Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cookbook Series: Happy Birthday, D.!

For D.'s birthday, we had a small dinner at home using recipes from Thomas Keller's Bouchon. It is a beautifully photographed book focusing on French bistro-style cooking. Since we dined at the restaurant, I've been interested in recreating some of the recipes. For D., I thought I'd make his favorites: the steak frites, French onion soup (which he nearly ordered at Bouchon), Provencal vegetables, cauliflower gratin (not pictured), and yellow cake with chocolate frosting. First, the French onion soup, which required an ungodly amount of onions. They cooked for 6 hours and still weren't done. Keller advocates really slow cooking to maximize caramelization. It's probably best to do the onions one day before, then reheat them and add the broth.

For a vegetarian version, I separated a batch of onions post-caramelization, then continued with the recipe using vegetable broth. Both veggie and beef broth were store-bought. The veggie version is much sweeter, but very good.

The cookbook called for Emmentaler or Comte cheese. Costco carries 1 lb. wedges of Comte for about $11 each. Trader Joe's carries Emmentaler. The croutons are baguette slices placed under the broiler, then put into the soup. Grated and sliced cheese is placed over the baguette to ensure maximum coverage, then the bowl is placed under the broiler again. The long cooking time was well worth it, as the soup was amazingly sweet with a nice salty kick. I'm especially proud of the Provencal vegetables (
confit byaldi), which require thinly sliced veggies layered on top of sauteed red, yellow, and green peppers and onions. I sliced by hand, which wasn't so bad, thanks to improving knife skills. Once I assembled the dish, I realized that it resembled the ratatouille from the Disney movie of the same name. In the recipe, Keller mentions that this is a refined version of ratatouille and the Wikipedia articles claim that this dish was designed for the film (there's a supporting citation to that claim).

It's an incredibly gorgeous dish and tastes the way it looks. Olive oil, garlic, and panko crumbs are spread on top to give it a slight crust. Baking time is 2 1/2 hours at 275 degrees F, so the veggies are very sweet and soft without turning into slop.

Where's Anton Ego? Hehe. The steak frites turned out beautifully, but the damned frites really threw a wrench into the schedule. D. was in charge of the frites, but both of us underestimated Keller's frite recipe. It says a first fry is about 3 minutes and the second fry is about 5 minutes. What we didn't take into account was the oil cooling significantly during the frying. Bringing the oil back up to temperature took a while. Our pot wasn't too big, either, so we had to do them in batches. It took nearly 2 hours to complete the frites. Shit.

However, they were really, really good. Worth the wait? Maybe not. The flatiron steaks were from Iowa Meat Farms and they were delicious. Seared on each side and roasted until rare, they were juicy and butter-soft. They were topped with shallots cooked in the searing pan and roasted with the steaks. Also, I made maitre d'hotel butter, a compound butter that includes parsley and lemon juice. In the photo, the butter had melted, but added so much to an already-delicious steak.

The cake will be in a separate post, since there was some birthday cakeage that week for D. and R.

Happy Birthday, D.!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Supper Club: Our first meeting

The Hoff had a fantastic idea: gather up a group of friends and form a supper club. She hosted and cooked for our first meeting, but we'll rotate hosts for future meetings and it'll be more of a potluck. We started with chicken breasts marinaded with a spice rub.

A lovely barley risotto with peppers and olives. It was delicious. I wasn't expecting barley to turn out as creamy as arborio rice.

This salad was my favorite of the night. I love arugula and its peppery bite. It's paired with a cider vinaigrette, goat cheese, and dates. What a great mixture of flavors... the peppery and bitter arugula, sweet and chewy dates, tart goat cheese, and a mild vinaigrette to tie it all together.

I love the Hoff's vintage style. This dinner set is awesome and she has a fantastic vintage flair throughout her home.

The next one will be at D.B. and D.D.'s. Can't wait!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Daring Bakers: Cheesecake Pops

I am so excited to be part of the April class of Daring Bakers. My first challenge was a mixture of old and new. I've made cheesecakes before, but it's been a while. I have a smashing lemon cheesecake recipe that was a hit during '06-'07, but I made it so often that I tired of it and stopped. I haven't made it in over a year, so my cheesecake skills are a little rusty. On the "new" side, I don't have a lot of experience with chocolate, so working with tempered chocolate is good practice for me.

