20 Jun

“Kheer Royale” Entremet

I can’t believe it’s already been more than a year since I stopped writing. Since I started school and started having a series of kitchen classes that last 3 weeks each, I couldn’t find much time to write, all in honesty. I started school in March of 2011, and it is already June of 2012 now. I can’t even begin to tell you how much my life has changed since then.  So far, I have survived 8 kitchen classes and one 5 month long externship. 6 classes before the externship were focused on basic baking and pastry techniques, and the 2 classes that I took so far after the externship are more advanced and specialized which I enjoy very much as it is challenging in many different ways. My externship was from the day of Halloween last year till about Easter this year at the Bouchon bakery at the Rockefeller Center in the City. It was the first winter season the Bouchon had at the Rock center – so you can only imagine how busy we were during the season! My shift would start at 4AM on the dot, so having to wake up at 3 in the morning everyday was not always easy, but I learned a lot of valuable skills and lessons. At the end of the day, externship is a great experience where you get a taste of what the real industry is like. I think that’s why the post-externship classes are so much better – each individual has a better idea of what skills s/he wants to further develop.

Gum paste flower spray

Roughly two years ago I decided to change my career – from Advertising to Pastry. Two years after, I can confidently say that it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I’m finally doing what I love and am passionate about day in and day out, and there is something very satisfying and fulfilling about it. Don’t get me wrong, it is physically and mentally challenging, but wonderful and beautiful things start to happen when you do something you like. I take pride in what I do everyday, and I find myself pushing myself everyday because I want to be better each and everyday. I used to be happy being decent at doing my job in previous fields, but in this field, I want to be as best as I could be. That’s probably why Steve Jobs said to do what you love. I now have a clear direction in which I am progressing, and I have never felt better about myself in my life. So I encourage all of you to never give up on the things that you love doing, that give you a sense of self. It may look like too much of an adventure, but trust me, wonderful and magical things will start to happen.

Fondant cake design

Being a pastry chef is by all means NOT an easy task. One has to have nice and even hand skills, able to communicate effectively, quick on their feet, able to make good executive decisions, have artistic abilities, be a good business person, efficient and organized, be a perfectionist, have physical stamina, have attention for details, and so on and so forth. The list could go on for another paragraph or two. I’m constantly fighting myself everyday to push myself on all of these things. It still frustrates me sometimes that I have so much more to learn. But it is like being an artist, of a pro golfer – there is no end to it. But that’s what makes it fun – there is always a room for improvement. It’s the hope that drives me, that one day I will have become who I want to become. And today I am hopeful, as I will be in coming days, months, and years.

Welcome to the C.I.A. – no, not THAT C.I.A.

30 Mar

CIA’s main building – The Roth Hall

In case anyone is wondering what I’ve been up to all this time while I disappeared, I moved up to Hyde Park, NY to begin my culinary education at the famed C.I.A. Hyde Park is right above Poughkeepsie on Route 9, which is about 1.5 hours from the City by train. Its location is actually very beneficial to anyone who is interested in a culinary profession because a) it’s close to the global capital of gastronomy A.K.A. New York City, and b) it’s in the heart of the Hudson valley where fresh produce and ethically raised meats are readily available.

At the C.I.A.,  food really is life.

The Colavita center of Italian food studies

Vintage clock on a sunny day

I came up to school without knowing what to expect. But may I say that I was pleasantly surprised to find it very resourceful and well-structured? The school was bigger than I had imagined – there are +2,000 students, with the facilities such as the big main building “Roth hall”, 4 restaurants and 1 bakery café, the “Conrad Hilton” library, the recreational center, and the dorms. Unlike most other culinary schools, the C.I.A. offers a full college experience – though the academic courses are structured a little differently. Each semester here is divided into blocks of 6 weeks, and the blocks are designed to maximize the flow of learning. Since most of the academic courses last for 6 weeks, the pace of it all is quite intense. Moreover, the classes here could start at any hour. For instance, when the culinary students have a breakfast class, they ought to wake up at 2:30 AM. That’s right, AM. But as intense as it is, the school is dedicated to preparing the young professionals to lead the culinary industry. The school is designed not only to teach students skills, but the in’s and out’s of the industry, so they can apply the knowledge out in the reality. I like that part a lot.

