Sunday, July 27, 2014

Homemade Sushi Rolls!

I have to say I am quite spoiled when it comes to the ability to buy a wide variety of foods/ingredients whenever I want. If I want Chinese ingredients, I just go into a Chinese supermarket, if I want Japanese ingredients, I go to a Japanese supermarket, if I want stuff from other parts of the world, I’m sure there’s a supermarket I can visit to get those as well. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be living in an area where there are so many different types of food and cultures that if I wanted to eat, cook, or see any of those things, it’s all readily available. I admit, sometimes I take these things for granted. 
Last weekend there was a Ramen Festival/JPop Summit in Japantown in SF, it was total madness. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless you have a real desire to be stuck in a huge crowd of people. There were so many people you’re just stuck. Not slow moving stuck but just flat out, bring a chair and sit, stuck. I was excited for the Ramen (of course its food driven) but when I arrived and found out how long the lines were, first I was disappointed and then decided it was totally not worth the wait. It was a 3 hour line just to get to the ordering part, who knows how long it’d be before you actually get to eat?! That’s too much effort not to mention I usually like to enjoy my noodles in a much more relaxed environment. So instead my friend and I ventured off to the food trucks section and picked up some Japanese onigiri (Japanese rice balls) which didn’t go any faster but luckily I got to watch them make it so I was distracted enough. After 45 minutes of waiting, we got our food and 5 minutes later ... all was devoured. Such a long wait and it was so short lived. While I was there watching them make it, I thought to myself “That seems easy enough, I’m going to make my own. Forget waiting 45 minutes in line! I’ll have it done in 10 and then I’ll get to enjoy it quicker and in the comforts of my own home! Yup, it’s decided.

Of course I was ecstatic about the idea and this is how sad I sound sometimes but I couldn’t wait for the morning to come so that I could go to the store and get all the ingredients I’d need for this experiment… waking up at 7am did not help. Unlike me, most places are not up and running until at least 8 or 9am. Anyways when I finally gathered all my goodies at Mistuwa Supermarket in San Jose, I was ready to rock and roll (no pun intended…)! 

30 minutes later… this onigiri project was a lot harder than I had imagined. I was not coordinating the seaweed size with my rice triangle very well and either I’d run out of seaweed wrap OR have too much wrap… needless to say, first attempt fail. By this time I was getting hungry and my mom was starting to come into the kitchen to start dinner and sees the seaweed wraps and said “Oh! Sushi!” Well that was not my intention but after 5 more minutes of struggle, I gave up and turned it into a sushi project. Given I’ve never made that before either, it’s not a bad trade off, not to mention I already have all the ingredients AND no more trying to size the seaweed wraps! Just roll with it! Ha! Ha…Yah I’m lame, whatever. 
Rolling your own sushi is unbelievably easy and fun! Giving them silly names is the best part, well aside from getting to get them later. If you don’t own that bamboo mat that you see people rolling sushi with, no fear! One thing I learned from watching lots of sushi chefs, use plastic wrap! They don’t stick and you can just peel them right off the roll. Now drum roll please…. Here are my own personal creations:

The Hot Mess:
spicy shrimp and crab meat (mayo and sriracha hot sauce), avocado, and tuna

Runaway Chicken
Chicken breast, avocado, (cucumber would be a nice touch too), and takoyaki mayo sauce.

Crab Fest
Real crab meat with daikon radish shreds mixed with spicy mayo, imitation crab meat with wasabi mayo (or can substitute with yogurt dip)

The Raw Raw
Salmon, tuna, and avocado

Cutting the sushi is tricky business unless you have a really sharp knife which I didn’t so I used a pair of kitchen shears and snipped along the seaweed wrap all the way round and then finally giving it one huge clean snip thru the middle. Now if you have neither, by keeping it in the plastic wrap, it should also make it easier to cut thru as well but with this method you’re also going through a lot more plastic wrap too… This last suggestion is only speculation, I’ve never tried it that way and I’ve only seen it at sushi places…but thought I’d throw that out there anyways.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream!

The ice cream making saga continues! Nothing welcomes summertime like fresh strawberries! I've always found the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar rather odd, they never strike me as a likely match but here we are, a match made in heaven. Funny how things just work out. 

