Homemade tortillas, smoked brisket tacos & a trip to Texas

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Smoked brisket tacos on homemade tortillas

My mind is on BBQ, Tex-Mex and tacos.

This could be because my husband and I will soon be traveling to Austin for a week to eat and drink our way through the city. (Hello Franklin Barbecue — we’re coming for you!)

Or it could be because of Podnah’s Pit — a Portland BBQ institution that within the last few years opened La Taq, their sister restaurant. La Taq specializes in seriously tasty Tex-Mex and is responsible for introducing my husband and me to a previously unknown form of deliciousness: smoked brisket tacos.

Ever since January, when we first dined there, my husband has been dreaming of them. In fact he’s already slipped away once without me to indulge in a late-night taco fest. Not that I’m bitter. Well I would be but he was smart enough to bring me home a chicken sopa.

A few weeks ago I found myself at home with the remainder of my bag of masa and a pound of smoked brisket (bought straight from Podnah’s). It seemed like the kitchen gods had a plan for me!

I wasn’t doing to totally replicate the La Taq taco, but I did want to try my own hand at making a smoked brisket taco. I started with the accoutrements. First up was some pickled corn relish, a treat I made for the first time last summer. It’s super easy to whip up and adds zing and kick to just about anything.

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Pickled Corn Relish

Next I made a simple cabbage slaw with sliced green cabbage, green onions, lime juice and a touch of plain Greek yogurt.

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Cabbage Slaw & Pickled Corn Relish

Then it was on to making my very first tortillas ever, something I was SO excited about. I’m kind of a food nerd like that.

I was doing some recipe research when I got hit by a wave of inspiration. When I made pupusas with masa and water (basically the same recipe for corn tortillas) I thought the dough was a little bland, even with a good sprinkling of salt. I started wondering what would happen if I mixed the masa with stock instead.

While my initial investigation didn’t turn up any recipes using chicken stock, I did find one that blew my mind in terms of “why didn’t I think of that?!”

Aptly titled “Double Corn Tortillas,” the recipe called for mixing the masa with corn stock.

Brilliant!

After all – I had two lovely cobs from making the corn relish. I tossed them in some water with onions and let the mixture simmer for an hour or so. Once it was drained and cooled, I added it to my masa and mixed up the dough.

From that point on, tortillas are a super easy thing to make. Roll into dough balls, squish inside a tortilla press (use plastic wrap to keep them from tearing or sticking) and then cook in a hot pan. The Double Corn Tortilla recipe also gave me a good piece of advice — when cooking the tortillas you want them to puff. This will only happen if your pan is hot enough (but don’t get it too hot or the tortillas will burn). The puffing separates the top and bottom of the tortilla making it more pliable and less likely to break.

To get the ideal “puff” the recipe calls for using two pans — one at a lower heat to begin with, and a second one at a high heat to finish the tortillas in. Worked like a charm!

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Squish!

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Yum!

 

 

 

 

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Flattened trtilla

 

 

 

 

 

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Warm and toasty

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Fresh tortillas 

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The spread!

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Smoked brisket tacos

Once I had a pile of fresh, warm tortillas, it was time to feast!

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dsc_4246.jpgdsc_4247 It was so good! Exactly what I had been craving. The smoke from the brisket adds a lovely flavor to the taco and the crunch from the slaw brings the texture. And my first batch of tortillas were also super good — I’m going to be making corn stock all summer!

Pearl Sugar & the Liege Waffle: A story of sweet obsession

 

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Liege Waffle w. Fresh Berries

I have always been a waffle lover. I remember my mom making them for my friends the morning after slumber parties and as an adult, they remain a favorite of mine.

While nothing beats the beautiful simplicity of a buttermilk waffle with melted butter and real maple syrup, I have branched out quite a bit in the waffle department: gingerbread waffles, corn waffles with pork belly, waffles with berries soaked in vanilla rum. Heck, I even threw a Waffle Party once, a slightly crazy soiree filled with fruit curds, compound butters, whipped cream and lots of sparkling wine.

But, sadly, I didn’t discover the reigning ruler of waffles until a few years ago — the liege waffle, made with Belgian pearl sugar. The specialized pearl sugar is added to the unsweetened batter before cooking and melts in the waffle iron, creating crispy crunchy pockets throughout the waffle.

