Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Professional Baking is no Easy Bake Oven

My job search has not been going very well, so I have taken this opportunity to branch out. The other day I went around to local bakeries, inquiring if they would hire a novice home baker wanting to learn more about the industry. Most bakeries (at least in my neighborhood) were cutting hours, and were not taking on any new hires. One bakery, however, informed me that they take on interns who want to learn more about the business. One small catch - they don't pay them.

While I would definitely prefer something that pays, I thought I would take the opportunity to try out for an internship.  I would finally gain some insight into the feasibility of my dream - opening my own bakery. I showed up for work at 9am (not too bad, considering most bakers start at 5am). With no chef's clothes to my name, I made do with a long t-shirt, sweats, and a bandana. I felt like I was getting ready to play goalie on my high school field hockey team (a feat more similar to what I would experience than I could ever have imagined).

The owner and pastry chef conducts herself in an extremely professional manner. I could tell she was a no-nonsense kind of woman, yet she seemed willing to let me learn on the job. She assigned me to two tasks for the day - almond croissants and midnight cake. Easy right?

I quickly learned the difference in quantity between professional and home baking. A cup of flour, try 10 pounds! I lifted heavy objects, I hauled large trays into the oven, I used muscles I have never used before! But professional baking isn't just about massive amounts and heavy labor. It requires skill, precision, and speed. No easy task, especially for someone who just stepped into the bakery kitchen. 

By day's end I was exhausted - having stayed on my feet for 7 hrs with nothing to eat. I had baked 10 sheet cakes and made 80 almond croissants. But more than material products, I had gained experience in a professional kitchen - learning the equipment, the methods, and the focus one must have to accomplish each task. I also signed up to work for 2 days a week for 4 weeks. 

Let the baking (and the experiment) begin - stay tuned!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cupcakes - I want S'more!

S'more Cupcakes!

I love to bake, but sometimes I can't justify making a whole cake or 2 dozen cookies for just AJ and I (I am too tempted to eat them all myself!). Luckily a pool party this past Sunday gave me a reason to whip up a batch of cupcakes. I like to challenge myself and decided to try Blondie's S'more cupcakes (of Blondie and Brownie).

Mixing the cocoa, milk, and sugar.

The recipe definitely requires a little effort, but the combination of marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers really had me salivating. A s'more in cupcake form is definitely worth a little sweat, blood, and tears (well, maybe no blood or tears). The cupcake batter was fairly standard. I accidentally put an egg into my whipped butter before I had added the sugar! Luckily the cake still came out moist and fluffy. This recipe calls for alternating dry with wet ingredients. I had always wondered what purpose this served.

Whipping up that batter!

This recipe calls for alternating dry with wet ingredients. I had always wondered what purpose this served. In an effort to learn more about the chemistry of baking I went to that wonderful vessel of knowledge - the internet! The "KitchenSavvy" website iprovided some great insight into this method. In baking you want to avoid the formation of gluten, which is a combination of wheat proteins and water. Gluten is an elastic substance, which inhibits the effectiveness of chemical leavening agents (such as baking soda). If the baking soda can't work, then your cake won't rise, resulting in a rather dense and gummy product. Beginning with the dry ingredients allows the wheat proteins to become coated with the butter and eggs. The fat protects the proteins from water and inhibits gluten formation. You might be asking yourself, "Why not add all of the dry ingredients at once? "  Adding a large quantity of wheat flour to fat would result in a lumpy mixture. By alternating with wet ingredients, with minimal mixing, you can achieve a smoother batter.

Ashley likes cupcakes. And I like Ashley. :)

When the batter is made, fill the muffin liners 3/4 of the way full. I did not make a graham cracker crust, but would consider using one the next time. Bake for 18-20 minutes. While the cupcakes are cooling you can begin on the frosting. This was my first time making 7-minute frosting. It didn't come together as well as I would have liked, but I did try to tweak the recipe. I would recommend going ahead with the original one posted on Blondie's blog. The frosting was still delicious, but a little on the runny side. You should frost these cupcakes right before serving, as they are best served fresh. If you have a blow torch, I would definitely use it to create that toasted marshmallow effect. But you don't lose too much without it. I topped mine with bits of graham cracker and semi-sweet chocolate.

