Tea poached pears with crème fraîche

 
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The recipe for these tea poached pears are something I developed for Camille Style's Entertaining With series. They smell like fall, and the sweetness of the honey is balanced out by the tartness of the crème fraîche. Hope you like it!

 

Tea poached pears with crème fraîche (Serves 4)

1 cup black tea (I used ginger peach tea)

1/4 cup honey

6 cardamom pods (lightly crushed)

2 pears

crème fraîche 

 

Combine the tea, honey and cardamom in a pot what will fit the 4 pear halves in one layer but will still be pretty snug. Heat at medium heat until the honey dissolves completely. Place the pear halves with the sliced side down. Increase the heat to medium high and cover with a lid. Once you boil for 15 minutes with the lid on, start checking every few minutes until the liquid becomes thick and viscous while also making sure not to burn it off. Keep heating until the pears look done, it should be slightly brown and soft. If your liquid has mostly boiled off but the pears don't look ready, add more tea. Let them cool and serve with a smear of crème fraîche.

 

A day with the chefs at Emmer and Rye

 
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At the beginning of the month was my birthday, and birthdays mean presents. But for my past three birthdays, Anthony has been surprising me with experiences instead of physical gifts. Two years ago was a Santa Rosa and Tahoe trip. Last year was a day trip to a dairy farm. And this year was the most special of them all: a full day in the kitchen at Emmer and Rye. 

Oh, Emmer and Rye. My first balanced cocktail was consumed here, made with house made pecan orgeat. And so was the best pasta of my life. Experiencing both of these things was eye opening to say the least. I have a significantly higher expectation for pasta now, ever since that first cacio e pepe. There's a distinct mouthfeel that makes me crave it. Slightly chewy, a little gritty, very much perfect. And the flour they use, made in house from milling ancient grains (blue beard durum), has an amazing flavor that you can't get with store bought flour. The ones at the grocery stores are stripped of all nutrients and flavor to extend shelf life, but real flour has an earthiness that all parts of the grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) provide. 

 

 

There was so much excitement running through our veins and we both couldn't sleep the night before the big day. It was like we were kids all over again, waiting for Christmas. At 10 am as soon as we walked into the kitchen, Chef Keith got us started with fresh pasta making. We started out by cracking about 50 Yonder Way Farm eggs (aka my favorite farm that sells eggs with the orangest yolks) followed by what felt like half an hour of kneading and rolling out the dough. He was so elegant in the way he handled the sheets as they passed through the pasta machine, it looked effortless. But the truth is, it's quite difficult and Anthony and I clumsily tried to follow along. We filled our pasta with fresh ricotta that was prepared for us, and made cute little gondolinis.

 

 

Keith also led us to the garden where a variety of herbs grew, most of them foreign to me. A leaf that tasted of root beer, spinach with bright red stems, magenta shiso, a bright red edible flower, clover leaves that had notes of citrus, and many others I've already forgotten. We were handed things to try, one after another, and at one point my hands were full of different leaves and flowers. As an amateur gardener and cook, this was pure heaven.

But the most amazing part of Emmer and Rye is their pantry full of home made vinegars. Fennel vinegar, melon and orange vinegar, red wine vinegar, chili top vinegar. Giant tubs of prickly pear vinegar fermenting. The also had home made miso and a fuzzy white fungus called koji to make it. I can see why Keith was so excited to show us and let us try some of it. It was his trophy cabinet full of fermented ingredients you can't find anywhere else.

In addition to growing their own herbs, one of the guys there likes to forage for wild ingredients around the area. He brings back whatever he finds and the rest of the crew plays around with the bounty. When we were in the kitchen, it was clear that prickly pear was in season. Herb and prickly pear brined pork loin, prickly pear vinegar, prickly pear syrup for the bar. Seeing this first hand, I witnessed Emmer and Rye keeping what they preach close to heart: seasonality and sourcing local ingredients. It's a simple concept that people have been practicing for thousands of years, yet in this current world, it's something that we've lost a lot of. But it's evident from the dishes at Emmer and Rye that fresh ingredients at their peak season can make for amazing flavors.

