Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Creamy Peri Peri Chicken w/ Pasta

I know some people like to go to the grocery store, get whatever it is that they need and then haul a** out of there. I'm completely the opposite and quite frankly why I prefer to shop alone. I know its the supermarket and sounds completely silly, but I love to browse. See if there's any new or interesting fun ingredients the store decided to stock that I can play with. Its like creating my own version of the mystery ingredient of Iron Chef, except no prize money or trophies but a yummy meal/treat is nice too.


In one of my many browsing trips, I came upon this little gem, Nando's Peri Peri Sauce. I've never heard of Nando's before until I went to Europe (apparently they are also in Australia but I was not aware of that when I visited) but they are a somewhat famous chain restaurant and known for their Peri Peri sauce and roasted chicken dishes. Given this and also to bring a little bit of overseas closer to home, I decided it would be fun to buy a jar of this sauce and see what fun things I can make with it. Turns out most of the work was already done for me, they have an entire website full of recipes for you to try out. After glancing through, I settled on 2 (one to be posted later) since I had just enough sauce for 2 separate dishes. 

Creamy, a bit of tang, and just a slight kick to give your taste buds a jolt. 


Creamy Peri Peri Chicken w/Pasta
recipe adapted from Nando's Recipes

Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (1 tbsp for cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp rosemary
  • 1 tbsp sugar (optional. it helps bring out the flavors in the tomatoes and mellow out some of its acidity)
  • 500 g of chicken fillets, thinly sliced (I used chicken breast tenders, slightly cubed)
  • 1/4 cup Nando's Peri Peri Sauce (or you can Google Peri Peri sauce, there are some amazing recipes to make your own)
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 1/2 cup of cream (125ml)
  • 250 g oven roasted cherry tomatoes (recipe below)
  • salt and pepper
  • 500 g cooked pasta (approx 250 g of uncooked)
Procedures:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees. Toss cherry tomatoes in olive oil, sugar, garlic powder, and rosemary. Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a pan, cook onions and garlic for 3-4 minutes
  3. Add in chicken and stir fry on high heat for 3-5 minutes
  4. Stir in peri peri sauce and white wine and simmer for 1 minute to reduce slightly
  5. Stir in cream and oven roasted tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Laddle over pasta and serve (or mix with pasta)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wanderings (eyes) - Hatchery Catch Up!

I'm sure some of you might be curious to see (or scoping out whether or not it's worth it) how my Hatchery subscription is doing.

A few months ago I was beginning to lose interest because a lot of the stuff I was getting was very local. However in the months that followed, I'm once again intrigued. 

And because I disappeared off the face of this planet for a little bit, here are the last 3 months' goodies (I have no idea what happened to the month of Sept...I might have forgotten to snap a few pics before digging in):

AUGUST:

  • Fresh Cilantro Cottonseed Oil (Acala Farms, Barneveld WI)
  • Classy Classic Spice Blend (Gourmegg, New York, NY)
  • Pineapple Gum Syrup (Liber & Co, Austin TX)
  • Fudge Sauce (Our Sundae Dates, Nashville TN)
  • Curry Ketchup (Red Duck Foods, Eugene OR)
  • Asian Bulgogi BBQ Sauce (Sweet Heat Gourmet, State College PA)

OCTOBER:

  • Charred Sriracha (Ft. Greene Farms, Brooklyn NY)
  • Peach Spread (Southern Okie, Edmond OK)
  • Lavender Extract (Meso Nutso, Coburg OR)
  • Nana Honey Peanut Butter (Reginald's Homemade, Rockville VA)
  • Roasted Garlic Pepper Seasoning (Greenpoint Trading Co, Brooklyn NY)
  • Peppercorn Horseradish Dip (Taste Weavers, Urbana OH)


NOVEMBER:

  • Original Burger Marinade (Charleston Gourmet Burger Co, Charleston SC)
  • Brown Sugar and Ginger Glaze (Saucey Sauce Co, Brooklyn NY)
  • Yellow Peach Mint Jam (Jam Lab, Fremont CA)
  • Garlic Dill Mustard Sauce (Mustard and Co, Seattle WA)
  • Nomad Spice Blend (Savour This Kitchen, Calabasas CA)
  • Rum Away with Me (Saucy Sisters, Vista CA)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Banana Maple Nut Bread (Muffin)!