View from my dorm

Geese hang out in and around the pond

View of the Hudson river

Aside from its superb academic program, the campus is very pretty. There are trees all around, birds chirping, geese playing around the pond, and you can even see stars at night. There is a pond right by the Rosenthal hall (which is where I am staying at), where pairs of geese swim and walk around all day long. I was surprised at how they don’t fear us human beings. They walk across the road to the grass field every afternoon and eat, regardless of the passers-by. Co-existing with the nature reminds me of the ecological and the ethical part of our food sources – it reminds me that the meats and vegetables that I eat everyday don’t just appear on the table. Whether it be for an educational purpose or for an aesthetic purpose, being surrounded by the beautiful nature is inspiring indeed. I can’t wait till spring when produces start to grow in the gardens here.

Ferran Adrià

Ferran Adrià panel discussion

Another perk of being here is being exposed to accomplished chefs of the world. I got lucky in that I chose to start in March, because we had a number of important figures at the school. To begin with, we had chef Ferran Adrià of the infamous el Bulli where one could secure a reservation only years in advance if he or she gets lucky. Often called to be Salvador Dali of the culinary industry, his creations are really out of this world. Adam from A Life Worth Eating explains well of his dining experience at el Bulli. Having a real visionary in front of your eyes is pretty exciting – kind of like how a 15-year old girl would feel if she saw Justin Bieber, or any straight male would feel about Angelina Jolie. You get the picture.

5 Volumes of food sorcery – Modernist Cuisine

Volume N.1

Next, we had an honor of seeing Nathan Myhrvold, who has been the right arm of Bill Gates at the Microsoft before he left. The billionaire loves food so much that he built a kitchen lab for the chefs to experiment and come up with answers to questions such as how to make a consistent omelet for 10,000 guests and so on. The collaboration has fruited in 5 volumes of cookbook, Modernist Cuisine, which has been praised by David Chang as the cookbook that will end all cookbooks. It’s a series of cookbooks that will change the way we look at food. And I’ll be honest here – I had no knowledge of who Nathan Myhrvold was until I was exposed to him here at the C.I.A. It was just another reminder to myself that I have much more to see and to learn.

The third visitor will be the legendary Paul Bocuse – one of the founding fathers of the Nouvelle Cuisine. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see a textbook figure in person. This will truly be a once in a life time experience. This will be like meeting Elvis Presley in person if he was still alive.

Smoked salmon salad at the Apple Pie Bakery Café in Roth Hall

Overall, I’m very excited about the school. Its resources and the environment are perfect for growing chefs of the future. I can’t wait for my life to unfurl herein the next 21 months. Check back soon for more!

I would go thousand layers for you, mille feuille

3 Jan

Mille feuille au citron

I had bought a few blocks of french butter from Dean & Deluca recently. They had more kinds of french butter than I had ever seen before. I got myself lost in the imported butter section of the market, Ea-sily. I picked up one of each kind from Lescure (what I am already used to) to Échiré (Yes!!!). I remember having Échiré slathered toasted baguette at the Café Les Deux Magots in Paris – and you bet I was in heaven. I couldn’t forget that very taste for months, even after I came back from the trip. So you can only imagine how excited I was when I found it again at the little corner of Dean & Deluca in New York City.

