Saturday, May 31, 2008
I, of course, love anything cute and packaged well. So it comes, probably, as no surprise that I adore cupcakes. They remind me of being 8 years old and the days when I was invited to backyard birthday parties. They make me think of carefree days and how wonderful my childhood truly was. I was a very happy kid. Or maybe they are a close enough approximation of my childhood nickname, "Muffin". Apparently my Dad called me that ("Peach" came later) because I was cute, small and warm.
So when I had heard about a new cupcake place opening up in the city, I got really excited. But given my ever expanding waistline and my crazy work schedule chances were good I wasn't going to get a chance to try it out anytime soon. Bummer, but oh well.
Lucky for me, I have wonderful store customers and a dear, dear, dear one came by when I wasn't in the store and left cupcakes from Sweet for us to try. I did try and share them with the one staff person on with me today but she claimed to have an upset tummy, oh well...I did try, right? ;)
The box for the cupcakes was clever. It was sized perfectly for the goodies but it was reminiscent of a happy meal box. The shape was familiar and fun to carry but it was super cool with the plain brown cardboard that I felt kinda cool swinging it along as I walked home.
The cupcakes were small compared to the others I've had at places like the Buttery in the South End. The Buttery cucpakes are so huge that four of these minis would make one entire Buttery monster.
The presentation of the cupcakes was cute and they looked very polished. The frosting was piped out and the final touches dainty and tasteful. I think I got a box with: vanilla, chocolate, carrot cake and mocha (or maybe spice cake).
The cupcakes had waited two days in my fridge before I got a chance to sample them. So they were a bit dry. I have to say, I'm not sure when it became such an issue keeping cupcakes moist. It seems to be a refrain I hear a lot about cupcake places in the area. I remember as a kid always having moist cupcakes. I do think we use to put a bit of oil in the batter but still. A bit of canola in the batter might keep these cupcakes from getting too dry over time. I think it's hard to always buy bakery goodies the day you need them i.e. planning treats for someone's birthday so being able to keep cake and have it taste good even a day after purchase is important, well, I think it's be important at least.
Back to the cupcakes. I like the size quite a bit. They were the small perfect three bite treat. I like the frosting on all of them quite a bit. It wasn't a heavy overly buttery frosting. The vanilla frosting even with it's specks of vanilla reminded me of duncan hines can frosting and that's not a bad thing. I didn't like that the carrot cake cupcake had a vanilla frosting. I like cream cheese with my carrot cake and was disappointed that they didn't do a cream cheese one for the carrot cake.
Overall, I liked the favors a lot and even dry they were nice cupcakes. I like the vanilla the best because the flavor was sweet and very simple. The spice cake or maybe mocha cake one just kinda confused me and the chocolate one was a bit too milk chocolate-y for me. I tend to like my chocolate dark. But make no mistake, I eat every single crumb :) Like I said before, I liked them!
It was a nice treat and such a wonderful surprise to receive from a Jean Therapy customer. I'm so blessed to have such sweet store patrons!
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I wasn't sure what flavoring I'd use. I tend to not like the flavor of white chocolate and I've never really done a lot with butter cream b/c all I ever really taste is butter. The mouth feel of butter cream is something I don't tend to enjoy. But I joined this group as a way to grow and learn so if part of the challenge calls for white chocolate and butter cream, well, I'm certainly happy to give it a shot and test it out!
Still uncertain what flavoring I'd do, I took a T-ride to Trader Joes where I was told I'd find almond meal for a fraction of the cost of Wholefoods. While I was at TJ's I noticed fresh apricots. I picked up some of those and got to thinking that one of my favorite flavor pairings is ginger and apricot. Panini, a bakery that has been closed for a while now, use to serve up apricot and ginger scones and they were pretty darn tasty. So I decided that my opera cake would include fresh ginger, fresh apricots, apricot nectar and some white peachello that was leftover from another dinner party.
I came home and go into my crocs and prepped for an evening of baking.
The cake batter came together rather quickly and easily. I grated fresh ginger into the batter and poured some apricot nectar in as well.