Nothing like attending your high school reunion to make you feel old. Of course as the years go by, there's a number of clues that start to rear its ugly head anyways...

Here's a just a small list of helpful examples: 
  • Floppy disks - found some in my old desk drawer the other day... its unfortunate you can't even play frizzbee with them as they are square. 
  • VHS tapes - We have so many of these stored somewhere we can probably built a fort out of them. Oh the good times when someone watches a video and its the most annoying thing ever when they didn't rewind the tape so you get to sit there and wait while the tape gets rewound.
  • Tape Rewinders - I thought those were the most awesome machines ever known to man at the time! It rewinds your VHS tapes and it was separate from the VCR so you could watch something else while the tape rewinds
  • VCRs - I bet kids now don't know what theses are
  • Recorder players/CD players/Walkmans - the hippest things one could own for playing music... that wasn't even 10 years ago...poor things lost their titles so fast. 
  • Cell phones were just mobile phones you can carry around to make calls and certainly only a select few own these. As far as I can remember, my uncle had one of the first: that thing was as big as your shoe. Then I was introduced to my first cell phone the Nokia 3310, one model up from the original Nokia 6110... back in those days Snake was the most exciting thing you could do on it. Texting was definitely foreign... you can send messages like mini emails...what??!
  • Computers that weight a ton and had approximately 50MB of memory...I'm so glad its evolved. 
Crazy all how technology has changed and how its affected our very way of living. Seeing my old high school for the first time in the last ten years has really brought this realization full circle.

I remember having to write essays, homework, test taking all by hand but now everything is on the computer/online. Instead of having ancient chalkboards/white boards, they have this thing called 'Smart Boards' which basically serves as a large screened tablet. Move aside overhead projectors! Heck technology has made it so it was almost unnecessary to even have a 10 year reunion. Every moment is a reunion with things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram around. You know exactly what old classmates are up with a click of a button (or a tap of the screen, that certainly wasn't around until recent years). 

Personally I only went because I wanted to walk the halls again. I actually enjoyed my high school years. Though not the most exciting years of my life, I've certainly made some lifelong friends there. I'm pretty sure I was one of the nerdy kids, college bound and on the fast track, we loaded ourselves up with honors and AP classes, club activities, and even the tennis team. Its funny looking back, even with all of that we managed to still have so much random time to do random projects. Did I mention I use to make plush dolls and knit scarves? Not just one, but loads. Just thinking about all that makes me tired, oh how I miss that energy.

While there's been number of renovations, some things never change... for example: my old high school chemistry class. Walked passed it and remembered it like it was yesterday! I could go on for a while longer making me feel even more old, so I'm going to stop.


Back to present time, I present you: banana maple nut bread! I just felt like banana bread and so I made some, life is good. It was delicious and I was content. I also learned an interesting fact about making banana breads/muffins, apparently you can mash as many bananas as you want into it. Well from reading a few other blogs, perhaps no more than 3-4 although one blogger went up to 6. Notes on that experiment was that it was very banana-y and dense. I'd imagine anything past that point, you might as well just eat the banana on its own.

Banana Maple Nut Bread
adapted from Better Homes Cookbook: Banana Muffin

Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup mashed banana
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 4 tbsp maple flakes (or maple syrup is fine too)
  • 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese or Greek yogurt (optional: I have no tried this yet, should make this more moist)
For Streusel topping:
  •  3 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp chopped walnuts
Procedures:
  1. For streusel, mix all the ingredients together until it becomes crumbly, set aside
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients, make a well in the center of the flour mixture, set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients (egg, milk, oil, mashed banana, ricotta/yogurt). Stir wet ingredients into the flour mix along with the chopped walnut and stir until just mixed. Batter should be lumpy. 
  4. Spoon mix into a loaf pan (since this recipe is originally meant for making muffins, muffin pans can be used as well). Top with streusel topping from earlier. Bake at 400 F degrees for 25-35 minutes. Insert toothpick into the loaf, baking is complete once the toothpick comes out clean. 
  5. Best served warm.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Double Layer Pumpkin Pie!

