Monday, March 29, 2010

New Layout!

Hi all. The month is drawing to an end, and as each day passes, it's another day closer to this blog's first birthday. It's a bittersweet sort of realization, seeing as it unfortunately coincides with my graduation and unemployment. But such is life. But I've been soothing my poor soul with my (re)new(ed) singer obsession, Bat for Lashes.  She's pretty awesome.  Her voice is slightly haunting, and reminds me of Tori Amos in some ways.

I've been listening to this song on repeat for pretty much the whole day while playing with photographs and css/xhtml. As useful as Blogger is, it's slightly limiting and frustrating to edit the layout with all its widgets and gadgets and whatnot. Staring at the expanded code for the widgets made my brain melt a little.

Anyhow, I wanted to liven up the page a little. I usually play it safe with very neutral colors (well, technically black and white aren't colors, but we'll pretend they are) that aren't very glaring or diverse. This time, I'm going for the whole green/teal thing. I think it works well with my header photo, don't you think?

I also added pages! That way, I can revel in my vain self-whoring. That, and now there's a menu page! With photos! Go go go check it out!  I'll hopefully be adding a recipe index section as well whenever I get around to it...

I want to thank everyone for all their comments, emails, and orders so far. It's definitely been making this past year a lot easier, especially as May is inching closer.

I've been baking here and there since coming back from LA, but most of my time is spent working on dance stuff! My dance group has our first showcase coming up, and I decided to be in 5 dances (semi-in charge for 4 of them), I've been working on advertising flyers and programs, and whatnot, so I've been keeping busy. I've also fallen slightly behind on my economics homework, oops.

Anyhow, I hope y'all like the new layout!  And I leave you with one more Bat for Lashes song.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hollywood Farmers Market

So a continuation of the SoCal/LA trip... on the Sunday morning we were planning on leaving, we wanted to leave fairly early so we could hit up Solvang for lunch on the way up and then to stop by at Monterey Bay for dinner. Uuuunfortunately, the LA marathon happened to going on that morning, and it ran right in front of the hostel, so we couldn't actually drive out of there until noon-ish or so.

So we decided to walk to the Hollywood Farmers Market, which we had planned to go to originally (but it was supposed to have been delayed due to the marathon, but apparently people were setting up early anyway). It was so worth it! It was probably one of the best farmers market that I've been to.

The farmers market was extremely big, and oh, the samples. The samples were delicious and so filling (it was pretty much a mini-lunch for us, hehe). Not only that, all the produce was just fabulous. They were big, they were pretty, the prices were decent, the vegetables were leafy and green, and all the samples that we tried were so sweet and juicy. Also, what really caught my eye was the fact that there were so many fresh herbs!! Just bunches and bunches of a variety of great looking fresh herbs.

There was a great sorbet stand which had the most delicious cucumber sorbet... Carmela ice cream. The berries down there were delicious and sweet. Finally, there was the most awesome stand of dried fruist and dried nuts.

If you know me at all, I love dried fruits. I even stopped by Casa de Fruita on the way down this trip, hehehe. But the dried fruit here rivaled those at Casa de Fruita, and was so much cheaper! I got some dried plums (which are so so so delicious) and a great mixture of giant dried raisins (with red raisins, golden raisins, regular raisins, and all different kinds!). So good. OH! And their dried persimmons are SO GOOD. Best dried persimmons ever... thick and still juicy inside. And they weren't shy about sharing their samples either.

Anyhow, if you live in the LA area or happened to be visiting there on Sunday mornings, and if you love farmers markets, I highly suggest that you stop by there. <3

Monday, March 22, 2010

LA food: Murakami

One of my favorite types of restaurants to eat at are Japanese restaurants, especially if they have good sashimi or a delicious bowl of udon noodles (I love seafood and soup, what can I say?). Considering I don't really eat out much, especially these days, I didn't want to be stuck at some restaurant with mediocre sashimi. So after browsing Yelp and visiting a billion restaurant websites for their menu, I settled on Murakami in the Hollywood district, which had the best rating for sashimi aside from some ridiculously expensive and ritzy Japanese restaurant.

