Friday, December 08, 2006

Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate!

I had a blast in SF hanging out with the cousins and trying out the SF food scene. What I didn't realize was what a big chocolate city San Fran is. I mean, SF really likes its chocolates! Everywhere we went, there would be specialty/artisan chocolates sold in all sorts of stores. I suppose I should've expected it because after all, Ghirardelli started in SF!

There was a chocolate store we chanced upon in the North Beach (or Little Italy) neighbourhood that offers a huge variety of chocolates, most of them made in California. I have been a bit of a chocolate junkie, like my mother, and I have been getting into dark chocolate. I find its complexity and mouth feel to be very rich and enjoyable. Hey, I like the occasional Hershey too but recently I've been finding milk (or even semisweet) chocolate to be a tad cloying on the tongue. I've also been inspired by a recent posting on a Chicago-based food forum that I belong to about a chocolate tasting party. Wouldn't that just be perfect for the holidays? Hmmm... I might cross that with a knitting session too! Hooray! So, anywayz, I bought a lot of chocolate in SF and they're all pretty good. The shop we encountered is "Z. Cioccolato", very Italian-ish, since it's in SF's Little Italy.
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One of the chocolate bars I purchased there was a dark chocolate bar made in Boulder, Colorado for about $3.50. It contains 70% cocoa and tastes just heavenly! Unlike many other dark chocolate bars, this is smooth, creamy and rich without the slightly waxy mouth feel. The bar is not too thick and not too thin and has a nice surface area exposed for optimal tasting! There's also a love poem (awww!) in the inner side of the wrapper (which I haven't bothered reading ... yet). It would make the perfect gift for your sweetheart! Besides 70% cocoa bar, the same company also makes chocolates with other exotic flavors. They offer various cocoa percentages of dark chocolate bar in addition to raspberry-filled, espresso-infused and orange-flavored chocolate bars.
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Also, at 160 calories for a third of the sizeable bar, it is a pretty good dessert or snack! Check out the other flavors they have and if you're interested, go to They're available in select grocery stores but I found none in the Midwest. Sigh~
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The other chocolate bar I got at the chocolate boutique is this 65% bittersweet chocolate by Charles Chocolates. I was too blinded by the prospect of hazelnuts in this dark chocolate and didn't realize that it also contains candied orange peels until I was about to open it and have some a few days ago. Part of the reason that I bought it was it's made in California. I mean, really, when in California, buy Californian stuff to bring home! However, this chocolate was a bit of a disappointment because to me, it doesn't have enough hazelnut flavor and the orange peel taste is too strong for me. The chocolate bar is also pretty thick (I like my chocolates thinner). Overall, it's not too bad but I wouldn't get this again. I would try the other bars this company makes but this wasn't really worth the $3.99 I paid. You can find the rest of the collection at
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I'm so happy that we had the chance to go to Little Osaka (SF's Japantown) for dinner and that we stopped by one of the grocery stores there! I luuurve grocery stores and I like to just even walk around and see what's available although I might not buy anything. Naturally, this grocery store has so many more Japanese products than the one I go to in Chicago. I was so excited at the sight of new, cute Japanese snacks I've never seen before that I just had to have a picture!
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Okay, back to business! And of course, I bought a couple of snacks to tide myself over on the plane ride home and for times when I need some Jap goodness back home *sniff* *sniff* The first item I got was this box of milk chocolate bars called "Ghana". It's pretty dang good for milk chocolate and it has portion-controlled packaging for snacking at work. I had the impression that it was dark chocolate (which is why I bought it) but I think I was just too excited at the sight of so much Japanese snacks that I didn't read the box too carefully. But that's cool because this is one of the darkest-tasting milk chocolate I've had. Yay! I'm guessing that by naming it Ghana, the company's trying to tell us that the cacao beans they use to make it is from Ghana? Hmm, I need to learn Japanese!
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Another Japanese chocolate snack I got was a box of "Meltyblend", which is basically individually-wrapped square truffle-like chocolate bites that has a strawberry-flavored center. The chocolate coating is very delicious and dark-tasting, and the individual wrapping is, again, a great portion control.
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My favorite Jap snack from SF are these green tea wafer-ish cookies that has a light green tea mousse sandwiched between a thin shortbread-y cookie and a thin wafer-like cracker. It is not too sweet and you know me, I luuurve green tea!
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Another huuuge favorite are these black sesame Pockys! The sesame flavor is delicious but I wish it was stronger and more potent, but that's just the sesame but in me talking.
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And now, for the worst Jap snack ever, is this green tea-flavored protein-y energy bar. I thought it looked interesting and I checked out the nutrition info and it sounded really good. Since it's green tea-flavored, I thought I'd give it a shot. What could be better than a green tea power bar? ... A lot, apparently! The bars are shaped like shortbread but it does NOT taste or feel like shortbread AT ALL! It was brittle and dry and tasted like cardboard. I could make out some green tea essence but it was mild and it was just not delicious. Although I'm not one to waste food or money, I threw the whole box out after one bite. Fortunately, I only got one!
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I bought a bar of the new 72% cacao bar from a Ghirardelli boutique. They had a special promotion and since my cousins and I combined our purchase, we got two additional 72% free of charge (score!). Overall, I liked the taste, it sure was intensely dark, though still not as intense as the 70% Chocolove bar above. I also liked that the bar is thin and this exposes more chocolate surface area for my tongue. However, it is a little ... what's the word ... kinda, waxy, I guess. It's not as smooth as some of the other dark chocolates I tried. At $3.50 for a big bar, it's not too bad. I'll definitely be getting more of those if they're not too expensive. Well, that's all for m forays into the rich, dark world of chocolate in SF! Have a great weekend!
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Monday, December 04, 2006

More Frisco Thxgiving!