But the issue is always my oven. It seems to have two vastly different temperatures. And the result of cooking the cakes at the same time in the same oven based on the Daring Baker instructions resulted in this:
Hmm, I should have known better, since I know that my oven is kinda weird and baked one jelly roll sheet at a time. I went ahead and used the slightly overcooked cake anyway b/c I just assumed that the syrup would moisten it enough.
Into the syrup, I put a serious shot of the peachello and a big chunk of fresh ginger chopped big enough so I could fish it out once it was done cooking.
The apricots I quickly popped into some boiling water and fished out. I let them cool and peeled off their fuzzy skins and set them side.
The mousse also got a shot of grated ginger, apricot nectar and peachello.
The hardest part of this challenge, for me, was the buttercream recipe. I ran into issues when I went to add the boiled sugar (up to 220) to my egg mixture. The sugar did harden but it hardens so quickly that I didn't use quite a bit of it. As you can see, a lot of it ended up on still in the side of my pot and also on the side of my bowl. This buttercream recipe stressed me out. It seemed so wasteful to not even get a chance to use so much of the sugar due to hardening on the side of my pan. Did I do something wrong???
Since Elizabeth had decided to join Daring Bakers too, we decided it would be fun to have a bake off at her place and taste our different takes on Opera Cake. So I decided to put all my cake components into go-to containers and assemble at her place. I would make the glaze her at her place too. Bagged and ready to go, I waited for the bus to take me to Dot.
Little did I know that I'd be waiting for over 40 mins for a bus that would never arrive. Aaaauuurrrgggghhhh. It was so frustrating that I opted to go home and just assemble my cake there.
I opted to glaze the cake the next day after it had chilled a while. Clearly, I need to work on my professional cake glazing skills! Finally it was done.
How did it taste?
I liked it a lot. I wasn't very pleased with the texture of the almond meal from TJ's. Elizabeth had used blanched almonds and made her own meal and I liked the texture of her cake much better. But the flavor of apricot and ginger tasted great with white chocolate. I wish I had used a bit more grated ginger, but I was conservative b/c I didn't know what baking would do to the ginger. Next time, I'll add a lot more! Plus the syrup did moisten up the overcooked cake piece quite a bit and I was very pleased with that too.
I don't think I'll ever go thru the trouble of making an opera cake again but it was nice to try and if you're ever looking for a nice spring flavor combo, I think you can't beat fresh apricot and ginger.
1.) Ruth Reichl...When I first met my girlfriend, we met via her writing really. I knew her food blog long before I had even met her. And well, I kinda fell for her through her writing. Her style of writing reminded me of Ruth Reichl and it was a compliment of the highest regard from me. Ruth Reichl is an amazing story teller and clearly adores food too. She's someone I'd love to meet b/c whenever I see pictures of her I see warmth in her eyes. I like that that warm translates into her writing.
2.) Amanda Hesser...Gosh maybe 10 years ago I'd read Amanda's columns in the NYT and knew of Mr. Latte. Later the columns became a book which I bought right away. I love the book and I love the recipes in the book too. If I ever was able to write, I think my style would be very similar to Amanda. I followed the story of 'Mr. Latte' religiously. I love the idea of this young bright woman courting a man who liked food but later would learn to love this quirky adorable food writer. Seriously, one day maybe I'll write the story of E and me and how we came to be via food.
3.) Mark Bittman...Talk about someone who makes home cooking seem like fun! I don't really read his articles as much as I watch them via NYT on-line. I enjoy watching him make simple and tasty food. I bet he'd be a lot of fun to dine with as well.
And so there you have it, the three food writers/thinkers who will always have my full attention and adoration.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The new bakery had taken the space and made it over in raw wood, fresh paint and outside patio seating. Nice! I had to stop in and check it out. Especially since I wouldn't have a bakery to visit once inside my 'hood, grrr!
I went in and all the goodies were laid out so nicely. I did notice that most of the stuff seemed very nut oriented and I do mean nut! The tarts and pies were piled file with cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts and silvered almonds. And the individual treats seemed very brioche oriented. Plain, chocolate, halva, poppy seed, savory brioches, you get the idea. It was late in the day around 6pm so perhaps all the other stuff had been taken but I was surprised not to find a single fruit tart or cookie in the bunch.
