burst with tangy and sweet juice when you bite into them. Here are my current favorite recipes. And yes, PLEASE use fresh berries – they are essential!

Muffin


“To Die For” Blueberry Muffins
Source: AllRecipes
This recipe yield a beautiful muffin – the topping is so good, I decided to carry it over into the Ina Garten Crumbcake recipe below as well. This recipe yields a delicate cake – moist, fluffy, not dense at all. Seriously, 6,000+ reviews can’t be wrong, right?

Ingredients
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 c milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c fresh blueberries

Topping:
1/2 c white sugar
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c butter, cubed
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2-4 tbs old fashion oats

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and line muffin tin with muffin liners. I bought these lovely muffin liners from Daiso that allowed for a taller muffin – I would recommend doing that or using an extra large muffin tin.

In a bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, egg, milk, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry just until incorporated. Try not to over mix or you’ll end up with an elastic-y and overly gluten-y muffin. Cover the blueberries with a tablespoon of flour and mix/shake to distribute. Gently fold the blueberries into the muffin batter, without breaking any of the berries. You do not want a purple streaked batter. Set aside.

In a separate bowl or even a small food processor, mix together the topping ingredients and blitz or break down the butter until small pieces the size of peas remain. I added nutmeg for scent and oats for texture to the original recipe.

Tin

Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 to the top, then generously spoon the crumb mixture on top. Place in oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and inside is completely dry. Enjoy.

Broken


Ina Garten Blueberry Crumbcake
Source: FoodNetwork
I’ve made this before, but wanted to revisit as it’s just soo goood. This recipe is ever so slightly denser than the above muffin recipe, which is a good thing for a crumb cake. The cake nestles each individual blueberry in place and bakes up to have nice crispy top and good browned edges. This cake is durable and yet not too heavy thanks to the fluffiness from the sour cream and all that lemon zest. You can’t miss this one.

Ingredients
6 tbs unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2/3 c sour cream
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 c fresh blueberries, tossed in 1-2 tbs flour

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and butter (or PAM) a 8″ square pan. I prefer my crumbcakes on the thicker side and thus prefer a small pan.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla, lemon zest and sour cream. The wet ingredients may look a bit curdled, but that is absolutely normal.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. By hand and with a spatula, fold in the flour-coated blueberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to spread it out evenly. Top with your favorite crumb coating – I used the one from above “To Die For” recipe. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool and serve. Enjoy.

Split

I make up for my absence with a long entry. Hope you enjoyed – it’s great to be back. Look out for new reviews, recipes, and general life updates and musings in the near future.

AnhD





On Gentrification

28 12 2013

With the craziest part of the holiday season over, I now have some down time to reflect on the year and prepare for 2014. I’ve spent a lot of this year involved in relocation and actively pursuing a new home. In the Bay Area, that is a huge challenge given the high cost of living and ultra-wealthy folks in the tech sector. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Twitter upset and the tech shuttle bus protests.

In the past, I thought I was a huge believer of gentrification. On paper it sounds like a great idea – rebuilding and modernizing cities; bringing in businesses to create new jobs; attracting smart, young, motivated, innovative professionals to create a new intellectual community – of course, this is at the cost of displacing thousands and thousands of potentially lower income residents and eradicating long-standing communities or ethnic enclaves throughout the Bay Area. It also only recently dawned on me that I was also being gentrified, that I was not benefiting from this gentrification as I thought I would. I am being priced out of the community I grew up in, and for the time being, have to rely heavily on the hospitality of my family for shelter because rent is too expensive. Several of my friends face a similar fate, or spend nearly half their income on housing – preventing them from growing a savings account or making more mature investment decisions or having a safety net for the rainy days ahead. Thus in a way, our growth is stunted and we feel a bit tied down. It also doesn’t help when every op-ed you read highlights that THIS generation is a complete “failure” compared to preceding ones (here and here). It hasn’t been an easy 2013, and the prospects for 2014 don’t look much better.

Tray

Pecan Pie Bars
Source: Claire Robinson
I have made these pecan pie bars for multiple occasions and they have been an absolute hit. The rich caramel flavor + the nuttiness of the pecans + the buttery crust = perfection. These are pretty much fail-proof and have a good chew – the shortbread-like crust has a nice crumb, while the pecan filling is slightly tacky and chewy.

Ingredients
Crust:
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c) unsalted butter, cold
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2/3 c brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbs cold water
1 tsp vanilla

Filling:
1 stick (1/2 c) unsalted butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 c light corn syrup
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c coarsely chopped pecans

Directions
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line a quarter sheet baking pan (13″ x 9″) square pan with foil and spray with non-stick spray or butter. In a food processor (or by hand), blend together flour, sugar, butter and salt until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add cold water and mix until the dough just holds together. Press dough into bottom of buttered baking dish and bake in oven until golden in color, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Filling

Baked

Meanwhile, add butter, sugar and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer, and whip until light and fluffy. Add the corn syrup, flour and pecans and mix until just combined. I like to use whole pecans for visual appeal, but I believe most people crush their pecans – do as pleases you. Spread the filling over the baked crust and bake until golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. If the filling is too difficult to spread, go ahead and just place it on the baked crust, place in oven for about 5 minutes for the filling to melt and soften, then spread the filling evenly across the crust. Continue to bake until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow pecan bar to cool completely in pan before removing by lifting foil out of pan. Cut into squares and enjoy.

Tray

I don’t have a resolution or proposed solution to the gentrification conundrum – all I know is that I feel like I’m caught in a losing rat race, and it’s difficult to get out. I am fully aware that this economic process has resulted in a homogeneous population that invests very little into community and contributes very little to a healthy culture. At the same time, you would think that given how many smart and talented people are concentrated here in the Bay Area, I am sure we can work together to come up with a solution that benefits the majority of our community soon.

Thanks for reading,
AnhD








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