Granted I took apart this recipe and tried the strawberry + balsamic vinegar portion and made it into a fluffy light mousse weeks ago in my chiffon cake experiment but prior to that I've always looked at that pairing with questioning eyes. Vinegar with my strawberries?? Isn't it tart enough and to put even more sour in! That's just crazy talk! At least to me it was but then how come it shows up in everything? It must tastes good in order to appear together in so many things right?!? So as a curious little kitchen scientist, I decided it was time to test this odd coupling of ingredients. 

When I first tried it in the mousse I was more than impressed, not only did it not make the strawberries more sour but it enhanced it by bringing out the nature flavors of the strawberries. 

Food for Thought: [about 30 minutes of researching later...] Because this is how my brain likes to run, I was curious to why adding something acidic was important to a process like this, how did the balsamic vinegar make this so much better? I'm sure many of you have also seen lemon juice being added to recipes that create similar effects where it just makes things taste better somehow and why is that... So of course, I went to my many handy dandy (nerdy) reference books (On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee and Cook's Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking). To answer that question, we have to go even further back. It turns out that adding sugar and acid go hand in hand. Have you ever noticed while working with some fruit related recipe that you always add in sugar? So why more sugar when the fruits themselves already have plenty? Well, sugar is hygroscopic which means it has an affinity for water molecules, in other words, adding sugar to the fruits will draw out the water (juices) from the fruit. This process is called maceration. By performing this procedure the fruit becomes softer because the water that was once there holding onto the fruit's structure has now been removed. In addition to the softer fruit you also get a nice reserve of the flavor-rich juice you've extracted from the fruit. So now what? Balance. This is where the acid comes into place. Acidity will help balance the sugar and prevent the dish from being overbearingly sweet so in the end you get the concentrated bright fresh flavors of the fruit. There you have it folks. Mystery solved, my brain is happy.

Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream
from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones by Bi-Rite Creamery

For strawberry puree:
  • 3 cups of strawberries, halved or quartered
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar 
For ice cream base:
  • 5 large egg yolks 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
For the puree:
  1. Combine berries, sugar, and vinegar in a nonreactive skillet. While stirring, cook over medium heat until strawberries are soft and the liquid they released is reduced (approx 6-8 minutes)
  2. Transfer berries and their juices to a blender/food processor and puree. Set aside.
For the base:
  1. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar (1/4 cup), set aside.
  2. In a heavy nonreactive pan, stir together cream, milk, salt, and the remaining sugar and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce heat to medium.
  3. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
  4. Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat stirring constantly, until thicken (this part is tricky, because it doesn't get really thick just thick enough so that the mixture coats the back of the spatula and when you run your finger along it, it holds a clear path) and then cook for another 1-2 minutes longer (don't over cook otherwise it becomes grainy and egg-y in flavor)
  5. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set container into an ice bath, using a clean spatula, stir the base occasionally until it becomes cool (or you can stick it in the fridge and stir it every 5 minutes until completely cooled). Remove from ice bath and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight
  6. Add in the strawberry puree and teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to the chilled base and freeze in ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wanderings - Cooking For Solutions - Monterey Bay Aquarium Pt. 2

** Well it certainly seems like I've been away on hiatus. I can't believe its been nearly 2 months since my last entry! Quite honestly life got a bit busy the last couple of months but the good kind of busy, so it was all worth it. My poor blog on the other hand got left on the back seat. This particular post I have had it written since part 1 was posted but I didn't have the pictures ready so it sat idle for 2 months. While there is much to update from my 2 month's absence, let's finish what I started back in May so here is part 2 of my adventures from Cooking for Solutions.**

Cooking for Solutions Part 2 (part 1 can be located here). Now that the basics from part 1 is out of the way, here are some highlights:

Alton Brown Cooking Demo:
He is hilarious and incredibly entertaining to watch in real life as on TV. His dish: Poseidon's Buffet of Underwater Delight which according to him was named this because it sounded funny. From the name itself the only thing to deduce from it is that its seafood related. Despite its Greek name, this dish is actually very Asian influenced with ingredients such as fish sauce, soy sauce, Asian garlic chili sauce, Chinese five spice, and Chinese sausages. Seafood included lobsters, shrimps, clams, and mussels. He even built his famous ladder contraption for this demonstration (featured from one of his Good Eats episode of how to safely deep fry a turkey, the Turkey Derrick). 