I think it was the perfect choice for a late afternoon meal after a giant breakfast and wandering around LA for a good part of the day. The portions weren't gargantuan, but rather perfectly sized, I believe. They focus largely on sashimi plates with some salads and some rolls. I'm not a big fan of rolls, and so therefore didn't order any, but if they're as good as their sashimi plates and salads, there's nothing to worry about.

It's a quaint, unassuming place with bright orange walls and funky drawings on the wall. You walk up to the counter to order and try and grab one of the 4 or 5 tables that are inside. My roommate was at first curious and surprised that this place received such a high rating on Yelp.

But don't let size and looks fool you. Their food is fresh and delicious. My roommate and I went with another friend we met at the hostel, and we all thought it was a good find. The sashimi is very fresh, the prices are decent for good sashimi/sushi, and everyone was very full and satisfied when we left.

I wasn't expecting any good, light vegetables at the Dreamworks party later that day, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to finish off a whole plate with rice and a salad, so I opted for the sashimi salad. The sashimi salad came with a fresh bed of greens topped with about 3 slices each of tuna (which they gladly let me exchange for more salmon!), salmon, albacore, yellow tale, and shrimp. It was also topped with cucumbers, tomatoes, kaiware sprouts, and sesame seeds, and dressed with a nice homemade miso dressing. The miso dressing wasn't actually my favorite--I think the sesame taste was a bit strong, and I would've wanted a little more of a miso flavoring to it, but it was still good.

The other two guys ordered the Murakami plate, which has fresh sashimi with sushi rice topped with cucumbers, nori, and sesame seeds with a side salad with miso dressing. They have a list of sashimi combinations that you can order, or you can even mix and match your own plate, how awesome is that? They both got the sunshine plate, which comes with avocado, salmon, and fresh crab. My roommate also ordered an extra side of tuna on top of that as well.

The plate was huge and delicious. I had a chance to try some of the crab and some of the sushi rice with nori on top. Oh my goodness, the crab was fresh and delicious... I love fresh crab, and I haven't had it in so long. I wanted to eat his whole serving of crab. :| The sushi rice was also fantastic. Although the sashimi is relatively good around the East Bay, I haven't really had some really good sushi rice on the side. It had just the right amount of stickiness and flavoring. Aaaah! I wanted to eat a whole bowl of it. And I might have if (a) there wasn't going to be food in just a few hours, and (b) if I didn't need to fit into my Chinese dance costumes that I can't quite squeeze into comfortably anymore for a performance coming up in April. Oops.

Anyhow, if you love Japanese food, and more specifically, if you love sushi and sashimi, and you're willing to shell out a little bit of money, this is the place to go for a good meal. And if you want to go someone who is a vegetarian, they also have some vegetarian choices as well. :)

Traveling means eating out: BluJam Cafe in LA

This past weekend, my roommate and I went down to LA/SoCal because he had a company party for the upcoming movie How to Train Your Dragon (which, unbiasedly, is an amazing must-see movie!). So my opinion of LA is that there isn't too much to do in the immediate area other than shop and eat, especially because of traffic. We arrived there Friday afternoon and left Sunday morning, with the party being Saturday night, so there really was no time to take a full day to drive somewhere farther and way and go hiking, or spend a full day at Six Flags Magic Mountain (which I love, by they way. Rollercoasters = awesome.). Therefore, we did a lot of walking and eating. Oh! And running on the beach. Running on the beach is awesome. Even though, in the Santa Barbara to LA area, if you run around barefoot, you get tar spots due to the off-shore oil drilling, yuck. And also meeting people. We stayed in a hostel filled with international travelers, so we made friends with various accents, hehe. Very full of awesome.

So the next few posts are going to be about food, so much food.

First, is the BluJam Cafe that we had for breakfast.

I'll be honest with you, I'm not much of a heavy breakfast type of person. Sure, eggs benedicts are tasty (though, I don't like much hollandaise sauce) but I don't really love french toast, and pancakes aren't my favorite things in the world. Sure, I can appreciate them, but I prefer a lighter breakfast filled with whole grains, fruit, and some light protein like some Greek yogurt or some egg whites. (I don't understand people who can eat steak for breakfast... I mean, seriously... fill up with your daily requirement for protein and saturated fats and sodium in the first few hours of waking?) Oh, and waffles. For some reason, I'm a sucker for waffles smothered in honey.

