Orange Pomegranate Oat Muffins with Blood Orange Curd

While I couldn’t be more pleased that spring is around the corner, if we could ever get it to stop snowing in the Pacific Northwest, there are a few great things about winter that I’ll miss. Pomegranates and citrus fruit rank high on that list. I baked these muffins as something of a last hurrah for the chilly season. They have a delicate crumb, a crusty top, and this twist on classic Lemon Curd made with blood orange juice is luscious, tart, and comforting all at once.

Orange Pomegranate Oat Muffins

5 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
6 oz flavored yogurt (I used Tillamook Orange Creamsicle)
1/2 tsp finely minced orange zest
1/4 tsp orange oil
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup pomegranate arils

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
Beat butter, sugar, and egg together. Add yogurt, zest, and orange oil.
In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Incorporate into the wet ingredients, being careful not to over-mix. Carefully fold in pomegranate arils.
Fill standard muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden-topped.

I tried a number of different Lemon Curd recipes before hitting upon the right variation for this Blood Orange Curd. In the end, my mother’s recipe won out. This was the first Lemon Curd I fell in love with, but I don’t usually make this version as it leaves me with a few extra egg whites on my hands. What, meringues? Me? Please.

Blood Orange Curd

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons finely minced blood orange zest
1/4 cup blood orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
3 slightly beaten egg yolks

Combine sugar, cornstarch,  zest, juice, and butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thickened and bubbling. Remove approximately 1/2 cup of the sauce and beat into the egg yolks. Return this mixture to the saucepan, and bring to a gentle, bubbling boil. Cook, stirring for two minutes more. I confess to adding one (just one!) drop of red food coloring; the egg yolk distorts the beautiful ruby red of the blood orange juice otherwise.

Be sure not to use Meyer lemons for this recipe, as the tartness of yellow lemons is needed to balance out the almost-sweetness of the blood orange juice.

Prepare a nice cup of tea and enjoy! The muffins aren’t half bad with a little pat of butter, too.

This is an earlier version of these two recipes. That single drop of food coloring makes as significant a difference in appearance as the use of only egg whites and a half orange juice, half lemon juice mix does in texture and flavor. Not these muffins didn’t get devoured, too, though…

Lifeskills: How to Cook Baby Bok Choi

One of the best things about food in China is learning just how good vegetables can taste. Who knew?Bok choy is one of my favorite vegetables to cook. Not the great big heads of 白菜 bai cai (literally, white vegetable, aka Chinese cabbage) nor the immature, baby, version of the plant the Southern Chinese call 小白菜 xiao bai cai (small white vegetable) but the similarly sized, light green vegetable bunches that we call baby bok choy in the States. Eight or nine times out of ten, the term 青菜 qing cai (green vegetable) got me what I wanted in China, though that term could refer to a whole host of different leafy greens.

This is what I'm talking about.

Anyway, this is how to cook that lovely vegetable. It’ll work for just about any other substantial leafy green.
Have on hand:

  • Bok choy (remember, this boils down quite a bit so buy more than you think you’ll want to serve)
  • salt
  • sesame oil
  • oyster sauce
  • soy sauce

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Cut the ends off the bok choy to separate into individual leaves, and wash these.
Blanch the bok choy leaves, a handful or two at a time, in the boiling water for ~30 seconds. Remove from the pot and set aside in a colander placed in the sink or in a large bowl to catch drips.
Toss out the water and, over *low* heat, add a tablespoon or so of sesame oil to the pot. Be sure the heat is low, as sesame oil has a very low smoke point. Add a couple good-sized globs of oyster sauce and a dash or two of soy sauce. Mix these together well and let a bit of the moisture boil off. Add the blanched bai cai back to the pot and stir to coat. Et voilá!

I serve this with just about every Asian dish I make. You just can’t get enough dark leafy greens in your diet. It’s especially good with my famous Whole Pink Fish with Orange Juice and Cumin or Pai Gu (Spare ribs) in Black Bean Sauce.

Let me know how this works out for you and what you pair it with!

Why I’ll Never Be A Food Photographer

Over the years, I’ve had a number of different ideas about what I’ll be when I finally grow up. When I was 8, I wanted to be a seamstress. Hah. When I was 15 I wanted to be a graphic designer. Hah again. At 25 I had my sights set on becoming a sommelier. Well, at least I’m good at tasting wine.

I’ve also given a passing thought or two to cookbook writing and food photography. Tonight’s events are proof I ought to give up on the latter.

Inspired by a tweet from Expatria, Baby, I whipped up a batch of these carnitas. They were delicious. I served them with warm tortillas, sliced avocado, home made roasted tomato salsa, black beans, and my arroz mexicano, which The Better Half always likes because it reminds him of jollof rice. I even chopped up onion and cilantro and served it, half and half, yin and yang in a shallow dish, just like they do at every taco stand in Mexico. And what do I have to show for my efforts?

This lousy, unappetizing picture:

Carnitas, Stage I

I was too busy eating to take any other shots.

Better not quit my day job.

Masiacan (that’s ˈmeɪˌʒɪ.kən) Fish Tacos

When two cultures collide and commingle, the food is one of the first elements that gets thrown into the mix. We really are what we eat, in not only a physical, but also a social and cultural sense. In the spirit of getting back to my travelling roots (yes, I do realize how ludicrous that phrase is) I decided to try adding an Asian flair to my trusty Baja-style fish tacos.