The arctic weather has frozen Chicago solid and it's way too cold to do anything but to stay in and snuggle in my blanket while watching an unhealthy dose of TV. Besides the addictive "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" marathon, I managed to rustle the boyf out of our comfortably warm cocoon to shop for groceries on Saturday and we had steak and a bottle of wine at home. It was one of the best steak dinners I've ever had and it was well worth the money! (Yah, I'm cheap, I know, I know!)

Anyway, back to more of my SF Thanksgiving adventure with my fellow cousins! We went to the restaurant Citizen Cake for lunch on the day after Thanksgiving. We were really excited about it because we had heard a lot about this place (whether it's on the all-pervasive TV or magazines or word-of-mouth). It is a place known for its individual-sized cakes and pastries. After a whole morning of shopping (we got our asses off the bed at 6 am, in an attempt to scout out post-Thanksgiving deals), we were hungry and were hoping to have brunch at Citizen Cake. Unfortunately, they don't serve brunch on weekdays (sigh, and I was eye-ing the French toast already). However, their lunch menu had some yummy-looking fares too. It consists mostly of sandwiches and salads, all very light and delicate (how Californian! Oooo). I had a smoked turkey sandwich called the Pavo Rico. In addition to the smoked turkey, the sandwich also has cocoa nib mole (which I didn't really taste), delicious mozzarella, roasted red peppers and cilantro mayo in between grilled panini-style bread. It was served with a small baby salad on the side and I loved it! It's possible that my hunger (remember, no breakfast) made the sandwich taste even better but hell, it was good!
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My dear sister ordered the pizza with marinara, pepperoni, mozzarella and baby arugula. It was very simple but well-done. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

My cousins had their ultimate grilled cheese sandwich which had cabot sharp cheddar, gruyère on acme italian bread also grilled to a delicious crisp with a small side salad. It was also very scrumptious. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Having made a thousand-mile pilgrimage to Citizen Cake, we just had to try their desserts, right? I mean, after all, it IS a restaurant owned by a pastry chef. The item that was recommended by out waitress is this rich, chocolatey cake covered in a delicate ganache. It was perfect: not too sweet, not too bitter and 100% dark. Yum! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The second dessert item we had was less impressive: the rose petal creme brulee with saffron cookies. It was bruleed perfectly but the creme part was way too soft and liquid-y for my taste.The hint of rose syrup in the creme was nice and unique, but I found the saffron cookies unnecessary and too sweet. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The third dessert (yes, you read it correctly, THIRD) was the worst. I mean, it was rather disappointing but I must give them credit for inventiveness. It was named "gleaming the cube". It consisted of date-soft chocolate, sherry-date purée, pumpkin purée and coconut-thai sorbet. The plate was like a modernist piece of art but overall, the taste was bizzare and unfocused. I thought it was trying to do too much and ended up botching everything up. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I think maybe we should've stuck to the patesserie section of the place for dessert instead because the patisserie offering ranges from sinful cookies and cakes to fluffy, angelic meringues and cheesecakes and tarts. Maybe next time? Overall, it was an unexpectedly good place for lunch! And the sourdough bread they served was quite good. I mean, really, who in SF does NOT serve sourdough bread? Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
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A better place we went to on our last night in SF was NIck's Lighthouse at Fisherman's Wharf. I know, I know, a rather touristy area but hey, they're by the wharf! So their seafood must be pretty fresh and it was. My cousin Jessy recommended this place and we started with a cup of lobster bisque and clam chowder. Both were delicious and creamy. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

We then shared two main courses: the lazy man's Cioppino in tomato broth and a plate of lightly sauteed shellfish. I loved the freshness of everything and how well-cooked the seafood was. Sigh~ Just thinking of it makes me want to move to the coast. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
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Well, thanks to this entry, I'm now famished and it's time for lunch! Oo-ee! Leftover stuffing and microwaved Boca soy burgers, here I come!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Frisco Thanksgiving!

I just came back from San Francisco for Thanksgiving and I must say that I was rather impressed by SF's food scene. Maybe I'm just too deprived of great Asian and seafood options in the Midwest but I am very happy with what I tried out there. It was also just wonderful to catch up with my cousins and be with (somewhat) like-minded people in terms of food. Most of my friends just don't understand why I am so passionate about something they consider to be a mere necessity. I personally believe the enjoyment of food with all the senses is a daily joy and is something to look forward to. So anyway, we tried many different places but I'm not going to bombard you with too much in too little time. I'm going to recount our culinary adventure little by little.