While the food was stewing away in the pot, he had a delightful Q&A session with the audience which I wished I had a recorder because some of those answers were noteworthy. Finally the food was complete and we were all given small samples to taste. I say small but it was actually a good amount of food as far as "samplers" go...I remember it being pretty tasty but to be honest I was so excited about getting to his book signing, I literally inhaled the food and didn't really catch the fine details in taste...oops.

Alton Brown book signing:
Originally I was just going to have him sign his page in the Cooking for Solutions cookbook I got but then I decided to purchase one of his books as well to sign in addition to, call it spur of the moment if you will. Maybe its the crazy Asian inside of me but I was ready to get all ghetto on people if they tried anything funny like push or shove. Turns out people at this event is very civilized and people lined up in an orderly fashion to get their books signed AND pictures taken with Mr. Alton Brown. Also to my greatest surprised, it wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. But... maybe because I flew out of my spot at the cooking demo and practically ran to the book signing... I might have been right behind Alton as he left the stage. 

I'm not crazy I swear (!), just a little overly excited. Best moment ever when it was finally my turn! I had this elaborate conversation in my head with Alton except of course when I got there, reality hit, and all I got to ask him was if he visited CA often and his answer was "at least once a year." Then it was a few quick scribbles and snaps of my camera for pictures and I was on my merry way. Best 2 minutes ever!

Alexander Weiss Cooking Demo: 
Oddly enough I watched that season of Master Chef which I don't always watch. His season was called Master Chefs Junior featuring home cooks aging from 9-15 years old. Amazing! I wish I could cook like that. Alexander was only 13 yrs old when he won, I was rooting for him during that competition so it was interesting and fun to get to see him cook in person. You can kind of tell he's still getting use to the spotlight but he handled himself quite well. His mom was also in the audience with us which was sweet.

His dish was also very Asian influenced, Asian-Glazed Grilled Salmon served with Japanese soba noodles. I liked this dish a lot, slightly sweet and tangy but not too much where it'd mask the salmon. Well done. I'm going to need to try this recipe out, of course being Asian, I'm going to have to give it a bit more flare.

Roman Perez & Whole Foods Market Seafood Team Demo:
I missed parts of this demo because I had started to browse around some of the booths but came back later because I knew food was coming at the end of the demo. While he was cooking several of the Whole Foods team members were asking trivia questions pertaining to sustainable seafood and handing out gift cards, kind of wish I didn't miss it. 

Their dish was Tequila Lime Scallop served with mash potatoes. The scallops were perfectly cooked. I love scallops. Yum!

Todd Fisher Demo:
I was actually planning to leave before his demo even started because I was getting pooped and all the goodies I've gathered were getting incredibly heavy to carry around. Then I found out he was making Halibut with Papas Carbonara (with applewood bacon), I had to stay for this one last demo. He's a local chef from Tarpy's Roadhouse in Monterey but has also worked in restaurants in Pebble Beach resorts. He was pretty entertaining to watch as well. 
Maybe I just love cooking, I find it all interesting and entertaining. He was interactive with his audience and threw a few jokes, nothing wrong with that. Halibut was delicious, so glad I hung around.

Sponsors Booths:
Each sponsor had a booth to talk about how they're being sustainable and what they are doing to help the cause. Of course each booth had loads of goodies to either take, taste, or play with so it was all so very cool! There was even an activity stamp booklet for you to take and as you visit each booth you get a stamp and after you collect all the stamps you win a prize! So naturally, I had to collect all the stamps. The prize was a shiny sardine finger puppet (which now sits proudly in my room). Some booths were clearly meant for little kids but who cares because I may look like a 20 something year old, that day I was pushing 10 at most on the inside. 

Sponsors included: Clover Stornetta Farms (free cheeses!!), Chipotle (free tomato plants + guacamole tasting/coupons), Celebrity Cruises (free spice rub), Earthbound Farms ($1 reusable tote bag with free salad coupon + free lettuce seeds), Edible Communities (free food magazines), Kaiser and Kellogg Garden products (were not present), Oceans Halo (free seaweed chip samples + free snack size bag), Oceans Naturals (free tuna samples/coupon), Sheba (free cat food, so my cat got something delicious out of this), Whole Foods (various booths with various tasty treats and beverages).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wanderings - Cooking For Solutions, Monterey Bay Aquarium Pt. 1

Cooking for Solutions is an event hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA for a number of years (13!). It is such a shame that I didn't know of its existence for so long! I was at a wine symposium for work last year and in one of the stations I happened to be wine tasting at, my eyes fell upon this little booklet that read "Cooking for Solutions" now anything that has the words: cook, food, eat, or closely related, you've got my attention! So I picked it up and shoved it into my bag of goodies and moved on. When I got home, I flipped through the booklet and realized "oh my goodness, is there anything more magical??" 

