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) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Chicken Primavera Paella!

A lazy Sunday afternoon with nothing to do so why not spend it by playing with some of those neat ingredients I got from my Hatchery box subscription. Via the tasting guide, I decided to try their chicken primavera paella recipe that was suggested with the little jar of pasta gravy I received. It was too small to actually put it in pasta so this was a good way to use it. Quite honestly though once its in the paella, the rest of the flavors from the paella drowns it out. I had a taste of what was left in the jar and though not mind blowing good, it was still a decent jar of sauce. Unlike most jar sauces, this actually had a taste of fresh tomatoes and my favorite part was it had a kick to it. Can't go wrong with spicy in my book. Would I feel the need to get the full sized version, probably not unless I saw it at the store somewhere. 

Regardless however, it's tasty enough for a try. I think this would've been more tasty if I had used the rice the recipe called for rather than whatever rice I had at hand which happened to be some brown basmati rice that broken down quite a bit when I was cooking it. I also didn't have the right skillet to cook it in, seems like there's a number of factors here but the flavors are all there. Things to note for next time I suppose.
 
Chicken Primavera Paella
from Hatchery: Chicken Primavera Paella

Ingredients:
  • 1 package chicken breast tenders (I used roughly 1.5lbs)
  • 4 oz pasta sauce (or Hatchery monthly sample of Glicco's Arrabbiatta Pasta Gravy)
  • 1 cup Spanish chorizo 
  • 4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cup long grain rice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp Spanish paprika
  • salt & pepper for taste
Procedures:
  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown on the skillet for about 3-5 minutes per side. Set aside.
  2. Add another tbsp of olive oil in the same skillet and saute onions, garlic, bell pepper, and chorizo for about 5 minutes. Add in paprika, pasta sauce, chicken stock, rice, and browned chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Bring everything to a boil then turn heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook for approximately 25-30 minutes (also making sure the chicken is also cooked thoroughly)
  3. Add peas and corn to the pot, turn heat up for about 45 seconds to toast the rice on the bottom (careful not to let it burn). Garnish with fresh parsley and serve!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Wanderings (eyes) - April 2014 Hatchery Box

Time seems to always escape you when you least suspect it, I can't believe the end of April is almost here. I'm already behind in playing with my ingredients from last month's subscription and this month's has already arrived! 

Good thing these are small sizes, I guess I'll just have to double my cooking and combine a bunch of these things together to make them work.

Yes, yes, enough of the blah blah and get to the point right?

Okay, so here are this month's goodies: 
  • Fig Balsamic Vinegar (O Olive Oil, Petaluma CA)
  • Herbs de Poulet (Two Snooty Chefs, Seattle WA)
  • Motherlode Mustard (Murphys Mustard, Murphys CA)
  • Glicco's Arrabbiata Pasta Gravy (Elbow Foods, Meridian MS)
  • Organic Blueberry Fruit Spread (Delta Blue Blueberries, Stockton, CA)
  • Maple Flakes (Tonewood Maple, Waitsfield VT)
Lots of CA products this month. Things from my own backyard so to speak. Some of these places are just a few hours drive away, I wonder what kind of other interesting things these places have at the locations. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Another Cake Story: Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting!

The drama that is all car related has finally ended! Let me tell you, car shopping for girls is probably like clothes shopping for guys. You go in, you get out and that should be it! I wish it was that simple. Regardless it is over! I have to say I'm also very proud to have purchased a brand new car all on my own with my hard earned money. Years of saving and living like a poor college student has finally paid off! 

In addition, I'm planning for my next vacation, Europe! Very exciting stuff! I can't wait! Vacation days have been requested and approved, plane tickets booked, passport renewed, and currently in search of places to stay while my friends and I are over there... which really is what led to this post, after hours of staring at the computer screen for possible housing, my butt started to get numb, my eyes started to get crossed, vision blurred...okay maybe not the last 2 things but I was coming close. Being your own personal travel agent is no easy business. Props to my friend because she's been working on this a lot more than I have... maybe I should bring her some of this cake...