I'm going to start out with the best places we went to so that if I got tired of writing about the trip, you would only miss out the places that weren't so great. Yay! So the best joint that we went to is Swan Oyster depot. It's a hole-in-the-wall kind of place that serves some of the freshest seafood I've ever had. I first saw it on Rachael Ray's "$40 A Day" and my interest was piqued. It is also the place that many chefs cite as not to be missed when in SF when I was reading issues of Gourmet magazine. Swan Oyster Depot is a very small place, it fits approximately 12-15 customers at the bar. My cousin, Jessy, and I waited in line for a little under an hour and we both thought it was totally worth it!
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Besides being a restaurant, Swan Oyster Depot also sells fresh, raw wholesale seafood to those who want to cook their own seafood at home. We saw some of the biggest and juiciest-looking scallops but unfortunately, they weren't on the menu (unless we wanted to have them sushi style). We started with a half dozen fresh oysters that our server recommended. There were six different varieties and we thought we'd try them all. All of them were super fresh and awesome! Each had a different taste and mouth feel to it and they were all very well-shucked. Topped with a small dab of cocktail sauce and horseradish, the oysters were heaven on a shell!
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The other items we had were lobster and crab cocktails. When our first cocktail came, it was already mixed up with cocktail sauce and we thought that it would be served with the sauce on the side so we asked our server if we could have ours on the side and he obliged immediately. Now is that great service or what? So he went ahead and cracked open a new, freshly boiled lobster and collected the meat for us with the sauce on the side. The crab and lobster were tender and tasted so fresh that I almost cried. The bar that all the customers were seated at was very intimate in that we get to essentially witness the food preparation. There was a huge slab of smoked salmon in front of us and we weren't sure what it was and so we asked about what it was. The proprietor gave us each two slices of the smoked salmons and that's how I had the best smoked salmon ever! Not only was it perfectly smoked, it tasted fresh and didn't smell fishy at all. Its pure salmon taste filled my mouth and I felt like it melted in my mouth.
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I am so happy that I found and ate at Swan Oyster Depot. Like many others, I think Swan Oyster Depot is that place not to be missed when in SF. Not only is the service friendly and warm, we were made to feel like we were just visiting a friend's place (a friend who happened to be a fisherman). Even though it's on the pricey side and we had to wait in line to eat, the fresh seafood was totally worth it!

The second awesome place we went to was this small bakery in Chinatown that sells the usual slew of Chinese pastries. My cousin, Jessy and I went there the morning we were departing SF for a small breakfast. Prior to the bakery we had already visited another Chinatown eatery for the famous leaf-wrapped steamed glutinous rice (for lunch on the plane) and shiu may (part of Jessy's breakfast). At the bakery I ordered my two all-time favorite Chinese pastries: egg tart and paper-wrapped steamed chiffon cake. Jessy had a custard filled bun that was topped with a layer of sweet cookie.
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The egg tart I had was the very best egg tart I have ever had. The puff pastry crust was rich, buttery and melted in my mouth. The egg custard filling was even better! It is not too sweet and has the perfect texture. The filling was like the creme of creme brulees that one can get at top notch restaurants, not too creamy yet not too solid. If only I had bought more to bring home to Chicago...
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Jessy's custard bun was also delicious. I had a bite of it and really loved the crispy cookie crust that topped off the bun. Its custard filling was a tad sweet but the bread was soft and pillowy, and the cookie crust was perfectly baked. Eaten with a piping hot cup of tea, this is the breakfast for (Chinese) champions!
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The paper-wrapped steamed cake was also very good. I like that it was only slightly sweet and its faint vanilla aroma was just nice. Its texture was very light, even lighter and fluffier than an angel food cake. The shiu may that Jessy bought were also delicious. They were packed with meaty goodness and so much flavor. Dipped in some soy sauce, it was even better and provided some protein for our breakfast.

So these were the two top places (I think) that we had the fortune to eat at. They are definitely places I will return to when I visit SF in the future. I find that the SF culinary scene is alive and bustling with a lot of excitement, whether it is a good old American seafood or a quintessential Chinese meal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Most recent confections

You know, weekends are way too short when you're enjoying yourself! Even when you're doing nothing or just vegging around the house, they fly by so quickly! Weekends feel even shorter when you have to go to work (like I did) for almost half a day (on a Sunday no less!). Thankfully, I still had time to try out a few recipes, which I was super excited about, before the family and I descend upon Frisco for a rollin' good time!

So for Saturday breakfast, I made crepes for the first time ever! I thought it would be really challenging but I was really inspired by Dave Lieberman's simple recipe . and he made it look so easy when I first saw it on his show. And boy oh boy, were they easy to make! The only "special" equipment you need is a non-stick pan. I don't think that's such a specialty equipment because virtually everyone owns a non-stick pan, right? The batter is also very simple; it consists of flour, eggs, milk and vanilla extract. The only minor hassle is you have to refrigerate it for at least an hour. I think you can do it overnight if you really have to have breakfast ready as soon as you get up.

