Wednesday, June 28, 2006

smell the fumes

I know I have been MIA lately. It's because I had friends in town last week and also this week, so things have been hectic. Thus my blog suffers! I just wanted to share what R and I did last night. He came over and we cooked dinner together. We bought lots of stuff like Ahi tuna, corn on the cob, stuff for caprese salad, pate and crackers, portabella mushrooms, and asparagus. Yes, we don't know when to stop. Anyway, I turned on the stove to boil some water for the corn. Well, turns out I turned on the wrong burner by accident and our corn wrapped in plastic and styrofoam was sitting on the hot burner. Fortunately, Mr. Cupcake caught the mishap before I burnt the place down and this was what was left aside from a lot of smoke:

R managed to salvage most of the corn. And I have to say, this was some of the better corn I've had in recent memory. Perhaps it was from the fumes; Mr. Cupcake swears he could smell and taste styrofoam fumes in the corn. R and I couldn't and thought the corn tasted really good. I haven't died yet, so apparently it was fine. :)

I should have some more updates soon. The past few days have been insanely hectic, but with that comes some really great food including the tasting menu at Manresa, dim sum at Koi Palace, and lunch at American Italian Delicatessen. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

popcorn and pho

This is the beginning of the end. As of yesterday, Mr. Cupcake is now on call for work which means long nights or long weekends. To celebrate this non joyous occasion, Mr. Cupcake and I went out on Friday night for dinner and a movie. We saw "Water" which was playing at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto. If you think your life is depressing, go see this movie, and I'm sure you'll suddenly feel like your life is full of sunshine and bunnies compared to what these women go through.

Anyway, we ended up indulging in what I thought was going to be a popcorn dinner. Seriously, a large bucket is just too much for two people, but somehow we managed to eat the whole thing. Not to mention Mr. Cupcake fell prey to their, "just pay a little extra and get more junk!" scam. We also ended up with a big bag of Skittles in addition to the large popcorn and soda. I was stuffed afterwards, but Mr. Cupcake was still in the mood for dinner. So, we made our way to Pho Vi Hoa in Los Altos.

I have had Vietnamese food on my mind lately. A couple of weeks ago, we had dinner at Pho Hoa in Mountain View with SK and CI. It was a last minute thing, so no pictures for you. I know people frown upon the stuff at Pho Hoa because it's a chain and blah blah blah, but I consider myself an equal opportunist. I had the pork vermicelli bowl with a fried egg roll and I thought it was pretty good. It was good enough to make me crave more Vietnamese.

Moving on, the outside of Pho Vi Hoa is decorated in neon so it's easy to spot off of El Camino near San Antonio Rd. It was about 9:30pm and the place was bumping. I was still full from my popcorn dinner, but I forced myself to get ready for round two. I'm good like that.

Mr. Cupcake ordered the pho with meatballs and eye of roundsteak. His order came out first. I tried the broth not really expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised at how flavorful it was. SK says it's all in the broth and she's not kidding. It was really good!

Mr. Cupcake then added the basil, lime, and peppers, and the broth just got better. I mean, I was already happy with the way it tasted when it came out, so the fact it improved is all the more exciting. My exposure to pho has been limited if you couldn't tell. Most of my experiences have been nothing more than meh. However, for the first time, I loved it. Mr. Cupcake had pho at Pho Hoa, and he said the pho was bland in comparison to this stuff.

A few minutes later, our appetizer showed up. The spring rolls were good. They were stuffed with shrimp, pork, and noodles. The serving size was generous, and I ate them in a hurry. I had found my second wind.

We waited patiently for my dish to come out. I'm non original, and ordered the same vermicelli bowl that I had at Pho Hoa. It arrived a little bit after our appetizer. It looked and smelled really good, so I was excited to dig in. I poured the "diluted lime sauce" over it and mixed it up. Unfortunately, I wasn't super impressed. The pork was very salty and the noodles felt oily. The salt was too overpowering, and I ended up just digging for the lettuce and sneaking slurps of Mr. Cupcake's pho.

Our total cost was just over $23 including the tip. Even though my dish was less than stellar, I'm excited to go back to Pho Vi Hoa. Supposedly, this place is just okay in the way of Vietnamese food in the South Bay. Apparently there are even better places in San Jose. I'm going to have to explore. However, it's nice to know there's some really great pho near where I live.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

the watermelon that spooged

Yesterday, Mr. Cupcake and I had a few errands to do including picking up some groceries. We made a visit to our friendly neighborhood Costco and ate lunch (Mr. Cupcake loves Costco lunch) before hitting up the free samples. I had a few things on my list including a watermelon. I love watermelon. We usually buy a watermelon at least once a week this time of year. Yay for summer!

On this fine day, we examined the available watermelons at Costco. I started thumping on the watermelons. I don't really know what that does, but the last watermelon I bought, I had a lady pick one for me, and she thumped it. I usually go by weight and a yellow base. All the watermelons sounded hollow, so I wasn't sure what the best strategy was. Well, then I thumped one and it didn't sound hollow. I picked it up, and it was like lifting a bowling ball. I thought to myself, "This one is going to be awesome!". Mr. Cupcake wanted a different one, but he didn't argue. We went on our way and I was pleased as punch to have a watermelon for the week.

Later that day, I was in the kitchen doing the dishes and Mr. Cupcake was preparing dinner. The watermelon was sitting on the counter. Nothing unusual right? Well, I moved something near the watermelon and noticed a white foam that was dripping off the counter and onto the floor. I asked Mr. Cupcake if he knew what it was, but he didn't. We shuffled stuff around and figured out that the foam was coming from the watermelon:


Now, call me crazy, but I don't think this is normal. I cleaned up the foam, but it kept coming. Mr. Cupcake did some investigation and found that it didn't smell but it tasted like watermelon. He cut it open and the flesh was a dull red color, and looked kind of odd. The rind was translucent instead of a solid white color. Mr. Cupcake smelled it and proclaimed it was bad. However, he then proceeded to cut off a sliver and tried to get me to eat it. I was afraid, so I declined, but secretly I was hoping he'd eat it and tell me it was still good. I mean come on, it's basically throwing away $5! Yes, I'm a cheap bastard. Anyway, I persuaded Mr. Cupcake to eat it, and it came out of his mouth faster than it went in. Mr. Cupcake's sense of smell was spot on and the watermelon was bad. Boo.

For a few seconds, I thought about taking it back to Costco to do an exchange. I mean, I feel a little cheated here. They let me buy a rotten watermelon! Costco let me down! Mr. Cupcake thought I was crazy, and that it'd be absurd for me to bring in a rotten watermelon. I thought about it and figured he was right. Alas, it was thrown out, and I'm going to suck up the $5 loss.

So, today's lesson: watermelon thumping is a relevant practice. My friends, make sure when you thump that watermelon it sounds hollow. If want more tips, I found this site that tells you how to pick a watermelon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Anthony Bourdain

A couple of days ago, I went into the big city to "see" Anthony Bourdain at A Clean Well Lighted Place Bookstore. I had first heard Mr. Bourdain was going to be in town from ML last weekend. She was planning on going to see him. Then Mr. Cupcake forwarded me information about it because he saw a blip about it in a mailing list. I figured why not and dragged SK along.

For those of you who are not familiar with Mr. Bourdain, he use to have a show on the Food Network called A Cook's Tour where he ate anything and everything. Mr. Cupcake and I were big fans of the show because his commentary is hilarious and the fact that he's a total boozer. It makes for great television. I think there's a new show on the Travel Channel since Food Network dropped his show a few years back. He's also written a handful of books including Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour. I read part of Kitchen Confidential, and even though it had huge raves, I just couldn't finish it. Oh well.

On this particular day, he was promoting his new book, The Nasty Bits. SK and I had a quick lunch at Max's Opera Cafe (no comment) that ran a little long. We ended up arriving 10 minutes late and the crowd had already wrapped around the bookstore. Keep in mind, it's a pretty small place in comparison to the monster chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble. So, I didn't actually see him, and instead only heard his God like voice that was projected all throughout the store. I eventually stood up on a stool, and still didn't see him, so I took a picture of the crowd instead. And, yes, I was standing a fairly large stool. Damn I'm short.

Anyway, I can tell you that he's just as interesting to listen to in person as he is on TV. Well, to tell you the truth, they could have been playing a tape, and I wouldn't have known any better since I never saw the guy. We only heard the Q&A, but there were a couple of things that stuck out:

  1. He said that there was good Vietnamese food in Indianapolis. I was initially surprised by this. I lived in Indianapolis for 3 months and Mr. Cupcake lived there for a year. The city is completely dominated by chains and little independent shops are few and far between. Then I thought about it more. I remember Mr. Cupcake and I helped one of his friends move, and the guy's wife showed us her stomach staple scars which was kind of weird. Afterwards, they bought us lunch and it was Vietnamese food. I remember Mr. Cupcake and I were completely blown away by how good it was. It's too bad because we moved shortly thereafter, so we never really got to experience what the Vietnamese community in Indy had to offer. Though, I gotta tell you, I'm not sad we left.
  2. He said great food is created during times of war, poverty, and hardship because things sit out forever. I thought this was interesting, but could also see how it's true. Some of the best meals I've had were comprised of simple ingredients and nothing fussy. Though, I've also had some amazing fussy meals in my life.
Anyway, he finished speaking and then people crowded around to get an autograph. SK and I chatted to ML briefly and then took off. Big crowds can annoy me and besides, my copy of Kitchen Confidential is already signed. The good thing is I didn't have to wait in line for it. The bookstore I bought it from had a surplus, so I bought the signed one versus the not. Anyway, see him if he's in town; he's a funny to listen to though you may not be able to see him unless you're a crazy groupie who comes 2+ hours in advance.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

bring on the meat!

Awhile back, Mr. Cupcake and I went for Korean BBQ with some friends. It was late, and they were staying in Santa Clara at the time. Mr. Cupcake was itching for some BBQ, so we opted to go to Han Sung. Han Sung was recommended to me by a local Korean acquaintance of mine. He likes it because they bring the wooden briquets out to the table.

It was a little tough to find because their sign doesn't actually say Han Sung in English; only in Korean. Fortunately, SK reads/speaks Korean, so she was able to spot it. Like everything else in Santa Clara, it's located in a strip mall, so if you go, you'll have to rely on street numbers.

When we arrived, it didn't appear to be very busy from the outside. This made Mr. Cupcake a little nervous. When we go to places that appear a little shady, we take note of the number of people inside. If it's full, then that usually means it's safe. Fortunately, when we walked in, we saw there was another room that was bustling with customers.

We looked over the menu and opted to order double portions of beef and pork to cook over the grill. We also ordered a bowl of cold soup and a bowl of Mandu (dumpling) soup. SK ordered for us because our server's English was a bit weak.

First came out all the sides. There was the normal stuff like various types of kimchi to the more exotic like the greens with what looked like BBQ sauce. Mr. Cupcake was fixated on the BBQ greens and wanted me to eat it, but I passed. I could already tell that we ordered too much food.

Next came out the marinated meats. I think we had spicy pork which is the redder meat in the picture.

CI was excited to grill the meat, but had to take a back seat because SK took charge. Here you can see her professional chopstick work.


While the meat was cooking, my mandu soup came out. The bowl was huge, and I knew there was no way I could finish. I didn't really care for the soup very much. The dumplings fell apart in the soup and it just didn't have that much flavor. I've definitely had better elsewhere.


Eventually, the grill became very hot, and SK's arm started to BBQ as well. Mr. Cupcake joined in and helped out on our side of the table.

Finally, we had some meat! I took a bite of each. I thought the pork was better than the beef, but I prefer spicier foods. I didn't have much trouble eating either though. SK and CI on the other hand weren't very impressed with the meat. They thought it could have been marinated longer and should have had more flavor. Mr. Cupcake's inner Korean determined he could make this at home. He didn't think it had enough flavor either. It turns out I was the lone soul who liked it.

Our total cost was $50 per couple including the tip. We had a ton of leftover food and I should have definitely gone without the soup. I guess I'll know for next time, well if there is a next time. I want to visit Si-Gol-Jip that is suppose to have more homestyle Korean food. Anyway, if you're itching for Korean BBQ, this place is pretty good. I hear lunch is a good deal at $10/person. I like that they bring out the briquets, though SK almost had permanent grill markings when the server started playing with the grill top. She lost control of her tongs and the grill went flying towards SK. Luckily, it narrowly missed SK.

Oh, one of the downsides of this place is that you definitely stink afterwards. All the smoke absorbed into my hair and clothes. So, if you go, don't wear your Sunday best.

Friday, June 09, 2006

surprisingly good sushi

Mr. Cupcake spends every Wednesday playing poker with his mostly geeky friends. Because I don't feel like sitting around at home alone, I've spent the past few Wednesdays eating dinner with a new friend. On this particular day, she wanted to take me to her favorite sushi place in the area. I have not had great experiences with sushi since being in the Bay area, so I was skeptical. Our destination was Hanamaru in Sunnyvale.

The menu at Hanamaru is extensive. They have a huge selection of rolls. I was a bit taken aback by the sheer number. The other surprising thing is that most of the sushi is priced at about $3. They also had the typical fare, but we opted to get all sushi and share.

We ordered (from left) yellow tail, tuna, the local girl roll, spicy tuna roll, scallop, and the bluefin toro. I"ll start with my favorites which were the yellowtail, spicy tuna, and the toro.

Toro - The toro was priced (market) a bit high at $9 for two slices, but I'm weak, and must order toro whenever I see it. The toro was pretty good. It was very delicate, soft, and tasted very fresh. I was pleased.

Spicy Tuna - The spicy tuna was also good because it wasn't swimming in mayo. I could actually taste the tuna without being overwhelmed. This is probably one of the best versions of spicy tuna I've had.

Yellowtail - The yellowtail also tasted very fresh. I really liked the texture.

The rest of the sushi was pretty good, but didn't stand out like the others.

Local Girl - The local girl is my friend's favorite roll. If I remember correctly it's prawns with coated with tempura, avocado, and topped with a red hot sauce. She subs the avocado with cucumber because she likes the crunchiness. It was pretty good, but not really my kind of thing.

Scallop - I don't know why I always order scallop when I go out for sushi. I usually like the softness of it, but I just wasn't feeling it that day. I guess I need to venture out more.

Maguro Tuna - This was pretty good. It tasted fresh, but I just wasn't as taken with the texture as I was with some of the others.

When we were done, we ordered two more rolls including another local girl. I forgot to take a picture though, so you'll have to use your imagination while you read my description.

Spider Roll - When I was first discovering sushi, this roll was my absolute favorite. As I've ventured out more, it's becoming one of my least favorites. It's a safe choice because it's deep fried soft shell crab. Every interpretation of the spider roll is different, so it'll never taste the same. I did not like this roll at all, and at $7, it's not exactly a deal.

Our final tally including tip was about $45. If you take out the spider roll and the toro, this place is an absolute steal. The sushi is very fresh, and since it's close to where I live, I'll visit often. I also realized it's time to quit ordering spider rolls because I'm continually disappointed. So, to all you readers out there, I vow to never order another spider roll. We'll see how long it lasts.

**Update**

I went back to this place recently and the experience was less than favorable. I wrote a tidbit about it in this post. Scroll down to the fourth paragraph to read it.

the ultimate ice cream experience... or not

A few weeks ago, Mr. Cupcake and I went down to Gilroy to do some shopping. On our way back, I was itching for some mint chocolate chip ice cream. I had heard about Sweet Retreat Ice Cream Parlor from somewhere, and I decided it would be a good time go since we'd be passing through San Jose. We went, and I thought I had found the ice cream experience I'd been looking for. The portions are ginormous, the ice cream is tasty, and it's inexpensive for an ice cream parlor that makes their own ice cream. I didn't have my camera that day, so no pictures from that trip, but lucky for you, Mr. Cupcake and I went again.

Sweet Retreat isn't one of those fancy schmancy places. As a matter of fact the interior is fairly dingy, but the ice cream makes up for what ambiance lacks. Besides ice cream, there's also frozen yogurt with mix-ins that one can choose, milk shakes, sundaes, etc. On this fine evening, Mr. Cupcake and I went with a double scoop of oreo mint and mocha almond fudge.

This is why we shared the ice cream; it's huge! There was so much ice cream that we couldn't finish. The ice cream was pretty good this time around except I didn't care for the mocha almond fudge. Next time, I'll just stick to the mint chip. I like that the chips have a bit of crunch to them. The oreos were soft, and oreos should be crunchy; that's part of their appeal. Mr. Cupcake agreed with my assessments. So much for venturing out.

The total out of pocket cost for the ice cream was $3.50. After we left, I was trying to determine whether or not this was the ultimate ice cream parlor around. Then I thought about the best ice cream (not including gelato) I've ever had, and that has to be Graeter's.

Graeter's is a small ice cream chain in Ohio and Kentucky that uses the french pot method to make ice cream. The outcome is ice cream that is so dense, yet so smooth. It sort of reminds me of a richer gelato. It's amazing stuff. Then I decided that this place didn't hold a candle to Graeter's. I'm not sure if any place will. Although, I am dying to go to American Italian Delicatessen in Los Altos. A couple of days ago, I went into SF to do some shopping with some friends and while we were in the Pacific Heights area, we saw Tango Gelato. I had read about this place and all the reviews were true; the gelato was awesome. Apparently American Italian Delicatessen serves Tango Gelato. The only problem is that they aren't open late, so they can't cure my late night ice cream needs.

Anyway, the moral of the story is if you're in the area, Sweet Retreat is definitely worth the stop. The ice cream is really good and the portions are huge. Unfortunately for me, it's 40 miles round trip, so it's not really worth it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

meh

I have been in a ice cream mood lately. Specifically mint chocolate chip. I don't know why. Maybe it's the baby. Or not. Come on, you didn't really think I was having a baby did you? Besides, Five would get jealous and I can't have that. Anyway, after our taqueria dinner, we went to Rick's Ice Cream in Palo Alto. We went for ice cream a few weeks ago in San Jose, and I've been wanting to find something similar, but closer to my neck of the woods. A few clicks, and I found this place. It has tons of raves on the Internet, and so it was apparent that I must go!

The outside looked promising. Rick's is located in a strip mall near Middlefield and Charleston and there was a healthy line of customers. They make their own ice cream in house and even had a shout out in Gourmet Magazine. Flavors included the usual suspects like chocolate and vanilla to the more unusual like Computer Chip. This is Silicon Valley, so I guess why not?

I went with the usual mint chocolate chip. I like it when places don't dye their mint chocolate chip green. There's something refreshing about having a white ice cream that's minty. Or maybe it's all in my head. Anyway, I really wanted to like this ice cream, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. It was too rich and there was a definite film that coated my tongue. It started to annoy me too much that I couldn't finish the cone. Sadness.

Mr. Cupcake on the other hand enjoyed his ice cream quite a bit. He went with the chocolate banana flavor. I guess it's a rare combination as far as ice cream goes, but it's two of Mr. Cupcake's favorite flavors. Though, if they had had peanut butter banana, then I'm pretty sure he would have passed out.

Total cost for two single scoops of ice cream was $4. I won't be itching to go back here for sure, but if Mr. Cupcake has a craving for chocolate banana ice cream, we'll know where to go.

my favorite mexican

Mr. Cupcake and I have been eating a lot of Mexican food lately. There are a ton of taquerias in the area, and so it's a great way to have pretty good food for seemingly cheap. On this particular day, we hit up Los Charros Taqueria in Mountain View. This is probably my favorite place for Mexican food. There's several of reasons for this including it's good, cheap, and fast. Three important elements for a good dining experience on the go. We were in a rush as Mr. Cupcake had to go play poker (again).

Mr. Cupcake and I mulled over the menu for a bit while munching on chips and two types of salsas:

Hot.

And not.

Just so you know, I am a chips and salsa fiend. The main reason I don't like to go out for Mexican food is because I gorge myself on chips and salsa before my meal makes it out. Sometimes I have to get two rounds of chips because one isn't enough. Since chips and salsa are free, I guess I could go in and just order a water, and eat chips and salsa. Then my meal would be free! Though, they probably wouldn't let me back in if I tried that. Besides, in the past year, I've started getting heart burn if I eat too many tortilla chips. It makes me sad, but I still find it worth suffering through the heartburn. Okay, enough about my problems. Mr. Cupcake preferred the latter salsa as did I. I just like fresh tomatoes and cilantro. It makes for a happy combination.

Mr. Cupcake wanted a burrito that fine evening. He still has fond memories of the burrito at Taqueria LaBamba a few weeks ago, so he ordered the carnitas (shredded pork).

Not much of a picture, but he loved it. He particularly liked the shredded pork was slightly crispy. He thought the overall balance of ingredients was very good. Although, if they grilled the outside like Taqueria LaBamba, he said it'd be the ultimate burrito. I'm sure if he asked, they could probably fulfill all his burrito desires.

When I come here, I usually order a taco and a super taco, both with chicken. California tacos are a lot different compared to the tacos I'm use to. Instead of the deep fried taco shell, there are two corn tortillas that are laid flat and topped with shredded chicken, lettuce and salsa. The super taco is the same as the regular taco except it has guacamole, sour cream, a slice of tomato on top. This time, however, I ordered a tamale and a super taco.

I have been wanting some more tamale love ever since the Alameda Farmer's Market, and today was the day. Unfortunately, the tamale was a bit on the lackluster side. The outside was fairly dense, and I definitely prefer fluffy. It wasn't the end of the world, but next time I'll just stick to the tacos.

Here is my super taco and let me tell you my friends, it was super. Well, as super as a taco can be. I don't think I'll ever die from taco euphoria the way I might from chocolate euphoria. In any case, it was good and made me happy.

The total damage for this meal including two waters was just slightly over a whopping $12. That's right, cheap. I don't know how the place stays in business because the rent has to be sky high. In any case, it's good for me and my chip eating needs.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

lasagne for all

A few days ago, I hosted dinner for a few of my singleton friends. We have been rotating who hosts dinner, and this time it was my turn. I thought about what I would serve, and of course my first instinct was to make something Italian. I eventually settled upon Lasagne Bolognese. Now, if you've been reading this blog regularly, then you've probably figured out that I'm not a big cheese eater. So, then you're probably thinking this Madame Cupcake lady is crazy for making something so cheesey. Well, my friends, I'm not crazy! This particular lasagne which originates from the Silver Spoon Cookbook doesn't use a ton of cheese like most lasagnes. Instead it's made with a bechamel sauce. And the plot thickens. Dun dun dun!

Now, I've made this lasagne once before with some success. The problem was that I used a 9x13 pan and didn't have enough ingredients. My only nitpick about this cookbook is that the instructions can vague. There was never an indication of what size pan to use. Anyway, the layers were sparse, but it was still good enough that I'd be willing to make it again, which lead me to a couple of days ago. This time I doubled the recipe.

The recipe starts off with some olive oil, chopped onions, and chopped carrots. It cooks for a bit, and then the meat gets added. It calls for beef, but I don't like beef all that much and used ground turkey instead. I substitute ground turkey whenever I can because it's good for my heart. Anyway, I thew in some wine, let it cook off, and then tomatoes, and let it simmer. If you decide to make this, allow yourself plenty of time as the sauce will take awhile.

While my meat sauce was off simmering, I started on the bechamel sauce. I'd never made a bechamel sauce until I made this recipe. It sounds daunting, but it's really not that bad. It's basically a thick, white cream sauce made with milk, butter, flour, and seasonings. I made it with skim milk and it turned out just fine.

Sorry for the crappy picture, but you get the idea. Next up, I took care of the noodles. The recipe called for fresh noodles, but I don't like making fresh pasta. I like the way it tastes, but don't like the mess associated with it. Trader Joe's use to have fresh lasagne noodles, but when I went, they didn't have any. Instead, I bought dried noodles that didn't require cooking and instead cook during baking. This freaked me out because recipe on the box of the noodles required a ton of red sauce and cheese. I was afraid the noodles wouldn't soften up. To prevent this, I cooked the noodles in water for 5 minutes and then proceeded to layer my lasagne.

I threw it in the oven and let it cook. Since I doubled the recipe, it took longer than the 30 minutes the cookbook called for. I cooked it until the bechamel was browned on top and bubbly. My two friends arrived, and we chowed down on lasagne, bread, wine, and salad. How was it you ask? Good enough that between the three of us, we ate half the pan.


I was extremely pleased with how it turned out especially fresh from the oven. The bechamel was oozy and the noodles weren't too soft. The only thing I'd change is I'd add more tomatoes. My guests also thought it was very tasty. All in all, I deemed the night a success!

Mr. Cupcake was off playing poker, so he missed out on dinner. He had some for breakfast the next day and gave me his seal of approval. I tried it reheated, and it didn't compare to fresh out of the oven, but I still managed to finish it off.

Lasagne Bolognese from the Silver Spoon Cookbook
Serves 4
(I doubled this recipe and it fit well into a 9x13 pan)

3 tbl olive oil
1 carrot chopped
1 onion chopped
2.75 cups of ground meat (a pound is close enough)
sant 1/2 cup dry white wine
generous 1 cup bottled strained tomatoes (I used canned chopped tomatoes)
2 tbl butter, plus extra for greasing
1 quantity fresh pasta dough (see below)
1 quantity bechamel sauce (see below)
scant 1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the carrot and onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned, then pour in the wine and cook until it has evaporated. Season with salt, add the strained tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes, then season with pepper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Roll out the pasta dough into a sheet. Cut into 4-inch squares and cook, a few at a time, in plenty of lightly salted, boiling water for a few minutes. Drain and place on a damp dish towel. Arrange a layer of lasagne on the base of the prepared dish, spoon some of the meat sauce, then some of the bechamel sauce on top, sprinkle with some of the parmesan and dot with some of the butter. Repeat the alternating layers until all the ingredients have been used, ending with a layer of bechamel sauce. Bake for 30 minutes.

Fresh Pasta Dough
Serves 4

1.75 cups all purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00 plus extra for dusting
2 eggs lightly beaten
salt`

Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a mmound on a counter. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Usinger your fingers, gradually incorporate the flour, then knead for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is too soft, add a little extra flour; if it is too firm, add a little water. Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface or use a pasta machine to make a thin sheet, and cut out the tagliatelle, lasagne, etc.

Bechamel Sauce
Serves 4

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2.25 cup milk
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Pour in all the milk, whisking constantlyuntil it starts to boil. Season with salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionaly, for at least 20 minutes. Bechamel sauce should not taste floury. Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if necessary and season with pepper and/or nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more milk. If too runny, return to the heat and add a pat of butter mixed with an equal quantity of all-purpose flour. Making this delicous sauce, considered a basic sauce because of the numerous variations to which it has given rise, is an essential skill for anyone keen to cook. For a richer bechamel sauce, replace half the milk with teh same amount of heavy creaml for a lighter bechamel sauce, add half milk and half water. For grains, souffles or stuffings.

Friday, June 02, 2006

a little patisserie along the way

Over Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Cupcake and I did a 6+ mile hike at the Point Lobos State Reserve just past Carmel. The coastline was amazing, but I thought my legs were going to fall off when we finally made it back to the car.


After our hike, we eventually made our way to lovely little Carmel, CA. It was only 4 in the afternoon, and we were standing outside Patisserie Boissiere Cafe debating whether or not we should do an early dinner. A man saw us staring at the menu, and said "I ate there earlier and it was excellent!". We were sold.


They were still serving the lunch and brunch menus, so there was a variety of breakfast items, salads, soups, and other specials. I debated whether or not to get something nice and fatty or just go with something on the lighter side. Afterall, I did just walk 6+ miles. That usually warrants something deep fried at least twice. I must have been delirious from all the sun because I went with the soup and salad.

I ordered the French Onion soup since it appeared to be a specialty of theirs. I was not disappointed. The soup was rich and flavorful. There were big chunks of bread inside the soup that had absorbed the oniony broth. I don't particularly care for the cheese, so I ate around most of it. I know that's crazy since the cheese is a major component of French Onion soup. I did like the crispy cheese along the rim of the bowl though. Mr. Cupcake also ordered the soup since he is a huge fan of French Onion soup. He enjoys the cheese though especially when it dips into the broth and becomes like molten lava. He gave the soup high marks as well.

For my salad, I went with the crab and avocado. It came with a creamy vinaigrette that I wasn't too keen on. The dressing just didn't have much flavor. I also didn't like the shredded crab. It would be been better if they had used lump crab pieces instead. The salad wasn't mind boggling good, but I didn't leave hungry. I kept stealing bites of Mr. Cupcake's chicken pot pie.

The pot pie was good. At first Mr. Cupcake thought it was a little too rich and creamy, but the texture grew on him. I liked the mashed potatoes on top. I could have eaten just those and been happy. The filling was hearty and delicious. I then wished I had ordered the pot pie instead of my salad. Maybe next time. Mr. Cupcake didn't like his salad. His balsamic vinaigrette was better than my dressing though.

Mr. Cupcake and I debated whether or not we should order dessert. This was a patisserie though, so how could we not?! The restaurant doesn't provide a dessert menu. Instead we had to walk up to the case in front of the restaurant and decide there. There were so many lovely pastries and cakes that it was hard to decide. I let Mr. Cupcake make the decision because we were sharing.


He went with the banana cream pie. The pie was excellent. The filling had great texture and a nice mellow banana flavor. The almonds accented the pie very well. The strawberry was good but only because it was coated in a sugar glaze. Without it, the berry would have been lackluster. Perhaps I should start glazing my strawberries? Anyway, it was definitely a great way to end such a nice day.

Our total bill was about $40 before tip. Over dinner, Mr. Cupcake and I discussed how we've noticed the overall quality of food in restaurants in California is so much better than anywhere else we've lived. I guess it has to do with the amount of competition and the fact there's so much locally grown produce available. It's another reason why we love living out here.

I still have a ton more to share, but I've done enough blogging for the day. Hopefully I can do more catch up this weekend.

a tale of two farmer's market

One of the great things about living in the Bay area is that there is no shortage of local farmer's markets. The town we live in has a farmer's market every Sunday that we visit on occasion. It's nice compared to others I've been to, but it's also small. So, last weekend, Mr. Cupcake and I decided to venture into the big city, and check out the two big farmer's markets in San Francisco. I spent some time reading about both online before our journey. My research concluded that one is very much a tourist destination and the other is big, but not as well known.

We decided to hit up the Alemany Farmer's Market first. This is lesser known of the two, but it's also been around longer. It was a little tricky to find as Google Maps led us astray. I gave my sister a call, and she guided us there all the way from Kansas! Isn't technology grand? The market was very busy and very large. Our local farmer's market has a lot of white tents. Here, however, the stalls are built in and so tents are not really necessary. Although, there were a few tents here and there.

There were two long rows of stalls like the one in the picture that were filled with local vendors. The vendors had tons of goods like flowers, fruits, veggies, etc. Mr. Cupcake was starving when we arrived, so we picked up a few pastries to satisfy our appetites.


Mr. Cupcake picked up a blueberry mango pastry from a local vendor. It was very tasty and his early morning grumpiness vanished. I debated whether or not to get the raspberry mango pastry which was similar to Mr. Cupcake's pastry or the strawberry tart. Unfortunately for me, the strawberry tart won out.

The strawberries were too tart and weren't sweet in flavor. I chose this pastry because the vendor held such high regard for the strawberry vendor he buys from. My lack of enthusiasm for the pastry left me unable to finish. We did ended up buying strawberries from the baker's favorite vendor, and unfortunately, they weren't very good either. Should have learned from the pastry. I don't know why it's so hard to find good strawberries. There are fields and fields of strawberries growing near us. I guess they focus their sights on mass producing them to look a certain way, but as a result they leave out the flavor. That was the only real bust in our trip the Alemany farmer's market.

We continued to peruse. Along the way, we picked up some deliciously firm, crisp grapes. I haven't had grapes that good in I don't know how long. We also bought some artichokes, garlic, blood oranges, a ginormous amount of basil for $1, and some really amazing navel oranges. Again, I can't remember the last time I had an orange that was so juicy and sweet. I always thought oranges were in season in the winter months, but I guess that may just be the Florida oranges. These oranges rocked my world.

There were a lot items that were very foreign to us. We didn't attempt to buy any this time since we were just there to scope things out. There were definitely a lot of things I'd never seen before. I will be more adventurous next time.

Before we left, we also picked up a tamale from the Allstar Tamale vendor. OMG, the tamale was amazing and it was only $2.50; you can't beat that. The meat was tender and the corn masa was perfectly fluffy.

AllStar Tamales has a huge variety of tamales to try and I highly recommend stopping by. Since this trip, I keep eyeing the tamales at Trader Joe's, but have resisted because I don't want to be disappointed.

The Alemany Farmer's Market was well worth the stop, but we had another market to visit.

Next up, we headed for the Ferry Building off of Embarcadero. The Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building is well known and also a popular tourist destination. There was actually an article in the NY Times a week or two ago about how the tourists are ruining this farmer's market. It's because they sample everything, yet don't buy anything which hurts the local farmers. I don't know, if they really didn't want the throngs of tourist, they'd move it to a less popular destination. The article also made a point about how this is something most tourists can't get a home. Being a self proclaimed foodie, it would definitely be on my list of places to visit if I didn't live nearby. I guess I can see both sides.

Anyway, we arrived around 11:30 and the place was PACKED. There were so many people, and I could tell a good majority weren't from the area. The farmer's market is located behind the Ferry Building and all the local growers had white tents. It reminded us of our local farmer's market; just bigger and busier. I wasn't very taken with this farmer's market for a couple of reasons:

  1. A lot of the vendors that were at the Alemany Farmer's Market were also here except they definitely charged a premium at this location. For example, cherries at the Alemany Farmer's Market were $3.50/lb., but at the Ferry Building they were $6+/lb. The vendor that we bought strawberries from at the first market charged $1 more per pound here as well.
  2. The scene very chaotic because there were hordes of people.
It wasn't all negative though. Mr. Cupcake eyed some green garlic at one of the vendors. We didn't see any green garlic at the other market, so we were highly tempted to buy. We both have a fondness of green garlic for its versatility. It was busy though, so we ended up passing. We probably shouldn't have since green garlic availability tends to be limited.

I was pretty overwhelmed by the number of people, so I'm not sure I really had the full experience. I'm pretty sure if we had arrived much earlier, the experience would have been more pleasurable. I didn't take any pictures of the market itself, so instead, you can enjoy this picture of the water sculpture that sits across from the Ferry Building.

Even though we weren't take by the crowds, we didn't leave empty handed. We went inside the Ferry building and visited the Acme Bread Company. I love Acme bread, and had not been to a retail location yet. They had a nice selection of pastries and they actually make bread at this location. Mr. Cupcake and I picked up an Italian loaf for dinner that night and a chocolate croissant.

The croissant was buttery and flaky. The chocolate was a little dry. It wasn't as good as the pastries in Italy. Though, if they had stuffed it with Nutella, then it'd be da bomb dot com for sure. I should write them and tell them to use Nutella.

My conclusion is that I'm glad we visited both markets. I'm all about experiencing things at least once. However, I definitely preferred the Alemany Farmer's Market because it didn't have that chi-chi vibe or the hordes of tourists. The people who were working in stalls looked like they came straight from the field, so it felt more organic and less commercial. If you go to the Ferry Building, go early as it only gets busier. Mr. Cupcake told me he thought we should go to the Alemany Farmer's Market more often because he felt the quality was better compared to our local market. I'm not opposed. :)