I went ahead and bought to types of brioche to try. I tried the halva and the chocolate brioche. The brioche was buttery and yeasty, clearly expertly made but the execution of both was a little bit clumsy.
The chocolate brioche had a hard chunk of chocolate at the very buttom on it's center. Hmm, it was almost like a jelly donut but not quite. The hard little lump did nothing to make the brioche anymore tasty. It would have been better if the chocolate had been either chunked up or grated into the already risen dough and baked. The halva made the other brioche gummy and sticky. And I mean really gummy and sticky. The halva flavor made it almost taste like a peanut butter brioche. It was like brioche taffy. To get the flavor of halva they could have used sesame seeds and honey instead of using the halva candy.
I like the place well enough to give it a shot again. I'd like to sit outside and enjoy some coffee and a nice afternoon treat but I think next time it will need to be only if I see anything there without nuts or brioche.
Friday, May 23, 2008
I walked down the few blocks to Taiwan Cafe where HyeJohn was waiting and she said "um, I need an atm too". Oh boy, so a few minutes later we decided to go to Peach Farm instead. Not a huge loss at all. Lucky for us Chinatown has a plethora of really good food options. And lucky for us, Peach Farm takes credit card.
We walked down the stairs to what looks like a sketchy basement rec room. It's got beaten up carpet and the walls are coated in layers of food grease. The air is thick with lots of food being cooked up and lots of people. They also have the required huge fish tanks of live seafood. I gotta say, I know the idea is to show the customer exactly how fresh the food truly is but sometimes those tanks kinda bum me out. The fish look awfully bummed out. I mean, yeah they are about to eaten and who would be happy about that, but I dunno, I guess I like to be under the illusion that my food is kinda happy and content before become dinner. Whatevahs....
Luckily for me HyeJohn likes to eat as much as I do. How else do you think we could be friends for so long.
There was a bit of a wait for a table and as we waited, HyeJohn moaned about how hungry she was. Well, I had topped at a cute newish Vietnamese sandwich place diagonal to the Hong Kong cafe and got a beef sandwich to try. I offered it to HJ and before I could really explain why I had the sandwich or anything really, she had taken the bag from my hand and was munching away on the sandwich and said it was good. I'll post about the sandwich place another time. Anyway, it was quite amusing to watch her wait for dinner while eating a contra ban sammie.
So as you know HJ was hungry and so was I. We decided on having a seafood dinner set for 2. I also wanted some dumplings b/c I had seen some get served up to a table as we waited to be seated and they looked delicious. I also watched some oysters get served up to another table and was able to beg HyeJohn to let us order oysters too but she said "um Leah we can't order everything!". Um why not?
Alright so the food started coming fast and furious. I like that everything comes out piping hot as it's ready. Yum!
We started with the crab and maw soup.
This was my least favorite of the dinner set. Whatever maw is it's "spongey" as HJ put it. Yeah, she's right. The soup relied heavily on corn starch to thicken it up and I tend to hate soups that are falsely thickened that way.
Next came the dumplings, which you can see above hiding behind the clams in black bean sauce. They were quite delicious. Nothing extraordinary but decent and being dumplings they certainly hit the spot.
Next came the star of the dinner, the crab cooked with ginger and scallions. Messy and hard to eat but really yummy and worth the sticky fingers!
The clams and the Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce were my favorite of the entire meal. The black bean sauce was so good. I seriously wanted to just scoop up the sauce and put it on everything! Black bean sauce on toast, black bean sauce on chips, black bean sauce on...well, you get the picture. And the broccoli was perfectly cooked. It was still crisp and the sauce to veg ratio was perfect!
And this was the dinner set for 2! It was a lot of food and the couple who shared the table with us looked both amazed and a little disgusted as we plowed our way thru the entire meal. Seriously, we ate it all! But it was really good. I like Peach Farm because the food is better than decent, fresh and yeah a little greasy but seriously perfectly executed.
HyeJohn and I left after making little piggies of ourselves and laughed that everyone there probably thought "damn those Koreans can really eat!" And the truth is yes, yes we can.
Monday, May 12, 2008
However Fenway also have some really frustrating things about it. And as time goes on, I've started to notice it more and more. That said, welcome to my rant.
