Summer! Part 3 – Birthday cake, Hiking, Tri-tip

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And now, for more of the same — fabulous food! Which makes up the final installment of the husband’s birthday celebration. First up, a homemade coconut cake with lemon zest topped with mascarpone frosting, shredded coconut flakes, and sweet strawberries. I went a little overboard with the birthday sign made from teeny, tiny bunting. I probably should’ve secured the string better before placing each triangle on. Oh yeah, and I free-hand cut every triangle myself. “Say whaaat?!” Yeah, that’s right. Watch out, Martha Stewart. Since I didn’t have matching cake rounds, I used two different sizes. I also didn’t have much mascarpone on hand. So many limitations. But the cake turned out deliciously moist, and, as my friend said, “Old-World style”. Recipes below.

Coconut cake with lemon zest, mascarpone frosting, topped with stawberries.

Coconut cake with lemon zest, mascarpone frosting, topped with strawberries.

Two days later, we went on a hike through Santa Ynez Mountains. The trail had a forest of wicked-looking trees — some thorny, some not. Even though it reminded me of the forest under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (or what I’d like to call Maleficent’s Forest), I’m glad we made it through for the magnificent view.

View of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean from Santa Ynez Mountains

View of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean from Santa Ynez Mountains

Finally, after much rock climbing and squeezing through (at times) thorny trails and getting a little lost, we rewarded ourselves with the goal of the day — mouth-watering tri-tip sandwiches at Cold Spring Tavern! It’s only 15-20 minutes from Santa Barbara, so GO if you’re in the area. A little advice — tri-tip sandwiches are only available on Sundays. It gets a bit crowded, so we chose to arrive later in the day. We got there at 5:30, ordered our beers and sandwiches right away because tri-tip service stops at 6:00. It was perfect.

Cold Spring Tavern, a.k.a. the place for best tri-tip sandwiches

Cold Spring Tavern, a.k.a. the place for best tri-tip sandwiches

"Coming 'atcha."

“Coming ‘atcha.”

After watching the movie Chef (highly recommended!) by Jon Favreau with an appearance by everyone’s favorite Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr., I was hungry for some good slow-cooked beef. While watching the grill master do his thing and slice the tri-tip, said grill master gave me a piece to taste. One morsel and I was in food heaven.

"Just look at that meat." Tri-tip sandwich with all the fixins from the roasting pit of Cold Spring Tavern

“Just look at that meat.” Tri-tip sandwich with all the fixins from the roasting pit of Cold Spring Tavern

Apparently, Central California has the best tri-tip in the country.

Birthday Cake 

I followed Martha Stewart’s recipe for Coconut Cupcakes, including the step-by-step directions in the Basic Cupcake How-To. Sift the flour, an important step that no one tells you to do because they expect you to do it automatically for cakes and cupcakes. I added zest from one lemon into the liquid vanilla mixture and would recommend using two lemons because one wasn’t nearly enough.

I would use two (or three) 6 to 8-inch cake round pans. I had used two. Line them with parchment paper, if you have it, and then butter the pan/parchment paper, and dust with flour.

Once you have the cake batter ready, pour the batter evenly into the two cake pans. Bake at 350 deg F for 30-40 minutes. Test at the 30-min mark with a cake tester (toothpick or sharp knife) to see how much more time is needed. The cake tester should come out clean when done.

Transfer cake pans to wire racks to cool, about 15 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, and let cool completely on racks, tops up.

Mascarpone Frosting

With an electric mixer, whisk together 1/2 of a small tub of mascarpone cheese with 1/2 cup of powdered sugar until it looks like the consistency of frosting. It should look smooth. That’s it. Or follow this recipe.

Putting it all together

1. First, have the cake stand or cake plate ready.

2. Remove the parchment paper from the cake rounds and place one on the cake stand. This is your bottom layer. Save your best-looking cake layer for the top.

3. Place a good amount of frosting on the bottom layer, and spread it around. I chose a rustic style and didn’t frost the sides of the cake. Or, more accurately, since I didn’t have enough mascarpone for tons of frosting, the rustic Old-World style chose me.

