art of chinese cooking, cutely drawn dinners, library awesomeness

Operation: Liberate Cool Shit

The Missus has long been threatening to stage a liberation of all of the “cool shit” her mother has in her house outside of Tampa. On her way back from visiting her family, I half expect to be greeted at the airport with several boxes of books, vinyl and tchotchke‘s, all smuggled out under the cloak of darkness and the nose of her 70 year old mother. But, she’s kept things pretty manageable over the years, a few odds and ends–like pictures and books–that just happen to be in her suitcase when she lands in Portland.
Her trip last month brought the liberation of this fantastically drawn Chinese cooking cookbook

The original printing is a good 21 years older than either one of us and this edition has five years on me. The artwork is truly the best reason to try and find a copy of the book.


It spans from the cute


To the beautiful…


To the questionable..
Another great note about it is that about 1/3 of the pages have these great sayings, with their Mandarin translations, like the one above. You can pop by Rabelais to see if they have a copy or buy one for $2 on Amazon’s used book site, either way it would make an entertaining addition to any campy cookbook collection.

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bad memories, food poisining, miyake, momofuku, pork belly dreams, thanksgiving

Just Like The Pilgrims Had..

There was:
Shrimp and Artichoke dip
Ginger-Miso Green Beans
Black rice with Taro and Roasted Garlic
Momofuku style Pork Buns with Miyake ‘Special Sauce’
“It’s Not Libby’s….” Pumpkin Pie.

I boycotted Turkey again this year. I did feel a bit bad for the Missus as I completely forgot to break out the can of cranberry sauce out to make it feel a little more authentic. I couldn’t even get all of the ingredients for the pie right.
The interaction:
Me: What recipe are you using (for the pie)?
Her: I just use the one on the back of the can.
Me, realizing there is none: There isn’t a recipe on the back of the can.
Her: You didn’t get Libby’s?

This will be remembered not as the year I spent 12 hours recreating Miyake’s Noodle Bar Pork Bun recipe but as the year that I forgot to buy Libby’s. This will also be the year that I realized that the Missus near refuses to cook a recipe without following it exactly to the letter.

Me: Honey, we don’t have ground ginger but I have some fresh so you can just grate some of that in.
Her, reading the recipe: Honey, do we have ground ginger?
Me: No, that’s what I just told you.
Her: So, what am I suppose to do?
Me: I just told you.
Her: It’s not going to be the same.
Me: It’s fine.

Her: Do we have a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk?
Me: No, we have condensed and I thought it was evaporated.
Her: *sigh* What can I do?
Me: Use milk and half and half?
Her: Will that work?
Me: It’ll be fine.

This was the year of confidence building. It also marks the first time the Missus has really cooked for me in our new kitchen since we’ve moved. And, it may not have been Libby’s, but it was damn good.

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cake face, cupcakes, eating until your belly hurts, end of a trend, homework assignment, katie made, one fifty ate, rosemont, scratch baking co, sugary goodness, tulips cupcakery, two fat cats

Cupcake Capacity

3 Local Bloggers
7 Bakeries
12 Cupcakes
– 2 Vanilla
– 3 Flavored
– 3 Chocolate
– 4 Gluten Free and Vegan
1 Hour to taste, note and judge

I have to be honest, I didn’t partake in the celebration of cupcake mania that swept larger towns like New York City, San Fransisco and Boston. Truthfully my favorite cupcake remains, to this day, the ones my mom would make when I was in grade school. Every year, on my birthday, I would bring in cupcakes baked into ice cream cones. It looked like this:

But not as fancy. Kids I went to school with got as excited as I did for my birthday because of these cupcakes. So, to me, anything that fell short of this awesomeness wasn’t really worth eating. Though, I do have to admit that I hold a sizable soft spot for red velvet cupcakes–even buying them from Starbucks when I get a craving. So, when cupcakes took America by storm in ’09 and stretched their sugary arms well into 2010, I shrugged my shoulders and ate brownies, instead.

But, everyone should have sugar binge every once in a while and I felt due. It also helped that A., over on Portlandfoodmap.com had recently updated his list of bakeries and the new places inspired me to ask Kate and Dawn over for a collective sugar coma.