Happy (post) Thanksgiving! Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and if you're anything like me who have been looking forward to this long holiday weekend like crazy, this is most certainly one of the things I am thankful, time off to rest! It is everything I'd imagine it to be! Absolutely nothingness at its glory. Well perhaps not absolutely nothing, there's been a few items I've failed to give attention to that I am catching up on but its nice being able to do that on my own time and not rushing my way through.

So first things first, yay, I have returned to the world of blogging and this time I'm pretty sure I have returned. I know I said I have returned a few months ago... but work and grapes and the glamorous thing known as harvest at a winery means you have zero life. Its been a bit crazy the last few months. My life was pretty much sleep, eat, work, and repeat 6 days a week and whatever time I managed to get off was to make sure sleep and eat can happen for the on coming days... anyways enough about that, harvest has thankfully come to an end for this season so until next year, see you later!
Coming out of crazy work mode has been quite the treat. At first I wasn't sure what to do with myself, not only did I have hours of free time, I had days! Luckily with the holidays right around the corner, there are plenty of fun things to distract myself with. This time of year is my ultimate favorite: the holidays bringing people together, stores and streets are filled with colors and music, its warming to the heart! Lets not forget the most important part of all, the perfect excuse to make loads of holiday treats! Yum! January hits and everyone is on a diet but during the holidays, that is when people loosen their belts just ever so slightly. This means I can have at it with baking all sort of goodies. 

Like every year, at least for the past few years anyways, its been a tradition of mine to make pumpkin pie. Every year I'd like to put a small twist to this traditional holiday favorite and this year is no different. As always, I'm talking about food when this awesome idea came to mind. My coworker was telling me a story about this pumpkin pie mousse he once had and sadly all I heard was "pumpkin pie mousse" because then my brain left and went to a whole new place. If there was a light bulb hanging over my head at that moment, I would've blown it out. Pumpkin pie mousse! That's genius and perfect! So perfect, I always have a tad of pumpkin pie batter leftover and every year I try to use it for something, mousse was the perfect solution! One step further: 2 layers! Crust, classic pumpkin pie, followed by (drum roll please) pumpkin pie mousse! Of course as all of this brain activity was happening I'm sure I looked like a crazy person laughing and muttering to herself. After I excitedly explained my genius new experiment to my coworker, I soon discovered that this awesome genius idea has already been done, it was the pie he was trying to describe to me 5 minutes ago expect I stopped listening after "pumpkin pie mousse." Oops. Apparently there's a restaurant somewhere called Coco's and they make a pie like that...well good for them. 

Since I've never heard of this place, making my own version sounds more exiting plus if it comes out great, I can have it whenever I want! Not to mention I had great plans for the crust... great plans...muwa ha ha... (a bit of leftover Halloween, I apologize). I've attempted a similar crust in past years but it didn't come out the way I want it to... I did not account for how runny my pumpkin pie batter can get so though it tasted great, it was a bit soggy. With this year's version, there will be new improvements! 

All I can say is, I'm not sure I how I can top this pie next year because this is gold! I'm not tooting my own horn here but I think it's got a winning chance at becoming the best pumpkin pie ever. The crust was perfect (graham cracker pecan), just enough crunch but soft. Classic pumpkin pie layer was flawless. The mousse, light, fluffy, and with a hint of pumpkin pie. Together, its magic. A happy Thanksgiving indeed. It looked so good, it almost looks store bought! I am quite happy, success!

