Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wanderings - Alum Rock Park and Santa Fe Taqueria, San Jose CA

Little gems are everywhere its just a matter of if we take the time to look for them.

Alum Rock Park, San Jose CA
I've lived in San Jose for a little bit around the time I was in high school and even now being so close to the city, I barely know what I'm missing out on! Alum Rock is not an area that many prefer to visit but like all things, there are hidden treasures everywhere.

Located in east San Jose, this park surprisingly offers quite a bit of trails for exploring. The only downfall is that you'd have to pay for parking for some of the lots on site, there is a free one near the main entrance with (of course) limited spots. That being the case, parking on the streets is plentiful which is what my friends and I did and then we trekked into the park. I prefer hiking early in the day so that while you're climbing it doesn't get so warm. I suppose that really depends on the time of the year. Winter time, you can normally get away with starting at around 8 or 9am but during the summer I'm willing to go as early as 6 or 7am so I don't get the heat wave as bad.

We decided on a few spots while we were there (PDF map), most of the trails are pretty short. We started at Eagles Rock (approx 0.3 miles to the top) and then continued to Todd's Quick Trail which was about 6 miles round trip but when we reached the top, there was a split to Boccardo Trail (approx 3 miles around) that we decided to loop and then come back down. Most of the trail is open which has it drawbacks at times as the warm sun is beating down on you but for return you get a nice view of the hills, trails, and city below. Nothing spectacular but its a nice place to go for a weekend morning hike. It's pretty easy to get around. The one thing to watch out for are bikers, its a popular trail for bikers and hikers alike but people were super friendly so they'll let you know when they get close by so you can just move aside slightly and then everyone goes they're own merry way. 

Santa Fe Taqueria: San Jose, CA
Leave it to me to eat all of my hard work back...so its a good thing to have worked it off beforehand so eating until my soul's content won't feel so guilty.

One of my friends mentioned carne asada fries she had one time at a nearby taqueria during the end of our hike and once that was imprinted into our minds, it was a must that we went there to check out the place for ourselves. Pretty standard taqueria, one thing that did stand out to me was their salsa bar. I was rather impressed and like my friend said, any taqueria that has a full sized salsa bar can't be half bad. 

Of course, our main choice of food was the carne asada fries (to share because it was huge!) and we also got a beef taco each. It lived up to expectations and with some of the salsas, it was magical (my heart probably didn't appreciate it as much as my tummy...). My salsa to food ratio was probably quite skewed towards salsa but it was just so good, it had to be done.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Baileys Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Do you ever feel the urge to bake but at the same time the urge to remain lazy is just as strong... well that was my problem. I wanted to bake but I didn't quite want to move. Laziness and all its glory has taken over.

My solution? Well I sat around some more and search far and wide for a recipe that'd fit my current situation. I figured cookies were easier to venture into as oppose to cakes, tarts, or whatever else that may be out there and so that is where I started. My back up plan was to default to chocolate chip cookies but part of me was screaming "boring!!" Not that I don't appreciate the good old fashion classic chocolate chip cookie, I do, but the creative part of me wanted more... oh the dilemmas of a creative/lazy mind. It wants creativity but it also doesn't want to work for it.

Finally after about 20 minutes I came across some potential candidates and then I finally found this current recipe, it couldn't have been a better match for my state of laziness! Literally it was gather ingredients, mix together, and stick into oven, perfect! In looking over the ingredients I also realized its actually pretty good for a cookie recipe, not a drop of butter, oil, or eggs but plenty of liqueur to make up for it. I added some oats to the recipe as well and contemplated whether to add shredded coconut but in end I opted out. After eating one, I think it would've been better with the coconut. 

Personally I think there's room for improvement, its decent but can definitely do better, it has not exceeded its potential yet. I think coconut would be a nice touch. The Baileys over powers it slightly so I'd probably reduce that down a bit next time I make it (edit: its actually more mellow the next day so its just fine the way it is). I'm thinking maybe some lemon zest would give it a hint of citrus to balance with the nuttiness of the almond meal. Things to ponder on. Its very interesting because the texture is kind of like a cookie but at the same time its not, there's something about it that sets it aside from normal soft cookies but its not quite the hard crispy kind of cookie either... intriguing indeed.

Baileys Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Ari's Menu 
makes approx 15 cookies, 121 calories per cookie
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup of Baileys Irish cream (I used Hazelnut)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 oz (roughly 57g) of chocolate chips/chunks
  • 1/4 cup of old fashion quick oats (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of shredded coconut (optional)
Procedures:
  1. Whisk together almond meal, baking soda, corn starch, brown sugar, and salt
  2. Add in Baileys and vanilla and mix
  3. Fold in chocolate chips, oats, and coconut
  4. Bake at 375 F degrees for 12-15 minutes

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Slow Cooked Beef in Ale!

Sometimes you come across a recipe so good you'd just have to make it again by itself, and that's how this recipe arose.


The beef in my beef and ale pie recipe came out so tender and full of flavor that I just have to make it again and give it a showcase of its own. I felt the pie didn't do it justice. Don't get me wrong, the pie was very good but the beef was definitely the star. I actually prefer having the beef over some rice rather than encased in a pastry pie crust.