 

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Belgian Pearl Sugar

The sugar also caramelizes the entire outside of the waffle, making it sweet enough to eat on its own. In fact, these are a popular street food in Belgium where people often buy a waffle to snack on while they walk. The sweetness of the waffle negates the need to dress it up with messy toppings (though that’s part of the fun!) making it a great thing to eat on the go.

I had my first liege waffle after my friend Oliver gave me a gift certificate to The Gaufre Gourmet, a Portland food cart that serves up “wonderous waffles” in an array of sweet and savory ways. Since that initial introduction, I have also enjoyed several liege waffles at the Waffle Window, a bustling little spot with oodles of waffle options.

And with every crispy, crunchy bite I took, I vowed to learn how to make these addictive waffles myself. (If you haven’t noticed, my main cooking motivation seems to be to recreate things I love — probably hinged on a combination of frugality and laziness!)

The first step was finding the special sugar, which I bought at an upscale grocery store, though you can find pearl sugar online very easily as well. Lars Own seems to be the most popular brand. They do a larger Belgian sugar (which is what I used) and a smaller Swedish sugar (which I have in my cupboard, stashed away).

I’ve read in a pinch you can also use broken up sugar cubes, which I find intriguing. Might have to try it out sometime just for kicks!

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Once the pearl sugar was procured, I moved on to finding a recipe. I had actually intended to use this one but ended up going with the one of the back of the box due to the shorter rising time.

What sets these apart from any of the waffles I’ve made before is that the batter is a yeasted dough. This means that these waffles require some forethought and time because they will need about 30-60 minutes to rise depending on the recipe used.

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Yeasted Dough for Liege Waffles

Once the dough is ready to roll, stir in the sugar. The recipe called for the whole 10 oz package to be thrown in. In hindsight I’d say you could use half of that and they will still be plenty sweet. These waffles were very, very good, but they quite certainly would have been just as tasty with less sugar.

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Adding the pearl sugar

Then put the dough in your heated waffle iron and you’re ready to go! They will take about 3-5 minutes to cook.

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You can just see the caramelized sugar coating shining through!

When I made my first batch I was with Oliver, a fitting coincidence given his role in leading me to the world of liege waffles. We topped ours with fresh berries (which gave the dish some much-needed tartness) and slight dusting of powdered sugar.

They were crack on a plate. I kid you not.

Fresh Berries

We also made a few with crispy bacon crumbled in. Normally I am a bacon purist, I like bacon on its own but not really in things. But the batch of bacon waffles were shockingly good — the salt, smoke and generally savoriness of the meat made the sweetness of the waffle even more delicious.dsc_3685

Craving that sweet but salty balance again, I re-heated some of the leftover waffles the following night for dinner.

* These waffles keep great by the way — the melted sugar keeps them crispy and a quick trip in an oven or toaster is all they need to be just as tasty a second time around.*

After they were heated through, I topped them with fresh spinach, grape tomatoes, caramelized onions, queso fresca and some grated Parmesan.

Pure. Bliss.

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I seriously can’t wait to make them again!

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Liege Waffles with Bacon

 

Capturing the magic of the daikon “carrot” cake

 

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I was so happy with this meal, I almost cried. For real.

I have mentioned the Pok Pok cookbook on this blog a few times, as it’s one of the few cookbooks I actually use. The majority of the (hundreds of!) cookbooks in my house belong to my husband, and at most I just peruse them for the pretty pictures. But Andy Ricker, chef/owner of Pok Pok, makes food that is so addictively good I can’t help but want to make it at home — as often as possible.

Despite Ricker’s nation-wide fame, some people might not know about Ping, a restaurant that he ran in Portland’s Old Town until it closure 15 months ago. I ate there several times in its heyday, but I quite clearly remember my first dinner there — only because of the dish that made me fall head over heels in love, the savory “carrot” cake.

I had no idea what to expect from such a dish when I ordered it. The menu described it as a stir fry made with eggs, bean sprouts and seared daikon radish cake. It made no mention of carrots whatsoever. And when the dish arrived, there was not a carrot to be found. Instead it was a plate of pure magic.