 

 

The best chocolate chip cookies. Ever.

 

These cookies from Joy the Baker's blog are the best cookies I've ever had. The nutty aroma of beurre noisette and the robust notes of molasses make these cookies perfectly complex. I call this cookie dough crack because it really is so addicting. There are crushed pecans and semi sweet chocolate chips in here but it really is the dough that makes these so amazing. And without the flaky maldon salt on top, you won't get the depth that makes the individual flavors really shine, so please don't skip it! And what are you waiting for? Go make this ASAP.

The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes about 3 dozen cookies)

recipe from The Joy the Baker Cookbook

1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon molasses

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

coarse sea salt, to sprinkle on top

 

 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place half the butter (8 tablespoons) in a medium skillet. Melt the butter over medium heat, swirling it in the pan occasionally. It’ll foam and froth as it cooks, and start to crackle and pop. Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty, and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the burner and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. This will stop the butter from cooking and burning.  Allow it to cool for 20 minutes.

Beat the remaining 1/2 cup butter with the brown sugar for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.

Beat in the vanilla extract and molasses.

Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes, until smooth; the mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy.

Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for one minute more.

Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, beating on low speed just until everything is incorporated.

Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans and finish incorporating all of the dry flour bits into the dough.

Scoop the dough onto a piece of parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap. Flatten it slightly into a thick disk, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to begin baking, place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat your oven to 350°F.

Scoop the dough in 2 tablespoon-sized balls onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave about 2″ between the cookies; they’ll spread as they bake.

Sprinkle the cookies with sea salt, to taste — as much or as little as you like.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to rest on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before moving them.

Serve warm; or cool completely, and store airtight at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.

 

FosterATX event: a sushi dinner

 

 

These are some moments of inspiration. Because sometimes, I need exposure to new perspectives and styles. There are many reasons why I attend these Foster events, and this is one of them. Sara, Shelby, and Stephanie are three inspiring people when it comes to transforming spaces and designing experiences. They aren't scared to venture out of their comfort zones. A leather shop, thick reclaimed wood tables, vintage brass candle holders, and some Japanese touches. Industrial meets antique meets Asian. And somehow, it all feels perfectly balanced. 

 

A chalkboard sign outside the secret location highlights the chefs of the night: Yoni Lang and Jeffrey Miller. They met during their time at Uchiko, and after going their separate ways for a while, they decided to reconnect for this sushi pop up. Once inside Noah Marion Quality Goods, guests are greeted with Junmai sake from Texas Sake Company at the brass top bar. A neon sign and a row of hammers adorns the bar, providing an old-school yet stylish charm. It's a tight space, so naturally the guests start introducing themselves and mingling. There are place cards at each seat, and I ask the girls about it. We're doing something new. We placed people's dates diagonal from each other so that they would naturally open up and invoke conversation. It's a subtle, yet practical tactic on their part. And sure enough that's exactly what happened. 

Because you see, these events aren't just food events. The name "Foster" comes from fostering a community. And in this busy city that is Austin, it's difficult to meet people. Sure you can go to a bar, talk to someone over loud thumping music and most likely never see them again. But those interactions are quite shallow, filled with uninteresting conversation. I want to get to know people from their core. I don't care what school you went to, or where you work. Tell me about your passions, what you geek out about, what you believe in. I find myself drawn increasingly more to people who can share those things with me, and people who have a creative soul. The ones who care about travel, food, painting, photography, music, writing, anything that brings beauty into this world. People who can create art that is original, poetic. And coincidentally, these foster events naturally attract those types of guests. It's a magical mystery.