The first two crepes weren't very pretty but as with making pancakes, the first few would always look ugly. Subsequently, my crepes turned out evenly browned and nice. Check out how beautiful my virgin crepes turned out!
Beautiful crepe

I filled the crepes with either Nutella spread or strawberry jam. As you can imagine, the Nutella-stuffed ones were very decadent and rich, just like a dessert! The strawberry jam ones (also served with fresh, sliced strawberries) were light and delicious, and are more appropriate for breakfast. Also, you can taste the crepe more with the strawberry jam while the rich Nutella tends to overpower the palette.
Crepes stuffed with scrumptious Nutella spread or strawberry jam

The boyf had the strawberry-filled crepes with a (huge) dollop of whipped topping and it was a piece of heaven, man!
Devouring of crepes with a dollop of whipped topping

Another recent new recipe I tried out was for cream puffs. I didn't have heavy cream on hand so I couldn't make the cream filling. Instead, I substituted it with ice cream and made profiteroles! As you may know already, ice cream is always good in my universe. The puffs were very simple to make and the recipe starts by making the dough batter in a saucepan on a stovetop before spooning them onto baking sheets and baking them in the oven, where they will puff up beautifully. These puffs' texture reminded me of some popovers that I had in Boston a few months ago. They can be eaten plain or with a mere pat of butter when they're warm. Of course, they make perfect cream puffs and profiteroles.
Gigante puff!

To create the profiteroles, I cut the puffs in half, filled it with vanilla ice cream, topped it with the other puff half, and drizzled chocolate sundae sauce to top it off. I must say that the home-made profiterole is one of my favorite home-made desserts ever. Because when you make it yourself, not only can you add as much (or as little) stuff you want, you can bask in the glory of having created the dish yourself *harharhar*

That's all the decadence for now before Thanksgiving but you can expect more, especially after Christmas. This is because I have convinced the boyf to get me a Kitchenaid stand mixer for Christmas when Amazon was having a huge houseware sale. Can you believe he got the Artisan mixer for under $200? I always love getting a good deal, even if it's someone else paying for it! Of course, being a Christmas gift, I can't open or use it until Christmas. Argh! Can't wait for Christmas!
My beautiful chrome Kitchenaid Artisan stand mixer *sigh*

Well, anywayz, I hope you have a very Happy Thanksgiving, blessed with good food and even better company! Ciao!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's that time of the year agaaaain ...

Thanksgiving is around the corner and I am so super excited because my cousins and I are descending upon good ol' Frisco for a long weekend reunion. I am particularly looking forward to meeting Hendra, a cousin whom I haven't seen in years and years and years! What I remember of him last is a 12-year-old game-crazed boy but he's almost 20 now and is in college! Wow, time sure flies!

Besides spending some Q time with the cousins, I'm so excited about eating around SF. Two particular spots I must visit are Swan Oyster Depot and Citizen Cake. I have heard so many good things about Swan Oyster Depot from many different people and magazines. I was made aware ot its existence of Rachael Ray's "$40 A Day" San Francisco episode. It is a small spot that sells cooked and raw seafood that was caught the very day. They close the place when they've run out of fresh catch. Now is that awesome or what? Subsequently, I've read many chefs is different foodie mags rave about it being the place not to miss when in Frisco. I also first saw Citizen Cake on the same show, actually, but it never really struck me as a must-eat-at place until recently, when the owner went on Iron chef America to take on Cat Cora with a honey-themed challenge. If I'm not wrong, she beat Cat Cora and well, someone who can handle that much pressure should own a pretty decent establishment. Also, who can resist a place that specializes in dessert?

Sigh~ I can't wait to get to Frisco and see my sis and cousins! For now, I'll just dream of it ...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Inspired weekend

The weekend can never be too long thesedays. I had such a wonderfully relaxing but short weekend of lazing, baking, reading, knitting and watching TV. Ahhh! Simply heaven. And I'm here to show off to you what I've accomplished. I was partiularly inspired and I actually finished the first of my knit bag! I hauled my ass off to Jo-Ann (an awesomely huge crafts store) to get a simple sewing kit to sew the bag lining. I had previously purchased the lining fabric so I didn't have to get that. After joining the lining fabric to the bag, I next sewed the circular bamboo handles onto the bag with the yarn that I knit the bag with. Initially, it looked a little lopsided but I was able to mend it. Check it out!

Pretty knit bag
Knit bag with pink flowery lining

Isn't it just the daintiest knit bag ever? (You better say yes, you!) Anywayz, the second bag will be slightly bigger and will have a green cotton lining, so that will be less cheery than this bag. I must say that I'm pretty proud of the hemming and sewing I did for this bag, considering I hadn't sewn since home ec class secondary school. I got some tips from the Web and they were very helpful. I did make some mistakes that I will try to avoid for the second bag, though ;)

Besides the crafts department, I also baked. Yippee! I was inspired by Alice Waters' recipe for her famous apple tartine that she serves in her restaurant, Chez Panisse. I encountered the recipe in the Sunday papers' magazine and since it's apple season, I just couldn't pass up making this beautiful apple tart. The original apple tartine recipe was made by Jacques Pepin but has since been tweaked by many other chefs. For instance, I saw a slightly altered apple tartine recipe in a recent issue of Gourmet magazine that uses apricot preserve.

I wanted to use my new food processor to made the pastry dough but was disappointed to discover that it doesn't work!!! I was so sad that my new appliance is crap. I think it's probably the motor and I will call up Cuisinart soon to find out where I can bring it to be fixed! Sigh~ Fortunately, I have a pastry blender on hand and decided to use that instead. It was my first time making pastry dough and it was quite fun though very time-consuming. I had to make sure the fats and water were cold, and after making the dough, the recipe calls for a 30-minute refrigeration before rolling it. Then, I believe I over-handled it because it turned out a bit on the brittle side, but still delicious.
Chez Panisse-inspired apple tartine
Apples .. droolz!