There were challenges to this as many of the newer bakeries in town are without a storefront and, for logistical reasons, have a minimum dozen order that needs to be met and all cost around $24/dozen. For it being just the three of us, and for wanting a wide variety of flavors, we had to avoid some that we were really intrigued by, like Cupcake Cha Cha, Buttercup Cupcakes and Sugar Hill Baking. So, we’ve made a note to try and obtain some of their cakes if we do something like this again and, this round, we opted to purchase only from those that sold retail around town and in South Portland. The one person we received cakes from that is lacking a storefront was Cakeface, and I know her personally so the arrangement was easy and convenient (cupcakes delivered to your door!).

But, enough about the process, let’s get on with the development of my Type II.


Battle: Vanilla
Katie Made Vanilla vs. Tulip Bakery Madagascar Vanilla

Results:

  • Katie Made, even though it was the first one tried, turned out to be the most commercial tasting of them all. The cake was a bit dry and the frosting was pretty damn sweet. It was, for lack of a better comparison, similar to ones that I’ve had from grocery stores.
  • You could tell that the Madagascar Vanilla, from Tulips, was going to be the polar opposite the second you picked it up with your hands. The cake had a great, moist crumb to it and the frosting was flecked with whole vanilla bean, which stood out over only a slight presence of sugar.
  • Winner: Madagascar by Tulips Cupcakery


Battle: Fruit Flavored/Filled
One Fifty Ate Apple Spice with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting vs. Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie vs. Pumpkin by Tulips Cupcakery

Results:

  • One Fifty Ate’s cupcake was probably the most down home one out of the batch. It wasn’t the prettiest, being the shorty of the group, but it was one of the tastiest. It was akin to eating a moist, but not too dense apple cake with a perfectly made brown sugar and cream cheese frosting–something I love to spread on apple and pumpkin cakes this time of year. There was a bit of a nut crunch hiding beneath the frosting (Pecan or Walnut) that was a pleasant little surprise and added texture. While I was hoping to score a ‘Ricchio’, I would gladly take this in it’s place any day.
  • “Huh..” “Hmmmm..” The first moments of Dawn biting into the Pumpkin cupcake from Tulips wasn’t overly encouraging. When we inquired what was prompting to her ponder so loudly, she just said, “Tell me what you think because I want to see if you get what I’m getting.” So, I bit in and got pumpkin, a bit of spice and a slight bitterness like uncooked flour. Then, as it finished, I got it. At the end, the whole thing tasted like a pumpkin pie filling that someone had added a bit of batter too. While the cupcake started off nicely , it did kind of turn to paste at the end. The frosting, which I think may have been cream cheese based, was passable and not much of a stand out.
  • Scratch Baking, in South Portland, needs to put a sign over their pastry cakes that says “We Do NOT Fuck Around.” Because they don’t. Like One Fifty Ate, it’s a bakery that I just don’t travel to though it’s phenomenal and worth every bit of hype it receives. The last time the Mrs. and I were there, we had their version of a Ring Ding which, of course, was eons better and kept us floating on a sugar high for the better part of the day. But, I wasn’t there for a Ring Ding or Bagels (though I did pick some up there and at One Fifty), I was there for cupcakes and they offered exactly two. Banana Cream Pie is actually one of my least favorite things in the world. I don’t like banana pastry cream or anything that’s filled with it and I was sure that I wouldn’t like it here. And I was wrong, wrong, wrong. First off, the cake itself is fucking amazing. The other cupcakes we had were cake, this was a cloud. Light and airy with an amazingly delicate crumb that was filled down the middle with a very subtle banana cream. Then a whipped cream frosting reeled me in and, even though we were five cupcakes in, had me wanting another section of this.
  • Winner: Scratch Baking Co.’s Banana Cream Pie


Battle: Chocolate
Two Fat Cats Chocolate vs. Rosemont Bakeries Chocolate Guinness vs. Scratch Baking Co.’s Black Forest Cake

Results:

