Wednesday, February 29, 2012

10 things to do at Brazos Bend State Park

  1. Petting snakes and alligators.
  2. Climbing trees.
  3. Rolling down the hill and getting all dizzy and muddy.
  4. Riding a bike along the nature trails, getting lost and too tired to pedal back.
  5. Spotting herons and ravens and pretend that they are talking to you.
  6. Getting pooped on while napping innocently on your stroller.
  7. Picking flowers for your Mom and your Aunts so they can compete to see who has the biggest pile.
  8. Having a picnic, eating Popeye's fried chicken and drinking Starbucks instant iced coffee.
  9. Gathering sticks and see who has the biggest one.
  10. Feeding the coin vortex and catching it before it falls in so you can replay the same coin again.  You can only do this on the day there’s no one around.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You get what you pay for - Azuma Sushi & Robata Bar

Lunch time.  Where to do?  Such ‘weighty’ decisions to be made each day.

Today, Groupon Now helped me make a choice! 

$20 for $40 worth of food at Azuma Sushi & Robata Bar. 

Checked out their menu online.  The appetizer menu looked so good:  cold soft tofu, grilled whole squid, pork belly - Berkshire pork belly, tofu skin, egg, shimeji mushrooms, Japanese mustard.  They had me at pork belly!  I still have my pork belly obsession after trying it at South City Kitchen in Atlanta. 

We wanted to try their robata (Japanese grill) dish, so we ordered the Combo 6 kinds ($16) with gesso squid, caledonia shrimp, pork belly, angus new york strip, shiitake mushroom, and shishito pepper.

An order of Crazy Irishman Roll ($12) of salmon, tuna, avocado, green soybean paper flash fried, spicy mayo, unagi sauce, green onions, and masago.

And one order of Azuma Beef ($17) – angus new york strip simmering in iron konro.

We must order at least of $40 worth of food!  Yes, we are on a ‘diet.’
The roll was the best dish we ordered, but even so, it was nowhere comparable to Kaneyama’s.  The wasabi had no kick.  At all.  I ate the raw wasabi and nothing, no pungent, no tingling, just like green flour paste.  Yuck! 

On the robata, I liked the grilled squid the most.  It was crunchy with just a bit of chew, neutral flavor.  Everything else was so mediocre.  The beef was tough and chewy.  But most disappointing was the pork belly. Berkshire pork is known for its flavor and tenderness due to its high fat content.  These pork pieces were so lean and dry and flavorless and had no fat on it whatsoever.  I wondered where the ‘belly’ went.

The Azuma beef was again, tough, chewy with a sweet teriyaki flavor.  It’s the worse dish of the meal.

For $17, it tasted worse than any dish on Fufu Cafe‘s $5.50 lunch special.  However, unlike Fufu CafĂ©, I hope Azuma wouldn’t serve you a dish that they had mistakenly served to another table, let it get cold for 10 minutes, fetched it and tried to serve it to you. When you told them that you wouldn’t eat something that’s been sitting at someone else’s table for 10 minutes, they brought the dish to the back of the restaurant, (spit on it for all you know), brought it back out 30 seconds later, and tried to sell you that it was a new dish, which normally took 20 minutes to steam.  Like you would be so stupid not to notice the same dumplings with the same soy sauce stain at the exact same spot on the dish. 

While you were disgusted with their tactic, you wouldn’t want to be such a cheapskate making a scene for a $4.50 dish.  Principles be damn, so you went ahead and forked up the money to pay for it.  What’s more, you wouldn’t even dare stiffing them on their tip because the next time you came there, there might be spittle in your food.  And yes, you would go there again because you just couldn’t beat a $5.50 lunch for such awesome greasy artery-clogging food.

But I digressed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Belly Fat Cure and Tie-Dyed Cupcakes

Two weeks.  10 pounds.  I’d even settle for 5 pounds. 

So I checked out “The Belly Fat Cure” by Jorge Cruise.  Gosh it sounded so promising.  “Drop 4 to 9 lbs a week without dieting.”  My kind of ‘cure.’ 

Spent the morning skimming though the book.  To follow through this program, I would have to limit myself to 15g of sugar and about 120g complex-carb a day.  I looked at my morning cup of coffee.  Oops, there went the 15g of sugar for today!

I was excited the first 30 minutes reading and looking at pictures of the success stories.  Oh I can do this!  After all, I don’t have to be on a diet.  Just limit my carb intake, and eat everything else.  The next 30 minutes brought despair.  No “real” dessert!!  Guess that’s not the lifestyle for me.

