May 31, 2007

She: Toffee Chocolate Cupcakes

SO. I had my craving to bake some cupcakes again. I do this often...every week or two. But, since this is a new blog site, I will explain. I NEVER use boxed mixes. Why? Well, if I had my own kiddo who needed 75 cupcakes for school, I might. But most of the joy for me is coming up with a recipe that isn't a standard flavor. That, and boxed stuff has a ton of preservatives and other scary things I like to avoid. Because I like my sugar honest. I don't always start with an original base--the vanilla cake base is from Amy Sedaris, but usually I try things out a few times and modify from there.

Yesterday I made a new concoction: Toffee Chocolate Cupcakes. First, a few words of caution: do NOT overfill these cupcakes. They will overflow into a messy mass if you do. Also, make sure your oven is well heated at 360. Most recipes say 350, but when you open the oven, you let some of the air out, and it cools slightly. This adjusts for that a tad. And one last thing...if you use foil cups, great. But I don't always know what I have at hand at home, and this was a mix of both foil and paper. For paper, I tend to double-cup. This is because the second paper cup helps soak a little of the greasiness out of the cake. Also, this recipe uses baking powder--thats good because powder releases at oven temp and not immediately like baking soda, so don't subsitute.

Batter Ingredients:
1 1/2 sticks of butter (room temp), 1 3/4 cups sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/4 cups milk, 1 cup toffee bits.

Instructions: Cream butter and sugar--make sure the butter is well incorporated. Then add eggs, vanilla, salt and baking powder. Alternate adding flour and milk--I did this in 1/2 cup increments. Fill the cups 2/3 full, and cook for 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick; they'll be done when you get NO crumbs on the toothpick. Let cool for 5-8 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Recipe makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Now, the cupcake is moist, but the toffee bits melt in to add extra butteriness (is that a word?) to the cake. I paired it with my own version of a chocolate ganache icing. The icing was SO worth the wait, not that I had a clue of how LONG I'd wait when I started it.

Ganache Ingredients:

1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% chocolate--I like Ghirardelli), 1 cup powder sugar.

I have seen a lot of ganache recipes, and they call for either butter or a ton of powder sugar. I HATE adding butter to icing if I don't need it. Why? It cuts the chocolate flavor down. And so does too much sugar. This works really well though. Just put the cream in a sauce pan on low heat, stirring every once in a while til you see small bubbles around the edge. If you don't stir it, it could burn on the bottom and that would taste nasty. This took me about 5 minutes. I cleaned the kitchen counters and let the dog lick the bowl (the cupcake batter, NO chocolate for doggies!) while doing this. Put the chocolate chips in a Pyrex or metal bowl, and when the cream is ready, dump the cream on top. I let it sit for juuuust a minute or two to let it melt, then take a whisk and stir them together. After its all solidly mixed, I added the powder sugar, stirred it in well, and let the ganache sit. AND sit. AND sit some more. You don't put chocolate in the fridge or you start to break down the cocoa butter and such. And destroying chocolate flavor is a sin. But since I didn't know how heavenly it would taste, my patience was wearing thin. I'm a photographer. We dig that whole "immediate gratification" thing. SIGH.

Its supposed to sit til at room temp, but what I THOUGHT was room temp was only close, so I broke down, put plastic wrap on the bowl, and let it sit overnight. Up to that point it was like I was 8 yrs old in the back of my parents car, only instead of asking "are we there yet?" it was "has it cooled yet?" You'll know its ready because if you tip the bowl sideways, it doesn't slide. Niiice and thick. And really rich. I think it might overwhelm the toffee cakes, but adding a tad more toffee might make up for it.

May 30, 2007

She: Noodle House

I have to say, I'm addicted to vietnamese noodles and grilled meat. LOVE it. I never lived there, but I did live next door in Thailand, and depending on what vendors you ate at, there were some similarities--there's a thai version of pho soup and all that jazz. Anyways. When Mark and I moved to Sacramento, we were completely bummed by the lack of fab mexican or new american cuisine. Its what we lived on in Atlanta. (but we are still looking around here!) Instead, we found that while the Sacramento version of salsa leaves a bad (read watery) taste in our mouths, the noodles in this town rock.

Noodle House is one of my favorite places in town. Its a little joint in the strip mall over on Madison and Manzanita in Citrus Heights--behind the Starbucks, Lyons, etc. Its just "Noodle House." But it IS authentic, and the staff is super friendly. They do know me, and I always sit at "my" table (little embarassed at being such an obvious devotee), but even before they knew me, I was always greeted and seated sweetly by a soft spoken Vietnamese lady. And anyone who serves there is just as gracious, too. That goes a LONG way with me.

Anyways, I went there with my friend Erika, and we started off with fried wantons in ginger sauce. They use *real* wanton wrappers--meaning they are really thin and crispy. They use these on their imperial rolls (aka spring rolls), too. Any time I get a spring roll or wonton with a thick wrapper, I'm a) disappointed and b) suspicious that they actually bought them premade. Thats usually what I find in those situations.

While we were chomping on these badboys, we were also drinking the complimentary hot tea that comes with any meal there. We ended up ordering two different versions of the rice noodles--she got grilled beef and I got the chicken. I've had them all, and all of the meat there is moist. This meal comes in a bowl with a side of a cucumber/pickled carrot/lettuce salad that I just mix in with the noodles. The noodle bowl is too big for me to finish unless I'm really full, and if you just get the basic its under 6 bucks! The only thing is...if you go there often enough (as I obviously do) you reaaaally get to know the recycling elevator music they play, but with everything else they've got going, it doesn't phase me in the least.

May 27, 2007

He: Toast in Granite Bay

‘It’s soo soothing and pleasant that it makes me want to just kill myself. I want to die. I want to die. Kill me now!’ – Stan’s Grandfather on Southpark
This is the only real lasting impression that I took away from the experience of brunch at Toast in Granite Bay. Not to say that the meal was so heinous that I was asking people around me if they would kill me(although the idea of it may have motivated the waitstaff to life), but just that maybe if someone did try to kill me while I was dining at Toast I might just have more emotions to attach to the experience there. Let’s just say that I know enough about restaurants to know when someone truly knows what they’re doing and what they want to do, and when someone hopes that nobody really catches onto the fact that they really don’t have any idea and are just faking it until they can get to the point that they know that they know nothing. Toast gives me the distinct impression that they fall into the latter of these categories.

If there is anything that reading of many, many other blogsites have taught me...people loooove pictures.
I had a simple plate of over easy eggs with roasted red potatoes, honey ham and wheat toast. She had eggs benedict , more of those same red skin potatoes and a cinnamon roll that we both shared. I found just a couple of things to be a little off about my meal(but it's breakfast, it should be's not like it's a hard meal to cook). She, on the other hand, had all sorts of problems with what she got. My issues were potatoes that looked like they went right from the steamer to the color whatsoever. If you're really going to do such a travesty to potatoes as to cut them up and cook them to be eaten as pieces there should be come freaking CARAMELIZATION on them...otherwise just mash them. Her issues were VERY hard english muffins, poached eggs that should've just been hard boiled(since they were sooo well done), and completely BROKEN hollandaise(which I also thought was too spicy with tabasco). The only 2 things that I can honestly say that toast did well were a good cup of coffee, and an admirable attempt at a cinnamon bun.
What could possibly make me think that Toast is a place that is just trying to get its bearings and maybe try to make a run at figuring itself out? First there’s the complex that it’s a part of, Quarry Pond in Granite Bay. This is a strip mall that is created around the idea of copying the Ferry Building in San Francisco(I know this is the idea that they were going for, because I interviewed with the head chef of Toast that works directly for the owner of the whole complex), only not doing it as big, or with as many unique shops, or without really having the backing of being in a true food town. If you have been to both of these places, you have the opportunity to call me to the matt if you think that I’m completely off base on my assessment of this completely created, Starbucks ‘Venti Latte Culture’ sham of a concept.
The second big thing that makes me wonder what they hell they were thinking in their creation of Toast is the interior and overall design of the place. As soon as you walk in you will see a small bar, with a large flat screen TV and the host stand. As soon as SheChew and I walked in I noticed and incredible confluence of white logo’ed button up shirt, black slacks, blonde-dyed twentynothing female servers(all of whom looked like they wanted to be anywhere but there, spending as much of their parents’ money as they possibly could). For some strange reason(it certainly wasn’t the architecture or the tables, or the strange location of the kitchen) I thought of Bette’s Ocean View Diner in Berkley . The similarities between Toast and Bette’s certainly stopped immediately after that first impression, and any big fans of the latter please let me apologize for mentioning a very good breakfast spot that has nice food executed by real cooks, in the same article with food prepared by Latinos that don’t have enough concern, or love of food to get the food right…..yet.
Okay it just occurred to me that this post is getting to the point of becoming amazingly long. If you’ve actually made it this far I commend you. Yes, at times I can be very negative towards the restaurant industry. I don’t think that my viewpoint is at all invalid, since I do have a very strong base in the hospitality industry itself. I think this base in hospitality affords me the space to make the comments that I do, and will continue to do. If restaurants in this area really want to become more like the bay area, where true, superior establishments exist, they really need to go back and reexamine how they are going about the concept of hospitality, and get outside of this exclusive idea that they’re there just to make money.

May 25, 2007

She: Luccas with sole

Today we went to Lucca for lunch. When we went in, at first we thought the place was dead--there was one table filled. Then we were asked if we wanted to be seated outside, and behold! Almost every seat was packed. Now, the owners of Lucca's own Roxy, too, which we've had very mixed experiences for... so we weren't sure what we were getting into.

The first thing we found though, was that the atmosphere was great outside. There were a few water fountains in the back, with lemon trees and other vegetation to obscure its proximity to other buildings downtown. Our waiter was (for a change) timely and actually knew the specials. We each ordered one: Mark had the open-faced albacore tuna sandwich topped with boiled egg and a side of fries. I had the Petrale sole fillet with watercress and mashed potatoes. We also ordered the Myzithra cheese flatbread, which came with a tasty lentil and garlic dip, olive pesto dip, as well as olives.

My sole was fabulous. It was delicately sauteed, and covered in a red cream sauce which matched without overwhelming the fish. The mashed potatoes were rich and buttery, and the entire dish was presented prettily, as well. We passed on desert--nothing really jumped out to either of us, and we were comfortably full. The only thing I have to say is...the waiter put down the bill RIGHT in front of Mark. Now, in our enlightened day and age, it should be common practice to put it between a couple. As a woman, I balk at the idea that if I'm with a man--regardless of his age or relationship, seventy percent of the time the bill is given to him. I HATE that. Its a sexist assumption that "the man pays." It may be chivalrous for a man to offer to pay, (or heck, ANYONE else to pay) but not for the waiter to make that assumption. Especially since, like today, the meal went on MY card. I mean...that isn't smart as I am the tipper, as well. :P But, the food was great, atmosphere relaxed and sophisticated.

I did start thinking on the way home about how to make my own fabulous fish--I never make fish at home, it seems, and as summer comes I'd like a few lighter meals in the week. So I scrounged up a few recipes and came up with this:


Get 1 or 2 lbs of sole, or even a flounder, I cup of flour, an egg, a few pinches of salt and pepper, 1-2 cups of tempura crumbs, olive oil, butter.

• Pat the fish to dry with paper towels.
• Roll the fish in flour, then dip into beaten egg. Make sure to take off any excess egg.
• Roll gently in tempura crumbs.
• Place on a plate in the fridge and let it sit for an hour.
• When hour's up, recoat with more crumbs.
• Heat 1 tbs of butter and 1tbs of oil in the pan.
• GENTLY place the fish in the fan, and saute fish on both sides til golden brown. Use medium-high heat, for around 5 minutes each. You must be gentle when you flip the fish over, or it'll break up into a few sections.

If you'd like, once the fish is cooked you can squeeze some lemon or some other citrus onto the fish before serving.