Once the guests were seated, conversations started flowing, and so did the sake. Nigori, oak aged junmai, and I can't remember the rest but all very clean and flavorful. And the food... Each course was crafted carefully, with so much intention. All of them being small bites made it easy to enjoy and savor every one of them. They were all delicious, but there were two in particular that stood out to me from the rest. The kinoko sashimi reminded me of a caprese salad; light, refreshing, and herbal. But instead of mozzarella or basil, the chefs used meaty mushroom slices and shiso. The dessert with the soy sauce caramel reminded me of winter days at my grandma's in Japan. We would eat roasted rice cakes dipped in soy sauce and powdered with sugar and kinako during the new year. I was plagued with nostalgia and a sweet, familiar comfort at the candlelit dinner table. And by the time we were wrapping up dessert, it had already been 5 hours of eating and drinking with new friends. A perfect way to end the night.

 

          MENU

Hiramasa Crudo — white ponzu - chive

Hotate — cauliflower - ikura - millet - grapefruit

Kinoko Sashimi — smoked olive oil

Beef Tartare — shiso rivogate - quail egg

Sake Chicharron — creme fraiche - ikura - dill

Bincho — pico de gallo 

Hon Shimeji — thai chili - brown rice vinegar 

Shima Aji — gomashio - nikiri - cherrywood 

Ebi Étouffée — brown roux - holy trinity

Saba Toast — sourdough - tomato - avocado

Crab — charred green tomatos - street corn

Sake Maki — aka kosho - nikiri - shiso

Fruit - cream - soy sauce caramel

 

And if you're curious about the style change in my photos, I'm trying to be more conscious of light ever since my workshop with Don (which you can read about here). Playing with it, moving my subjects around it, finding the perfect angle for it. Light can really change the mood in a photograph I think. And to me, the best photographs are the ones that can invoke some feeling, a little tug at the heart, an involuntary sigh, maybe some goosebumps and a chill up the spine. It's possible to do that, but having good lighting is key. At least that's what I believe. Do you agree?

 

Iceland (Part 2). Our ceremony!

 

Marriage is an interesting thing. Everyone has their own strong views on it, but they all seem so different from one another. Growing up, I was very adamant on never getting married. I didn't want to be tied down and I believed that there was nobody out there that wouldn't bore me after three months. All of that changed when Anthony came into the picture. In the first few weeks of dating him, I knew we were meant to be. My initial memories with him are bitter sweet, as we learned to compromise and understand each other. For me, it was a roller coaster ride of being high in love and drowning in tears. For him, it was frustration towards not being able to understand my feelings. Almost three years have gone by since then, and despite the fact that my emotions are more stable, I love him even more. We're best friends, and have the time of our lives raising our two cute pups. I push him in his cooking, he pushes me in my coding. Some people tell me I shouldn't get married young, and that people aren't meant to be monogamous. I used to believe that too, but I also now believe that once you meet the right person, you'll just know. He loves me the most when I have messy hair, rocking glasses and PJs, getting behind the camera and being fully immersed in creating art. And for that, I'm grateful.

Anthony and I got married under the midnight sun in Iceland. We were at secret waterfall with only sheep and our photographer Donal as our witnesses. The place was a magical little spot that Don knew about, which is one of the reasons why I loved having him as our photographer. We read each other our vows as we passed a piece of walnut carved with what we thought were three Nordic symbols that expressed our relationship. We could feel the mist of the crisp glacial water showering us, and it was perfectly cleansing and pure. The sound of the water pounding on the rocks was so raw, it gave me goosebumps. "Mediative and fairy tale" is how I'm going to put it. We exchanged rings, a little teary eyed, kissed, and we were married.

I'm sharing our wedding ceremony pictures with you guys because what is not to love about these photos?? My friend Donal Boyd from our college days took them, and I couldn't be happier with how they turned out. Thanks Don for a lovely adventure, and making our special night even more special than we had hoped it would be. If you want to do an elopement in Iceland, he's your guy! He'll be your tour guide, the chillest travel buddy, and the most amazing photographer. Go check him out on Instagram and his website for more of his work.