Element 1: Ginger beer instead of Corona in the fish fry batter

Verdict: Barely perceptible difference. Not bad, though!

Element 2: Ginger-Lime-Cilantro Pico de Gallo

Verdict: A winner! Next time maybe I’ll call it coriander instead of cilantro and add lemongrass for a more Southeast Asian flair.

Element 3: Lightly pickled Baby Bok Choy instead of chopped cabbage.

Verdict: Very nice. The key is not leaving the bok choy to brine too long, as the leafy parts can get waterlogged and soggy.

Element 4: Wasabi Guacamole

Verdict: Almost as awesome as it sounds, but not quite. Maybe next time I’ll punch it up with a little more lemon juice and some minced jalapeño to even the flavors out.

Element 5: Wash ’em down with a Ginger Margarita

Verdict: Flat-out AMAZING. I used this recipe from Jean-Georges Vongerichten

I made my usual white sauce, a mixture of yogurt with a bit of mayo, cumin, lime juice, and ground red pepper.

It was a tasty experiment in fusion cooking. A few tweaks to be made, but nothing a few more fish taco dinners won’t fix!

Successful Fried Rice…At Last!

After numerous previous attempts, I have finally succeeded in making the best fried rice ever. Thank you, Lifeskills Master JP Villanueva.

In an attempt to ease my sandwich-hating husband’s lunchtime hunger pains, I threw a couple of mashed garlic cloves, some leftover rice, a pork chop, a couple handfuls of carrot, and a bit of cilantro (it’s healthier if you add something green) in the requisite “screaming hot wok.” Dropped an egg in, too, for good measure.

And ’cause I AM hard-core, I stirred and let it all sit in the wok with the gas dialed all the way up to High. The result: crunchy yumminess!

Best fried rice I’VE ever made…paired it with Black-Eyed Pea and Sweet Potato stew the hubby had whipped up the day before for a complete Afrasian lunch.

This was the crunchiest rice we’ve had since the 4 kuai clay pot wonder-rice in the dirty labyrinth of alleyways populated by poor university students behind the 广州东站. Wish I had photos of that place. We may have been the only foreigners the shopkeepers had ever seen. The eateries were tiny. Short-plastic-stools-and-no-tables tiny, and the kitchens were even tinier. You could choose the meats and veggies from a display tray to have tossed in your clay pot of rice. I remember having Chinese sausage, shitake mushrooms, and spring onions. Amazing. The Better Half took me there while we were still dating. It’s clear why I married him, isn’t it?

Breakfast and cultural identity

So yesterday I’m following a one-armed used car salesman around the car lot with my fussy daughter on one hip. I’m speaking to her in Spanish, ’cause I’m pretentious like that, and we want to expose her to all the languages we speak, and ’cause when she’s understandably fussy my natural inclination is to speak to her in the most tender language I know. Plus, the salesman’s heavy accent reminds me that I ought to be speaking more Spanish to her. Sometimes I forget.

Anyway, he overhears me and asks where my husband is from, assuming he must be the reason this güera speaks passable Spanish. No, mi esposo es africano, I tell him. So how come you speak Spanish, he wants to know. En mi corazón soy mexa, I reply. Tapatía, de hecho. I explain that I spent five and a half years in Mexico, most of that time in Guadalajara, and really came to identify with that city. Turns out he’s from Guada, too. I would have called him paisa if I’d liked him more. Smarmy used-car sales guy.

I was thinking about that statement this morning as I made breakfast. For a long time I have asserted that what people choose to eat for the first meal of the day is a true indicator of their dominant culture. Your average North American might be a very adventurous eater when it comes to lunch or dinner, but we really tend to stick to what’s familiar when it comes to the most important meal of the day. Why is imported boxed cereal so outrageously expensive in stores that cater to expats? They know they’ve got us right where they want us.

The Better Half, incidentally, shoots down this theory. He couldn’t care less what he eats for breakfast. He has, in fact, developed an affinity — bordering on obsession — for maple syrup since our marriage. He’ll make French toast just so he can douse his plate in maple syrup. Still, there is no way anyone would claim that his dominant culture is North American. He believes himself physically incapable of eating a sandwich for lunch two days in a row. If he goes more than a week without some egwusi or ogbono and fufu, you can tell something’s wrong. It’s like his world is just slightly off-balance and he has trouble being his usual wonderful self.

Back to my breakfast. If you were to ask me what my favorite breakfast food is, I wouldn’t have to think about the answer for even a second.

Chilaquiles rojos, with queso fresco, a little bit of cremita, and un huevo estrellado. OK, the ones in the picture are verdes, but this photo looked the most appetizing. To my way of thinking, there can be no better breakfast food. Now, ask me when was the last time I partook of this soul-soothing dish that makes such a bold statement about how I view myself and who I think I am… I couldn’t even tell you. It’s not like it’s that hard to prepare, but in the mornings, I just can’t be bothered.

Sigh. Better finish off my English muffin…which I’m really enjoying, by the way. Those things were hard to come by in China, outside of McDonald’s.