Anyways after hours of sitting and staring I decided it was time for a break. Time to bake me something delicious. I've been meaning to try this recipe for a couple of weeks now but with the whole car shopping and vacation planning...there was very little time for experimenting in the kitchen. I can take no more! Plus people at work are starting to get sad that I have no goodies to share. 

This recipe is awesome! The cake is moist and not very sweet. A thin layer of frosting topped with chopped walnuts will give it an extra texture boost along with a slight tang from the maple cream cheese frosting OR as I prefer it, eating it as is. I use to think carrot cakes were just called that and didn't realize there were actually carrots inside. You'd never know because its all gone, you don't even see the carrot bits once its baked. Food science at its best again. This will be a definite crowd pleaser, simple but powerful.


Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
from Smitten Kitchen: carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting

Ingredients:
for cake:
  • 2 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt (original recipe called for 1 tsp)
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups grated carrots (or 10-12oz)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
for maple cream cheese frosting:
  • 2 (80z) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  •  2 cup confectionery sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup (plus more if you want a stronger maple profile)
Procedures:
for cake:
  1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl
  2. Whisk together sugar and oil in a large bowl until well blended. Whisk in 1 egg at a time. add in flour mixture and stir until blended. Stir in carrots and walnuts
  3. Bake at 350 F degrees for approx 30-40 minutes (if in a baking pan) or 15-18 minutes in a cupcake pan. Check to see if cake is completely baked by inserting a toothpick through the center. If the toothpick comes out clean, cake is done.
for maple cream cheese frosting: 
  1. In a bowl using an electric mixer, cream together cream cheese and butter. Gradually add in confectionery sugar until mixed. Finally add in maple syrup.
  2. Once well incorporated, cool frosting in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
  3. You may pipe or spread your frosting onto the cake

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Durian Pancake!

Sunday brunch! I've been meaning to make pancakes for the longest time now. Growing up in a very Asian family, pancakes were definitely not a breakfast item. Pancakes were rare and so growing up and even nowadays, I rarely have pancakes. Its a shame I know. 

Recently however, I've been craving these fluffy little things but keep pushing it off and forgetting about it etc, and finally yesterday my mom goes "we have these durians and we need to eat them" I looked at them and honestly they looked kind of gross at that point. She had them frozen and when they defrosted there was some ice and water...so it got watery is where I'm getting at. If you've never had durian fruit before its textured like a banana so imagine a semi mashed banana sitting in some water, gross right? So I made a face and she said "well maybe they can be mashed up and put into a pancake batter." Genius!

Durian are native to southeast Asia and so the fruit we get in the store are all blast frozen and then sent to the States. I have to admit, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to eating durian and only because I've had fresh ones before. Again if you've never had them before and if you're trying them for the first time, you either hate them or love them. Some people hate the smell but love the taste, others love both, or hate both. I'm one of those people who loves everything about it! It has a very distinctive smell that can make some people cringe, I'm weird, I just breathe it all in! My uncle in China shares the same love so when I used to visit them in the summertime, that would be our bonding thing. If I land during the day, we'd go shopping for one of those suckers that day. If I land during the night, it's on the to do list for first thing the following day. It's that important.

No one else in the family really likes it, they'll eat a piece or two but hey that only means more for us!

Same goes for pancakes! My brother and dad are not durian fans, so even for this recipe, I had to make a batch of regular pancakes and then a batch of durian ones for my mom and I to devour. These were heavenly! The pancake was light and fluffy, the durian was well incorporated and the fruit is naturally sweet so you can eat the pancakes pretty much as is without any syrupy needs. Even my non-durian eating brother couldn't help himself and had a couple of those pancakes after I made him try a piece. Now the only problem is where to get more durian....the pancake recipe without the durian is good too, but honestly durian version rocked!
 