4. Add coconut flakes to this frosted bottom layer. Then place another cake layer on top of the first one. Repeat the frosting and coconut sprinkling process. If you have another layer, repeat.

5. Finally, make sure to sprinkle enough coconut flakes all over the top layer of the cake, and then add fresh strawberries around and on top of the cake for decoration.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer! Part 2

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After celebrating Tiki Night at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, we continued adventuring with culinary treats at The Bazaar by José André, celebrity chef extraordinaire. The Beverly Hills restaurant was a complete spectacle, from the presentation of the tapas dinner to the atmosphere. And the food was truly delicious. I had my doubts at the beginning, admittedly (“What do you mean I need to eat the mozzarella ball with a spoon and not a fork because it will liquify immediately?”), but I loved it so much I wrote a review on yelp. The most surprising part of the experience turned out to be the humble eggplant tempura with honey air. Yes, you heard right. Honey air. Think Pooh Bear with a tiny wooden spoon and a cubit of honey foam. It was my favorite part of the meal… But first, a bit of Liquid Smoke to cleanse the palate for dinner.

IMG_0008 IMG_0007IMG_0009 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0013 IMG_0014 IMG_0015 IMG_0023 IMG_0016 IMG_0018 IMG_0024 IMG_0025After dinner, we wandered to the dessert area. You actually move to another part of the restaurant to have dessert. Since I wasn’t in the mood for pastries, we looked at the eclectic objects in the gift store. Did I forget to mention the restaurant is attached to the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills? The restaurant and the hotel both exude a trendy, rock-and-roll, baller lifestyle vibe. In any case, I was tempted to pick up the wax skull with a salamander sitting on top, or the spinning black Medusa candle. What a modern day Kunstkammer!

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Summer! Part 1

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Summer means… well, not a lot of difference from the regular school year for a graduate student, except that I get to celebrate the husband’s birthday with a trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum for Tiki Night. I also baked him a coconut birthday cake (complete with tiny bunting), and we communed with Mother Nature by hiking in the mountains (and we’re not exactly nature folk), but I’ll save those for future posts.

Part 1: 11-hour round trip drive for 4 precious hours in San Francisco

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco is a must-see for animation and Disney enthusiasts. Since it’s owned by the family, not by the corporation, the museum holds significant works of art, equipment and awards that hasn’t been seen anywhere else. For example, original art from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and many other animated films line the walls. The multi-plane camera used to film Bambi and Pinocchio also resides at the museum. Disney’s Oscar for Snow White, along with seven little Oscars to represent the dwarfs, is seen alongside other awards. We went on Tiki Night — the event’s name was “Animate Your Night: Choose Your Own Adventure” but everyone wore tiki and they served tiki drinks, hence, I continue to call it Tiki Night — as I wanted to wear my Hawaiian gear and see the special Mary Blair exhibition of Alice in Wonderland concept art. And yes, we drove 11 hours for this plus an ice cream treat at Ghiradelli’s Square located at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s amazing how few cars are on the road from 12 to 5 in the morning.

Sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Walt Disney Family Museum

Sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Walt Disney Family Museum

Getting the night started right with a rum tiki drink.

Getting the night started right with a rum tiki drink.

Opening frame to the special exhibition.

Opening frame to the special exhibition.

Mary Blair concept art for Alice in Wonderland. Copyright Walt Disney Family Museum.

Mary Blair concept art for Alice in Wonderland. Copyright Walt Disney Family Museum.

Best kahlua pork and BBQ pork sliders from the sliders food truck.

Best BBQ pork and kalua pork sliders from The Sliders Shack SF food truck

 

Shepherd’s Pie

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Got off to a late start with St. Patrick’s Day dinner this year, but I promised to make Shepherd’s Pie for the husband. And so I did last night with Alton Brown’s recipe. My second attempt at this Irish dish proved that a Chinese girl can make a kick-arse Shepherd’s Pie.

No can opener on hand meant no tomato paste and more red wine (for both me and the ground beef mixture). I just poured a little red wine at a time until the meat mixture tasted good. I also omitted corn and Worcestershire sauce because, well, I didn’t want corn in my meat pie, and only needed one teaspoon of Worcestershire so I wasn’t ready to fork over money for the Lea & Perrins. For the mashed potatoes, I used milk instead of the recommended half-and-half, and added sharp cheddar cheese to the mix.

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Into the oven for 30-40 minutes at 400 deg F, so that the mashed potato topping can brown a bit, et voilà! Delicious Shepherd’s Pie!Image

 

Quickie slow cooker chicken – the best slow cooker meal I’ve ever cooked

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Before and After

It’s probably an oxymoron to say “quickie slow cooker” anything, but when you look into the refrigerator for inspiration–rather than a recipe–it’s definitely quicker than going to the grocery mart, finding the right herbs, and culling together proper vegetables.

Alora… with a pound of chicken breast, I rummage through my refrigerator for an easy marinade. Ah, the champagne vinaigrette dressing from Trader Joe’s works nicely. Of course, onions go with everything in my dinners so I always have a handy bag of onions lying around. I cut up one onion into cubes and place them into the slow cooker, lining the bottom as a base. Then I put the marinated chicken breast right on top of the onions. Now, I needed something else. What other vegetables do I have? Well, I see two slightly disheveled sweet potatoes lying in my crisper. I say “disheveled” because they’ve been sitting in there for close to two weeks. Not a problem. I lop off the strange white parts that are teetering toward the moldy stage. Then I cut up the sweet potatoes into discs, 1/2- to 1-inch discs. Then I throw all of the sweet potato discs on top of the chicken.

However, something’s not right. I feel there is something still missing. I could pour a half-bottle of red wine on top so that the chicken can soak in wine while cooking, or I could use chicken broth. Unfortunately, I don’t have chicken broth in the pantry today. But wait a second! I have butternut squash soup from Trader Joe’s. I proceed to douse the sweet potatoes with TJ’s creamy butternut squash soup. Add some ground pepper from the pepper mill, add a few dashes of salt, and cover the slow cooker. Set it for a 6-hour cooking time, and voila! I walk away (or actually, go for a walk outside in the 68-degree winter wonderland of Southern California). I suggest checking on the slow cooker progress at the four-hour mark, as the chicken will likely be ready.

Incidentally, I’ve tried many times to use my slow cooker and was never really satisfied with the dinners that emerged from it. I thought that I simply wasn’t cut out to cook in this fashion, that I needed searing heat for something quick and delicious. I’m glad I gave the slow cooker one more chance.

Ingredients

  • 1 or more pounds of chicken breast
  • Champagne Vinaigrette Dressing (mine was from Trader Joe’s)
  • Organic Butternut Squash Soup (again, mine was from TJ’s)
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch discs
  • 1 onion, cut into cubes (quarter it first, then halve the quarters)
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  • Marinate the chicken by covering it on both sides with the champagne vinaigrette dressing.
  • Place the onions on the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • Add the chicken so that it sits on top of the onions.
  • Add the sweet potato discs on top of and all around the chicken.
  • Douse the sweet potato discs with butternut squash soup. I used ~1/4 of the box.
  • Add generous dashes of pepper.
  • Add just a few dashes of salt.
  • Cover and set the cooking time for 6 hours.
  • Check the chicken at the 4-hour mark. It will likely be done.

 

Doctor Who Brunch

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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who with a special themed brunch on Saturday! If you haven’t caught up on all the episodes before the event, that’s quite alright. You can just have a sonic screwdriver on Saturday, and watch the Doctor and his companion with the rest of us Whovians. In any case, The Day of the Doctor is sure to please old and new fans alike. There is rumor that maybe even Tom Baker will make an appearance. David Tennant will return as the Tenth Doctor, and can I just say how excited I am to see Tennant and Smith trying to out-fun one another? It’s sure to be a ball. Here’s what I’ve got on the menu.

  • Sonic screwdrivers
  • TARDIS Blueberry pancakes
  • Scrambled eggs w green onions — does anyone have a good name for this?
  • Bow-tie pasta salad
  • Dalek cupcakes

Of course, this means I need to figure out how to properly make cupcakes shaped like Daleks, a challenge I will take up. I’ve looked online for help, and there are a lot of cupcakes out there, that’s for sure. But to create a Dalek cupcake that looks like a Dalek and tastes like a Crumbs cupcake, well, that’s another story altogether. Most of the ones I’ve seen online look like Pinterest fails, unfortunately. But there are certainly inspirational ones.

I’m going to attempt a vanilla bean cupcake with chocolate ganache. With additions of a marshmallow (for its head) and pocky for its eye stalk, sucker arm (plunger thingy), and gun (curling iron thingy), I think I’ll have a mighty fine-looking Dalek cupcake. My inspiration from BBC America:

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Pot Roast, slow cooker-style

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I decided it’s time for me to eat better, meaning eat less bread, rice, pasta, chips, and chocolate. In fact, I’m going cold turkey on my three favorite foods–you guessed them–bread, rice and pasta. Hence, I’m kind of, sort of (with one foot in and dragging the other one kicking and screaming) doing the Paleo diet. I did a bunch of research online, and some folks say you can still eat hard cheeses and drink wine. Which is great news because I love having wine with dinner and eating good cheese when I can. So, after having brussel sprouts for the better part of the week, I’m now slow cooking pot roast. Mind you, I like brussel sprouts, and enjoy eating them stir-fried on a skillet with olive oil, dashes of garlic powder, black pepper, red chili flakes, sea salt, and a few squeezes of lemon or lime… but I miss having a good piece of protein.

I’m a big fan of The Pioneer Woman when it comes to beef. I’m sure living in Montana and being married to a cowboy doesn’t hurt. Ree Drummond (the PW) just understands how to coax succulent flavor out of beef. I used her Perfect Pot Roast recipe and, rather than purchasing beef broth, I made my own vegetable stock. Then I put everything in a slow cooker (a.k.a. crock pot) and set it for a 10-hour cooking time. My place smells incredible right now (yes, it’s still cooking at midnight). Tomorrow, I will feast on my roast beast.

Vegetable Stock, ingredients:

  • 1 carrot, chopped into 1/2-inch or less slices
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped into 1/4-inch slices or so
  • 1 clove of garlic, diced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 4 cups of water

Steps:

  • On medium heat, place 2 slugs of olive oil into a stock pot or large saucepan (count 1, 2, and you’re done).
  • Add garlic and stir until slightly golden. NOTE: Do not leave the garlic; it can burn very quickly.
  • Add onions. Stir the mixture until the onions soften and looks slightly transparent.
  • Add celery. Stir mixture for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add a few dashes of black pepper.
  • Stir the vegetable mixture around, perhaps 2 more minutes.
  • Add water and bring mixture to a boil.
  • Lower the temperature and simmer on low.
  • Add 1 tsp of kosher salt.
  • Simmer 30-40 minutes on low.
  • When done, remove vegetables with a strainer — pour the stock, one ladle-full at a time, through the strainer.

Pot Roast, ingredients:

  • 2 lb London Broil (this is what I had on hand, though the Pioneer Woman recommends a 4-5 lb Chuck Roast) [Edit: You'll want to follow PW's advice. Trust me, get the Chuck Roast.]
  • 3-4 cups of Vegetable stock (above recipe)
  • 2 whole onions, halved
  • 6 whole carrots, cut into 1-inch slices
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (I highly recommend using fresh herbs, not dried. Makes all the difference in the world.)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 cup of red wine

Steps:

Follow The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pot Roast recipe with the following changes:

  • After deglazing the dutch oven, add the vegetable stock to the wine and stir.
  • Line the bottom of the slow cooker with half of the carrots and onions.
  • Add the meat to the slow cooker, making sure it rests on top of your foundation of carrots and onions.
  • Add the rest of the vegetables on top of the meat.
  • Now pour the wine/vegetable stock mixture into the slow cooker until it covers most of the meat (like my photograph above).
  • Add the rosemary and thyme (spread them out, but make sure a few of the herbs touch the meat and are as submerged as possible).
  • Set the cooking time for 10 hours.
  • Walk away and have a glass of wine. Or in my case, have some vegetable stock for dinner since it was 10 o’clock at night by the time I finished.
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