A tray of beautiful marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker goodness.

The rich chocolate flavor, and gooey marshmallow frosting was wonderful with the bits of graham cracker and chocolate. Everyone thought these were delicious! 

Fish Tacos - Wahoo!

Blackend fish tacos with brown rice and black beans.

As I mentioned earlier, Justin came to visit for the weekend. A San Diego native, Justin has a special relationship with fish tacos. With an abundance of fish taco options, he said he would often eat them once a day for weeks. We decided to check out the popular fish taco chain, Wahoos. Being a UVA grad, how could I resist a place with a name like that (a wahoo is a fish who can drink twice its weight)?

Close-up: blackened fish tacos with cheese, cabbage, and salsa.

Wahoos is known for its fish tacos, which can also be ordered blackened (aka "spicy"). In addition to fish tacos, they also offer chicken and shrimp options. Justin recommended the blackened fish tacos with black beans and rice. AJ and I both opted for the brown rice, a recent addition to the menu. The weather was beautiful (as it has been in California), so we decided to eat outside.

Do you think he fit the whole thing in his mouth?

Many fast food taquerias fry their fish, but Wahoos does not. I am a fan of the fresh unfried fish flavors. These fish tacos were flaky and moist, with a spicy kick. We debated as to what kind of fish they used - tilapia, snapper? We felt silly when a staff member informed us that it was Wahoo. DUH!

The rice and beans were tasty, but as AJ said, "I think I would rather get three fish tacos than the rice and beans." To which Justin replied: "Or get three fish tacos and rice and beans!" He had just finished his third taco.

Bottom Line: For cheap, fresh fish tacos Wahoos has this recipe down.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"You can make me banana pancakes(or blueberry), pretend like it's the weekend...

Blueberry Buttermilk Whole Wheat Pancakes with Maple Syrup.

There is nothing like eating pancakes on the weekend. A sit-down breakfast with friends in the comfort of you own home is the perfect way to start a Saturday morning. I had just purchased some blueberries from the Farmer's Market, and I knew those would be great in some whole wheat pancakes. I used my friend the Gastronomer's recipe for buttermilk whole wheat pancakes, using white whole wheat flour.

Start by sifting the flour with the dry ingredients.

This recipe comes together in a cinch. Make sure you have all your ingredients lined up - like the buttermilk and eggs so you're not scrambling around in the morning. I didn't have buttermilk. But you can make your own! Just add two tablespoons of lemon juice and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. Then you can proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Wake up Justin it's time for pancakes!

When the batter comes to together, turn the oven on to 200 degrees. Grab a sheet pan and place it in the oven. This will provide a place to keep those pancakes warm. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Spread a dab of butter in the pan. I used a 1/4 cup to pour the batter forming about 5 in pancakes. The trick to adding the blueberries is to wait a minute until the batter has cooked on the bottom. Then you can sprinkle the blueberries on top and they won't roll away!

Batter is ready! Heat up that griddle!

I cooked my pancakes for 2-2.5 minutes on one side and then 1.5-2 minutes on the other side. You may have to adjust your heat depending on your stovetop. Keep an eye on those bubbles, this means its time to flip! When the pancakes is cooked through place it in the oven until you have made the whole batch.

I poured my batter in and after a minute or so of cooking, I added the blueberries on top.
I ended up with 6 pancakes - which was perfect for the three of us. These pancakes were light and fluffy, with a nice tartness from the blueberries. A little maple syrup adds the perfect touch of sweetness. We also served up some fresh strawberries on the side. Now that is my kind of breakfast.