1.) There are no cute little locally owned coffee shops or bakeries close by. Hell, I'd even settle for a Finagle a Bagel in Fenway. The only thing we get is a Starbucks (downstairs in my building) and guess what, in the new residential building going in close by, there will be yet another Starbucks. Don't get me wrong. I do occasionally indulge in Starfucks but they are so stupid expensive and such a huge, kinda obnoxious chain that I really try to not buy all my drinks from them. I think that if this neighborhood had some stuff that felt a little neighborhood-y like a small local bakery or coffee shop, it would be a nice touch. So for now the neighborhood feels kinda sterile and corporate like. But I want a baked that morning muffin dammit!
2.) The restaurants in my building kinda blow. Cambridge 1 I will let slide because the owners are super cool and really nice. They also did a really great build-out on that restaurant space. But Burtons....um WTF? It's a suburban Boston chain. Think a tier above Applebees and you've got Burtons. The food is passable but not something I would ever seek out. Let's put it this way, the last time I ate a meal at Burton's there was like three feet of snow so I wasn't about to even walk a block to go to El Pelon. But by the time I was done with my meal, I had wished I had risked life and limb to walk the block down to El Pelon! And the space right next door to my store has yet to have a new tenant. They've been trying to lease that space to a restaurant now for over two years. I've heard it's finally getting leased out but let's hope to god it's to something/someone who can cook already! I will say that I've heard rumors as to what's going in and I'm not very happy about what I've heard, so I'm choosing to ignore the rumors and hope for some damn sushi.
3.) Lack of local anything! This kinda piggybacks on #1. My shop is pretty much the only non-chain, locally owned thing in this area that's getting developed. It kinda sucks that my landlords are more interested in cash than getting cool local businesses into the 'hood. I suspect more "chain" businesses will go into the new building right along with the new Starbucks. Sigh.
More and more Fenway is feeling like a mall neighborhood. If a Cinnabons and Panada Express appear, I might just jump ship.
Friday, May 9, 2008
It's really no secret that I love spicy food. I also love pickled foods too but I'll save that for another entry entirely.
Luckily I'd dating someone who also likes her food spicy too. The first time we ever met, I introduced her to a little friend of mine, I like to call Green Papaya Salad. Yeah, I really like to put it out there when first meeting anyone...if you can't take the heat, well, we might not be well suited for each other. Thankfully, she was able to take the heat and then some; I kinda love her for it.
Another joy we've discovered is our ability to host small dinner parties and invite our friends over to dine with us. Lately, it's been mostly her friends (you guys need to represent already!). It's a great excuse for us to spend a leisurely day together. In the afternoon we try and get started on the dinner and sometime we fall really behind. I've had to learn to go with the flow more when I feel like we fall behind in our prep. She has to deal with another cook in the kitchen with her. And we manage. But more than managing we also have a really great time.
And this particular evening E wanted to make lasagna. I know she doesn't care much for ricotta so I asked what she was going to use instead. She replied, "well goat cheese, of course". Did I mention how much I love this woman?
E also decided she wanted to make the pasta yet again. Simple but time consuming indeed. I was actually worried we wouldn't have enough food. When I mentioned this concern, she reassured me that over 3lbs of beef, veal and lamb ground meat mixture would be enough. I let her do her thing and I did mine. I decided I wanted to make a Kentucky Derby pie. I had watched an episode of Martha Stewart and it was all about the Kentucky Derby and I watch her make this pie. I found a recipe on the front web page of Saveur and used that. I was delighted that it called for bourbon. I don't really drink a lot but I really do like the flavor that various liquors and distilled stuff impart on food.
When the guests arrive. We usually start with cocktails and cheese. And depending on how far along dinner is finished, we move into a meal. I'm a big believer in salad with dinner. I was raised with a mom who always served a fresh vegetable salad with every supper. It was just my family's way. So salad is always offered, along with bread and dessert (of course!).