  • Two Fat Cats wasn’t thrown into a fair fight here. We had only one representation of a standard chocolate cupcake, while the others were technically flavored with other things. So, when we tried all three, Two Fat Cats seemed kind of standard all around. It was simple and enjoyable, both texturally pleasing and nicely executed, but it wasn’t memorable. It was a decent chocolate cupcake. I’d actually like to include their Red Velvet if this gets done again.
  • Oh, Guinness, how you’ve brought shame into my life. I don’t know what was more shocking to my older brother, the day I came out or the day I told that I thought Guinness tasted like crap. I believe both occurrences happened when I was 20. Thirteen years later and neither thing has changed. Still gay and I still can’t stand Guinness. Granted, as you know, I don’t drink beer, period, so the heavier and darker the beer, the more I’m going to be turned off by it. And my distaste was right there the second I bit into it, the bitterness of the stout. Blech. I got a bit of the chocolate notes off of it, and it’s frosting is a perfectly done ganache, but I just couldn’t shake the bitterness in the cake. Which, I’m sure if it were any other cupcake from them, I would have enjoyed it…as long as it wasn’t made with beer.
  • This was by far the largest cake of the group, perhaps coming in around the size of a new born baby’s head. It definitely won for the most appealing with the inclusion of a cherry on top. But, when you’re labeled ‘Black Forest MEGA Cupcake’ you better shine on all levels. And, just as they had done in the previous round, Scratch’s representation in the chocolate category was outstanding. Again, normally the fruit filled thing isn’t so much for me but the jam inside was wonderfully tart and added a bit of density to the surprisingly light cake that encapsulated it.
  • Winner: Scratch Baking Co. Black Forest MEGA Cupcake


Battle: Vegan/Gluten Free
Cakeface Mocha Chip Mocha vs. Cakeface Hazelnut Mocha vs. Cakeface Spiced Chocolate vs. Cakeface Hazelnut Maple

Results:

  • Well, needless to say, Cakeface takes this battle. I wanted to have an alternative bakery in here and it definitely helped knowing someone with their own business and offered to deliver. So, this isn’t a shun of the others in town who also bake for specialty diets, it was purely a matter of convenience and cost for me.
  • The Mocha Chip Mocha, sadly was the least favorite of mine. In fact, for the three of us, it seemed that we were really missing a lot of the mocha. It was chocolaty, the crumb was good, but I wanted a bit of a coffee flavor in there, too. It did pair nicely, however, with my jumble cup of house blend.
  • There was an interesting thing that Kate pointed out when we sampled the Hazelnut Mocha: It smelled like freshly baked banana bread. Biting into it, however, completely dissolved that notion. The texture seemed a bit denser than the first one–probably from the hazelnut flour she’s using–but it wasn’t heavy. It did, however, suffer from the same lack of coffee flavor in the frosting and it would have been nice to add another flavor layer in there.
  • I had one Spiced Chocolate cupcake sitting on my counter right now. In fact, I’m probably going to stop right now and go get it…..Sorry, just needed a refresher. So, this was easily one of the best of the night, in my opinion. The cake.. the cake on this one was, dare i say, buttery. Even the next day, it’s retained it’s melt-in-your-mouth consistency. And what’s actually putting the spice in it? I’m guessing cinnamon, ginger, a bit of chili and/or cardamom.
  • I will say that when I opened the box for the Hazelnut Maple, I was worried. The smell that drifted out was so heavy and sweet that I was worried that this wasn’t going to be good. But, as I have learned from eating washed rind cheeses, don’t let the smell frighten you. This was a maple praline in a paper wrapper masquerading itself as a cupcake. Again, the hazelnut flour made for an nice textural base.
  • Winner: Spiced Chocolate

The Top 5:

  1. Scratch Bakery Co.’s Black Forest Mega Cake–A perfect mix of good chocolate, tart cherries, creamy frosting and a cherry on top. Also for having the name “MEGA” in it.
  2. Scratch Bakery Co.’s Banana Cream Pie–It made me a believer of banana pastry cream, which had always turned me off. This is a cupcake I would go out and buy again. Weekly, if I could.
  3. One Fifty Ate Apple Spice with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting–It was homey and simple and so unlike the other cupcakes we ate. It showed that a good cupcake doesn’t have to be bells and whistles and fancy piping. The flavor has to be balanced–sweet but not cloying–and the texture has to be slightly crumbly, but not dry. This is my first impression of One Fifty Ate and I like it.
  4. Cakeface Bakery Spiced Chocolate– I ate the better part of four cupcakes yesterday, I have remnants of all twelve in boxes on my counter and this is the one I reach for. As far as a chocolate cake base, it comes a close second to the one from Scratch on the cake alone. Which I find hilarious knowing the major difference between the two batters. If I woke up tomorrow and found out I had to give up my wheat and dairy, I’d console myself with a dozen of these.
  5. Tulips Cupcakery Madagascar Vanilla–An upscale play on a classic. So far from what my mother baked us growing up (I’m looking at you Duncan Hines), yet a flavor combination that I’ve never strayed from. Just a nicely done vanilla cupcake.

