Danken got for matzoh ball soup!

This weekend I ate at a Jewish deli (perhaps the only one on the west coast?! Sad.), and almost cried tears of joy as I slurped down a very good bowl of matzoh ball soup. Tam ganeydn! Why was it so good, you ask? Well, I could tell that the matzoh ball was made with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). And how could I tell it was made with schmaltz? I'm a regular Einstein...that, and well, the chicken flavor was undeniable. 

(Sidenote: Do you see the size of that thing?! Definitely a sinker, not a floater.)

I don't know why it took so long for me to try this place. Maybe it was out of a stubborn conviction that a west coast deli couldn't possibly be as good as the ones I was used to in NYC. Now, I may be but a goy (though I kvell at the fact that I've been adopted by all my Jewish friends' families as a honorary Jew), but I certainly eat (and talk) like one...and I know a good matzoh ball soup when I taste one. And on a cold, rainy day (or month, as it's been in my neck of the woods), NOTHING hits the spot quite like this soup.

The napkin at this restaurant was also imprinted with the phrase," Eat, darling, eat!" Now, I know that my fairy bubbeh is smiling down on me from somewhere.

This one goes out to my darling bubbellah, KR. Miss you!


Giant dough pillow

I visited a local bakery/cafe today and took this picture:

Seriously, though -- how fun would it be to jump in that dough?! :)


Yellow fail

There are plenty of desserts that I adore, but just don't make that often (or ever). Not sure why. Lemon bars fall into that category.

I visited my aunt recently, and she had a gorgeous lemon tree in her backyard (that she apparently wasn't doing anything with). So I greedily snatched up as many ripe ones as I could fit into my bag. When I got home, I thought of all the wonderful things I could make (any number of Moroccan recipes using preserved lemons, or a simple piccata), but lemon bars immediately came to mind. So I went in search of a good recipe, and this lemon bar recipe on allrecipes.com had lots of great reviews. 

Dear faithful reader, I want you to know that I don't always write only about my cooking/travel eating successes; there have been plenty of failures. And this one ranks pretty high in that category (along with the pumpkin bread where I forgot to put in any kind of leavening). It was a big, yellow disaster.

It doesn't look too bad, does it? Too bad I couldn't get a closeup. It was disgustingly spongy...and why in the world would a lemon bar be spongy?! It had gross pockets of air, and then of course, the edges got burnt. Reminded me of the pimply face of a hormonal teenager. The lemon flavor was quite refreshing, but that's where the redeeming qualities stopped. I have no idea what went wrong...but I'll have to experiment with some other recipes to figure it out. Oh, and the little corner where I had a taste? Most of it ended up in the compost container. Blech! Horrible, epic, giant yellow fail. :(


The case of the disappearing peanut brittle

A friend's dad hasn't been feeling well lately. So I thought I'd cheer him up by sending him some peanut brittle, which is one of his favorite candies. On a candy making frenzy, since my somewhat successful first attempt at salted caramels last week, I decided to give it a go. How hard could it be anyway? Turns it out it wasn't hard at all. Like candy making in general, it just requires a bit of patience. 

So here's the batch I made:

I was admittedly pretty proud of myself, because it actually tasted pretty darn good. Not bad for my first try. 

But just a few short hours later, here's what was left of the big pan:

Unbeknownst to me, a mischievous little bear named R. had been sneaking into the kitchen every so often, taking a little piece here and there. Hmph! So I had to go back and make a second batch for my intended recipient. And the little bear got a good scolding. 


Golden goodness

Last month, I wrote about the salted caramel cupcakes I made for a friend. It got me thinking about how much I really love salted caramel. So I came across a recipe for salted caramels (slightly different from the drizzled caramel I made), which seemed perfect as a hostess gift for my Thanksgiving host.

The recipe is Ina Garten's, and it's quite easy...but it does take some patience and careful measurement. I don't know why I've waited this long to try salted caramels myself, considering how much I love them and how many times I've gratefully received them as gifts. Some creative friends of mine recently gave me a batch with pickled cherry blossoms in them. The intense saltiness of the cherry blossoms, combined with the aesthetic beauty of a gorgeous bloom in the middle of the golden goodness, was definitely a treat. These same friends also recommended steeping earl grey tea or lavender in the cream, before adding it to the sugar, which infuses the caramels with a delicate, but wonderful flavor. But those experimentations will have to wait for another day.

Here are the beginnings of my recent batch, boiling away:

Once it had reached the right temperature, I poured it into a pan. And once that cooled, I formed it into thick logs, and sprinkled sea salt over it. The darker the color, the more intense the flavor:

Here are the pretty little morsels, wrapped in parchment paper:

And finally, here they are, nicely packaged as my hostess gift.



I love me some donuts. What's not to love about fried goodness?

This weekend, we were driving around a new neighborhood and came across a cute, old-fashioned donut shop. It wasn't memorable (because I don't even remember the name), and probably not worth a photo, but...here it is anyway:

As you can I see, I had already taken a bite out of the apple fritter. Well, I suppose it was an apple fritter, but it was hard to tell - the tiny, square piece you see in the middle of the giant glob is the only piece of apple I got in the entire thing. And no, I didn't eat all 3 donuts - the other two were immediately gobbled up by my dining partner. I didn't hear much out of his mouth other than "nom nom nom."

Makes me nostalgic about the amazing donuts I used to have at Top Pot Donuts in Seattle. Dear Seattle friends, please send me some Top Pot Donuts on a magic carpet!


Cleaning the cupboard

It was a dreary, blustery day of rain - just the perfect kind of day to snuggle up with a great book and a steaming cup of cocoa, right? Well, it started out like that...but when I went to the cupboard in search of some stray marshmallows, everything but the marshmallows came tumbling out. Guess it's been a while since I've organized the cupboard. So what do I proceed to do? Take everything out and start organizing, of course! And about 2 minutes into it, I'm thinking to myself, "Why the *%$@ am I doing this again?"

Here's 1 shelf of the final product:

Apparently, I eat a lot of curry and a lot of pumpkin. Huh.


Pumpkin Scones

(Note to self: Gotta think of more clever titles.)

I had half a can of pumpkin puree to use up yesterday. It was leftover from yet another disastrous attempt at trying out a new recipe. Epic fail = forgetting to use baking soda and baking powder. 'Nuf said.

So I came across a recipe for pumpkin scones. I love this time of year, because I love pumpkin - anything: pumpkin flapjacks, pumpkin pie, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin-you-name-it. I added some currants, as I wanted to add a bit more sweetness without adding more sugar; the currants definitely gave some nice texture to the scones as well. In retrospect, I might've drizzled these with a light cinnamon glaze or something, but I didn't feel like dirtying up another pan. Suffice it to say, these scones filled the house with a delicious and subtly spicy smell.


Pecan Pie - Hard lessons learned

As part of my baking rampage, I decided to try out a new pecan pie recipe. The author claimed that it was hands down, THE best pecan pie ever! Lesson #1: Don't bother making the recipe...because the likelihood of the recipe truly living up to its hype is...well, minimal. But what do I do? I of course, had to test drive the recipe. Here's my creation, en route to a dinner party: 

The pie looks pretty decent, right? Nice and toasted and golden brown on top -- and if you look closely, you can almost see the golden goodness underneath, wanting to ooze out. But alas, I learned Lesson #2: Don't try out a new recipe for a dinner party. I tried a sliver, just to make sure it was ok, and was so glad I did. If I wasn't running so short on time (and if the stores nearby weren't already closed), I would've tossed the pie into the trash. The inside was still runny (despite cooking it almost twice as long as the recipe had indicated), the pecans chewy (from overcooking, I suppose), and it was far too overwhelmingly sugary (and that's coming from someone who has a serious sweet tooth). In other words, epic fail. :( So whether you say pecan, or pecaaaahn, this recipe experiment says DISASTER.


A salty, sweet, sticky morsel

My friend K. and I had a coffee date scheduled. I hadn't seen her for a while, and I absolutely adore her, so I wanted to bring her a special treat. It was raining unrelentlessly...and I could picture her curled up with a good book, a steaming cup of tea, and the salted caramel cupcakes that I was about to make for her. 

Salty and sweet are BFFs 4eva. Like, totes. (Ok, enough of that nonsense). It starts off with a pretty basic cupcake (the brown sugar makes the batter a lovely caramel color). Then I topped it off with cream cheese frosting, with some caramel drizzled into it. 

The tricky part was trying not to overmix the frosting, as it would get rid of the beautiful caramel ribbons. After I carefully frosted them, I drizzled some more caramel on top and just enhanced the swirls a bit. The piece de resistance? New Zealand sea salt. That punch from the salt really made this cupcake. Without it, it would've been just an ordinary cupcake. Here's the end result:

I hope she enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed making them for her! 


Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Cake!

A friend recently brought over some delicious little bon bons. Or so I thought. Turns out they were cake balls. What are cake balls, you ask? Dear inquisitive reader, let me tell you: it's mashed up cake, mixed with frosting, rolled in chocolate. Duh! In theory, they disgust me. In reality (and in my mouth), they taste like manna from heaven. So this friend passed on the recipe for cake balls from a lady who calls herself "Bakerella."

As you can see from her website, the possibilities are endless. I suppose you could make the recipe more...shall we say "homemade" by making both the cake and frosting from scratch, buuuuutttttt...why the heck would you?! It's pointless, as the ingredients just get rolled into a giant cake ball anyway. To be honest, everything on Bakerella's site strikes me as a little too close to "Sandra Lee's Semi-homemade" (aka nothing homemade) for comfort.

 (Photo courtesy of Foodnetworkhumor.com)

But I do credit her for creative ideas. And truth be told, some of the adorable balls/pops just make me want to reach through my computer and just squeeze 'em! Ooohhhh! I digress. Back to the cake balls.

So, I grabbed a box of cake mix, a tub of frosting, mashed them all up, and freezed them for a bit. Then I melted some Ghirardelli white chocolate and semisweet chocolate (hey, at least make the chocolate coating respectable), and rolled the balls around in them. Here's the end result:


They're back in the fridge, chilling until tomorrow, when I'll use my coworkers as my guinea pigs. At the moment, however, I'm not very impressed with them. They were really messy to make (I'd like to say that the white chocolate with the dark chocolate streaks was intentional, and it was...but it started out with an accidental drip - there, I admitted it), and I'm not quite sure how they'll taste. With all that sugar, though, I doubt you'll be able to discern any real flavors - just an overwhelming sugar rush. We'll see what the coworkers think tomorrow.


Best Food Blogs

Here are some of my favorite food-related blogs. I like them each for different reasons: some are informative, some are funny, and some are just plain gorgeous to look (drool) at. 

This is a hysterical site. It even resulted in a book. I can't get enough of these cake wrecks. When I need a good laugh, I head over here - there's bound to be something to laugh at. Best of all, the author really doesn't take herself too seriously, which I appreciate. Check out this gem:

(Photo courtesy of cakewrecks.blogspot.com)

My, what gorgeous pictures! I love the creative desserts (matcha cake sushi rolls, anyone?), but what I love most is how the author explains her thought process behind her creations. The desserts are so elegant and beautiful, yet approachable at the same time. Makes me want to go on a baking rampage! Look at the beauty below -- like something out of a gourmet magazine!

(Photo courtesy of sprinklebakes.com)

Apparently, a lot of celebrities love this site (Gwyneth Paltrow, Keri Russell). That's definitely not why I like it (frankly, knowing that the queen of Goop likes this site makes me...like it less). The recipes are homey, the pictures lovely, and the sense of humor self-deprecating. (Side commentary: if maintaining the site isn't the author's full-time job, how in the world does she cook all this stuff?! Bored housewife? Not sure.) 

I have a love/hate relationship with this site. I love it for its gorgeous pictures and slightly less run-of-the-mill recipes. Plus, since the author is French, I like to think that I pick up a few French words here and there. But for some reason, there's a certain haughtiness about the author that - well, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Her posts sing of "Come with me on my fabulous jaunts to Paris and Greece, and oh - look at the house I've just bought and the magnificent kitchen I'm building, and my beautiful, perfect baby, and my many, many awards. Ooh la la!" Kinda makes me want to say - tais-toi (shut up)! 

This is another site where -- as I like to say -- the jury's still out on it. At best, I feel ambivalent towards it. Some days, I like the photos and plentiful ideas for healthy vegetarian fare. Other days, I get this strange feeling that -- in person, the author's probably a cranky pants. 

I can't read this at work because whenever I do, I wet my pants. The captions are hilarious! It's all the things you're thinking to yourself while watching the Food Network, going "Do they really pay her to do that?!" Can't make this stuff up. And really - you can't take yourself too seriously. Case in point:

(Photo courtesy of foodnetworkhumor.com)


The Herbfarm - an unforgettable experience

There are certain dining experiences that are so exquisite and transcendent, that long after the tastes fade, the memory lingers powerfully. Such was the experience I had at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, WA. Mind you, this was back in 2005, for a Valentine's Day meal, when Jerry Traunfeld was still the chef. In 2008, as I thought about writing about my experience there, I contacted them to get a copy of the menu they served that day. Even while I was typing an email to the restaurant, I figured the chances of them finding the menu and actually bothering to write me back would be -- oh, say, 1 in 139597862; in other words, pointless. 

But believe it or not, the menu appeared in my inbox a few weeks later, with profuse apologies for the delay in getting back to me. I was shocked (and totally ecstatic). It meant so, so much to me. But why was I so surprised? I mean, here I am, daydreaming about a single meal I had at this place 3 years ago (at that point in time - clearly I still think about it in 2010!), and the service then had been impeccable - so why would it be different 3 years later? (You're shaking your head - I know! I still can't believe it). Needless to say, this restaurant will definitely reside in my heart for a very long time, not just for its food, but for the whole experience

Here's the menu I had that fateful evening: 

To top off a truly perfect evening, my dinner partner secretly purchased a copy of The Herbfarm Cookbook, and had Chef Traunfeld personally come out at the end of the evening and sign it for me at our table, as I sat with my mouth agape. Unforgettable. 


Brownie Explosion

If you're having a hard time figuring out what this is, let me help you out: it's whipped cream (the fake kind, not the real whipped kind) on top of 3 giant scoops of vanilla ice cream (with a strangely yellow tint), on top of a nondescript brownie, drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce (the fake kind, not the real kind). My friend and I split it, but to be honest - it was remarkably bland, and I regretted my decision immediately. My philosophy is, if you're going to indulge, do it right; I'd rather have a tiny portion of any dessert using real, quality ingredients than 3 giant tubs of anything fake or chemical. Same goes for all food, really. Like I said - If you're gonna do it, do it right! 


Ricotta tart with mixed berry compote

Recipes are hit or miss. Sometimes they turn out great, and sometimes you wonder if anyone bothered testing (or tasting) the recipe. This ricotta tart recipe turned out to be superb! I was looking for an elegant dessert to bring to a dinner party, and since the hostess doesn't have much of a sweet tooth (the horror - can you imagine?!), one that wasn't too overly sugary. The tart turned out wonderfully, much to my delight, and was easier to make than it initially seemed. It tastes like a cheesecake, but is far lighter, and lacks any of the cloying cheesiness typical of dense cheesecakes. 

Instead of the fig compote, however, I made a very simple mixed berry compote using frozen berries. Butter, a little brown sugar, and a few squeezes of lemon over a gentle heat and the compote was done within minutes. Definitely a keeper!


Delicious Dubai

I traveled to Dubai a while back to visit my brother, his lovely wife, and the world's cutest little boy (who just happens to be my nephew - lucky me!). I'm not sure how I fit into my airplane seat coming home, because I had such good food there - and as you all know, Middle Eastern food is right up my alley.

Here's an assortment of food we had at a food court in the mall. Hold up. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "a mall?!" But consider that life in Dubai pretty much revolves around malls. And that's not much of an exaggeration. When the weather gets scorching hot - unbearably so - (and it really does in Dubai) you head to the mall. Period. Groceries? Get them at the mall. Ski? The Mall. Don't believe me? Here's proof:

 You get the picture. So this mall place really did have fabulous food. Here, we ate some chicken shwarma, hummus, tabbouleh, kofta, and grilled lamb chops. Aw crap...I think I just drooled on my computer.

I also had a chance to taste hamour, which is a fish that is quite popular in the UAE (as it's usually caught off the coast of Abu Dhabi), but I've never seen it served in any other country. Much to horror, I later found out that this fish is facing extinction due to overfishing. It's a meaty fish - not unlike monk fish.

And what did I wash it all down with? Camel milk, of course!

Actually, I didn't. I remember disliking this as a kid, and I couldn't bring myself to drink it again. Gotta love the name - Camelicious. Beyonce should endorse it.


The food of my people

On a recent trip to Korea, I saw and tasted so many beautiful foods (and squeezed in some family time and took in some sights, too). The country has changed so much in the last 2 decades (yes, it's been that long since my last journey there - and yes, that does date me!). So much has changed; now, it ranks in my book as one of the most exciting, efficient, clean, and fun cities I've ever been to! But ahem, back to the food.

Like I said, so much has changed, but it's funny how a taste or a smell of a certain food can make you travel back in time. The only memories I have of this place are the foods I had as a small child: the taste of creamy ice-cream, the spiciness of kimchi, the smell of roasted chestnuts and steamed corn. It all fled back to me. Take, for instance, this delectable little treat:

This was one of my favorite things to get when I was a kid. It's a little pastry filled with sweet red bean. It's usually sold by a street food vendor who pours batter into a hot, goldfish-shaped cast-iron mold, then puts a few spoonfuls of the red bean inside. The outer layer is crispy and doughy, and the inside is sweet and soft. Definitely made me feel like a kid again. Oh - and here's a somewhat similar treat: a walnut cookie. But, it's really not a cookie - it's made of a similar dough as the treat above, but it's made to look like a walnut. And of course, it has sweet red bean and walnuts inside. Not only delicious, but so cute!

But Korea (Seoul, in particular) has really become a hot spot for cuisine. Take, for example, this creation I saw (but alas, had just eaten, so I didn't have a chance to taste it...bummer):

You're probably thinking something along the lines of "chocolate" or "dyed" croissants, right? Hang on to your seats: they're squid ink croissants! Can you imagine?! So inventive. And...perhaps a tiny bit icky, although squid ink paella or pasta can both be quite good.

Admittedly, there's nothing quite like homecooked food. When I visited my cousin's family, his lovely wife made these delicious (and gorgeous) rolls:

They're almost too pretty to eat, aren't they? She obviously put a lot of effort into them. The outer wrapping is made of daikon (a type of radish). Inside, she had gingerly placed matchstick red and yellow peppers, sprouts, and ham. The sauce you see on top is a peanut sauce.

Now, no Korean meal would be complete with kimchi, right? Kimchi comes in all shapes and sizes (and can be made with anything from green onions, cucumbers, radishes, and of course, cabbage). When we went to Namdaemun Market - a famous, traditional market in Seoul, we came across a noodle stand. Here's what the market looks like (there, you can find great deals on purses, accessories, undergarments, and load of other miscellaneous stuff):

At that noodle stand, the kimchi was served this way:

Cut-it-yourself kimchi! Such a neat concept. They give you small bowls, and you just take however much you want, and snip the kimchi leaves into your bowl. But on to the noodles - they were out of this world. These noodles were painstakingly made by hand:

It was a real treat to watch her make these noodles, as I happily slurped on mine. The noodles were perfectly al dente, and the broth was just so rich yet clean. Here's what the final product looked like:

Now, Koreans love seafood. After all, when your country is surrounded by water, you can take advantage of nature's bounty.

 And in the days when refrigeration wasn't possible, Koreans would dry their fish to preserve them - like many other cultures. Dried fish or cuttlefish is a delicious snack. Don't knock it 'til you try it! It's usually roasted a bit over an open fire, which gives the meat a touch of smokiness. They're so good! Just...don't breathe on anyone after you eat some.

This lady is selling all sorts of dried fish:

This is a picture taken at Jagalchi, a famous fish market in Busan (Korea's second largest city after Seoul). I gotta tell ya - Pike Place Market ain't got 'nuthin on this place! Rows and rows of all types of seafood - a lot of things I didn't even recognize!

 All in all, it was a great trip, and it was so heartwarming to travel back and experience my childhood all over again, and to experience Korea in new ways as an adult.

Cake Decorating 101

My wonderful friends M. & J. gave me such a sweet birthday gift last year. They bought me a cake decorating class! How fun. I've never really decorated a cake, and it was harder than I thought. Here are my two final products. What do you think?

The flamingo was not my idea. In case you were wondering. The instructor had a rather bizarre obsession with flamingos for some reason (the classroom was decked out with every flamingo-related item you could possibly imagine), so she taught us how to create...flamingos. The cupcakes look a little better, no?