The beauty of the recipe lies in the ale, the way it foams and bubbles at the beginning when you add it into the beef for slow cooking is mesmerizing to say the least and then the aroma it produces along with the beef is mouth watering. Waiting for it to finish is the hardest part!


I've tweaked the original beef recipe a little bit to give this one a bit more flavor. While the original recipe was good, I felt that it lacked some elements, the sweetness and acidity of the product wasn't balanced as well as I would've liked it. My advice thought is taste as you go as each person's taste buds differ and then add things you like or take out things you don't like.

Saying I'm not a celery fan would be a light way of putting things but I have to admit, those stalky green things work wonders as a base. When I saw that this recipe called for it I cringed a little and then after realizing it also requires a couple of hours of cook time, I thought I'm going to outsmart this and dice the celery as tiny as possible (really it was so fine, I mind as well have minced it) and by the end of it all, all of the celery have simply dissolved into the base: Melinda 1, Celery 0, I win. 

The original recipe didn't have carrots but carrots and celery are practically married in the food world, its just not right to have one but not the other (even though I managed to dissolve the other... sorry carrot, your hubby not mine) so I added carrots, plus the more veggies the better right!!? Now to the choice of ale, the recipe I was working with called for pale ale but I say pick whatever seems fitting to you. For this round, I picked Tongue Thai-ed by Blue Moon, its supposedly infused with lemongrass and basil. As a beer, I'm going to say, not a fan of that particular combination of flavors. With the beef, it was divine. Because it was so cleverly named as tongue thai-ed, I felt it was only right to give this a slight Asian flare as well (I added in a couple of tablespoon of XO sauce that can be found in most Asian markets). Enough talk, recipe time!


Ale Cooked Shredded Beef
Adapted from Beef and Ale Pies recipe
Makes 5-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Roughly 2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Flour for dusting
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 stalks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 2/3 cups of ale of choice (I used Blue Moon’s Tongue Thai-ed)
  • 1 cup of beef stock
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Tapatio hot sauce (optional)


Procedures:

    1. Heat oil in a frying pan, sprinkle beef with salt and pepper, dust with flour and cook, in batches, 3-4 minutes each side and set aside
    2. Heat oil  and sauté onions, celery, and garlic for about 5 minutes or until tender
    3. Return beef to pan with bay leaves, tomato paste, beer, vinegar, beef stock, and sugar and bring to a boil.
    4. Reduce heat, cover pan, and cook for 2-3 hours or until tender.
    5. Remove beef to shred and then return to pan.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wanderings - Tolman Peak and Maneki Sushi, Union City, CA

It is officially here, my 4/10 schedule has returned! This means I work four 10 hr days and take 3 days off, I personally love this type of scheduling...especially since sometimes I'd end up working 10 hrs anyways. 

Last year I spent most of my extra day off bumming around the house and baking things here and there but this year, I've decided I want to explore more. In seeing the other side of the world I realized I haven't really seen much of my own world. I guess that's how it always is though...we all tend to take things that are convenient for us for granted. While I was stuck in the airport back in December, I befriended another passenger who was flying back home from his trip to California. In talking to him I realized all of the places he's come to visit I haven't even been to! How embarrassing, people fly across the world to visit these places and some of those places are just a drive away for me and I haven't even been there. Well no more!

This has inspired me to start a new section for this blog, random wanderings! Since I plan to explore around a bit more in the coming year, this will be the perfect place to help track them and why not share it with the world in the process. Not to mention I have a slight addition to taking pictures of pretty colorful things, this will also be a nice place to share some of those findings as well. 

So what will these posts entail? Good question. It is exactly as it sounds, random places to eat or visit, interesting foods that catches my eye, iconic places to explore, basically random things of the outside world that I've encountered that is noteworthy.

With that let's start:
Tolman Peak @ Garin/Dry Creek Regional Parks, Union City, CA
If love hiking, this is a great scroll. If you want to start hiking, this is a great start. If you love the great outdoors, its perfect. This trail is mostly flat and there's only about 5-10 minutes of incline up to the top of the peak. Once you reach the top, you get a great view of the city and some of the rolling hills from the other trails in the park. That's the other great thing about this place, the tolman trail is just one of few in the area, its worth coming back a few more times to explore the other ones as well. Its definitely a nice trail for beginners. Its about 7 miles and 1-3 hrs hike depending on your fitness level. My friend and I leisurely hiked it in 2 hours. (its also great motivation if you want a big lunch later ;)) The only thing I'd look out for are the free ranging cows, they're pretty harmless as long as you mind your business though.
When we got the top there was a couple on the bench with their 2 dogs having a mini lunch and enjoying the early afternoon sun/view, it was cute. One of the dogs was happily digging himself a hole nearby, he was so into his hole he had no idea we were behind him snapping pictures, pure blissfulness, the best kind.