It’s hard to describe what made the dish so perfect. Perhaps it was the Kecap Manis, the sweet soy sauce that seems to make every stir fry taste ‘just right.’ Or the crispy squares of daikon cake, which were chewy but tender and so full of umami flavor. Or the eggs, which were scrambled in such a way that they helped the sauce coat every single bite.

Years later, I still can’t identify what makes this dish so incredible, but I do recall that I inhaled it and promptly ordered another, to go, so I could enjoy it for lunch the next day. (It took all of my willpower to not eat it as soon as I got home!)

For a while I badgered anyone I knew who had worked at Ping to tell me the secret of the carrot cake, but it wasn’t until the cookbook Portland, Oregon Chef’s Table was released in 2012 that the recipe was finally revealed.

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A photo of the original dish, featured in the Portland Oregon Chef’s Table cookbook.

Yes, it’s taken me 2 years to try to recreate the recipe — simply because I was intimidated by the idea of making my own steamed daikon cake. I guess my culinary confidence has expanded since then because after rediscovering the cookbook, I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl.

* While I would recommend you buy the cookbook yourself, after all there is a lovely recipe from my husband in there, I will send you here for a “published with permission” link to the recipe.

I started with a quick trip to the Asian market for a hefty two-pound daikon radish, plus bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai rice flour and the ever important Kecap Manis.

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Ingredients assembled, I began the process of making the radish cake, which was surprisingly not difficult in the least.

Start by grating the daikon. Then heat up a large skillet and fry the radish in some oil. After about 5 minutes, add water and bring to a boil. Cook until softened, about 15 minutes.

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Softening the daikon in water

Then mix with a rice flour slurry:

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Softened daikon, rice flour, water and salt & pepper

Dump into an oiled aluminum pan and steam until cooked through. The recipe said 15 minutes, but mine needed much longer. Ricker never mentioned what size of aluminum pan he used though so maybe his was larger, allowing the cake to be thinner.

So just steam until it’s not mushy in the middle. It will firm up after it cools too. And if you have to “resteam” it later because you think it needed more time, that’s okay too. *ahem*

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Here it is cooled:

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Yay! My very first daikon cake!

It’s pretty sturdy!

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Then cut into cubes and it’s time to move on to the actual dish.

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Squares of daikon cake, scallions, cilantro and bean sprouts

Fry up the cakes in a non-stick pan. Get them nice and brown and crispy.

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Then add all the rest of the goodies, starting with sliced onions and garlic, moving on to bean sprouts and eggs, and finishing with sweet soy, soy sauce and the scallions. Top with torn cilantro.

The first bite I took made me giddy. It was absolutely perfect — the flavors were exactly how I remembered. And I still have half a radish cake in my freezer for when I get my next craving.

If you are feeling frisky I highly recommend giving this a try. You shouldn’t go through life without tasting some of this magic yourself!

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Beer-Candied Pralines & Planning my Brew-Day!

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Planning my birthday is seriously one of my favorite things to do. I pick a theme months in advance and then slowly dedicate myself to making invitations, buying decorations, practicing cake recipes, etc. (This kind of “birthday black hole” is why I haven’t been around much the last two weeks — too much to do!)

But there’s one thing I definitely love more than my birthday — and that is beer. Sweet, sweet beer. I often say that if given the choice between my kegerator or my wedding ring, the keg would win out. I’m (mostly) joking.

So to help celebrate my love for the hoppy, malty nectar of the gods, this year I decided my birthday party theme should be beer. And oh, trust me, this theme proved to be a contender for the best idea I’ve ever had.

But we’ll get to that in time…For now, welcome to the first in my “brew-day” series. To kick-off this series we will be making beer-candied pecans. And, yes, they are amazing.

See, I’m a big believer in party favors. I love to have little gifts for my friends to take home after the big night. These gifts are usually edible and always fit the theme. I toyed around with personalized pint glasses or beer koozies, but when the idea of beer sweets jumped in my head it seemed like the best way to go.

After a lot of research, my first project was these beer-candied pecans from The Beeroness. They were a dream — easy to make, required few ingredients, and were sweet enough but retained a slight bitter quality from the beer. They were salty and delicious and I would highly recommend giving them a try.