Like Sharon's recent project, I made a mistake that proved to be quite fortuitous. Before I elaborate, here's the original recipe:

Cheesecake Pops (from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor)

Makes 30 – 40 Pops


5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate (can use various mixtures of dark, milk, white or use confectionary coatings), finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees - Optional


Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat (low speed on a mixer) together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream. Keep the speed low.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan, and pour the batter into it. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat the chocolate and shortening, stirring often, until completely smooth. Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. Roll the pops quickly in decorations, if using. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

What did I do wrong? I lost my patience and accidentally overbaked. Note that the baking time is supposed to take 35-40 minutes. From a lot of reports from other DBs who had finished the challenge, the baking was taking much longer. I baked it for 45 minutes, only to find a creamy soup. I left it for another 30 minutes to find it firming, but still very loose. I glared at it, then set the timer for 30 more minutes and went to take a shower.

Yes, I know that's a mistake.

However, it did work out in my favor as the overbaking resulted in a firm consistency that required almost no refrigeration before scooping. It also didn't seem to affect the final product, as the cake was still quite creamy. So, I started scooping, put it in the fridge for 15 minutes after I reached the middle of the cake, and was able to freeze the pops right away.

The rules required that we follow the cheesecake recipe (exemption for allergies and dietary restrictions), but we could use whatever dip/decoration we wanted. As previously mentioned, I have a weakness for Cheesecake Factory's Adam's Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple. To recreate the flavors, I mixed peanut butter into the melted chocolate and dipped the pop in crushed Butterfingers.

Mixing the peanut butter was a bit of a gamble as I wasn't sure whether the chocolate would still harden into shells. I started with a half portion of the dip. Using my kitchen scale, I weighed out 5 oz. dark chocolate, then brought it up to 8 oz. with peanut butter. Add 1 tbsp. of shortening and melt the whole mixture in a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Luckily, it turned out beautifully.

The other change I made was the sticks. Instead of using lollipop sticks, I decided to use Pocky sticks. They're edible and fun. Hehe.

Two downsides: chocolate melting on the fingers and the sticks not being too strong. I have a lot of shortened sticks.

The sticks taste a lot like the Adam's Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple and are really rich and decadent. I loved them and they'll make a great party treat. Right now, however, I need help with the 50+ pops. Anyone want some?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Moo Moment: Saturday alone...

I love D. to bits, but I cherish time to myself. Hey, I think it's healthy. He's working this Saturday and when I have time to myself, I do one thing: eat all the things he doesn't like. Hehe. My favorite is BBQ duck on rice from Sam Woo. Sam Woo is like the In-N-Out of Cantonese cuisine. It's cheap, it's basic, and it's very satisfying. The service at In-N-Out is much better, though.

So, I have my BBQ duck, the sweet plum dipping sauce, and a cup of boba milk tea. With that, I am spending the afternoon with Bear and this:

Yes... that's 7 seasons of both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. D. knows what I like. The TNG set was a Christmas gift from three Christmases ago and DS9 is an early birthday gift. Amazon had a sci-fi sale. I have Star Trek marathons when D.'s away working or traveling, because as much as he loves me and he likes Star Trek, he'd go nuts watching it for hours on end. I, on the other hand, love it.

I love it! What a great afternoon.

Palak Paneer

I've been dying to make this recipe from Mahanandi for a while. The CSA boxes had spinach and I love palak paneer. Paneer is an Indian cheese and palak paneer, unlike it's mustard greens/spinach cousin saag paneer, is made entirely of spinach. I cheated a little bit because we had chard from the CSA, so I added it.

The biggest mistake was not toasting the ground spices alone with the onions. It was a long day at work and I wanted dinner to be done as quickly as possible. Instead of grinding the spices separately, I put them into the food processor with the onions, garlic, ginger, and cilantro and diced them all together. As a result, the spices didn't break up as much as I wanted them to. With the moisture from the onions, there was no way to toast them to bring out their flavor. Note that the onions go first, then the spices, then the garlic-ginger-cilantro paste. While they all end up in the same place, giving each component individual cooking time really intensifies the flavors.