Anyhow, the BluJam Cafe is a cozy place for a great breakfast/brunch (don't know about their food at night, but I'm sure it must be good, too). It's located in the LA area not too far from Hollywood and West Hollywood. Oh yeah, it's also a great place if you can eat enough to food a normal family of four. Their portions are generous while maintaining the quality of their food. My only wish is that there were more people there so we could try more of the food. Though, looking at all the food that was served around us, many things on their menu looked pretty darn awesome. And huge.

I had pictures of the menu that I took, which I almost feel obligated to post because while I was taking these pictures, the person on the table next to me (I think she was actually an employee that was eating breakfast there) started laughing at me and told me that I could just take a take-out menu. I said I just really like taking pictures, and then she asked if it was for Yelp!, but no, I don't Yelp! either... *awkward silence* Oh well, I won't bore you with such boring pictures (the lighting was weird anyway).

My roommate had their stuffed brioche french toast. It was a giant plate of french toast stuffed with vanilla yogurt and blackberry jam, and topped with fresh bananas and sweet berries with a dusting of powdered sugar. The french toast is nice and fluffy, and the yogurt with the jam adds a refreshing lightness to it. It also came with a side of maple syrup, but for me, the french toast was good on its own.

Personally, I opted for a lighter breakfast. Or, at least, what I thought was going to be a lighter breakfast. When I was waiting for my food, I was watching the dishes pass by as the waiters walked back and forth to serve other customers. I saw a giant bowl topped with fresh fruit, and I wondered if that was going to be the oatmeal.

It was the biggest bowl of oatmeal I had ever seen. Not only that, the oatmeal was piping hot (which, if you don't know me by now, I love my food so hot you can still see it boiling or sizzling) and so hearty. No, they don't serve you a big bowl of mushy oats filled with mostly water, they are serious about their oatmeal. What also made me happy is that their oatmeal was not cooked with butter. I hate it when restaurants put butter in everything. Oh! Not only that, but the oatmeal even had a slight vanilla taste that added a hint of light sweetness to the oatmeal (okay, I think it was vanilla. I spent a good portion of eating my oatmeal just trying to figure out what that extra taste was). The berries were sweet, ripe, and delicious.

In case you couldn't tell by that bowl how enormous the bowl of oatmeal was, here it is relative to me... If I look tired, it's because I was. The hostel went out as a group to go partying, and I wanted to get up early to do as much as possible.

Picture courtesy of Mike Ross.

I highly recommend anyone in the LA area to go try out this place. We went fairly early in the morning, around 9:15 or so on a Saturday morning, so the parking and seating wasn't bad at all. However, around 10:00, you could see that people were starting to pile in, so I can see it getting pretty full during brunch/lunch hours on the weekend. Come with an empty stomach and a hearty appetite. I hear the crepes are delicious as well.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day! Irish Cream Cupcakes

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! :) So I'm really sad I missed Pi Day. :( This past weekend was extremely full of baking (which I'll post about later), people, and dance, so I didn't get a chance to make some pie. :( But at least I thought about it? Happy belated Pi Day everyone! But anyway, back to St. Patrick's day.

I wanted to make something exciting and fun for St. Patrick's day that I would not otherwise make. I thought about making some Irish Soda Bread, but trying to research the most authentic Irish Soda Bread was getting tiring, and it's not really somethign you give out to everyone. But everyone loves cupcakes, right?

What is that beautiful thing, you ask? Irish cream cupcakes with Irish cream mint frosting topped with an Irish cream brownie.

Yep, I walked over to BevMo! in the beautiful weather yesterday, and got myself a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream. I will be honest, I'm not exactly a drinker and I don't really even like the smell of whiskey, but hey, other people seem to like it, so why not. Recipe and more photos behind the cut. :)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Overcoming fear: French Macarons

Why hello again. So during my baking streak last week, I also decided to make macarons. I had a ton of egg whites left over from making the meyer lemon tartlets (is it tartlet or tartelette??) and I told myself that this time around, I was going to make macarons. I said this last time making... something or another. Yeah, that never happened, oops.

French macarons are another one of those things that I've been overly paranoid about baking. I'd say irrationally, but I've read about and seen many pictures of failed macarons. Also, there are billions of long-winded explanations of how to make them for a reason--they're a bit tricky to get everything right.

But look! But look! Mine came out with feet and everything!

Isn't it purtiful? They're macarons with strawberry cream cheese sandwiched in between. Not too shabby for a first time, I'd say. The shell wasn't the smoothest, and only one of three batches came out (I think because the other two batches I used baking pans with sides (like a 9x13 pan) instead of a cookie sheet, because I only had one)... and I think the "good" macarons were a little hollow inside, but uh, oh well? I've only had one macaron once in SF, but I'd say mine's not too shabby at all, not at all. Click below for more macaronage. :)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Meyer Lemon Tartlets

So not only was I obsessed with making all sorts of buns last week, but I also had so many lemons sitting on my dining table... I had gotten a giant bag of lemons and a giant box of meyer lemons (yay Costco), and they had been sitting there for, well, forever, and some of the meyer lemons looked like they were on their way out. So, as much as I love the idea of making lemon-y things, it's actually hard to find lots of good recipes that require a lot of lemon juice. Most things require just the lemon zest, or just a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and I didn't feel like making lemon curd. For some odd reason, I liked being able to bake the lemon-y innards... maybe because it makes it easier to deliver to other people? Who knows.

Anyhow, I finally after going through so many food blogs and so many pages on Google, I came across this recipe for a meyer lemon tart on the New York Times online, and figured that I'd give it a go. It was adapted from Alan Tangren's recipe, who was a co-pastry chef at Chez Panisse (well known high-end restaurant here in the East Bay). Sounds credible, and most importantly, used 5 or so lemons!

The result? Full of deliciousness... tasty shortbread crust that didn't shrink too much, and a delicious lemon-curd-like filling that was baked with the tart. It requires so many eggs and so much butter, but, well, it's worth it.

This is such a yellow dish. Yellow is such a bright and happy color...! All the ingredients and the final product are full of yellow. I don't usually like yellow, but for some reason, yellow food always looks so deliciously happy.

Yes, it uses a ridiculous amount of egg yolks, but also so much lemon!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sheng Jian Bao (Pan-Fried Pork-Filled Buns)

Hi all! So while looking up various bao (bun) recipes, I found out that the dough for sheng jian bao (and cha shau bao/char siu bao depending on Mandarin vs. Cantonese) used pretty much the same dough, a yeast dough (as opposed to shao long bao, or potstickers, etc.). So, of course, I had to make sure of my new awesome discovery of fluffy white bun dough, and didn't feel like going to the Chinese market for cha shao meat, so I settled for making sheng jian bao! Sheng jian bao translated basically means pan-fried buns. The "fun" part of eating these is supposed to be the crispy bottom that is created from pan-frying the bun, as such.

Crispy bottom aside, these are delicious. :d They require some random ingredients more commonly found in a Chinese pantry, but, as silly as this is, I'm getting happy that my cabinets are more filled with Chinese condiments/ingredients such as Sriracha, rice wine vinegar, and Shaoxing cooking wine. I get a little smile from opening my cabinets.

Anyhow, the dough is fairly easy, and aside from draining the cabbage, it's actually a pretty simple recipe. The only majorly annoying part is (a) making sure you have all the ingredients, and (b) figuring out the best way to quickly pleat the buns so they come out pretty and the first ones aren't overly-risen by the time you finish making the last one. Anyhow, recipe behind the cut. :)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dou Sha Bao (Red Bean Buns)

So last week I had a hankering for delicious Chinese buns. The dough for steamed buns are so delectably fluffy, especially when steaming hot. I had been searching for a good recipe for Chinese bread doughs in general. There are many variations out there, many calling for low gluten flour, some calling for bread flour, and some just using the bag of "bao mix" that you can buy at the Asian supermarket. Finally, I came across one that seemed to have good results: a nice chewy skin from steaming, and a light, white, fluffy inside.

This dough can actually be used to make all sorts of steamed buns... filled with sweet fillings such as lotus seed paste, red bean paste, black sesame paste, or even rolled into a more savory scallion bun, or stuffed with pork filling to make sheng jian bao (pan-fried buns) or BBQ pork to make tsa sao bao (also known as char shiu bao). It can even be made into plain rolls. Yummy. For the first go-around, I decided to fill it with sweet red bean paste. :) I even went and got myself a bamboo steamer! :D It was awesomely exciting. Click for the recipe!