Birthday Recipes: kimchi pancakes, caramel ice cream, sangria, bbq onion-smoked gouda quesadillas, Vietnamese tacos

So, the birthday party was an amazing success. Thanks to everyone who joined us in the celebration; it could not have been more perfect.

I have to say that the food and drink was a big hit as well. There were lots of “I need this recipe” so I figured I better deliver. As I mentioned to some folks, the zucchini-dill-feta fritters are already up on the blog, and I’ll add the other recipes here that seemed to get a lot of attention. I got most of the ideas for these recipes online, so I can’t take credit there. I did think of the Vietnamese tacos, based on all of the amazing bhan mi that I’ve had. My personal favorite were the bacon wrapped dates. I could have eaten the entire plate, easily. The combo of creamy cheese in the middle, sweet date and crispy salty bacon was so addictive. They are super easy to make, and could use many combinations of cheese for stuffing and meat for wrapping – perhaps prosciutto? I made some vegetarian dates with just the cheese stuffing, and those were also delish (and they disappeared even more quickly!)

Kimchi Pancakes
(this recipe is actually from Lantern in Chapel Hill, NC. I’ve never had them there, but have had other amazing meals there. The experience I most remember there included this very simple scallop sashimi dish drizzled with some kind of chili oil; it was like butter)
• 1 pound sweet potatoes
• 1 cup packed kimchi, very thinly sliced
• 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
• 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh serrano chiles (including seeds; amount depends on heat of kimchi)
• 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (from about 2 bunches)
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• About 1/2 cup oil

Serve with Soy-Vinegar dipping sauce:
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 4 teaspoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
• 2 tablespoons water
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon garlic-chili paste
• ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Stir all sauce ingredients together until sugar dissolves. Taste and add heat to taste.

Shred sweet potatoes or julienne using slicer (about 6 cups).
Stir potato together with remaining ingredients except oil. Let mixture stand at room temperature until wilted and moist, about 5 minutes, then stir again.
Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. I use a mini ice cream scoop to make finger food size pancakes, but if I am serving them with a main course, I’ll use a large scoop. Flatten out the scoops into thing patties. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Add oil to skillet between batches as needed. Keep warm in the oven while making the others. Serve warm, with dipping sauce. I actually made these a week ahead and froze them, in one layer, re-warming them for 15 minutes just before the party.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
We think this may be our favorite ice cream ever. It even partially melted and re-froze and was still totally creamy.

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs

You’ll need an ice cream maker for this.
Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.
Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.
Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, add hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon; do not let boil or you will end up with scrambled eggs. If you do get some curdling, just strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Stir in cooled caramel.
Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.
Sangria
1 bottle of red wine (I quadrupled this recipe for the party, and it was all gone by the end of the night. I think it was a little too easy to drink)
½ cup fresh oj
½ cup brandy
½ cup orange liquor
1/3 cup sugar (more or less depending on how dry the wine is and your preference)
½ lemon sliced thin
½ orange sliced thin
2 cups chopped fruit (I used strawberries, grapes, plums, apples, and pineapple, but it was for a special occasion. If you don’t want to go all out, I would definitely include the apples and grapes; they look pretty, are fairly cheap, and add good flavor)

Mix everything except the chopped fruit and muddle to crush the citrus slices a bit. Taste and adjust for sweetness. If it is too sweet, add some fresh lemon juice. Add the fruit and let it sit in the fridge for a day or two to let the flavors mingle. I added 2 cups of sparkling water just before serving, which lightens it up a bit, makes it “stretch” further, and also saves people from getting too sloshed 

BBQ Onion and Smoked Gouda Quesadillas
If I made these again, I’d add some chopped jalapenos or perhaps serve them with a spicy sauce to drizzle – maybe sour cream mixed with hot sauce, lime juice, and some chopped green onions. They were still quite delish on their own, but I wanted some heat.

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound onions, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
1/3 cup purchased barbecue sauce
8 8-inch-diameter flour tortillas
8 ounces coarsely grated smoked Gouda cheese (about 2 cups packed)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Caramelize onions until dark brown and melty, about 20 or 30 minutes. Add barbecue sauce. Stir until onions are evenly coated, about 2 minutes.
Place 4 tortillas on work surface. Sprinkle 1/4 of cheese, then 1/4 of cilantro and 1/4 of onions on each tortilla. Top each with second tortilla and press to adhere.
Brush skillet with 1 teaspoon oil; heat over medium-high heat. Add 1 quesadilla; cook until cheese is melted, about 2 minutes per side. Place on baking sheet in oven. Repeat with remaining quesadillas.
I made these the day of the party for maximum crispy-ness, but did make them a few hours ahead of time. 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven re-melted and re-crisped them perfectly.

Vietnamese Tacos
2 packages small flour tortillas
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped green onion
½ cup chopped pickled jalapenos
1 cucumber, julienned
3 carrots, julienned and soaked in 4 tablespoons rice vinegar mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt to pickle slightly
3 cups chopped cabbage
1 package marinated tofu, julienned
grilled, braised or roasted meat (if desired)
Sweet and spicy chili aioli
1 cup mayo
2 tablespoons chili garlic paste
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Whisk all ingredients until smooth. Taste and adjust for sweetness, acidity and spice.
I braised a pork shoulder in a spicy marinade of soy, fermented bean paste, sugar, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chili, and rice vinegar for about 4 hours, sliced the meat and used that as the “meat option” for the tacos.
I arranged all of the ingredients buffet style so that guests could assemble their own tacos and choose meat or tofu along with their preferred toppings. It was a little messy, but fun and totally worth it. I think these were definitely one of the biggest “hits,” and I am 100% positive that they will make it onto our household’s dinner rotation from now on. When using tofu as the filling, there is basically no cooking involved, just washing, peeling, and chopping – so it’s perfect for hot summer weather when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen. Any leftover meat or non-meat would work well in here.

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