The end result could have used more liquid, but it wasn't too bad overall. It tasted really good with D.'s basmati rice, cooked with chicken broth and butter.

Next time, I'll take the time to follow the directions exactly. Thanks to Indira of Mahanandi for the recipe!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tsuru Sushi

On our last day in the Bay Area, we had dinner at this family-run restaurant in San Leandro. Tsuru Sushi is, somewhat surprisingly, run by Cantonese-speaking Chinese people. Given the diaspora of the Chinese, especially the southerners, it isn't a huge stretch to find Chinese families running Japanese restaurants. In fact, there are quite a few in the San Gabriel Valley area of LA.

The food is pretty good. I haven't tried the sushi, but the good dishes are more than decent. I liked the miso soup, which isn't too salty.

My favorite thing about this place is their tempura. Very few places make it like this anymore, with a crispy, flaky, and almost translucent skin.

My tempura don (tempura on rice) was pretty good. Very, very filling, with a huge pile of crisp tempura on a bed of fluffy sticky rice. It was all drizzled with the light soy sauce used for tempura-dipping. It's a very rich dish, considering it's rice with fried stuff, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Good place for basic Japanese food. The one big downside is that they're rather pricey. Their beef teriyaki combinations ran for $16.95... eek! The portions are generous, but the price is still too high.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Vik's Chaat Corner

My afternoon with Kirkleton and Krazo came to a close after Blue Bottle and I BARTed back to the East Bay. About two hours after that, we were headed to Vik's Chaat Corner in Berkeley. I frequented five (FIVE!) fabulous eateries in one day. Trips don't become better than that.

Vik's equals happy. I can't believe I live 400 miles from this place. If my company was located in Berkeley, I would eat lunch here every day. This place came with quite a bit of hype and I'd say it lived up to it.

I was a little dazed by the frenetic activity and myriad of menu items. The sweets case alone was distracting enough.

The restaurant is literally a warehouse with an industrial kitchen in it. The rest is seating. Order food, find a table, grab your napkins and sporks (yes, sporks...), and give great thanks that this place exists. Chaat originated as a roadside snack, so one person can order 1 or 2 dishes for their meal. The dishes are larger than tapas, smaller than a meal.

Since there were six of us, we ordered 1-2 dishes each and tried a little of everything. My first choice was the aloo tikki cholle, which are potato patties stuffed with green peas and covered with chickpea curry. Imagine potato pancakes with an incredibly flavorful curry with perfectly-cooked chickpeas ladled on top.

The second was lamb baida roti, spiced ground lamb stuffed into roti (flatbread) and covered with egg. It was very good, rich with gamey lamb and doughy roti.

Other dishes included the tandoori special:

Masala dosa, which D. thought was a little flavorless.

And samosas, served with a side of chickpea curry.

My thoughts? Yummy. That's all. Good Indian food makes me so happy that I'm without words. I don't know the cuisine well enough to discuss ingredients and origins, so if any of you out there in the interweb care to enlighten me, I'd be most appreciative.

Can't wait for a return trip!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Exploring San Francisco

When it comes to food in San Francisco, it's hardly the tip of the iceberg, but we managed to hit 4 eateries in 3 hours. Thank you to Kirkleton for planning an awesome outing. We started with breakfast at Chow (the Church St. location), which serves traditional and simple dishes. It was a ridiculously good deal, as I had a full meal for $8, including tax and gratuity.

I ordered eggs, sunny-side up, rye toast, and home fries. Everything was great, especially the home fries. Kirkleton had a spinach omelette with toast and home fries, while Krazo had the blueberry pancakes.

We'll start off wtih my breakfast. I can't get enough of rye toast. Chow's wasn't bad at all, but I like mine with a bit more punch from the caraway seeds.