Double Layer Pumpkin Pie
makes 2 pies 

Ingredients:
Pumpkin Pie:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp flour (1 reg + 1 cake if possible)
  • 1 (150z) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 (12 oz) can of evaporated milk
Pumpkin Pie Mousse:
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup of pumpkin pie batter (from above)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 packet (approx 3 tsp) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 pint of whipping cream (473 ml....why its not sold in a 500 ml a container I don't know...)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
Pecan Graham Cracker Crust
  • 1 1/2 cup of pecans 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 packet of crushed graham crackers...approx 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 stick will probably work)
  • 3/4 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of oats
Procedures:
Crust:
  1. Finely ground pecans into a a fine meal in a food processor or blender. 
  2. Do the same for graham crackers
  3. Mix together dry ingredients
  4. Melt butter in microwave for approx 30-45 seconds and then add to dry mixture. Mix until crumbly. 
  5. Press into pie tins/pans and bake at 325F degrees for 10 minutes
Pumpkin Pie:
  1. Mix dry ingredients together 
  2. Beat eggs together in a separate large mixing bowl, add in pumpkin puree, and then dry mixture. Mix well.
  3. Slowly and gradually stir in evaporated milk. Mix until well combined. Batter will be somewhat runny
  4. Reserve about 1 to 1 1/2 cup of batter.
  5. Distribute batter between 2 pie crusts.
  6. Bake at 425F degrees for 10 minutes then lower temp to 375F degrees and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until filling is set.
  7. Once baked, let it cool for about 30-45 minutes before starting on the mousse.
Pumpkin Pie Mousse:
  1. In a small sauce pan, heat batter over low-medium heat with milk until it reaches a soft boil or just before while constantly stirring so it doesn't over cook/heat/burn because there's eggs in the batter. Once the batter is hot enough, add in gelatin. Stir for a few minutes until gelatin is dissolved and batter has become custard like. 
  2. Remove from stove, strain the mixture into a bowl, and set aside to let cool. Stirring occasionally to prevent gelatin from setting.
  3. Once the pumpkin custard is cool enough, in a large mixing bowl, pour sugar into the whipping cream and whip until hard peaks form. Remove about 1 cup of the whipped cream and set aside/refrigerate (this can be used as additional topping for later).
  4. Slowly introduce the custard into the whipped cream giving the cream a quick whip to mix the two together. Continue until all the custard is thoroughly mixed in with the whipping cream. Be careful not to over whip the cream (it can turn grainy).
  5. Evenly distribute on top of the 2 pumpkin pies. This will create the second layer of the pies. Allow it to set for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before eating.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Wandering (eyes) - July 2014 Hatchery Box

It's been a while since I last posted about my Hatchery Box, I still get them I've just been letting them gather for a bit. Instead of back tracking, we're just going to keep moving forward. Apparently since I've joined, their prices per month has gone up from $20 to $25. I must've gotten grandfathered in because I'm still only paying $20. 

So now the new rules are $25/month OR $20/month if you sign up for a year. I'm not sure if I'd join if it was $25 a month instead of $20. Personally $20 was already pretty borderline for me because quite honestly the contents of the box is about $15 at best and I suppose if you add in the shipping it'll be about $20 (since shipping is technically 'free' but I assume its charged into that monthly fee) but for $25, I don't think there's enough contents in the box worth paying another $5. That's quite possibly the inner cheap coming out again. Now personal opinions aside, here are some of the goodies that came this month:

  • Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean (Lafaza, Oakland CA)
  • Sunflower Maca Cinnamon Honey Nut Butter (Bella Nut Butters, New Orleans LA)
  • Cherry Chipotle Dipping Sauce (Not Ketchup, Santa Monica CA)
  • Coffee'd Tart Cherry (Modern Gingham Preserves, Denver CO)
  • Smokey BBQ Seasoning (Fogg City Spice Co, San Francisco CA)
  • Growers Blend "Shorty" Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Other Brother Company, San Francisco, CA)

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

Ingredients:
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
Procedures: 
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

Ingredients:
  • 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)
Procedures:
  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)

Ingredients: 
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
Procedures:
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."