Big Bites!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dharma's Natural Foods Restaurant

Hanging out at the Beach in Capitola, CA.

AJ and I were lucky to have another visitor this past weekend! Justin spent a couple days with us in Mountain View before heading to San Francisco to see another friend. We decided to take him to Capitola - one of our favorite beaches in the area. We spent some time chatting with the local surfers about the unusually warm January (which they had designated June-uary) and the excess amount of kelp in the ocean. If only I could figure out how to finance a life that would allow me to spend all day at the beach!

Dharma's Natural Foods Restaurant.

We worked up an appetite walking around the beach, and went to our trusty "Urban Spoon" to find a local place serving up some good eats. Our vegetarian selection brought up Dharma's Natural Foods Restaurant. Dharma's was founded in 1981 in Santa Cruz. They have since moved their location to Capitola, but are still serving up healthy and tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes. We could tell by the crowds gathering at 6pm that this place is somewhat of an institution.

Mango Lassi.

The menu boasts indian, thai, mexican, italian, and american inspired cuisine. The choices are almost overwhelming. You order at the counter and pick your food up from the counter when your name is called. The staff can tell you about their most popular dishes and make some recommendations to narrow down the options. Justin was a sweetie and treated AJ and I to dinner as a thank you for hosting him. Thanks Justin! :)

American Sautee - sauteed seasonal vegetables, baked tofu with brown rice and tahini lemon dressing.

After hearing that the Bo Thai is one of the best-selling dishes at Dharma's I knew I could put down my menu. The combination of fresh seasonal vegetables in a peanut sauce over rice noodles sounded like a winner. I ordered a mango lassi to wash it all down. The Bo Thai is essentially a veggie loaded pad thai. The spicy and tangy peanut sauce worked well with the fresh carrots, cabbage, broccoli. I particularly enjoyed the crunch offered from the peanuts and bean sprouts. The rice noodles were perfectly cooked, serving as a nice conduit for the sauce. Many of the sautees come in a large and small size. The small is more than enough for one person! My mango lassi was full of that musky fruity flavor. The tangy cold yogurt was a perfect compliment to my hot dish.

Bo Thai - sauteed seasonal vegetables in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce over rice noodles.

Justin chowing down after an a day at the beach.

Mole burrito - beans, soy chicken, potatoes, red peppers in a mole sauce with avocado, tomato, sour cream, and cheese.

Justin ordered the mole burrito. This burrito was enormous - with enough beans, potatoes, soy chicken, and cheese to feed two or three people (depending on how hungry they are)! It was impossible to pick up, so he went at it with a fork and knife. The mole sauce was spicy, rich, and complex. I love the depth of flavor that a mole adds to mexican dishes. The potatoes and veggies were excellent. I need to consider putting potatoes in more things. It added some oomph to this burrito - not that it needed it!

AJ bites into his tofu dog.

Tofu dog on whole wheat bun with organic ketchup and mustard.

AJ ordered the American sautee, a combination of sauteed seasonal veggies, baked tofu, and a heavenly lemon tahini sauce. The vegetables were super fresh. Dharma's does a great job of keeping their sautees light on oil. The sauces add flavor without adding tons of fat. The lemon tahini had bright citrus notes, some garlic, and a toasty sesame flavor. I even tried my hand at making my own version a couple days later. AJ being a big fan of the hot dog, but no the processed meats, ordered up a tofu dog as well. The smoky flavors do a nice job of mimicking a traditional beef hot dog. Not my favorite item, but it will do if you're looking for a meat substitute.

Bottom Line: With a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, this place isn't for the meat and potatoes kind of person. But if you're looking for a tasty healthy option, Dharma's has you covered.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chana Masala

Chana Masala - chickpeas in a tomato gravy.

AJ and I love Indian cuisine. We are especially fond of ordering chicken tikka masala, and chickpea masala when dining out. AJ's coworker was gracious enough to send me a recipe for chickpea or chana masala from the popular website, "Manjula's Kitchen". The recipe may require a trip to your local Indian Market to find some of the spices, such as garam masala. You can also make your own spice blend with recipes that can be found on the web.