So after sharing the information on the Belly Fat Cure with my sister during lunch, we decided to make cupcakes.  The ones that she liked so much before.  With the awesome icing.  And mango mousse.  Maybe we can fill the cupcakes with mango mousse.  Well, that ‘diet’ was just doom from the start.

I had to retrace my steps to remember which cupcakes she meant.  I’ve made so many, and tried all different recipes.  I traced my steps back to The Pioneer Woman blog.  I didn’t use her cupcake recipe because she used shortening instead of butter.  Reading the comments led me to this cupcake recipe.  A good basic white cupcakes recipe.  And I’d better post it here so I can refer to it later.

I only made one change from the recipe.  I used cake flour instead of AP flour.  And I weighted my cake flour. 

3/4 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar (I cut out 1/2 cup of sugar from the original recipe as I don't like my cake very sweet)
3 large eggs
3 cups (310g) cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon almond extract 

For detail instructions, visit Inside Nanabread's Head.

All ingredients should be at room temperature.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Add dry and wet ingredients alternately. 

Scrape down, beat mixture in high speed for 30 seconds to make sure everything is mixed in well.  The batter made really nice ribbons.

In the latest copy of March 2012 Saveur magazine, the main feature was called Best Cakes Ever.  I learnt this tip about mixing the ingredients.  “Most home bakers learn not to beat their batter in order to prevent the formation of gluten, which leads to a tougher crumb.  While this may be a concern when using all-purpose flour, cake batter is less prone to gluten production.  And beating a cake batter for a short period of time actually helps smooth and aerate it.  Once the batter is just mixed, beat it on high speed for five seconds.  You will notice that it immediately transforms into a smooth emulsion, ensuring that the ingredients are evenly dispersed.”   

Using my hand mixer, I beat it for 30 seconds on highest setting.

Oven 350F, I baked mine for 18 minutes. 

The original recipe called for 18 cupcakes.  They rise very high in oven, but deflated once cooled.  I can probably stretch it to make 24 cupcakes.  However, I was also trying to do tie-dyed cupcakes, so I wasted some cake batter in all the different bowls.

Scooping cake batter into cupcakes.

Swirl them.  I didn’t mix the bottom four cupcakes, and they came out color-blocking. 

The middle one is one of the bottom four cupcakes above.  The other three were quickly consumed the minute they were out of the oven as my nieces’ first picks.

Cupcake was moist, light and tender.  Half of them were gone before I can even make the frosting.

Oh frosting!

That's why we wanted to make cupcakes in the first place.  Last time, the icing was so good.  But I want to make sure it wasn't just a fluke last time.  With me, flukes happen.  So I have to try it again before making them for my nephew’s birthday.  People outside of my family would be there, who might even eat my baking.

That's the best frosting I've ever had.  Well I wouldn't go so far to claim it, but it was quite tasty.  Especially if you don’t like the overly sweet, typical buttercream frosting made with butter and confectioner sugar.  I’ve read somewhere that the cornstarch in confectioner sugar makes frosting taste ‘off,’ and I couldn’t agree more.  Well, maybe except for the cream cheese icing, on carrot cake.  Yum!

Anyway, this frosting is quite good, and so easy to make.  The first time I made this frosting, I followed the instruction to a T.  I waited for the flour and milk mixture to thicken to a brownie consistency.  By the time it cooled, it turned into a hard paste, and I couldn’t get it to smooth out enough for the icing, no matter how long I beat.  This time, I just thickened it to a cake batter consistency, and when it cooled, it got to the brownie consistency, and my icing came out so much better.

Again, recipe for my reference, and in case the other site goes down.  More than likely though, this site will go down first.

5 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar

Mix flour and milk.  Thicken on low heat.  Cool.

Beat butter and sugar until smooth, which took quite a long time on my hand mixer.  The 25-year-old Sunbeam mixer that has been passed down from my Mom has finally died last week.  It’s been collecting dust most of the time in the last 25 years though.

Add the flour and milk mixture and mix.  Continue mixing.  Until you are tired of holding the hand mixer.  Or when you worry about your stand mixer overheated.  I wouldn’t know.  I didn’t mix it that long. I only had one hand-mixer left.

The final masterpiece.

And I meant final.  It was the last one left. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New Blog!

Just created this new blog today.  
Testing posting-via-email feature, with a picture taken in Brazos Bend SP.