Now is that beautiful or is that beautiful? The sugar that was sprinkled on the apples and crust caramelized beautifully to brown the tartine. However, in retrospect, I used to few apples, I should've lined the up more densely for more apple flavor. So I served the tart with a scoop of extra rich light Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream and it was pure heaven on a plate. It is so thin that it is reminiscent of a New York style pizza. So my boyf spread the ice cream over the whole slice of tart and used his fingers to eat it like a pizza. I still have a few slices left and I can't wait to wolf it down after dinner!
Sliced apple tartine with vanilla bean ice cream

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Is it friggin' cold or what?

The weather has taken a chilly turn and so has my activities. Besides work at the lab and my salsa classes, I don't do anything outside of my home any more recently. I just want to stay cooped up in my cozy apartment knitting, baking or watching TV *sighs blissfully* I really don't mind because I find all these activities very comforting, although I run the danger of not burning enough of the calories from my baked goods. Thank goodness for the gym in my apartment building!

Anywayz, I've been in a knitting mood again recently due to the cold weather. When it's hot out, I just don't feel like having my fingers swathed in beautiful, warm yarn in my wonderful knitting corner.
My cozy, homey knitting corner.

I'm currently working on two main things: an afghan (also known as a blanket) and a bag. The afghan is going to be so perfect to snuggle within when it's snowing outside. I am knitting it with two different types of yarn together: the first is a basic acrylic yarn with multi colors (yellow/purple/blue combo) called "Monet" and the second is a finer, somewhat "hairier" (if you will) yarn of a pretty magenta shade. The afghan is knit in a sort of checkered pattern, check it out!
Can't wait to snuggle in this during winter!

The second knitting project I'm working on is a bag, as I mentioned. Actually, I'm making two bags of the same pattern and yarn because I purchased way too much yarn. It is a knit bag with circular bamboo handles and the yarn I'm using has a color combination of light pink and leafy green, it's very pretty. I got the pattern from my very first knitting book, "Stitch'n'Bitch" by Debbie Stoller. I must say that "SnB" is a very good beginner knitting book and the patterns included are basic yet cool at the same time. I've pretty much finished knitting it, now all I have to concentrate on is sewing the lining fabric (so that the bag won't sag under the weight of its contents) and sewing the bamboo handles onto the bag. I'm making one for my sister and another for me. I can't wait to finish them!

So anyway, we ended up not going to a friend's Halloween party out of laziness. He lives really far away and I felt like rewarding myself with a "vegging" weekend in lazing away. I wasn't that unproductive because I baked! Instead of baking the hazelnut cookies as featured on Giada de Laurentiis' show, I baked something similar. It's called "Cyclops" cookies on, the site where I found the cookie recipe. It is so called due to the presence of a chocolate kiss in the middle of the cookie, resembling Cyclops' single eye. Kinda geeky, check out the recipe here . So, instead of dipping the rounded cookie batter in white sugar before baking (as the recipe instructs), I dipped them in orange sugar for an extra layer of Halloween vibe!

BEFORE ENTERING THE HELLISH OVEN Halloween cookies before baking ... on my new pwecious Silpat that works sooo well!!!

AFTER RECEIVING CHOCOLATE KISSES Wow! They're all lined up like soldiers, whee!
Don't they look awesome? By the way, I luuurve luuurve luuurve my new Silpat sheet liner. It works so well! Nothing, absolutely nothing sticks to it!

Besides these delectable peanut buttery cookies, I also made angel food cake. It was the very first time I made angel food cake with egg whites. The only other time I made angel food cake, I used a box mix because I didn't see the sense in wasting 12 egg yolks (even though I don't really like yolks). So anyway, the angel food cake sides burned but the insides was salavageable and tasted pretty good. I baked it for way too long (damn recipe!!!) and the cake doesn't have as light and airy a texture as I expected. Instead it had a bready feel to it, which is still not too bad. Topped with some whipped topping and served alongside some fresh strawberries, the cake was delicious. Angel food cake with whipped topping and perfect strawberries ... *sighs blissfully* ...

The arrival of winter also means the return of comfort foods. The most recentl comforting creation was grilled ham and (Swiss) cheese on rye. It was simple, uncomplicated and simply heavenly. Have a great weekend! The best-looking ham'n'cheez sandwich E-V-E-R!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halloween goodies! just had a huuuge home & garden sale the other day (Oct. 23rd) and I convinced the boyf to buy my Christmas present then. Yippee yay yay! I'm gonna get a Kitchenaid stand mixer for Christmas! Woohoo! What's even better is that we got it at a great deal! Yeapz, I'm a suckah for great deals. When grocery shopping, I rarely ever get anything that's full price. If it's not on sale or if I don't have a good coupon for it, I don't put it in my cart 95% of the time. I also try to pay attention to the prices being scanned at the cashier because hey, sometimes computers make mistakes! Whenever I tell the cashier about the mistaken price, I always pay the correct labeled price despite getting dirty looks from both the cashier and the person behind me. Bah! They don't pay my bills *winkz*

Anywayz, with the approach of Halloween, I've been inspired to watch scary movies and bake Halloween-themed goodies. This past weekend, I watched the movie "Halloween" on TV. Yep, I've never watched it before and it wasn't too bad for being the first "slasher" movie ever. As with most other horror movies, I get frustrated with the characters' stupidity. For instance, in the movie, the doctor who was looking for the escaped psychotic murderer psychiatric patient Michael Meiyers, was waiting outside Michael's old home believing that he will eventually go there. It took him about 2 hours of standing around doing nothing outside the old house for him to spot the car that Michael stole before escaping the psychiatric ward. Sheesh!