Chana masala, artichoke, and roti.

I followed the recipe for the most part. I left out the tumeric, and tried to grind up my own coriander powder, but mostly just ended up with split coriander seeds. The seeds did not seem to affect the texture of the dish and I think I ended up with most of the flavor I needed. I also added about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to add a little more tomato flavor, in addition to a chopped up tomato.

I must say the spices in this dish really give it an amazing flavor. The smells in my kitchen were so evocative of the smells of your favorite Indian restaurant. It reminded me of sitting in my friend Tanvi's kitchen, while her mother prepared us some authentic Indian dishes. I think one of the reasons I love food is its ability to conjure up vivid memories of some of the most special times in our lives - even something as simple as enjoying a meal with friends.

Anyways, give this dish a try, it is worth the extra effort. I served it up with some roti and a freshly boiled artichoke on the side. It would also be great served over rice!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Pork Store - San Francisco

Walking down Haight St.

After a night out in San Francisco, I was ready for a hearty breakfast to reenergize the batteries. We walked past Magnolia Pub and Brewery down Haight St in search of a good spot. Ed recommended the Pork Store, calling it a Haight St. "institution". His strong words piqued my interest. We entered the restaurant a little before 10am. On weekends, a line begins to form soon after 10am.

Chocolate chip pancakes.

This little hole-in-the-wall seats approximately 15-20 people. We were lucky enough to grab a table with only a five-minute wait. It pays to get here early. The service was pretty good, with our waitress refilling our cups frequently and little wait for our food. The coffee exceeded my expectations. It was smooth enough to drink black (I usually prefer a little half-and-half and sugar).

Veggie scramble with biscuits and hashbrowns.

AJ ordered the chocolate chip pancakes. To our surprise there were no chocolate chips in the batter! They were just sprinkled on top. These pancakes were nice and fluffy, however, I would have appreciated some chips in the batter. While the pork store certainly doesn't cater to vegetarians, I opted for the vegetarian scramble - filled with peppers, onions, and spinach with some zesty salsa. I really enjoyed the spicy kick that was delivered with the eggs. The hasbrowns were well prepared - nice and crisp with a good potato flavor. Most entrees come with a choice of biscuits or toast. I couldn't resist ordering the biscuits, and I wasn't disappointed. These were warm, buttery, and fluffy. I added a dab of butter and some strawberry jam - yum!

Bottom Line: If you're hankering for some comfort food and a super casual atmosphere, look no further than the Pork Store. From pork chops, to eggs, to pancakes they have your breakfast needs covered.

Hello from San Francisco!

AJ and I did some sight-seeing and couldn't resist this photo opportunity. Here's wishing you some tasty travels in San Francisco!

The Pork Store
Haight St
San Francisco, CA

Friday, April 17, 2009

Magnolia Pub and Brewery - San Francisco

Asparagus with lemon vinagrette, poached egg, and three sisters serena cheese.

My friend and blogger, The Gastronomer, coincidentally just posted about Magnolia Pub and Brewery. Tis a small world. AJ and I spent the weekend in San Francisco visiting friends. In need of some grub before we hit the town, we headed to Magnolia Pub and Brewery, just a couple blocks from our friend's apartment.

Magnolia Pub and Brewery offers about 10 different beers, and four cask ales. The selection and availability varies day to day. We were lucky enough to try the "Kalifornia Kolsch". A light golden beer, reminiscent of a heffeweizen, but sweeter. This is quite possibly the most refreshing beer I have ever had. Served in a tom collins-esque glass, this cold brew goes down easily. If you're looking for something darker, the "Cole Porter" is an excellent choice - with nice coffee notes. The "Stout of Circumstance" is similar to guinness.

French Onion soup.