Le beurre, Échiré

Échiré is located on the west of France in Poitou-Charentes region. It’s a mid-point between La Rochelle and Poitiers. It’s also very close from Celles-sur-Belle which is another big butter producer in the region. These blocks of French butter are made from cultured cream, so they have this unmistakable taste and aroma of a cross between crème fraîche and sweet cream. It has its prestigious label of the A.O.C. beurre des Deux-Sèvres. Here A.O.C. stands for Appellation d’origine contrôlée, which literally means controlled designation of origin. The French government protects superior agricultural products such as wine, cheese, and butter by enforcing the set standards on every designated terroir. For instance, only two regions are recognized for butter – Isigny region and Poitou-Charentes region. In order to have the A.O.C. status, it has to come from within the two designated region, and it also has to meet the set A.O.C. production standards.  This way, the tradition and the excellence can long live and carry over generations.

Encasing the precious block of butter

So having this prestigious butter on hand, I needed to do something that does this product justice. As energy-consuming as it is, pâte feuilletée (puff pastry) was the only thing that I could think of that would make sense. This particular butter has about 84% of butter fat ( European butter has 82+%, and American 80-81%), so it would make really flaky layers. I had made palmiers with the puff pastry before, so I wanted to try something new, and mille feuille came to mind. Mille feuille literally means a thousand layers. It’s many layers, and oh-so-good. And also, it requires labor of love.♥

So let’s get to it. For the puff pastry you’ll need…
…to preheat oven to 400F 
200 g flour
70 g melted butter + a pinch of salt
80 g water
150 g firm cold butter

First sift the flour into a bowl, and melt butter in a microwave (it’s just easy that way). Add a pinch of salt into the melted butter and mix so the heat dissolves salt into butter. Add the water to the melted butter, and slowly mix the whole thing into flour. Mix and knead to form a ball. It doesn’t need to be very smooth looking at this stage, so avoid working the dough too hard. Wrap with plastic and let it rest in the fridge while you prepare the beurrage. Place the block of butter between parchment paper and flatten it out with a dough roller. You want to make sure that the butter block is malleable so it rolls out smooth when it gets laminated later. Wrap and place return to fridge.

Now, take the détrempe out onto a board and make a cross incision on top with a sharp knife. Turn the dough so the incision is now X, instead of a cross. With a dough roller, roll out from the center out to create a dough envelope like the picture above. Place the beurrage in the center and encase. Make sure not to encase air. Later on the air bubble can pop and tear the dough. Once you have a laminated dough, we’re ready to roll.

Carefully roll out the dough using a roller (or an empty bottle wrapped in plastic). When you have a long rectangle turn it 90°, divide the longer side into 3 with eyes, and fold the right and left third onto the middle to create 3 layers. Roll it out to a long rectangle, and repeat the same procedure. Wrap it and let it rest in the fridge for 20-30 mins. Repeat this at least twice more, and your dough will be ready to be baked.

Baked puff pastry sheets of three

Take the finished puff pastry dough out from the fridge, and roll out into a thin sheet. Then take a docker or a fork to create many mini steam holes so it’ll bake nicely without puffing up ugly. Place it on a sheet tray and put another sheet tray on top so the sheet bakes evenly. Without the even weight on top, the puff sheet won’t bake flat. And we all know that ugly baked puff pastry means sad you, because of the sheer volume of work that goes into it. So make sure you bake your baby right. Bake for about 25 mins, or until the puff is all baked and caramelized. If the puff isn’t fully baked, the layers won’t flake but stick. So make sure to bake it through.

While the puff is being baked in the oven, make the crème pâtissière, or what we call pastry cream. Pastry cream is versatile, and it’s quite easy to make. For that you’ll need…

500 mL whole milk
3 egg yolks
1 egg
100 g sugar
50 g flour, sifted
1 vanilla bean, scraped

In a bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar, then slowly combine the sifted flour. Meanwhile, heat up the milk with vanilla bean. When the milk comes to boil, take it off the heat and whisk in 3/4 of it into the egg mixture. When the egg mixture is tempered with milk, pour it back to the pot and bring it to a boil. Make sure to whisk, whisk, whisk so the bottom doesn’t scorch. When you see the thick mixture bubbling up, that’s when it’s done. So take it off the heat and pass it through a sieve. Place the still warm pastry cream onto a plastic wrapped tray and put a wrap directly on top, so the skin doesn’t form. Let it cool in the fridge.