And then, the main character is even worse! Each time she thinks she has killed Michael, she didn't even confirm that he's dead. She would then leave a weapon (the knife) near him and hang around the house instead of going to a neighbour's for help. Sigh~ I suppose if the characters in horror movies weren't that dumb, no one would be killed and the movie wouldn't be that scary any more.

I'll be attending a friend's Halloween party this Saturday and depending on the weather that afternoon, I'm either going apple-picking or watching "Grudge 2" in the theatres. I'm probably going to bake a super fudgy brownie for the party and I might bake a batch of nutella-kiss cookies to bring to work. I've never baked a brownie from scratch since I've always found the boxed mixes to be super cheap and easy. But I've usually had problems with the mixes. It would turn out charred around the sides a lot and it wouldn't result in the fudgy, thick consistency that I want. Maybe it's the mix or maybe I just baked them too long, we'll see. The nutella-kiss cookies were inspired by an episode of "Everyday Italian" that I recently saw on the Food Network. Besides containing the yummy nutella spread, the batter is then dipped in orange sugar (for a festive Halloween feel) and topped with a Hershey's kiss. I'm looking forward to that! I'll definitely take pictures of those cookies!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Indonesian Feast

Hi friends!

I’ve been back from Indonesian homecoming trip for over a month now and I must say that I’m already home sick, not only because the majority of my family is there but also because of the delicious Indon foods! I hadn’t been back for two years before this trip, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I ate like there’s no tomorrow! I spent a mere two weeks in the Indon capital, Jakarta, and one night in Singapore. As you can imagine, it’s not enough time to sample all the delicacies.

The first thing I craved for was bakmi Gajah Mada (or Gajah Mada noodles). The original restaurant was opened on Gajah Mada (GM) street, and thus, the name. Their specialty is their home-made noodles that is served along with shredded chicken, fried dumpling, meatballs or vegetables (you pick!). The yummy noodles comes with a small bowl or the noodle broth that you’re supposed to drizzle over the noodles before mixing it all up and gobbling it down (along with a squirt of their home-made chili sauce if you like). Bakmi GM has become a cult favorite of sorts among “Jakartians” (who are famed in Indonesia for their passion for noodles). Oftentimes, Jakartians who have been abroad for a long time make a pilgrimage for bakmi Gajah Mada first before other delicious Jakarta eating establishments. I think part of the reason for its popularity is bakmi GM’s comfort food status among Jakartians like me.

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After the scrumptious lunch, I proceeded to get some good old cakes I used to buy along the streets as an elementary student. It’s one of the “jajanan” (snacks) I love from “kaki lima” (literally meaning five feet). Kaki lima basically refers to food peddlers on the streets of Jakarta that cook and store the product on their carts! They are nicknamed kaki lima due to the fact that the combination of the sellers’ feet (2), the cart’s two wheels (2) and the cart’s back stand for balance (1) add up to five “feet”. So anyway, I spotted two carts selling some of my favorite sweet snacks: the sombrero-shaped kue ape, kue bolu cubit (pinching cake) and kue laba-laba (spider cake).

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Another kaki lima dish that I got to eat again is soto Betawi (or Batavian soup; Batavia is an old name for Jakarta). Soto Betawi has a peppery, sweet, soy-curry flavor with a hint of lime, coconut and other spices. It also has shredded chicken, glass noodles (or other kinds of noodles) and is served with fragrant, fried shallots sprinkled on top.

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Another good old favorite of mine and my family’s is sweet martabak Surabaya style. It is sold in open restaurants with open kitchens along the streets of Indonesia. Martabak is a round, thick pancake with a thin, crispy crust around it. When the middle is a little more than halfway cooked (think firm but soft and creamy texture), it is then generously buttered and then sprinkled with toppings of your choice. Toppings include crushed peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, shredded cheese and sesame seeds. I know what you must be thinking: cheese in a sweet dessert pancake? The kind of cheese that martabak makers use is one that is made in Indonesia. It is less salty and pungent, but sweeter and milder.

Batter preparation with an old-school mixer. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
It is then poured onto a special heavy pan. They then spread a thin later of the batter on the sides of the skillet to achieve a crispy crust surrounding the pancake. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The cooked martabak is then transferred to a chopping board for generous buttering and sprinkling of the various toppings. You can “harass” the cook to give you more toppings. Yippee! More peanuts for moi! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
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It is then cut into smaller pieces in case you want to munch on them in the car. The man in the foreground is my father, who as you can see, just couldn’t wait to get his hands on our ooey-gooey, buttery, cheesy, nutty martabak.

