Banh Mi Sliders

Finished tray of banh mi

Two years ago, I had never tasted Vietnamese food. And today I would “Hey, Kool Aid” through a brick wall if I thought there was a banh mi on the other side of it.

Open Banh Mi

What can I say? People change. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m scary allergic to bell peppers, ginger, coffee, curry, and wasabi. But (in recent months) that hasn’t stopped me from experimenting with Asian flavors I’ve never before tasted in entirely inauthentic ways!

Close up banh mi

This delightfully tiny, non-lethal slider version of the classic banh mi features sweet and savory pork, quick pickled vegetables, sriracha mayo, salty peanuts, and fresh cilantro on sweet Hawaiian rolls.

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Mixed Greens with Cambozola, Hibiscus Pearls, and Pear Vinaigrette

Today I’m going to ask you to use your imagination. Have a glass of wine, close your eyes, turn on some Simon and Garfunkel, and imagine you’re entertaining your nearest and dearest. Imagine you’re tasked with cooking a fabulous dinner for your terribly handsome beau on his 50th birthday. And imagine that last minute rush before dinner is served—the rush to get dinner on the table and make sure that hot food stays hot and salad stays fresh.

Hibiscus Pearls
Can you imagine that? Good. Now imagine that the beautiful ingredients below came together in a perfectly composed salad that I didn’t have a chance to photograph on that lovely night before serving it!

Hibiscus Pearl Salad.jpg

Sorry, folks. By the time dinner was served, the sun had gone down and I couldn’t justify whipping out my lighting set-up to photograph the finished salad. So just imagine a bed of velvety greens tossed in sweet and sour pear vinaigrette, topped with creamy, pungent Cambozola, toasted walnuts, crispy apples, and my mad scientist experiment, hibiscus pearls. Imagine that!

A word about those hibiscus pearls: this was my first foray into molecular gastronomy. It was a success, and much simpler than I imagined. I steeped a cup of hibiscus tea and spiked it with hibiscus extract from l.c. finn. I boiled that with agar agar, and used a regular eyedropper to squeeze the mixture into a tall glass of cold oil to form the pearls. That’s the extent of the special ingredients and equipment. The flavor of the pearls was distinct but not overwhelming; a little tart, like pomegranate juice. The texture was smooth and gelatinous—sort of like biting into a creamy drop of tea. For instructions on making agar agar pearls, visit http://molecule-r.com/en/content/67-pearls-training. You can purchase the extract here.

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Chocolate Bark with Chipotle Pepitas and Pop Rocks

Firecrackers

Happy 4th of Halloween Eve!

Chipotle Pepitas
To celebrate the magic of Halloween, this year I decided to make a candy inspired by … 4th of July fireworks.

Chips
When I was a girl, I though fireworks and firecrackers were so beautiful—pretty enough to eat—and I desperately wanted to know what they taste like. Fortunately my sensible sister Emily dissuaded me from taking a big bite of fiery sparkler.

Melted Chocolate
This candy tastes like you just ate a firecracker, but without the hassle of having to re-grow your eyebrows. First it’s sweet and hot, then there’s an explosion in your mouth, followed by a bit of lingering smoke.

Seeds in Chocolate
The recipe for chipotle pepitas makes far more than needed for the chocolate bark, and that’s fine by me. The salty, smoky seeds make an excellent crunchy snack.

 Plate of Firecrackers

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Top Ten Recipes of 2012

Happy Holidays, imaginary internet friends! And congratulations on surviving the end of the world. Now I’m off to Barnes and Noble to demand a refund for my Mayan wall calendar. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take another look at the 10 most popular recipes I shared this year.

S’mores Fried Ice Cream with Chipotle Chocolate Sauce

 

Asparagus Lasagna Slice

Asparagus Lasagna with Pancetta, Goat Cheese, and Lemon

 

Baked Churros with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Dulce de Leche

 

Loaded Baked Potato Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

Cinnamon Roll Grilled Cheese Sandwich

 

Oatmeal Cream Pies

Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies

 

Cookies and Milk

Toffee Cashew Cookies

 

pie crust crackers

Chicken Pot Pie Soup with Pie Crust Crackers

 

Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese Sandwich

And the most popular recipe of 2012:

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Here’s to a delicious (and gooey) new year!

Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies with Fig Jam and Pine Nuts

Dear Martha Stewart,

When I read your recipe for Aunt Maggie’s Jam Thumbprint Cookies, I had the highest of hopes. See, I had this jar of fig jam in the fridge, and I wanted to use it for something special. I’d spent countless hours perusing Pinterest boards when I came across your simple recipe for what seemed to be the perfect vehicle for my sweet, figgy spread.

The cookie that came to be in my galley kitchen, however, was nothing like the cookie you (and your commentariat) described.

And yes, I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly follow your recipe to the letter. It’s true—I browned the butter then cooled it in the fridge before creaming it with the sugar.

But still! Should that have affected the recipe to such a dramatic degree that instead of a perfectly round, soft, chewy confection, I ended up with a charmingly misshapen, tender, delicate shortbread? Really, if it weren’t for the sweet-sticky figs and $8 worth of pine nuts, this cookie would be nothing but an over-sized, nutty bite of heaven that melts in your mouth.

It’s lucky for you that this cookie turned out as beautifully as it did. Your reputation was really on the line.

Most humbly,

Bake Up, Little Suzy

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Pear Napoleons with Bourbon Caramel

It’s embarrassing how much time I spend thinking about recipes I want to try. I’ll start with the germ of an idea (say, a pear dessert for Mom’s birthday dinner). Then I’ll spend weeks – maybe months – considering the options: pear tart, pear cobbler, pear cake, pear sorbet… And when I finally decide on the perfect recipe, I abandon the idea entirely because I’m terrified of making a mistake. (Yeah, I never said my process was a healthy one.)

In this case, the paralyzing fear was invoked by the menace of homemade caramel sauce—it’s the easiest thing in the world to ruin. I think if I ever get around to recording another CD, it’ll be called Ways to Ruin Caramel, with forlorn country ballads like “Too Runny,” “Too Hard,” “Bitter and Scorched,” and “Grains of Sand.”

It took no less than three glasses of cheap wine for me to face my caramelized fear, and I’m so drunk—I mean, I’m so happy that I did! This caramel sauce is the perfect texture (creamy but not too thick), with the subtlest bite of sea salt and just enough booze. *hiccup*

The other components of the recipe – poached pears, sweetened mascarpone, flaky puff pastry, and toasted pistachios—are a cinch to prepare, yet every bit as delicious as the bourbon caramel.

Continue reading for the Poached Pear Napoleons with Bourbon Caramel Sauce recipe

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Sesame Chicken Salad

Just last week(ish), I shared with you all how my allergy to green peppers indirectly prevented me from ever tasting tomatillos. Today, my imaginary internet friends, I’m going to tell another terrible tale: The Most Lamentable Tragedy of Bake Up, Little Suzy’s Exclusion from the Whole of Asian Cuisine.

(I know. The title needs work. It’s a little wordy.)

Bell peppers are not my only edible allergens. I’m also allergic to ginger, coffee, curry, and horseradish. And that bizarre combination not only kept me from coffee house poetry slams in the 90’s, but also excludes me from enjoying the cuisine of Asia to this very day.

I’ve long dreamed of preparing meals that feature the genuine flavors of China, India, Korea, Thailand—but I’ve never really tasted them, out of fear of, well, dying. So I’m attempting to learn about entirely unfamiliar flavors, in utterly inauthentic ways.

I begin today with this fresh and crispy, savory and sweet, salty and crunchy salad. Now I’m assuming that normal people who don’t share my allergies will add ginger to the dressing or the marinade or both. But I found this salad delicious, satisfying, and not at all deadly without it.

Continue reading for the Sesame Chicken Salad recipe.

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