Durian Pancakes
adapted from Arthur Flour's simply perfect pancakes

Ingredients:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk 
  • 3 tbsp melted butter or vegetable oil
  •  2 tbsp sugar or malt milk powder
  • 1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup mashed durian fruit (or bananas)
Procedures:
  1. Beat eggs and milk until light and fluffy (approx 3 minutes on a mixer). Stir in butter or oil.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients 
  3. Gently and quickly mix dry ingredients into egg and milk mixture. Let batter rest for about 15 minutes. Stir in mashed fruit
  4. Heat griddle or flat pan to about 375F degrees and scope approx 1/4 cupful of batter onto heated surface. Cook for approx 1.5 minutes per side or until golden brown and fluffy.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Balsamic Glazed Spice Rubbed Chicken Wings!

Being a girl can sometimes be extremely difficult, by no means am I a girlie girl (though I do have my moments from time to time) but man certain times out of nowhere (and sometime we know when), suddenly its like you have no control over anything! Emotional sparks everywhere! Its like a can of shaken up soda being popped open: mess everywhere!

Here I was happily running along on my treadmill at the gym and listening to music while semi watching whatever may be on the nearest TV which happens to be a show on animal rescue. Running, running, running... "aw they rescued a baby whale and nursed it back to health, that's so sweet" 

Running, running, running...then it happens:

The program caption displays (when they're about to release the baby whale back into the wild): "she (baby whale) has grown so much and now she's finally ready to go back into the wild. Here we have a harness with a quick release so she'll be able to just swim out after we release the sides" 

They push release...hook is stuck

Me: "oh no!" 
Program Caption: "there seems to be a mishap with the hook release but finally she is free and there she goes as she disappears back into the ocean, just the way we like to see her go"
Me: " that's so touching" 

and then I got teary eyed! What!?! What is this?? It was like I was emotionally attached to the baby whale and I was so sad and yet so happy to see her go.... what is happening here? I have known this baby whale for all of 10 minutes (from watching her on TV!) and I am getting teary eyed. I'm pretty sure the only logical explanation for this is I'm crazy. Of course, I also suspect its because I'm a girl and we are sometimes naturally crazy, this must be one of those moments. Never saw it coming. This might have been a "too much information" moment but I feel as though its an insightful moment as well, as stereotypes go, women are crazy however, I don't think anyone really knows the other part to the story: we can't control it! It just happens on its own sometimes! 

Nonetheless the baby whale is now happily swimming along and back in its elements. Now its time for me to get back to my elements, the kitchen!

Featured in this post is one of the goodies I got in my Hatchery Box, Ole Man's Spice Rub & Seasoning. The tasting guide it came with suggested a spice rubbed-chicken, so I scoped out the recipe and it sounded really delicious so I decided to give it a go. The recipe uses a whole chicken, that's a lot of chicken, so I opted for something smaller, chicken wings. Yum.

Upon opening the spice rub seasoning, there was a very distinct smell of cumin so I'm positive that is part of the blend. Probably some paprika and cayenne pepper as well. The package didn't list specific spices, so this is all guess work. As for spice rub seasoning is concerned, I'm sure you can apply any spice rub seasoning you want to this recipe and it'll work just fine. I suggest maybe marinating it longer (maybe overnight) because though it was good, I wish the flavors was more integrated into the meat. Overall, very tasty. The balsamic reduction is a definite winner, sweet and tangy but not over the top. I had a little of the reduction leftover and it makes a great dipping sauce! Put it on some bread or salad by thinning it a bit with some olive oil...yum!

Balsamic Glazed Spice Rubbed Chicken Wings
adapted from Hatchery: Spice Rubbed - Chicken

Ingredients:
 For balsamic reduction:
  • 1/2 balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp spice rub
  • 1 tbsp honey
Procedures:
  1. In a large mixing bowl (or a large zip lock bag) toss chicken, olive oil, and spice rub seasoning together until chicken is coated and let it marinate for 30 minutes
  2. For balsamic reduction: in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine balsamin vinegar, spice rub, and honey. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 5 more minutes or until thick and syrupy. Set aside. (note: while warm its not very thick so make sure not to completely reduce it dry, it will become syrupy when cooled)
  3. Bake wings at 375 F degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with balsamic reduction and return to oven for an additional 8-10 minutes. Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.