Besides the sweet martabak, there’s also the salty martabak. They’re completely different not only in the way they taste but also in the way they’re prepared! The sweet martabak is grilled on a pan while the salty martabak is deep fried. Fortunately, the stall we go to makes both sweet and salty martabaks. Bonus! The salty martabak is filled with either sautéed vaggies, ground meat (lamb, beef or chicken) and/or eggs. The salty martabak starts with a really thin dough that has been tossed around skillfully by this cool guy.
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It is then deep fried in oil, where the cook turns the martabak around continuously (for maybe, faster cooking?) and at the same time tries to keep the martabak flat by pressing a large flat spatula on it.
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It can be eaten with a special soy sauce that the store gives. The alternating layers of filling and fried dough drizzled with the special sauce was heavenly. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Another “street” food of my childhood is called ronde. They’re basically balls of glutinous rice flour filled with crushed peanuts. The ronde are cooked in a ginger-laced broth along with barley. It is kind of like the popular mochi ice cream except that the mochi skin is thicker and it is filled with nuts instead of ice cream. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Besides delicious snacks, Jakarta’s streets are also chock filled with vendors selling delicious “ethnic” foods. Indonesia is such a big country that comprises of thousands of islands. There are about 300 different ethnic groups that contribute to Indonesia’s rich cultural fabric. I had the fortune the enjoy food from a street stall that makes Javanese food. The stall’s specialties are plain steamed chicken and bubur ayam (or chicken porridge), both of which I tried. The different regions of Indonesia enjoy their porridges in slightly different fashions. For instance, the Aceh people prepare bubur in chicken broth with shrimp and several spices. It is supposed to be good for restoring energy after a whole day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan. The Javanese Islam prepare bubur Suro, a porridge named after the 10th day of the month of Suro on the Muslim calendar. Bubur suro is served with Indonesian chicken curry sauce (also known as “opor ayam”) and a handful of pomegranates.

So anyway, our food was prepared in an open kitchen right next to the road and you can pick whichever chicken pieces you want. Unhygienic, I know. If there was such a place in the US, it would be closed down on its opening day *Har*Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The chosen pieces of chicken were then shredded and served with a drizzling of a sesame oil, soy sauce combination and sliced cucumbers. The porridge can be eaten with their yummylicious home-made chili sauce and fried dough fritters (otherwise known as “cakwe” or “youtiao” in Mandarin). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Chinese influence also exists in the food scene of Indonesia, especially Jakarta. My family and I made a pilgrimage to a family friend-owned restaurant in the “puncak” (or mountain areas of Bogor for a day trip. It’s approximately a 2.5 hours drive through snakey roads that wind in the mountains. The restaurant is named “Pada Senang” which translates to “Everyone is Happy”. And that much is true when my whole family used to come here. When I was a young child, my grandfather used to own a villa in the Bogor mountains and the whole nuclear family would often spend weekends with my grandparents. Pleasing everyone was no small task when the whole family consists of 2 elderly grandparents, 14 uncles/aunts/parents and 17 cousins (including my sis and me). But there is something for everyone at Pada Senang. It now has a second branch in Jakarta but my parents are convinced that it doesn’t even come close to the food in Bogor.

The menu is written in Chinese on a blackboard. They serve favorites and occasionally have specials that use seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is sparse and still has about twenty copies of this year’s calendar on its walls as its main decoration, which is quite funny. They must really have a very short-term memory if they need a calendar in their face wherever they go J So we ordered our old favorites, including bihun ayam (rice noodles with chicken), sautéed tofu with pork, kuluyuk (or sweet and sour chicken), and fish head soup.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Isn't it weird that they sell bottled Guinness in hot, hot Indonesia?
The bihun ayam was as I remembered: perfectly seasoned, and there is no shortage of shrimp, eggs, chicken pieces and fresh vegetables! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I forgot the Indonesian name for this dish. This tofu dish was delicious even though it almost had the mushy consistency of porridge (almost!). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The piping hot sweet and sour chicken was topped with sliced sautéed onions and was not (thank God!) completely covered in the sweet and sour sauce, which is the way I like it. It allows each person to add as much sauce as he/she wants to and I happen to prefer mine with just a few drops. The fried chicken did not taste excessively greasy and I loved that the breading just right: not too thick, not too thin. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The fish head soup, as you can imagine, was rather fishy. I tasted a tinge of allspice, which mellowed out the soup. However, the fish was cooked very well: it wasn’t too tough and it wasn’t mushy. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

We then ended this heavenly meal with a “gemblong” that we bought from a traveling vendor. Gemblong is basically spheres of fried dough that is filled with grated coconut. It is also then dipped in a combination of sugar and gula Jawa (also known as dark palm sugar). As you can imagine, it tastes very sweet. The gemblong consistency is quite chewy and while it also melts in your mouth. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The biggest meal (literally) that I had during my homecoming was in Eka Ria, a quintessentially Chinese restaurant near Jakarta’s Chinatown in central Jakarta. My late maternal grandfather loved to go there for special occasions. So we ate there for my lovely mother’s birthday celebration and boy, what a feast it was! So this is the menu written in Chinese. It was an 8-course dinner (not including the birthday cakes) served family style. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