A few notes: I doubled the recipe but in hindsight, felt like I could have kept the caramel recipe the same and just doubled the nuts. There was so much caramel sauce that I poured nearly a half cup off the sheet pan before baking and now have a jar in my fridge for future enjoyment.

And second, I expected a harder crunchy nut, but mine had the slightly softer texture of a praline. Not a bad thing at all — just different. If you wanted something with a harder crack, you could try taking the caramel a bit further along. For me, I was happy enough with the results.

Hopefully my friends were too!

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Beer, nuts, brown sugar, salt and butter are the only ingredients you need!

First select your beer, preferably something dark and not overly hoppy. I chose 10 Barrel‘s Pray for Snow. An ironic choice given my feelings toward snow, slush and winter in general, but a fine, tasty beer with malty notes of caramel and spice.

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10 Barrel’s Winter Ale Pray for Snow, brewed in Bend, OR.

Start by reducing the beer down to a half a cup, then add the sugar and bring to 235 degrees. Stir in butter, and then add the nuts and salt. Spread mixture on a greased pan and bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

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Headed into the oven.

Once the sugar coating has set and the pecan are toasted through, pull and let cool. For the sake of your poor tongue, try to resist sampling them right away.

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All wrapped up with notes that say, “Thank you for making my birthday extra hoppy!”

It’s January, cue the new year’s resolution clichés!

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Butter bean salad with red pepper relish and roasted veggies

Eating healthy is the most common new year’s resolution in the country*. It’s probably also the first one to fall by the wayside (I blame you leftover Christmas cookies!). That doesn’t prevent me from making a little extra effort to watch my eating habits after the holidays though. All of that gluttony (pork belly, cookies, and marshmallows, oh my!) has a way of making me look forward to salads and vegetables.

Though I indulge in my fair share of beer and foie gras, I actually tend to eat fairly healthy year-round — my meals include a lot of farro, raw veggies and chicken. But the thought of doing something like the Whole 30 is just not really my speed — too much pressure.

However, a few weeks ago I read about the Food Lover’s Cleanse, a 14-day eating plan that Bon Appetit publishes every January. And since you all know how much I love BA, it seemed like the perfect thing for me to try, especially since I only have to stick to it for two weeks!

The basics are no refined sugars or flours, very little dairy (wah!), plenty of lean proteins, veggies and whole grains. Honestly the dairy is the hardest part for me — I love yogurt, cheese and milk. But considering how much cheese I packed away in the month of December, two weeks without it is probably not a bad thing.

I started by preparing a big batch of sprouted lentils, a favorite of mine, and quinoa just so I would have them on hand. Then I blanched or roasted a variety of vegetables: sunchokes, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli rabe and delicata squash.

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my sprouted lentils — nutty, fresh and delicious

And so far so good! Though I did dream about eating Goldfish crackers last night. Hm.

I have made slight changes to the BA recipes, basically just mixing up the way that I incorporate ingredients depending on my mood and what I have on hand. Here’s what I made for dinner last night: Butter beans mixed with BA’s red pepper and walnut relish, roasted veggies and arugula topped with pork tenderloin.

This is not too far from the butter bean salad that I love to make and with the roasted pork it was enough to fill me up.

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This would have made a nice light lunch…

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Hearty enough for dinner…

I’ve found the relish is good on many things — scrambled eggs, roasted chicken or simply mixed into farro or quinoa. It’s tangy from the lemon and balsamic vinegar and the silky peppers are boosted tremendously by the crunch of the toasted walnuts. The mint brings it everything together with extra freshness.

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Red pepper and walnut relish

Butter Bean Salad with Pork Tenderloin (serves 2)

  • 1 can butter beans — well rinsed
  • Large clove garlic — minced
  • Small shallot — minced
  • 1 cup roasted cauliflower
  • 1 cup roasted sunchokes — optional
  • 1/2 recipe of Red Pepper and Walnut Relish — follow link for recipe
  • 12-16 oz piece of pork tenderloin
  • 1 cup arugula, spinach or baby kale

Mix the first 6 ingredients together and let sit at room temperature.

Season the pork tenderloin well with salt and pepper, seared on medium-high heat and then roast in the oven (at 375-400 degrees) until done. Let rest and then slice.

Start with a bed of greens, top generously with butter bean salad and then add pork.

* totally made up statistic but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true