Now as Food Network Magazine (yea, if it’s food related, I’m reading it) calls for our cake to not come in cups, but on sticks, I believe it’s time for the mass hysteria over these childhood favorites to come to an end. Thank you, Magnolia Bakery, for starting it all… but we’re moving on.

Two Fat Cats on Urbanspoon
Scratch Bakery on Urbanspoon
158 Pickett Street Cafe on Urbanspoon
Rosemont Market on Urbanspoon

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Boda, fini, pom's taste of thai, Thai-o-rama, veranda thai

Thai-O-Rama: Leftovers

Just when you thought you were out, we pulled you back in. After spending nine months reviewing every Thai place that popped up around town, though I admittedly only made about half of them, there is a need to sum it all up. To give us closure and speak of this no more.

I wanted to follow the outline of a ‘Best of,’ but when I kept answering the questions there was only one restaurant that I felt was the best in any category you could designate.

BODA

The one exception to this is that I did eat one dish at every restaurant that offered it–which was every single one BUT Boda. I said in the review of Veranda that their Drunken Noodle with Chicken was my gold standard. I expected a challenger or two of this but found none of the other five restaurants compared, though Pom’s got pretty close. So, Veranda remains my favorite and worth the trip around Baxter Boulevard to reach it.

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chocolate cake, eating frosting with a spoon

Accidental Chocolate Chai Cake with Coconut Curry Frosting


This cake was not on my agenda. I was going, with the best of intentions, to make brioche this evening. I needed a distraction, something to take my mind off the discovery that our car was weeping gasoline from a line on the passengers side. But, it wasn’t until I had gathered up all of the ingredients that I realized that my hand mixer, though it came with a hook attachment, was lacking in a paddle for the dough. I thought about the eggs and butter already at room temperature and remembered a partially full box of cake flour in the cabinet. And, like most nights in my kitchen, a recipe started to form out of chaos and improvisation.

Chocolate Chai Cake with Coconut Curry Frosting
(Based on the Moist Chocolate Cake recipe on the King Arthur Unbleached Flour box)

  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*** I used the Indian Spice Drinking Chocolate from Whole Foods in place of the cocoa powder. I would imagine just spicing up some cocoa powder with nutmeg, cardamon, cinnamon and clove would work just as well.
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup brewed, cooled coffee, or water
  • 4 large eggs

  • 8 1/2 ounces King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 12 1/4 ounces granulated sugar
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, very soft
  • 2 1/3 ounces vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces milk
  • 4 ounces brewed, cooled coffee, or water
  • 4 large eggs

Directions

1) Place a strainer over a large mixing bowl. Measure in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa, and sugar. Sift/shake the dry ingredients through the strainer into a mixing bowl, to eliminate any lumps.

2) Add the butter and mix at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the oil and continue mixing until the mixture looks like sand.

3) Combine the vanilla with the milk and coffee or water, and add all at once. Mix for 1 minute at low speed, stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, then mix for 30 seconds.

4) Add the eggs one at a time, beating well at medium-high speed between additions. The batter will be thin.

5) Pour the batter into the prepared pan of your choice (one 9″ x 13″ pan, two 9″ round pans, or three 8″ round pans). Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 34 minutes for a 9″ x 13″ pan; 28 to 30 minutes for 9″ layers; or 24 to 26 minutes for 8″ layers. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack before frosting.

For the Frosting:

  • 1 8oz container of Mascarpone–or Cream cheese–@ room temperature.
  • 2 tblspn. coconut milk–I just scraped the cream from the top layer and used that.
  • 1/4 cp of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Curry powder

1) Place Mascarpone/Cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Add coconut cream to cheese and mix.
2) Sift powdered sugar and curry powder into cheese and mix until well blended. Adjust flavorings to taste. Refrigerate.
3) Remove frosting from refrigerator 30 minutes prior to use. When cake is fully cooled, frost and serve.

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