So what am I talking about?? What is all this random jibber jabber? Well let me tell you, if you haven't heard of Cooking for Solutions and to anyone that LOVES food (like me!) you've been missing out! If you get an opportunity, you need to go check this thing out!

 A bit of background: Cooking for Solutions is an annual event designed to celebrate sustainable cuisines (Seafood Watch is one of the their main programs), held every year over a span of 3 days in May. During this event celebrity, local, and notably chefs from all over the country come and join in all the fun teaching us ways to fine dine while keeping our planet healthy! These 3 days are filled with numerous events such as night Galas, small-group Food & Wine Adventures, Salon Series, DIYs, and Sustainable Foods Celebration at the aquarium. There is a piece of something for everyone. Of course some of these events have additional costs to them but they all go to a good cause and they're all tax deductible to various degrees. The prices will range from $200+/- down to about $50+/- depending on the event you want to attend. If you're an aquarium member then there is a discount on event pricing. No worries though, if all of that sounds too pricy, the Sustainable Foods Celebration at the aquarium is included with museum admission and there is plenty to see and do with that alone which is what I did this year.

I missed out on last year's event, mainly because I was too much of a big baby and "oh I don't want to go by myself" because it would seem that I'm the only food nut within my group of friends (yes, so lame! Luckily they all still have wonderful other qualities that I will overlook this horrid lack of interest in something so awesome!) but this year, this year is different. Why? Because I found out Alton Brown was going to be there! Yes, you read correctly, Alton Brown! One of my favorite celebrity chefs of all time was going to be there! This year I didn't care if I was by myself or if I went with a ghost, I was going to be there! I did have a moment of relapse when no one responded to my "who wants to come with me!?" but in the end I decided I had to be there. I found out Alton was going to be at the Sustainable Food Celebration event and decided to just go to that, plus I had purchased a year's membership so that was technically already paid for. Side note: I highly recommend the annual membership ($75) just for this event alone because the Sustainable Food Celebration is on both Saturday and Sunday with different chefs each day. Admissions is $40, twice is $80 or a year membership of $75 for unlimited visits. Oh and 100% tax deductible! Just a thought.

I had no idea what I was in for. The museum opened at 10am and from my last visit to the museum, I had problems finding parking AND ended up paying $20! So this time around, I figured with an event like this, I should probably try to beat the crowds a little bit and get there about 9/9:30am so I'd have a fighting chance to find a place to park. Unfortunately I still had to fork over $15 for parking but this was a much better spot as it was right across from the museum. With membership this time, I also got to go to the express line! Turns out as it gets closer to opening time even the express line gets long. No fear, like a crazy fan, I was the 3rd person in line. While waiting in line, I was given a schedule for the day and with a quick glance I soon realized how exciting this day was going to be. 

The chefs who were present that day, Alton Brown (Good Eats, Iron Chef America, Cutthroat Kitchen, author), Alexander Weiss (Master Chef Junior winner < who's season I just so happened to watch!), Todd Fisher (Local Chef: Pebble Beach resorts/Monterey) and local Whole Foods chefs were all listed for cooking demonstrations at various times during the day. Alton Brown had a book signing. Local small food businesses had stations all around the outside deck area for people to learn about their products and to try their foods. Inside the museum there were a number of other stations promoting ways to be more sustainable when it comes to food/seafood. From human foods to cat food to plants, there were so much! Of course, first things first, meeting Alton Brown (!), who happened to be the first chef cooking at 11am. Needless to say, like a crazy nut, I spent my first hour sitting in the front row of where his demonstration was going to take place to ensure I got a good spot. 