Flaky layers

By the time you’re done with the pastry cream, the puff should be about ready. When it’s done, take out the sheet and cut into a rectangle with a serrated knife. Depending on what size and shape you want your mille feuille to be, cut the big rectangle into smaller rectangles. Be careful not to smash the puff and destroy it, it’s very sensitive!

I decided to make the classic, tri-layered mille feuille, so I cut mine into equal size of three. The puff pastry sheet came out SUPER flaky, and nicely caramelized. It was kind of unreal when I had a huge rectangle of buttery flaky layers right in front of my eyes. For me, it’s one of those things that I would eat on my deathbed. Well, more than anything though, I just felt satisfied for doing the butter justice – the successful puff pastry was mainly possible because of its higher butterfat percentage. It makes all the work so worth it!

Pastry cream on puff pastry

Now for the assembly, pipe the pastry cream using a pastry bag on the bottom layer (you can use the Ziploc bag and cut off a corner too if you don’t have a pastry bag). Place another layer on top, and repeat. Place the final layer on top. You can sprinkle the top with some powdered sugar, or glaze with white fondant glaze. I made a quick icing with powdered sugar and lemon juice and glazed the top. Believe it of not, that lemon juice was a saving grace as it gave a burst of citrus and cut through the butteriness. My roommate really liked the citrus, creaminess, and butteriness all in one bite. But especially the citrus.

Mille feuille au citron

I must say that it is pretty damn satisfying when you have 1) flaky buttery layers, 2) creamy (but not heavy) pastry cream, and 3) a flash of sweetness and the citrus zing all together in one bite. Or maybe it’s just how the labor of love tastes like. But either way, I feel that the end product was worth spending the whole day in the kitchen on a lazy Sunday when I could have taken a nap or been out with friends. Now that I know how it works, I am definitely trying another variation next time. But until then… I will enjoy these thousand layers.

Stepping with the right food forward

2 Jan

Espresso gelato with hazelnut wafers – Happy 2011!

I started this blog a year ago after a cozy dinner in Gramercy with my friend Nathalie on a cold night. Knowing me very well, she suggested that I start a blog that will further help me explore my true passion. And lucky me, after a year of baking, cooking, and writing, I am now reborn – I’m walking on the path of a pastry chef! 2010 was a real adventure for me in that sense – I chose to leave behind the job that I didn’t feel passionate enough about, and got on the sweet ladder. Writing this blog has enabled me to convince myself, and my family that being in the pastry kitchen is what makes me happy.

Now that I have found my path, I only have to walk on the path this year. I promised myself that I will never give up on this new found path of mine, that I will always find my way back somehow if I ever got lost. I will be starting at the CIA at the end of May, and I can’t wait. It’ll be the beginning of a great journey (don’t worry, it’s only 1.5 hrs away from the city. I am not going away to another planet!!). It’ll be intense though when the school starts, but I know that it’ll only make me stronger!!! Apart from starting a school, my goal this year is to get healthier, and to stay active. Working at the kitchen on 12-14 hr shifts, I have neglected my own well-being these past few months. I made another promise to myself that I will find the healthy, happy medium where I feel balanced.

What were some of your highlights in 2010, and what do you want in the new year? Whatever it may be, I wish you all a great start to another year, another decade. May your life (and tummy) be filled with sweetness!

Brown sugar lemon scone with apricot jam and sweetened whipped butter

So speaking of starting the year right, I decided to do so by cooking more at home. On the new year’s eve, I cooked up some penne alla vodka with sweet sausage, peas, and mint to celebrate the year’s end. And on the new year’s day, I made a herb-roasted poussin and steak salad to celebrate the year’s beginning. This morning, I baked some scones to keep the good momentum going. I didn’t have any orange or dried fruits on hand, so I decided to make plain scones with a twist. I used brown sugar instead of white sugar, and I added a spoonful of lemon oil to lighten up the flavors. It’s so easy to make, I made them in no time.