Maneki Sushi, Union City, CA
Can't ever say no when it comes to sushi and I'm one of those people that love the raw stuff! I know not everyone is keen to that part of sushi but that's whats so great about going to places like this, there's stuff for everyone...even the non fish lovers. I, of course, came for the sushi rolls but for those non sushi eaters out there this places has a variety of bento boxes and noodles. I'm going to be honest here I flipped straight to the part of the menu where the rolls began so I didn't pay to much attention to the other stuff that were available...

Definitely not short of options here, I wished I had a second stomach for the amount of different rolls to choose from! After about 10 minutes of going back and forth trying to decide what I want, I finally settled on 2: Lady Gaga and Pump it Up, both spicy of course because what is life without a little spice right!? My friend picked the BMW (a non spicy roll... I guess not everyone is a spice fan).
Overall, it was a good experience. The food was good and the service was pretty quick. The atmosphere is quiet and tables were spaced out enough so that people can get around you without you being squished onto your own table (we all know places like that exists!)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Parmesan Crescent Rolls!

We're finally getting some rain out in California! As much as I love our warmer than normal so call winter, we are in desperate need of some rain. While I was in New Zealand, it rained so much I couldn't wait to come back to drier weather but when I got back and everything is all dry and dead looking, it was quite depressing.

Even though we're not close to even being replenished, its a start. Its amazing what a few wet days have already done. The air is less dry, the ground is starting to peak some green rather than dead brown, its a nice scenic change. Keep those rainy days coming! We seriously need to see rain from now until April...the constant kind...

The grapes this year will be quite interesting to see, the last time California had drought issues, I was too young to remember... 2014 will be interesting.

As long as I'm inside when it rains, I love it. The soft sound of rain droplets hitting against the windows and the roof is so soothing. That is pretty much how I spent my weekend, indoors. Granted we didn't get much rain on Sunday but it was cloudy enough that the rain lazy in me came out and inspired this lovely treat: parmesan crescent rolls! They make for a decent snack or finger food when you feel like munching on something with a little more content than a cracker. The parmesan cheese helps give it an extra punch.

Ingredients:
  • 1 tube of ready to roll crescent rolls (I used the Trader Joe's one, they're smaller)
  • finely grated parmesan cheese
Procedures:
  1. Unroll crescent roll dough from the package, sprinkle parmesan cheese on the inside and roll. Then sprinkle a tad more on the top of the rolls
  2. Bake according to instructions on package!
Enjoy! 

For more fun, I also made a batching with salami and provolone cheese in the middle. I was shooting for a mini pizza crescent roll but substituted with salami and provolone because that was all that was available at the time... like I said inner lazy had taken over. I'm surprised I made anything at all... 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Smoked Salmon Sliders for Superbowl XLVIII!

The Superbowl, it's almost like an unspoken national holiday for Americans everywhere. Though this year I'm not particular to either teams, I did secretly hoped that Payton Manning would take those Seahawks down... unfortunately that didn't happen and leave it at that.

Times like this, having a DVR is awesome, you don't have to suffer through the painful parts especially when you pause the game to go make some yummy sliders and then again when dinner rolled around...I'm the only one in my family who watches football, so when dinner comes, its not in consideration that The Superbowl is on but its dinner time... anyways getting back to the point, I was about 45 minutes behind in the game but it was so sad that I ended up watching it on fast forward mode. It was slightly less painful that way.

With that, here's to another season of football, see you in September!


I still have one more photo dump from my New Zealand trip but I'm too lazy to filter through pictures (as I took *A LOT of pictures), so I'll share next time. In the meantime here is the recipe to a simple but classy appetizer good enough for any game or just plain munching.

 Smoked Salmon Sliders
Makes 8 sliders (approx 192 calories)

Ingredients:
  • pack of mini burger buns (I used ones from Trader Joe's)
  • slices of smoked salmon (about 1.5"x 1.5")
  • brie, thinly sliced (about 1.5" x 1.5")
  • half an avocado, mashed
  • 2 tbsp of greek yogurt dip (I used the cilantro & chives yogurt dip from Trader Joe's)
  • tapatio sauce (optional)
  • basil flakes (optional)
Procedures: 
  1. Split open the buns and on a sheet pan, place the bottom half face up with a piece of brie on top and the top part of the bun face down. If desired, sprinkle on a little of tapatio and basil flakes onto the brie.
  2. Toast the buns with cheese in an oven for about 5 minutes at 325F degrees or until the tops are slightly golden brown and cheese has slightly melted. 
  3. In the meantime combine the mashed avocado with the yogurt dip to make an avocado spread
  4. Once the buns have been toasted, remove from oven. Place slice of salmon onto of the brie, spread on avocado and place top on. Hold with toothpick and serve.
You may have noticed that there's a calorie count with this recipe and that is because there is this wonderful app call My Fitness Pal that allows you to input your recipes and calculates how many calories that particular dish/meal/snack contains per portion to help you better track your calories. I've been using this app for quite some time now and thought since people are becoming more and more health conscience that this would be a nice piece of information to offer. Though at this time I am unable to provide anything else in terms of nutrients and such. At least the calorie can be a start.