It's a good thing the beers are so wonderful, because one can expect to sip on brews at least an hour while waiting for a table. The space is very small, with a small bar area and dining room for 20-25 people. With a party of 6 (actually 7) we waited for almost two hours before we sat down to eat. While I was doubtful that a two hour wait would be worth it, Magnolia doesn't serve your typical pub food. Burgers and pizza do appear on the menu, but the quality of the dishes is very high. A yeast pizza is served daily, with the toppings changing depending on the chef's mood. The night we arrived, the chef was topping the pizza with pancetta (and lots of it).

Roasted sweet potatoes.

There are lots of choices for the meat eater. From house made sausages to pork chops to spare ribs, let's just say they like their pig. There are also a variety of fish dishes and Thursday nights feature their famous fried chicken. One of my friends ordered the ribs and they were finger lickin' good. You have to dig a little deeper to find some vegetarian dishes, but trust me you won't be disappointed.

Mushroom ravioli in a sage brown butter with swiss chard and grana padano.

AJ and I decided to share the spring asparagus and roasted sweet potatoes. He got the mushroom ravioli and I ordered the french onion soup. After the amazing french onion soup at Forbes Mill, I was really craving some caramelized onion goodness in my life. The roasted sweet potatoes were simple, but perfect. The flesh was tender and sweetly caramelized with lots of butter and brown sugar drizzled on top. The spring asparagus were roasted and drizzled with a lemon vinagrette. A poached egg was served on top with shavings of what tasted like parmegiano reggiano, but was in fact three sisters serena cheese. The nuttiness of the cheese worked well with the light egg whites, runny and creamy yolks. I absolutely loved the flavor of the egg and the lemony asaparagus. I could have made a meal out of just those two small plates.

All smiles after his meal and ready to party.

AJ's ravioli were excellently prepared. We are both huge fans of sage brown butter sauce. AJ thought they did a particularly good job with the sauce, adding a little extra sugar to the sauce to balance the earthy mushrooms and bitter chard. My french onion soup was sweet, salty, and surprisingly light. While I wanted to save more room for some good brews we had bought for the evening, I couldn't resist finishing every last bite.

While I was going for gangsta', I ended up looking like a bit of a sourpuss.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for some excellent brews and high quality grub head to Magnolia. But you might want to select your best friend to bring along, because the wait can get pretty long for parties greater than two.

1398 Haight St
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Fu Lam Mum - Mountain View

Steamed shrimp dumplings.

Jenny first introduced me and Malia to dim sum back in Virginia. I will never forget the first time I tasted a bao. To me it was a little piece of heaven, and since then I have kept coming back for more. Dim sum is the chinese version of tapas. One of the reasons I love dim sum is the adventuresome nature of the experience. Carts of food are pushed past your table and you simply ask for what looks good. Even my friends who speak chinese often don't know exactly what they're eating until they've placed it in their mouth.

Shrimp and greens in a wrapper.

Our tried and true dim sum spot was Fortune in Falls Church, VA. With an abundance of Chinese restaurants in Mountain View, and the surrounding Bay Area, I was eager to find a good dim sum spot. AJ's coworker, Daisy, recommended Fu Lam Mum. Lucky for us, we didn't have to venture far to find it. Located at the end of Castro St, close to the train station, Fu Lam Mum is a two-story restaurant that is bustling at all hours.

AJ's first dim sum experience. I think he likes it.

AJ and I ventured into the restaurant at lunchtime on Good Friday and the place was packed. I was excited to share my love of baos with AJ (who was a dim sum virgin!) AJ was a little taken aback by the ordering style, but he got the hang of it. We started off with some steamed shrimp dumplings, steamed chinese broccoli, and shrimp and greens dumplings. The chinese broccoli was my attempt to include some vegetables at the table. I was promptly informed by AJ that I could keep that plate for myself!

steamed pork dumplings.

The shrimp was delicately wrapped and served with a sweet and sour sauce. The acidity of the sauce paired well with the sweet seafood. AJ thoroughly enjoyed the shrimp and greens dumplings. The crispy exterior opened up to sweet shrimp and slightly bitter greens. Served with oyster sauce, these were consumed quickly.

Steamed chinese broccoli.

Next we ordered steamed pork dumplings, pork baos, and pork pot stickers. Oh I had missed pork in my life! The steamed pork dumplings were tender with a slight hint of ginger. These soupy dumplings were best eaten in one bite, so as not to lose any of the salty broth. The potstickers were nice and crisp on the outside with great pork flavor on the inside.

Pork Bao - my favorite!

I was most excited for AJ to try the baos. I often liken baos to a southern pork bbq sandwich. These smaller more delicate versions, are my favorite part of dim sum. There have been a couple times when a restaurant has run out of baos, and it has about ruined my day. Lucky for us, they were serving up the steamed version. These baos were fluffy on the outside with rich pieces of pork in a sweet barbecue-like sauce. The filling had more spices than I am used to - perhaps chinese five spice? They were delicious, and AJ admitted he could understand why I had been raving about these!

Pork potstickers.

Stuffed with lots of meat and dough, we took our check and paid the bill. The prices are a little above average, with our bill working out to about $28 without tip. But not too bad considering amount and quality of the food we ordered.

seafood tank.

Bottom Line: If you have a craving for dim sum, this is definitely the place to go in the Mountain View area.

153 Castro St
Mountain View, CA

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Forbes Mill - Los Gatos

Amuse bouche - tomato bisque

AJ's brother is a huge meat eater. His favorite meal is easily a cheeseburger - which I have seen him consume multiple patties over the course of one day. If he can't have a cheeseburger, well a nice steak will do. We headed to Forbes Mill per Uncle Peter's recommendation in search of meat (well except for the pseudo vegetarians).

Oysters on the half shell.

Forbes Mill is an elegant steakhouse, the dining area was dimly lit adding to the ambience. While I am a fan of mood lighting, sometimes I feel like I am sitting in the dark, squinting across the table to see my dinner companions. I would have increased the lighting to avoid that feeling. To warm us up, we were served an amuse bouche of tomato bisque. This creamy, sweet, yet slightly acidic soup was delicious. It certainly had us wanting more.

French Onion soup.

Jeremy started off the meal in style with a platter of oysters on the half shell. Heather started with the french onion soup and myself, the lentil soup. The french onion was declared the favorite by all, full of rich caramelized flavor.

Jeremy digs into his New York Strip.

Spinach and stawberry salad with humboldt.

The spinach and strawberry salad with regional humboldt cheese was amazingly fresh. The tender leaves of spinach paired well with the sweet, tart strawberries, and the creamy goat's cheese. Humboldt comes from Humboldt County, CA and has a distinguishable line of mold that runs down the center. The texture is creamy, with a little more structure than your chevre.

Prime Rib.

Aunt Lou went with the prime rib - an extremely tender cut of meat. The quality of the new york strip can be measured by the absolute silence of Jeremy and Cammy until they had finished their meal.

Portabello Ravioli with swiss chard in a masala sauce.

To round out my soup and salad I ordered the portabello ravioli with swiss chard. I know that ordering pasta in a steakhouse can be a risk, but it was well rewarded. The masala sauce was rich and earthy, pairing well with the sauteed portabellos, swiss chard, and delicate ravioli.

Eating up my leafy greens with some awesome goat cheese!

Sole Almadine with asparagus and macaroni and cheese.

The sole was rather bland, and a tad overcooked. The macaroni and cheese, however, was another story, Rich and creamy, with excellent cheddar flavor. Dusted with breadcrumbs, AJ wished he had ordered a plate of it.

Dining in style.

Bottom Line: Forbes Mill is an above average steakhouse with an elegant decor. While it certainly caiters to meat eaters, their salads, soups, and pasta dishes prove to be worthy of any veggie lover.