We started with “ee foo mee” (or Ee Foo noodles) that is both crispy and soft at the same time. It is served with fried egg yolks, chicken and vegetables. As you can see from the glistening noodles, it is pretty greasy, and man, was it delish! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Next, came the 7-colored (or rainbow) platter heaped with (what else?) seven types of Chinese delicacies. In the middle of the picture is a pile of stringy, crunchy, spiced jellyfish with sesame seeds. On top of the pile are quartered century eggs (that are normally served with rice porridge). To the left corner, the white, creamy-looking stuff is shrimp with mayonaisse (my favorite of the seven); going clockwise to its right, is some fried tofu skin, followed by chopped braised liver; the light colored item closest to the camera is steamed chicken. To the left is some sliced duck meat and deep-fried Chinese style chicken fingers. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The following course was one of Eka Ria’s specialties, their famed fried pigeons! They were super salty (too salty for me). Their skin is very crispy and rich, the meat was tender and it literally melted in my mouth. However, I didn’t think all that work (tearing the wings and legs off, trying to tease out the meat) was worth it just because these pigeons didn’t have much meat on them. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As if this meal wasn’t rich enough, the next course was Peking Duck (argh! My arteries … are … blocked …). The crispy duck skin is served with sliced bread (Eka Ria style), sliced Chinese ham and sprigs of green onion with little bowls of special plum sauce. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The next dish, fried super jumbo shrimp is my favorite! I think they were steamed and then stir-fried in their house chili sauce. The super jumbo shrimps were so meaty and nicely tender (not overcooked, joy!). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

It was then followed by winter melon soup (lower bowl in picture) that also contains beans, shredded meat (pork, I think?) and of course, winter melons. It was a perfectly mellow counterpoint to the spicy fried lobster. The upper bowl in the picture is the fish course of the night. I’m not sure what kind of fish it is but I know it was steamed in a mix of sesame oil, soy sauce and topped with green onions. Again, this matches very well with the winter melon soup, providing a salty contrast to the winter melon’s mild taste. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I didn’t take a picture of the other soup course we had, Eka Ria’s famed seafood shark’s fin soup. I was too busy devouring the succulent chunks of crab and fin. However, check out one of the cakes that we had for my mum’s birthday. It's a rich chocolate cake that had 3 layers. In between the layers were raspberries and raspberry jam. Pretty choco-licious! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Jakarta also has a growing Korean population and with it, an increase in Korean restaurants. I had a wonderful barbecue at a Korean restaurant in Jakarta named “22”. “22” was the only thing on its sign that I know, the rest was written in Korean. So anyway, like many Korean barbecue places, the meat or kalbi is cooked on the table, in front of you on a grill. The cool thing about “22” is that not only does the waitress do the cooking for us, the meat was cooked on a coal grill. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The kalbi was tender and delicious. Besides the meat, we also had the various Korean appetizers in small dishes. The appetizers include the customary kimchi, spicy mussels (or are they clams?), mini egg pancakes and steamed vegetables among others. We also ordered kimchi ji gae (kimchi soup with tofu) and chap jae. I must say that the chap jae was the best chap jae I’ve tasted and everything was authentic (after all the owner is Korean). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The spiciest meal I had was at a streetside restaurant that specializes in grilled fish. I forgot the name already but I think it might’ve been Batu Tulis and is located near Jakarta’s Chinatown. My parents were pretty regular customers here, so before we even sat, my mum did the ordering. Since, it has an outdoor kitchen, we had to walk by the kitchen before reaching the seating area. You can pick and choose your own fish and vegetables, which my mum did. Their specialty item is grilled fish, which we had. My mum also ordered some spicy clams and stir-fried kang kong (I don’t know what this vegetable is called in English. I think it might be … water spinach?).

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Being a fish retard (I can only identify salmon, tuna and bass by sight), again, I don’t know or recall what kind of fish it was but it sure tasted good. It was served with belacan, a shrimpy chili paste, of which we had the original belacan and a mango belacan. The original belacan has a deliciously overpowering spicy taste that is perfect with the mild, flaky grilled fish. The mangi belacan is less pungent and sweeter, also nice with the fish. The chili clams were also yummy. The clam shells were perfect to hold some of the spicy broth that they were cooked in so that when slurping down the clam, you’d also get a taste of the spicy broth. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The kang kong was also spicy and delicious. It wasn’t overly soft and it still retained a little bit of its crispiness. The kang kong leaves also absorbed a lot of the chili broth that it was cooked in. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Even after all that culinary debauchery in Jakarta, I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to eat in Singapore when I was just transiting for one night. I spent my early till late teens in Singapore and the one thing I missed the most was “yong tau foo”, a tofu noodle soup. I especially adored one hawker stall on the basement level of Takashimaya, a shopping mall in the heart of Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping district. I loved it because anyone could literally pick out the fillings he/she wanted to go into the soup and they offered such a huge variety of them, ranging from meatballs, shrimp balls, fried tofu, an assortment of vegetables, wontons, fish pastes and mushrooms, etc. You then hand over the bowl full of goodies to the person behind the counter, after which, he will cut the goodies in to small, bite-size pieces before plunging them all in hot boiling broth along with noodles of your choice (egg, rice or glass noodles). Additional toppings include green onion, fried shallot and the divine home-made chili sauce.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
My favorite item of the “yong tau foo”, a special tofu flown in from Japan. It is pretty firm and is quite chewy with a slightly sweet taste to it. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As you can imagine, after two weeks of being spoiled with delicious Indonesian food, I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms from it and I’m still squirting the Indonesian chili sauce (that I smuggled back) on everything. I really miss the food, but here’s the reason I miss it even more … Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting ... only the cutest, most adorable, most huggable nephew in the whole wide world!