It was absolutely gorgeous in Monterey that day, just gorgeous. Anyone who's been to Monterey knows that the weather there can be hit and miss, sometimes it can get depressingly overcast. Not the case that day! All of the cooking demonstrations took place outside in their Great Tide Pool Deck which faces the ocean. Yes, the ocean! Perfect blues skies, fluffy white clouds, wonderful light sea breeze, clear deep blue waters, it was like a page out of a magazine. I could've sat there all day just to stare! Now throw in cooking, can anything be more perfect!? Food/cooking + outdoors, two of my favorite things in the whole world together in one place, I was in heaven. Then heaven just keep getting better! Not only did I get to see some of my favorite chefs cook but I got to eat! Everything that was made during the cooking demo, larger portions were prepared in the back and brought out to the audience for tasting. It was glorious! I was like a kid in a candy store with no adult supervision, I ate everything! Who wouldn't?! 
(....more to come)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Maple Walnut Ice Cream!

It's ice cream season once again! Finally its that time of year where its warm enough to play with my beloved ice cream machine. I may or may not have left the freezer bowl in the freezer since last summer... but hey that only means its ready for me to use whenever I decide to use it, that's my excuse anyways. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was too lazy to get take it out when summer was over... In my defense, it was in the outside freezer so, out of sight, out of mind? You know what, I'm glad I didn't, for once lazy worked out okay.

Really what sparked interest in ice cream making was last week, when northern CA got hit with a hot spell, like record breaking temperature hot, and sometime during that week, both my brother and I decided some ice cream would be awesome at this point. Of course there was no ice cream to be found during that time frame only me making a commitment to make some for us once the weekend comes when I have more time. Unfortunately (and very thankfully) the temperature dropped from 90s back down to 70s by the time we reached weekend status. Well that's not going to stop me, I've already made up my mind, I'm going to make ice cream and I will enjoy it whether it be 100 degrees or 60...turns out, it was closer to 60. Oh well, ice cream is ice cream, its still delicious.

So once again, I crack open my handy dandy ice cream cookbook I bought last year, love that thing, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, for some delicious suggestions. I'm not quite sure how I landed on this particular recipe out of so many in the book, it must've been one of those flip to a random page and it just so happens that I had everything this recipe called for AND I've never had maple walnut ice cream before. Sure, why not?!

This came out so smooth and creamy and delicious! The maple and walnut paired with each other flawlessly. Slightly sweet but not over powering so that you can't taste it and the toasted walnuts helped enhanced the maple flavor as well as giving it that extra bite. A must try!

Maple Walnut Ice Cream
from Bi-Rite Creamery's cookbook: Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
** note: requires an ice cream machine for best result

  • 5 large egg yolks (edit: I just realized I wrote "eggs" rather than "egg yolks"! I hope no one's tried it with all of the egg, sorry!)
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup ~ 12 tbsp (grade B preferred, organic; I used regular and it came out just fine)  
  • 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (I placed the chopped walnuts in a sheet pan and baked at 325 F degrees for about 8 minutes)
  1. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the maple syrup (about 6 tbsp), set aside.
  2. In a heavy nonreactive pan, stir together cream, milk, salt, and the remaining maple syrup (about 6 tbsp) and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce heat to medium.
  3. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
  4. Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat stirring constantly, until thicken (this part is tricky, because it doesn't get really thick just thick enough so that the mixture coats the back of the spatula and when you run your finger along it, it holds a clear path) and then cook for another 1-2 minutes longer (don't over cook otherwise it becomes grainy and egg-y in flavor)
  5. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set container into an ice bath, using a clean spatula, stir the base occasionally until it becomes cool (or you can stick it in the fridge and stir it every 5 minutes until completely cooled). Remove from ice bath and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight
  6. Freeze in ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add in walnuts in towards the end of churning or mix in by hand before transferring the ice cream into its container.   

Monday, May 19, 2014

Another Cake Story: Chiffon Cake with Balsamic Strawberry Mousse

It would appear that I've been neglecting this blog for a little bit... although to be honest in the past week(s) I've been feeling a bit unmotivated and a bit bummed out but I think the source of that may be because of what happened last weekend which pretty much pushed it over the edge. The tone at the start of the weekend was terrible and as a result carried its way through. Fortunately things started to somewhat turn around as the week progressed and then something very awesome happened yesterday so things are looking much brighter (more on that later). While being bum is a totally acceptable human thing to feel, its not smart to live there too long. 