You will need…

…to preheat oven to 375F
2 cups flour
4 tbsp baking powder
A pinch salt
8 TBSP butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon oil (optional)
3/2 cup milk
1 egg

Sift the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix in the sugar. Add the butter (cold cubes) into the dry, and cut into mealy consistency with fingers. Once all the butter is cut into the dry, add in the lemon oil, followed by the milk and egg mixture. Once it comes into a ball, roll it out to about an inch thickness and cut into triangles or circles, or any shape you want your scones to look like. Bake them in the oven for about 15 mins, or until they’re golden brown on top. It’s so easy!

It’s good with tea in the afternoon too!

Good thing about baking these scones is that not only you can eat them for breakfast, but you can save some for later and have it with tea in the afternoon. I took mine with apricot jam and some sweetened and whipped butter – man oh man, nothing beats the freshly baked flaky butter goods. I didn’t have it on hand, but lemon curd would go well with it  as well. I love how citrus not only brightens the palate, but my whole day as well. It made my day.

I’m getting slightly hungry again. I think I’m gonna go have some more of them scones with a cup of good earl grey. Well, happy eating and happy new year everyone!


Singing in the rain (in Seattle)

26 Dec

Signature sculpture of SAM (Seattle Art Museum)

One sleepless night in New York when I was talking to my friend M who lives in Seattle, I decided to hop on a plane and go visit Seattle on a whim for a weekend. I told myself that it’s OK because 1) I’ve never been to Seattle, 2) I get to visit my friend, 3) I always wanted to go somewhere on a whim. A weekend is a short time to visit a city, but in hindsight, I’m glad I took this trip. It is always good to see a new place, new things, and new people. It is a good reminder to me that there are people living outside the city. New York is a great place to be, but sometimes it’s easy to get blackholed in it, like that’s the only place on earth. On JetBlue, the air fare wasn’t so bad either, so thank you JetBlue, and thank you M for showing me around town through the Seattle rain.

Top Pot doughnuts of Seattle

I left the JFK on Friday around 2pm, and got to Seattle around 5pm local time (because there is that 3 hr difference). Since it was already a dinner time, we headed to Purple to get some wine and food after a quick drive-through around town. Purple was spacious and chic. I think I’m so used to being cramped in small NY restaurants that this restaurant freaked me out a little bit. Like it was too good to be true. I know, it’s sad. Anyways, back to the restaurant, they had a good selection of wines, and friendly staff. After having a couple glasses of wine, and some decadent creamy, cheesy pasta dish, we walked around downtown a bit. If Paris was the city of light of the world, Seattle would be the city of light of the U.S. It’s got that vintage theater district kind of charm, with lots of light sparkles everywhere.

The next day, tired and hungry, we headed to the local doughnut joint, Top Pot. We were like zombies pre-coffee, so getting coffee and lots of sugar sounded like a fine idea. The place was set up like a nice and tall library, where downstairs is the counter, and the upstairs is the seating area, with tall book shelves around the walls. I’m not used to eating doughnuts for breakfast, but surprisingly there were lots of local peeps waiting in line to get some. I got a couple doughnuts, and I must say they were pretty good. I would still vote for the NYC’s Doughnut plant, but definitely not bad at all. Especially when I was hungry and cranky, it was just what the doctor had ordered. Bingo. Jack pot. Top pot. Maybe I had too much sugar…

Pike place market

After we got our caffeine and sugar fix, we headed to the Pike place market. The market was huge. They had everything from amazing looking fresh produce to fresh seafood to local food products and local art crafts. I could just roam around the market for hours trying different foods and looking at different crafts. Before I started serious tryouts, we walked around to skim through the market. I didn’t go in because there were way too many people, but I did walk by the original Starbucks. I guess it’s one of those things you have to do as a tourist in Seattle, like it or not. But oh my, the place was jam packed. Viva la Starbucks.

