I've written a lot about how much I love Seattle.
But to be honest, I probably spend more time daydreaming about the rest of the world. I've been an avid traveler all of my life, starting with the road trips my grandma took me on as a kid, where I learned that Tennessee has crazy amazing mountains, that South Carolina has an eerily beautiful coastline, that in Pittsburgh the houses almost touch, and that I would DEFINITELY need to return to New Orleans WITHOUT my grandma. I took my first plane trip in high school to attend an art camp at a college in California, where I would eventually enroll. My next trip took me to Europe, and from there I was hooked, saving every penny I could through my college years for trips around the world. I lived in San Francisco for 13 years, but took regular breaks to live in Chicago, New York, Tel Aviv, and Sydney. I could not sit still. I promised myself I would visit a new country every year, and did a pretty good job keeping my promise until I began a new career as a pastry chef. Then my energy turned toward learning a new craft, relocating to Seattle, and eventually opening up the Pantry. My feet are definitely still itchy, and I'm back to keeping my promise to see more of the world, but most importantly, I try to encourage my staff to travel as much as they desire.
The Pantry is my dream business for many reasons (it's fun! the people are nice!), but one of those reasons is the built-in flexibility. We're always changing what we're doing, which requires a steady stream of inspiration to keep us full of ideas. It also means that, as long as we work with each other, vacation time is easy to plan around. In fact, I'm writing this post from a beach house on the Washington coast, where we're hanging out for our annual staff retreat. A vacationed staff is a happy staff, and we try our best to put that philosophy into action. There were many trips this year among the Pantry family – the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, Florida Keys, Hawaii, Berlin, Rome, Thailand, Tokyo, the Dominican Republican – but Michelle's trip to Vietnam was definitely the winner, so much so that it became the theme for our August family dinner:
Coconut caramel-glazed pork meatballs with pickles, peanuts, and basil
“Pho” bone marrow butter crostini with lime chimichurri
Turmeric-coconut pancakes with papaya slaw, mint, and pickled Rainier cherries
Grilled shrimp with crispy black rice
Thai basil, heirloom tomato, fried shallot, and chili-tamarind dressing
Sticky pork chops
Pickled watermelon rind, herb salad, and lemongrass eggplant puree
Watermelon and red grapefruit salad
Pickled shallots, coconut chips, mint, cilantro, and passion fruit vinaigrette
Coconut and blackberry parfait
Vietnamese coffee caramel sauce and lime meringues
Michelle's journey was about as dreamy as it gets, with piles of fresh seafood, soup for breakfast, and many, many spring rolls. Meatballs were a regular accompaniment in the spring rolls of her trip, where they were commonly served as collaborative do-it-yourself project at family gatherings. We got excited about developing a recipe for Vietnamese-style meatballs, so that was the first dish we added to the menu. We skipped the spring roll wrapper, and instead glazed them with a sticky coconut caramel sauce, and served them with pickled vegetables, peanuts, and fresh basil. They're a snap to make, and fantastic for casual get-togethers.
- Pork Meatballs:
- 1 pound ground pork (20% fat)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 4 teaspoons water
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 4 scallions, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon high heat oil
- Coconut Caramel:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons coconut juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 Thai chilies, sliced thinly
- 8 ounces carrots, peeled
- 8 ounces daikon, peeled
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
- 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2-3 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes, chopped
- 3 tablespoons toasted peanuts, chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons thinly sliced thai basil
Make the pickles:
Cut the vegetables into long matchsticks using a mandoline or your fabulous knife skills. Place the cut vegetables in a colander and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and let them sit for 10 minutes.
While the daikon and carrots are draining, add the sugar, salt, vinegar, and water into a small sauce pot. Give the vegetables a quick rinse and put them into a small heat-proof container. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables and place a lid or plastic wrap over top, and let the vegetables chill to room temperature.
Make the coconut caramel:
Put the sugar and water in a sauce pan. In a separate small bowl combine the lime juice, coconut juice, fish sauce, and thai chilies. Heat on low to dissolve the sugar, stirring. Brush down the sides of the pan with water to melt any sugar crystals. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium high and stop stirring.
Once the water has evaporated and the sugar has caramelized to a medium amber, very slowly stir in the contents of the bowl. Let the caramel reduce by a third until lightly syrupy and strain it through a fine mesh.
Make the pork meatballs:
Put the bowl and blade of your food processor in the freezer for 20 minutes before beginning your prep. Put the pork in the processor and pulse in 10 second bursts until smooth, scraping down the sides after each pulse. This will take 30 to 40 seconds.
In a separate bowl, add the potato starch, salt, baking soda, water, sesame oil, hot sauce, scallions, and garlic together and whisk until full combined. Pour this over the pork and pulse for 10 more seconds, then turn the pork mixture out into a bowl. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking.
Form the pork into heaping 1-inch balls, and place onto a pan lined with parchment and chill for 10 minutes before cooking. Heat a pan on medium high heat. Sear the meatballs, basting with the coconut caramel, until browned and crispy on the outside and cooked though in the middle.
Brush the top of pork meatballs with more of the coconut caramel. Drain the pickles well and sprinkle over the meatballs, along with the peanut, coconut flakes, and basil. If desired, drizzle a little more caramel over everything.