And, of course, the star of the show:
It was mammoth. This picture really doesn't do it justice in terms of size (that pan was deep). But I think the picture does capture the general yumminess of the situation quite nicely. E had not only used goat cheese in place of ricotta but, instead of the usual chopped spinach, she used kale. And it was spicy too! I think that one of the things that lasagna always misses is a little punch of spice. It's nice and comforting with pasta layers and cheese and meat but a little zing would be nice. I love that E likes her food spiced well and spiced well kinda on the spicy side. The lasagna was kinda amazing. It was tangy, spicy and the kale gave it a different texture profile. The homemade pasta was a bit thicker than I would have liked but over the course of the week (there were ALOT of leftovers even though everyone who came was stuffed), the pasta really loosened up and picked up more of the flavors of the sauce. It made for crave worthy lunches and dinners for me for an entire week!
My pie was a lot more simple:
Well, partially because I cheated and bought a frozen pie crust (please don't revoke my Daring Baker badge!!!) due to our time constraints. But pie is basically a pecan and chocolate chip cookie in a pie crust. Ridiculously easy, it came together in a matter of 10 minutes. How'd it taste? It was okay. I really liked the bourbon flavor...maybe I was a wino in a former life? However, it wasn't really a show stopper which was okay because it wasn't like I toil forever over this pie. But the biggest surprise for me was how decent the crust was. I was shocked that a frozen pie crust was actually worth eating. It was adequately flaky (not super) and buttery. I liked the crust. But I've been dying to make my Mom's crust on a rhubarb pie but sadly, I've hardly seen any this season.
And as a random aside, I wanted to post this picture of friend Cris's shirt:
Her head is purposefully cut out because she didn't want her face in the picture (Cris is a really hot chick just a little FYI). Anyway, her shirt is a "peace of toast". Hahahaa, how awesome in that? Well, sorta keeping with the subject title on this entry, this picture was taken during lunch at Mary Chungs in Cambridge and let me tell you, their food is loaded with hot! I've always loved Mary Chungs and even now just writing about it is making me crave some dun dun noodles. Yum. I wrote a review of them on yelp so I won't repeat it here. If you feel like seeing it, go to yelp and type in Mary Chung for Boston as your city.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
I'm sorry I've been a little MIA lately. It's not that I've given up eating, it's just that a lot of my meals have been had out of the house. And by the time I think, "you should really be taking a picture of this", I'm done with my food.
But I've made two very important to me food discoveries that I want to share.
1.) I have a long standing love of brown rice. It's filling and hearty and it makes me feel like I'm eating something that is kinda good for me but it's still a carb (yay). But I also have this long standing issue with cooking it. My rice is always hard or just bad. I follow the directions to the letter on the packages of rice and still it sucks. Sigh. I'm kinda embarrassed of my lack of rice expertise for a very silly reason too. I'm Korean and while I was raise by a white family that didn't eat a lot of rice at all, I still think it's suppose to be ingrained (heh) in me to be a rice cooking master.
So imagine my delight when reading Saveur this month and there is a recipe for cooking the perfect brown rice that starts with the following intro:
Cooking brown rice, or at least cooking it well, is tricky...Unfortuntely, the labels on most packaged brown rice recommend an ineffective method that suggests boiling water and rice in a two-one- ratio.
OMG YES!!! THIS IS TOTALLY MY ISSUE!!!!
Saveur goes on to say that the key is to boil like pasta and then finish it by steaming it off. I'm so excited. I'm going to try their method and I'll let you guys know how it all goes. This Korean's gonna have game when it comes to brown rice!!! You know it!!
2.) I adore veggies from Chinese restaurants. My favorites tend to be peapod stems or Chinese broccoli but I like my veggies in the simple garlic/sauted sort of preparation. I like oyster sauce but not on my veg. Anyway, I was having lunch at Mary Chung (love that place!) and I was thinking about how I wanted to be able to make veggies like this at home. I look on line for a recipe and after doing a little bit of research, I think I might have found a sorta similar recipe. It's from Elise's blog Simply Recipes and it calls for mustard greens but I have a feeling any green will work.
Mustard Greens Recipe
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound mustard greens, washed and torn into large pieces
- 2 to 3 Tbsp chicken broth or vegetable broth (vegetarian option)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 In a large sauté pan, sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat until the onions begin to brown and caramelize, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more, until fragrant.
2 Add the mustard greens and broth and cook until the mustard greens are just barely wilted. Toss with sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper.