Friday, August 27, 2010

A Few Of My Favorite Recipes

This one's for my fellow baking fiends, but feel free to peruse even if baking isn't your thing.  I accept no responsibility if you are left feeling hungry after reading this blog though. 

Have you ever gone to the internet in search of a recipe and then wondered if anybody had tried it before?  Here are some of the dessert recipes I have tried with great success.  I have modified some of them just a little bit to suit my tastes.  Here goes. 

I would have to begin my list with a recipe for Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Chocolate Chip Cookies that has pretty much everything in it.  I make a few substitutions.  Instead of all the spices listed in the recipe, I use 1 tsp five spice powder, and I use dessicated coconut instead of flaked coconut which I find too sweet.  I use Guittard Chocolate Chips which I buy in bulk at PCC Natural Markets.  I've also used the Ambrosia brand that is available at Costco.  The Nestle brand and store variety just doesn't cut it for me.  Once I have the batter ready, I use a wooden spoon to stir in the other ingredients.  Toward the end of the recipe I have to stir in the ingredients using my hands.  Instead of corn flakes I use the Fred Meyer store brand equivalent of Grape Nuts cereal.  This is the only cereal that holds its crispness even after baking.

I often wonder what life would have been like without Martha Stewart.  Love her or hate her, one thing is clear: she knows her food.  Her recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting is a favorite at work.  The recipe can also be used for a standard cake.  I have used cake flour before, but it is quite expensive.  I have found an excellent substitute which I have used often.  I have heard that pudding mix works even better than cornstarch, but I haven't tried that before.  For chocolate cupcakes I use the recipe posted by Trophy Cupcakes.  I have never made the Mint Buttercream or Mint Chocolate Ganache because I feel that mint-flavored food tastes like toothpaste.  I have used the ganache recipe with vanilla extract.  I sometimes make these cupcakes filled with the Cream Cheese Frosting from Martha Stewarts's recipe (above).  You only need half the recipe to fill 24 cupcakes. 

I love making cakes with bits of fresh fruit stirred into it. I found this recipe for an Orange Cake. I add two teaspoons of fruit extract to this recipe to kick up the flavor. I use this as my base recipe and have successfully substituted other fruit for oranges. I try to stick to fruits for which I can find a flavoring/extract, like strawberries, pineapple or mango. You can fill and top this cake with whipped cream and stack it up with some fresh fruit, preferably the same fruit as you use in your base cake. A word of caution: Bananas don't work with this recipe!

If you are looking for a good Chocolate Cake recipe, look no further than the back of a box of Hersheys Cocoa.  The chocolate cake is rich, moist and simply delicious.  If you don't have a box of Hersheys Cocoa in your pantry then shame on you (Just kidding!).  But if you have a better, fancier cocoa in your pantry, you can still find the Hershey Chocolate Cake receipe here.  I have tried this recipe using either Hershey's Regular, Dutch Processed or Special Dark Cocoa.  The chocoholic in me rates the Special Dark as the the winner hands down.  I have used this recipe as a base for Black Forest Cake or a very rich, decadent Death by Chocolate Cake with a Cream Cheese Filling and Chocolate Ganache Frosting. 

Here's my most favorite dessert recipe I've found on the internet and it isn't a recipe for cake.  Go figure!  It's a recipe for Caramel Flan.  It's such a simple recipe with amazing results.  I will admit to having messed up this recipe by using hot tap water for the water bath.  You don't want to do that.  You want to use boiling water.

So there you have it.  Recipes off the internet, tried and tested and really good!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Armchair Travel, One Meal At A Time

One of the wonderful things about living in the 21st Century is that no matter where you are, the world seems to have become smaller.  This can be attributed to the growth of the internet, the global interest in travel, or simply because people move to new places, bringing their culture with them.  You don't necessarily have to travel the ends of the earth to experience different people or cultures.  No matter where you are, you just have to reach a little beyond arms length to learn something new about someone new. 

Being a food lover, I love experiencing new cultures through their cuisine.  Living where I do, it's great that  there are so many opportunities to visit the world through the restaurants within a few miles from where I live.  Today I had my first taste of Taiwanese food from a restaurant appropriately named "Facing East".   I first heard about this restaurant a few months ago, from a  Taiwanese friend of a friend.  It came highly recommended as an authentic bang-for-your-buck type of place serving Taiwanese Street Food.  The restaurant is tucked away in a quiet corner of an unassuming shopping center named Belgate Plaza on Bellevue Way, just about a couple of blocks north of Bellevue Square.  And it does face East.  I had heard that it was a very small but very popular place that didn't take reservations, so the wait for a table was always very long.  I was told the best thing to do was get there before they opened for the day.  When I first went there upon hearing about it two months ago, I was disappointed to find the restaurant closed indefinitely while it underwent renovation.  I could only hope that once they reopened, they would be big enough to accommodate a larger clientele. 

I decided to order some take out food for two from Facing East restaurant today.  They open at 11:30 a.m. and I was there at 11:45.  I walked in and was greeted by the look of a neat and clean restaurant that had obviously seen a recent makeover.  It looked authentically Taiwanese, although never having been to Taiwan I wouldn't really know any better.  The staff were very personable and the restaurant seemed to have sufficient seating for all of its customers.  I ordered the Pork Burger, Sweet Potato Flour Pancakes with Mixed Seafood and Lamb with Barbecue Sauce.  I was told it would be about 15 minutes before my order was ready, so I decided to run some errands in the meanwhile. When I returned, the restaurant was full to capacity, with about 20 people waiting!  So much for sufficient seating.  I had to wait a few additional minutes for my order, but that gave me more time to scope out the place.  What I noticed was that every single dish that left the kitchen looked amazing.  It seemed like presentation was very important.  Whenever a dish is presented extremely well, it raises my expectation of it.  I began to hope I wasn't setting myself up for disappointment.  I also happened to notice that everyone there seemed to be ordering some very interesting non-alcoholic drinks.

The food was still quite warm when I got home, so there was no need to reheat anything.  We tried the Pork Burger.  Oh my word!  It was delicious!  It consisted of grilled onions, ground pork, fresh cilantro and a slice of pork belly inside a folded steamed bun.  The combination of flavors and textures was just amazing!  I could have had two Pork Burgers and called it a day, it was that substantial and that good!  We moved on to the Sweet Potato Flour Pancakes.  The pancakes were translucent and almost glutinous, but were nice and crisp around the edges and on the top.  They were slathered with a light sauce and were filled with the most delightful combination of shrimp, oysters and other seafood, along with some leafy vegetables that I couldn't identify.  Not a big deal really, because everything combined so well and tasted very good.  Finally it was time for the Barbecued Lamb on steamed white rice.  Again, there were some unidentifiable leafy vegetables with really thick stems all through this dish.  And again, it didn't really matter because the dish was awesome!  The thinly sliced lamb combined very well with the vegetables and the sauce.  There were large slices of garlic and red Serrano peppers, which contributed to the bold flavors that combined very well with the steamed rice.  Overall, it was a wonderful meal.  Everything I had ordered was flavorful and delicious, without being overpoweringly spicy.  It seemed to be the perfect meal for a warm summer day like today.  I am not sure if the prices have stayed the same after the restaurant has reopneed, but a decent meal can set you back around a reasonable $20. 

If there was one thing I were to change, I would mke the menu more descriptive so I knew what I was ordering.  I don't know if that will take away from the entire experience, although I don't believe it will.  It is quite possible that perhaps while dining in the waitstaff will be very helpful with explaining the dishes.  However, if I didn't know someone who recommended what to get, I'm not sure I would know what to order.  That being said, I can't wait to go there again.  I will definitely eat in, making sure to order some of those pretty-looking drinks.  If I have room, I would also make sure to order their red bean soup or some of their shaved ice for dessert.  I will also make sure to take pictures of their food.

If any of my local readers/followers would like to join me the next time I go to Facing East Taiwanese Restaurant, please let me know. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Viva La Musica

Mankind has been blessed with so many abilities to enrich life.  My belief is that the greatest gift we are blessed with is the ability to create music.  At some point in the cycle of life, man fashioned basic instruments and as time went by, these were modified into the musical instruments we know today.  Then once the music was made, man wrote lyrics and set them to tune.  It is quite amazing when you think about it, how man discovered that the creativity of music can enhance his life.  There are so many genres of music to choose from, something for everyone.

I took piano lessons, but didn't care much for the fact that I wasn't allowed to explore my own creativity.  Everything I learned was by the book.  C'est la vie.  I also sang in the school choir and later in life, in church.  My low voice earned me a spot as an alto, back in the day when alto voices were difficult to come by.  I don't sing very much these days, but I love listening to music as I always have.  When I was young I used to ask that the radio be playing while I did my homework.  My mother would have none of it, believing that the radio would be a distraction.  I knew back then that music would actually help me study better, but I didn't know how to convince my mother of this.  I now have the freedom to play the radio at work, and I know that I am more productive while listening to music.  I feel like something is missing when the radio isn't playing.  The radio also plays in my car, which helps me cope with bad traffic and bad drivers.

There are so many songs that have woven themselves into the tapestry of  my life.  It started with nursery rhymes and lullabies and then progressed to the more popular music from movies like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.  These delightful movies were revisited at various stages of my life, and each visit brought a new perspective based on my age at each viewing.  I have always loved movie themes and show tunes.  These songs enjoy continued popularity like no other music can, except perhaps for classical music.  Show tunes are a part of growing up, in the form of singing classes and school concerts.  As for classical music, I don't care who you are, you have to have listened to it somewhere, somehow, possibly without knowing it. 

Then there was the music that my older brother was listening to growing up.  The Beatles, Santana (the early years), Tom Jones and The Mamas And The Papas were a part of my early life.  I listened to the Woodstock album over and over again, never mind that it had the f-word in it, which I don't think my parents realized.  I was introduced to Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Sha Na Na.  I knew nothing about the festival being anti-establishment, nor did I know who Max Yasgur was.  Nor did I care.  As I grew older, I developed my own taste in music.  Unfortunately for me, my tweens and teenage years coincided with the disco era.  I wore platform heels and bell-bottoms and listened to the Saturday Night Fever album, the disco band Chic, ABBA and of course, KC and the Sunshine Band.  And no, I'm not ashamed to admit any of this. 

The 80s brought with it the music associated with neon-colored clothes, black lace and those business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back mullet hairstyles.  Some of the music endured the test of time, but most of it came and went.  Some of the music of the 80s enjoyed a resurgence of popularity almost twenty years later.  Which brings me to the song "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey.  The song, originally from 1981, is being listened to twenty years later, most likely by the children of the original listeners.  I attribute the song's recent airplay to the hit television show Glee, which resurrected it from the ashes.  The song has also regained popularity as a graduation song and as a testament to the life of Journey's new front man Arnell Pineda from the Philippines, who struggled through life but didn't give up on his hopes and dreams.  As wonderfully inspirational as that story may be, if I never hear "Don't Stop Believing" again, it won't be too soon for me!

The long-haired bands came in with the 1990s.  Poison, Guns 'n Roses, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Skid Row and Exteme, to name a few.  These guys proved to us that under all that hair were hearts that hurt just the same as anyone else, with their rock ballads like "Every Rose Has Its Thorn",  "Love Bites", "More Than Words".  The 90s also gave us Mariah Carey.  That's all I'm going to say about her.  These songs too, they came and went.  Every once in a while they showed up again, but did not leave a lasting impression.  Not like "Don't Stop Believing"!  However, I did enjoy these songs back in the day.

The world of music continues to evolve, offering new genres to its listeners.  My preference continues to be what I refer to as Middle Ground Music, by which I mean not leaning too extremely to either end of the spectrum.  I love listening to the radio.  I think that I like the element of surprise from not knowing what song is going to be played next.  Also, if I don't have to pick the songs I want to listen to, that's one less decision for me to make.  There are songs which make me turn up the volume, songs which I will wait to finish before I get out of my car, songs which make me sing out loud even if I don't know all the lyrics and songs which I will refuse to listen to, no matter how much you paid me.  "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey is one of the latter.

I would be interested to hear what music my readers enjoy.

PS:  The opinions expressed above are my own, and yours may be different. If you like the song "Don't Stop Believing", it is your prerogative to enjoy it, just as it is my prerogative not to.