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!