Last weekend was Mother's Day weekend. Hope everyone did at least one nice thing for their mothers whether it be something small or something huge, I think all thoughts and gestures are welcomed no matter what. My family isn't big on any type of celebrations but regardless, I always try to do something and that something is usually food related. Our family didn't have much while I was growing up, so many times, a nice meal is really all we can call a celebration and so that's become our tradition. People make huge deals about birthdays, Christmas, other types of celebrations with parties, gifts/presents, fancy dinners, etc, but having grown up with none of those options, I'm quite content with the small things. Of course who doesn't like presents!? Let's not kid ourselves here, BUT at the end of the day, I'm most happy with gifts that come from the heart, it doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, just something to show thought went into it. 

Anyways, so Mother's Day weekend, on Saturday I thought I'd wake up early and make another visit to 85 degrees bakery in San Jose, I know I've mentioned not wanting to go back there but my mom seems to like the breads I bought home last time which is a pretty rare thing so I decided to make another trip to get her some more breads. The bakery opened at 7am so I woke up at 6am to beat the cowards...well I sort of did. There are still a good number of people but I didn't have to wait as long, I was out in 15 minutes rather than 30. Even though I had stopped by the bakery the day before, I wanted to make something from scratch, so I decided on a chiffon cake because it was one of the cakes I make that my mom really enjoys.

I've made this cake before except unlike last time, my mousse came out perfect! Its amazing how far a little bit more experience will get you. The small victories. The chiffon cake and the mousse paired wonderfully together both light and fluffy and not too sweet.

Chiffon Cake with Balsamic Strawberry Mousse
adapted from Better Homes and Garden Cookbook (cake) and Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (base for mousse)

For cake:
  • 7 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup cake flour (all purpose will work as well, cake flour tends to yield cakes that are less dense)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil (I used canola)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp finely shredded orange peel (optional, I omitted this for this particular combo)
  • 1 tsp finely shredded lemon peel (optional, I omitted this for this particular combo)
For mousse:
  • 1 1/2 pints of strawberries or 3 cups, halved or quartered
  •  2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin 
  • 2 cups of whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
For cake:
  1. Separate eggs. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. In a large mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mix. Add in egg yolk, cold water, oil, (orange peel, lemon peel) and vanilla.
  2. Beat at low speed until well combined and then beat at high speed for 5 minutes until mixture becomes satin smooth.
  3. In an extra large mixing bowl beat egg whiles and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Pour batter in a thin stream over beaten egg whites, fold in gently.
  4. Bake 325 F degrees for 20-30 minutes if in a shallow pan OR if using a bundt pan, bake for approx 65-70 minutes. Cake it is done with the top springs back when lightly touched.
For Mousse:
  1. Combine berries, sugar, and vinegar in a nonreactive skillet. While stirring, cook over medium heat until strawberries are soft and the liquid they released is reduced (approx 6-8 minutes)
  2. Transfer berries and their juices to a blender/food processor and puree.
  3. Transfer back to pot and stir in gelatin (over low heat if necessary) until completely dissolved. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally to avoid gelatin to set completely.
  4. Whip the cream and sugar together until stiff peaks form, then slowly whip in the puree. Mousse is not ready to be used as cake filling or can be transferred to a mold and enjoyed later once its set in the refrigerator. Allow 1-2 hours to set.  
Now for a side tangent: that awesome thing that happened yesterday is probably not all that awesome to most people but I was rather happy about it. On the way home from work I decided to stop by the Eddie Bauer outlet store to see if they had any good hiking/outdoor backpacks because I've been hunting for one for a while and totally forgot Eddie Bauer has some really good bags. I almost didn't go but decided I'll make a quick round just to see and then go home. I went in, headed straight towards the backpacks so I wouldn't be distracted by anything else. I was just about to head out when I decided to take one last glance to make sure I didn't miss anything and that's when I saw them, all the way on the bottom were the perfect hiking/outdoor backpack I've been looking for, looked at the price tag $59.99 ... made a face, looked around for additional promotions and saw that there was only a $10 off deal, thought about it and decided to get it anyways even though Memorial Day weekend was coming up and there might be a better deal, like 40% off. When I got to the register to pay, I asked the cashier if she knew what the deals were going to be and she didn't but she informed me that if the deals were better I could bring it back in for a price adjustment. I was pretty content with that answer, making a mental note to check back in a week. Then she rings the backpack up and we both went "what!?" Probably for different reasons but it turns out the backpack was 50% off! She chuckled and said "Well I guess you won't have to come back, what a steal." What a steal indeed... and with that I thought "hmm not a bad start for this weekend."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wanderings - 85C Bakery Cafe, San Jose CA

As someone who loves food, how can I not be curious to see what the huge hype is about. There is apparently this great bakery that's made its way up to northern California and everyone is talking about it: 85 Degrees C Bakery Cafe. 