Apple fritters

Beecher’s cheese shop

The coolest fish

Fried everything

Freshly made mini donuts at the market

Chukar cherries of Seattle – so good!

There were so many bakeries, and cafés around. It rains a lot in Seattle, so I guess I could see why it makes sense for the locals to sit at a café and talk or write or people watch or do whatever it is pleases them. As we walked by the shops, we just spontaneously walked into shops that looked interesting. Beecher’s is a cheese shop where they produce their own cheese, unlike many cheese importer shops. If I had the means to do it, I totally would’ve picked up their ready-made “The best mac & cheese in the world.” But knowing that I was going to be out for the day, I couldn’t pick it up then carry it around like a schmuck. Maybe next time.

We walked through the fish mongers after seeing the shops on the side. Just looking at the fresh seafood made me happy, like I was home. I was happy looking at most everything, but I just had to do an oyster shooter, which was only 2 dollars. It was sooo good, like that big, fresh burst of sea in your mouth. In retrospect, I should’ve done about 20 more of those shooters. There is nothing like fresh oysters, it shoots me off the roof. Hence the oyster “shooter” I guess. Ha ha.

Aside from the seafood, there were lots of fried stuff. Fried fish, fried oysters, fried clams, fried chips, and I found fried chicken organs. This one spot had fried hearts, gizzard, liver, and so on. I didn’t try them, but it’s definitely something I haven’t seen around in NYC.

Speaking of fried, there was a couple doughnut stands where the automated machine piped mini donut rings into the hot oil. They looked so good, but I just couldn’t do them after eating so much of the Top Pot doughnuts. :(

The market also had an ample amount of dried fruits and nuts. There were all kinds of coated nuts. They looked good, but I knew it’s something I could make at home too. On the other hand, there was a stand where they were selling dried fruits, cherries specifically. Apparently Chukar is quite famous in Seattle – it’s the stuff you’ll find at the airports, etc. I bought some dried cherry medley bags for myself and for my mom, because she loves a good trail mix. I bought a bag for myself so I can use them for baking, but it was so good I ended up eating them all up, only in a couple of days. I’ll just have to order some more online later.

Post Alley

Wall art

More wall art

Wall of gum

Somebody went to Duke, or their name is Duke, or they like someone named Duke, or they have a dog named Duke…

The close up – gross but kind of cool how artsy it looks

Naughty Nellie used to be a well known hooker on the street. A local ale is now named after her

Missing 4 1/2 yr old burrito unicorn

If you see a burrito unicorn, please call. They really miss him…

The alley ways around the market were wonderfully hip, bizarre, and artsy. There were cool wall arts everywhere, and the tourists like me who were taking pictures of them. One of the most interesting wall art was the wall of gum. Somebody started sticking the chewed gum up the wall and people just started following it. Now the wall is full of colorful chewing gum. It’s very pop artsy. It’s kind of gross in a way, but still very cool. I never would’ve guessed that Seattle is so fabulously hipster chic like this. Well, probably because all I knew about Seattle was that 1) it rains, 2) starbucks is from here, 3) the space needle is here (which is like the Seattle version of our Empire state building). But seeing and learning about its original and hip culture, I felt closer to the city. I guess you could say that the city and I were bonding.

On our way out to the waters, we found this MISSING posters on one of the walls – they were looking for a 4 1/2 yr old burrito unicorn. We surely couldn’t find him, but maybe someone could (actually, I wouldn’t even be surprised if a bunch of stoned peeps called the number already and reported a possession of 4 1/2 yr old burrito unicorn…). Anyways, it made us LOL pretty hard, so whoever put up the poster, thank you.

Deep fried prawns and oysters, not to miss a tall glass of beer to wash’em down with!

A seagull by the water

We started walking a little further away from the market, closer towards the waters. There were a number of restaurants and stands offering fried seafood. