Recipe #13: Entenmann's-style crumb cake

I realized that Entenmann's must be an east coast thing -- reason being: I rarely see any of their goods sold in the grocery stores out here in the west, and if I do, they don't seem to be very popular. Lo and behold, I discovered today that Entenmann's began as a bakery in Brooklyn. Aha! See, a lot of east coasters I know love Entenmann's -- it's a guilty pleasure. And of all their treats, I'd argue that their crumb cake is the most beloved. When we were kids, my brother and I would fight over the dense crumb topping (the ratio of crumb to cake is about 2:1, which is what makes it so damn good).

So when I came across a recipe that claimed to recreate the Entenmann crumb cake, I bit. But I should've known that nothing can come close to the original. Though I don't remember the original source of the recipe, it was a big flop. The cake was dry, the crumb topping tasted mostly of flour, and the color was an unappealingly pale tan color.

Looks can be deceiving. It doesn't look so bad, does it?

Fresh and hot out of the oven, it wasn't too bad. A few hours later, and it was like eating chalk. 1 ladle.


So Restaurant, So-So

I happened to be in SoMa for a conference the other day, and was jonesing for some noodles. Luckily, So Restaurant (they don't have a website) was nearby. Apparently, their hot-and-sour noodles are really good (so said my co-worker, who had eaten there before). It's exactly what it sounds like: hot-and-sour soup with thick noodles and shrimp.

The portions are huge. Don't you think you could dunk your entire face into this bowl?

The menu was kinda amusing. Here's a shot of two of the more unusual items on there:

Funny or just plain lazy/uncreative? I guess they didn't want to go with "The Kitchen Sink" for the first one.


Recipe #12: Olive oil & rosemary "Wheat Thins"

R. has been known to eat an entire box of Wheat Thins in one sitting. To say that he loves them would be a gross understatement. So when I came across this recipe for olive oil and rosemary "Wheat Thins," I was intrigued. Plus, I love that it only uses 5 ingredients (not including salt). Easy enough, right?

It was easy. Kinda. But the real trick is to get the dough very, very, very thin. That's tricky. I also didn't have rosemary on hand, and I'm not a huge fan of it because the flavor can be very overwhelming. So when I looked in my spice pantry, I found a packet of za'atar that my dear friend M. had sent me from Israel. Za'atar is an incredibly delicious Middle Eastern spice. It's a mix of mostly thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and some other stuff. This particular mix had a taste that I couldn't quite place my finger on, but of course the ingredients were listed in Hebrew, so I had no idea. It's delicious though! Thank you, M! (Miss you lots!) I think it actually made the crackers tastier by imparting it with such a wonderfully complex flavor -- definitely not possible with lonely old rosemary. So here they are, out of the oven:

Here's a closeup (specks of white = sea salt):

They're strangely addictive, even though jury's still out on whether they actually taste good. I packed them in R.'s lunch the other day, and I got this email from him after he had finished his lunch: "Um, the wheat crackers are weird. Maybe you should eat them." Ha! When they first came out of the oven, they tasted fine...but apparently not so much after only a few hours.  2.5 ladles...the extra .5 for the creative concept.


Recipe #11: Frozen banana "ice-cream"

A friend had told me about a "recipe" (and truly, this is "recipe" in the loosest sense of the word), where you simply blend frozen bananas, which magically transforms it into a frozen treat. I was intrigued by the blog post she sent me, which describes this treat as "life-changing." So I tried it.

Here it is:

No, it's not a recycled picture of my hummus. First of all, frozen bananas are a b*#@! to peel. So note to self, peel them before you freeze them. Second, it tastes like dipping dots -- you know, the dots that magically "melt" in your mouth to turn into ice-cream. I thought that maybe I would get a better consistency if I let it thaw out a bit more. Well then, what you get is cold banana mush. And third, girlfriend who wrote the blog post is trippin' if she thinks this is "life-changing" -- but then again, she's on a raw, vegan diet, so 'nuf said. ZERO LADLES. If I could give a "minus" ladle, I would, because my food processor is a pain to clean, so if I'm going to bring it out, it better be worth it. Clearly, it wasn't. 


Recipe #10: Chocolate sugar cookies

See, this is why you need to test recipes -- because sometimes, they don't work at all.

I tried this recipe for chocolate sugar cookies recently, as I was looking for something to make for my co-workers for Valentine's Day. And they look so darling, don't they?

ZERO LADLES! Wanna know why? Because it was a giant mound of poo. The recipe didn't work at all. Even after hours of resting in the fridge, the dough was way too sticky to roll out. I tried everything! Parchment paper, silicone mat, silicone rolling pin, flour everywhere -- nothing worked! Straight into the garbage can. Poo!


Portland, I hate you

Portland, I hate you. Because of you, I can no longer see my belly button.

I hate you because after a blissful weekend eating my way around your city, I needed a wheelbarrow to get myself onto the plane.

There's been a lot written about Portland food culture, and rightfully so. For being such a small city, Portland's got big flavors, big ideas, and big love for food. So I'm sure what needs to be written has already been written, far more eloquently that I could ever hope to, so I'll just say one thing: if you consider yourself a foodie but haven't been to Portland -- you're not a foodie at all. 'Nuf said.

So here's a brief recap of all the eating my dear friends E., A., and I did during one weekend (our other food adventures are well-documented). Yes, one weekend. Forgive us, Father, for we were most gluttonous.

The first morning, we started off with Dutch tacos. That's a delicious, crispy waffle encasing some kind of meat (or a veggie patty, as in the one below), drizzled with a maple glaze.

This decadent breakfast was served up from this humble little shack, in the middle of an industrial area: 

They say good things come in small packages and boy was this an amazing little package. The one below is a meat bonanza -- Canadian bacon and regular bacon, all snug in a waffle.

I had a sausage patty in my waffle, and it was just the perfect combination of sweet and savory (the golden goodness you see oozing out is the maple glaze).

For lunch (yes, we were hungry shortly after that), we ate at an awesome taco joint. Now, we're blessed with amazing Mexican food in California, for sure. But this place did California proud with its authentic tacos (no shredded cheddar cheese or sour cream here). Below, you see a medley of different tacos that E. & A. shared. I believe they had a grilled veggie one, a fish one, and a carnitas taco.

I got the carnitas bowl. The succulent meat you see is laying on top of a mound of rice and beans, topped off with queso fresco, a tomatillo salsa and a crunch radish. Flour tortillas on the side. Delicioso!

The only misstep we had was probably dinner. We went to this Korean restaurant that was trying a little too hard to be trendy. I like my Korean food to be unpretentious and homey. This restaurant was not. So no pictures.

However, to compensate for a lackluster dinner, we stopped by a food truck (which is practically on every corner in Portland) to enjoy a sweet treat. And boy were we in for a treat.

Here is a fried pie. That's right -- fried pie. It's like an empanada, really. Crusty, flaky dough encases whatever filling you like (I had peach), and then it's fried to a golden perfection.

My friend A. had the boysenberry pie, while E. had a coconut and chocolate pie. Both were significantly more tasty than my peach pie, though I wasn't complainin'.

The next morning, still groggy from our food comas, we nevertheless ventured to a little hole in the wall known as Pine State Biscuits. There are 4 tiny tables and 3 stools. It's not a place you leisurely linger, but once you've tasted their biscuits, you want to move in. To the restaurant. I'm serious.

This unassuming place serves up some sick biscuits. And by sick, I mean insanely good. I thought I would be a little less indulgent by ordering a "biscuit topped with seasonal fruit." Sounded healthy enough, right? WRONG. This biscuit was enveloped in a warm concoction of stewed apples, then topped with fresh whipped cream. Oy vey.

Again, E. & A.'s orders were far more delicious than mine. Luckily, they don't mind sharing. A. got this honkin' breakfast biscuit, with egg, cheese and bacon. That is goodness right there, my friends. Goodness.

And what's the perfect side to such a masterpiece? Hashbrowns, of course. The picture makes it seem like this was just a cute little side dish of hash browns, but it lies: it was the biggest plate of hash browns I've ever seen.

But to be honest, E.'s biscuit sandwich had me in tears. It would inspire you to give up your firstborn. It really was *that* good. It was the most juicy piece of fried chicken I have ever tasted, in all my travels. You can also see the grainy mustard flowing out of it, as well as the sweet dill pickles. This biscuit sandwich...is beyond words. It's worth a trip to Portland -- I'm not kidding.

At the end of our trip, A. noted we had taken more pictures of the food than we did of each other. Ha! All in all, it was a really fun trip. It was great to catch up with E. & A. There's nothing like sharing a great meal (or two, or three) with good friends -- it just makes you grateful to be alive.


Recipe #9: Carrot cake

When I'm stressed, I bake. Well, I've been baking A LOT lately.

Carrot cake is one of those classic cakes for which there are at least 1000 recipes. And for some reason, I felt compelled to make it. This recipe, from Fine Cooking, came out really well. I made a few adjustments, though: namely, I omitted raisins (because I hate them) and walnuts (because I didn't have them on hand), reduced the brown sugar in the cake by 1/2 cup, and reduced the powdered sugar in the frosting by an entire cup (it was sweet enough with just 3 cups -- the extra cup would've sent a diabetic to the ER).

Here's the final product, all nicely frosted:

And here's a little sliver for the baker (looks a bit like PacMan, doesn't it?):

The cake was moist and intensely flavorful, while the frosting had a good tang from the cream cheese, balanced with enough sweetness. I've seen recipes that add everything from pineapple chunks to coconut, but I'm a purist when it comes to carrot cake.

I also felt that the recipe made way too much frosting. I didn't want to waste it, so I ended up making little cookie sandwiches (with the animal cookies I had made the same day).

The kiddies gobbled them up and the adults raved about the cake. 5 ladles!


Florio Restaurant

We used to live near Florio and would pass by it nearly every day. I don't know what kept us from going in there for an actual meal, as we used to pop in on occasion for a casual drink. I'm so glad we stopped by a few weekends ago -- it was an incredibly satisfying meal. 

We started off with the cheese selection: the Cowgirl Creamery Devil’s Gulch Cow’s Milk With Sweet & Spicy Pepper Flakes and the Tome De Bordeaux: Herb Crusted, Firm Goat’s Milk Cheese From France. It was served with membrillo (quince paste) and some crusty bread. The Cowgirl Creamery is a local artisan cheesemaker -- lucky me -- that makes the most outrageous cheese (if they slathered their cheese on an old sneaker, I would still eat it). The Devil's Gulch Cow's Milk was creamy and decadent, while the Tome De Bordeaux was earthy and firm. 

For my entree, I had Capellini With Dungeness Crab, Pepperoncini Piccante, Scallion & Preserved Lemon. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente - and I mean perfectly; there's nothing that ruins a pasta dish like overcooked, mushy pasta. The preserved lemon was such a lovely, refreshing touch, and it really made the dish. My dining mate had Pappardelle With Braised Pork Sugo, Rosemary & Grano Padano -- and I wanted to swim in it (at one point, he had to fend off my fork). The pork was so tender, that it practically disintegrated in your mouth. 

I wish I had pictures, but to be honest, there were barely 0.5 seconds before everything was blissfully shoved into my mouth.


Recipe #8: Whole Grain Animal Crackers

As I was trolling foodgawker, I came across a recipe for whole grain animal crackers, and I was intrigued. Normally, I don't like overly cutesy things, but the cookies were pretty darn cute. And looked delicious, too. Plus, I'm trying to incorporate things like flaxseed more consistently into my food, and this seemed like a great way to do that.

So here they are, awaiting the oven:

And here they are, the little piggy and the cow, fresh from the oven:

5 ladles! I reduced the sugar just a tad (from 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup), and I baked them for a little longer than what the recipe called for. I baked my first batch according to the recipe, and found that they were a bit too soft. When you leave them in until they turn a slightly deeper brown (not just golden brown), they get crispier and crunchier, like ordinary animal crackers.

I'm going to see some friends tonight, whose kids I adore, so I might ask them to be my guinea pigs. I definitely liked the taste, and it sure beat that white, cardboardy stuff that usually masquerades around as animal cookies. If I had used different cookie cutters, I'm sure adults would find these elegant, nutritious and quite tasty.


Recipe #7: Lemon cookies

I'm still on my lemon kick, ever since my co-worker brought in lemons from his backyard. So I found a recipe for lemon cookies that looked interesting. Long story short: tastes great, looks terrible.

Exhibit 1: Here they are, fresh out of the oven. The shapes are a little funky, right? Well, that's how the log was formed and when I cut the thin slices, one side sort of became lopsided. I tried rolling the dough out, but that didn't work. At least the purple sanding sugar is cute.

And here's a close-up:

Again, super funny-looking, but actually tasted great -- just the right amount of zest (love that you can see specks throughout the cookie), tang, and a nice butter flavor. 3 ladles -- 4 if they came out in a nicer shape.

I might have to give this recipe another run to see if they can come out a little prettier. After all, it's no fun to eat something that's not also fun to look at. When I studied in Japan, I learned a saying that roughly translates to "the Japanese eat with their eyes first." It's true - food is art in Japan, and it carries through -- not just on the plate but even to the packaging of regular food. So I've been inspired to make things that are not only good to eat but pretty too look at, in a non-artificial way...so far, not so good.