This bakery craze originated from Taiwan and is considered to be as big as our Starbucks, huge! In recent years, it has slowly made its way over to the States, and in California, it seems to have made a home down south and in the last few months this popular hot spot has started to migrate north. First making its presence in Newark which is close to about an hour drive away from me, so though curious, I never gave it any thought to pay that location a visit and not to mention all the reviews say its super busy all the time. No thanks!

However, to my greatest surprise, I found out they had just opened a location in San Jose 4 days ago, awesome! Since I have Mondays off, I thought "Hey, it's got to be less crowded on Mondays since normal folks should be at work and I can just make my trip, snag a few baked items, and done!"... oh was I in for a surprise when I arrived. Not only was I wrong but there were plenty of people to make a nice crowd. Well its too late now, I'm already here, the only option is to go thru with it. 

My thoughts?
Its crowded and I am led to believe this is the case no matter what time you show up... well okay maybe not 7am (when they open) but I went at 11am on a Monday, crowded. Don't people have to work?! Anyways upon arrival, I thought the decor was very nice, the place is well light, overall very modern, spacious, and slick. Its split into 2 areas: the baked breads section with its own registers and the "cafe" section on the other side where you can order drinks and little cakes/desserts and has a seating area for you to enjoy your treats. The sections function independently so at least if all you want is a drink or cakes, you can just go to that side. If you want breads...well there's a nice line for you to wait in.

Most of the breads are self serve. Very traditional to Asian bakeries where all the breads are placed inside a bread display shelf and you, with a tray and tongs at hand, pick the breads and its quantities you desire. That said, there were several notable downfalls:
  1. Total madness and not to mention extremely annoying when something comes out and this person in front of you snags like 80% of everything off that batch. Total disregard to others around them. Have you no shame? Share please?!
  2. Though it would appear to be lots of display cases, as you get closer, you realize that there's actually only about a good dozen different types of breads and everything else is a repeat. I wish they'd tell you that OR split the line into 2 so that more people can get through. For me there was about a good 10% of those displays where I was like "Oo that looks good and Oh! that too" and then rest of that walk thru/waiting in line to pay was pure repeats of things I've already encountered at the beginning. Seems rather inefficient.
  3. Supposedly there is a constant flow of fresh baked breads coming out every 3-5 minutes and for the most part, that held true, but when it came to their most popular item, the taro marble bread (that they keep behind the counters), they ran out. I was so disappointed, I love LOVE taro! What the hell! I was told the next batch was to come out in an hour, an hour! I was not pleased especially after standing in line for a good 20 minutes...
  4. There is also a section of the line where they baggie all your baked goods, though very nice in terms of packaging, can I just say how environmentally unfriendly that is... every item gets it own individual plastic bag... not only was this time consuming but imagine the trash you're generating. I suspect this practice will not last too long. I would've been perfectly happy if they had just placed all the breads into the box it came with and called it a day.
Needless to say, I was not impressed. So what about the baked items? The breads were extremely fresh and that I can't deny. They were also pretty tasty for the most part but is it worth that long wait in line? Thats debatable. If it wasn't so crowded or somewhat unorganized, I'd go back again. Maybe my experience was partially turned off by the long wait. Many bakeries in Asia are very fast paced, you go in, and you come out and its all the same concepts. I have extremely high expectations...

My conclusion: though pretty good, I don't think it lives up to the hype. Worth a try I suppose but expect some long waits and also some emotional moments when you see some Asian lady snag all the fresh bread that just came out onto her tray, can't say I was all too calm about that...
Things to ponder on: calamari stick (aka squid ink garlic cheese buns), mango bread, taro marble bread (apparently highly recommended by a lot of people, I have no comments since they ran out when I got to the counter...yes still bitter), and sea salt coffee (I was not a fan, their cream or whatever it was kept separating back to the top...which leads me to believe its not real cream... a little disturbing but apparently very popular)