Krazo says that she orders blueberry pancakes every time she has breakfast with me. These look delicious... probably a touch better than the ones she ordered from The Mission in North Park, where we last had breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed out to to Dolores Park, where the Mission, Castro, and Noe Valley neighborhoods meet. Lots of dogs, which I always enjoy. It was a blazing hot day, so Kirkleton suggested a stop at Bi-Rite Creamery. Using organic and local ingredients whenever possible, the creamery produces amazing ice creams. The flavors are great and accompanied by richness not found in other ice creams. The "cream flavor" is very distinct and I believe it has to do with the quality of the ingredients used.

I had a single scoop with two flavors: Salted Caramel and "Ritual" Coffee Toffee. It was incredible and perfect for the weather.

When we headed out to Dolores Park, our original intention was to stop by Tartine Bakery. Even though we had an unplanned pit stop for ice cream, I strongly believe that there can never be enough dessert, so we had ice cream and pastries by noon. Hehe.

We lucked out and managed to beat the crowds to the bakery. When we had paid for our items and walked out, the line was starting to wrap around the corner and continue down the block.

I had to have a croissant, but I couldn't pass up the delicious offerings in the case. So, I also purchased a slice of lemon meringue cake. The photo of the case has the cake on the bottom. I have to say that I wasn't blown away by the lemon meringue cake. It was good, especially for a warm spring day, but the cake was a tad dry and the filling a bit too sour. Notice "a tad" and "a bit". It's not enough to ruin the cake, but just enough to be noticeable.

On the other hand, I bowed to the greatness of the croissant. This is the closest I have ever found, in the United States, to the croissants I experienced in Paris. Yum. Buttery, flaky, light, and not with gigantic air pockets, this was perfect. Heaven.

Our last stop had been planned for nearly a month. While at work one morning, Kirkleton surprised me with a phone call saying that he was by Blue Bottle Coffee Co. and he thought of me. Awww, so sweet. In addition to serving my major vice, Blue Bottle has coffee siphons.

On our trek around SF, we saved the best for last. Braving the insane crowds in Union Square, we detoured south into SOMA and stopped by Blue Bottle. Yes, it was really warm and, yes, we stopped for a hot pot of coffee. Two hot pots, actually.

The siphon works on a very fundamental principle: vapor pressure. Anyone who has taken a first-year chemistry course has the three physical states (solid, liquid, gas) rammed down their throats. Part of "gas" is learning about vapor pressure. The coffee siphon applies it like this... the water at the bottom is boiled and when it reaches its boiling temperature, it transitions from a liquid to a gas. As more vapor builds up, it expands, ultimately pushing the liquid up the tube into the upper filter, where the coffee grounds are. After the coffee is finished brewing, the lower chamber is cooled with a washcloth. As the water vapor cools, it contracts, creating a vacuum and sucking the coffee back into the chamber.

Cool, huh?

The result is very much like coffee from a French press, smoother and without any acridity from over-extraction. We had Ethopian yirgacheffe, which was incredible, and their 100% Yemen, which was ok.

They also had this crazy contraption, making what they called Kyoto-style coffee. It literally drips water one drop at a time into the grounds, resulting in a gradual, all-day drip cold coffee. Sounds kind of gross? Yeah, it's a little gross. Our kindly barista gave us a sample and the coffee was more like syrup. It packed a huge punch, but Kirkleton and I thought it would make a great iced coffee, which is how they serve it (we think).

Fantastic day and I can't wait for my next trip to SF. So many eateries, so little time.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Happiness is a warm puppy...

Rump-shot! Bear protecting my folks' backyard from intruders and cats.

...said the ever-wise Charlie Brown.

What to blog about? Food-wise, there's still plenty more to post about our fabulously chow-tastic trip to the Bay Area. We had a great weekend hanging out with D.'s family and I spent some time with Kirkleton and Krazo in beautiful San Francisco.

I could also grouse about wah-ding planning. Oh, if I use the word "w.e.d.d.i.n.g", wah-ding blog bots will link to my blog. I'd prefer to not let that happen, so I'm calling it a wah-ding, like Franck on "Father of the Bride". It's been quite slow (and annoying), all due to the fact that vendors hold their business hours Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm. Gee, that's just dandy, because my company happens to hold the same hours. What could be handled in one day's worth of phone calls and emails is spread out over weeks because I can't exactly plan a wah-ding at work.

With all of that, what's the subject of this post? Bear. Because he's more important than chow or wah-dings. He'd totally agree.

Yes, we all know who the bed really belongs to.

I've been following a few dog blogs lately and I love 'em. I'm not a fan of the overly-cutesy ones, but there are several that give the dogs a great voice with tons of pictures. My top three:

Two Dog Blog (the fabulous doggies of White on Rice Couple)

Nanook and Pooka (I've always liked Newfs, but these two have me convinced that a Newfy is in my future)

Five Happy Hounds (they're a hilarious bunch and I really admire their mom's devotion to rescue pups)

I wanted to start a blog for Bear, but D. thought I was A) insane and B) already too busy to keep up with this one. I disagree with A, but he has a point on B. So, inspired by this post (how cute is that bib with a tie on it?), I thought I'd write a post about Bear, belatedly celebrating his 9th birthday and reflecting on my first year as a dog-parent. It's a bit apropos, since Bear also loves the ocean and is my faithful shadow.

Seagulls, waves, water... oh, my!

Bear's a 75lb. (apparently quite large for the breed) Australian Shepherd who doesn't seem to understand the concept of age. He acts like and has the energy of a puppy. Passerby are often astounded to know he's pushing double-digits. Being a vain pretty boy, Bear is very aware of how gorgeous he is. Turn-ons include cat-chasing, crotch-sniffing, running, supervising (even when you're using the restroom... it's actually kind of cute), snuggling, belly-rubs, herding children, and anything that squeaks.

The handsome charmer.

He came to live with us while D.'s sister, H., was moving. The idea was for him to stay from January until April, then go back to H. Well, that was April '07 and Bear's still here, which I'm thrilled about. It's been an incredible year. I can't imagine life without him nowadays.

On throne #2 (#1 being the bed... ours, not his), where he always likes to have a pillow to rest his head on.

On a cliched and cheesy note, things I've learned:
  • Walks and playtime don't get postponed just because I don't feel like it. Let's face it, they're good for me, too.
  • Old dogs can learn new tricks. Age and bad habits are not reasons to give up on a dog. Or a human, for that matter.
  • Love doesn't discriminate and neither does Bear. He'll love anyone who is willing to offer a pat or a few kind words and he will not judge a book by the cover.
  • Be happy about the little things, like treats and going outside. Not just happy... enthusiastic, dammit.
  • Protect your home and family from any threat, especially that pesky mail carrier.
  • No greeting in the world is as wonderful as the one from a dog. That's because no human is that excited to see me. Hehe.
  • Snuggling makes a good Sunday morning.
  • While dogs are not people, they're living beings with feelings and distinct personalities. My job is to understand and respect the dog that Bear is while maintaining my role as pack leader. That includes continuous training, setting him up for success, and understanding that his breeding dictates a great deal of what kind of dog he is.
  • Patience. I still don't have a lot of it, but I mysteriously have it in spades when it comes to Bear.
  • Sometimes you just have to enjoy a good warm day by going outside and laying on the grass.
  • Meeting other dog owners means that I'll know their dog's name, but no clue about theirs.
Thank you, Bearboo. Life was always pretty good, but having you has made it so much better.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Emery Bay Public Market, Bangkok Thai

This awesome food court is one of D.'s favorite places to dine in the East Bay. It's a large and eclectic mix of food stalls. I have yet to have a bad meal here. It's convenient, cheap, and perfect for the indecisive. You could have a lunch composed of pad thai, a samosa, and a milkshake if you wanted.

Our favorite stall is Bangkok Thai. Great stir-fried noodles. D. always orders his pad see-ew and I always have pad thai. We're creatures of habit.

I love the pad thai, which has plenty of wok hei. The noodles are perfect and it's very flavorful. The icy bland slivers of lettuce with a dribbling of dressing is a nice contrast to the pungent flavors of the noodles.

The shrimp are fresh and it's a large serving. For $6.80, which includes tax, it's a fantastic deal.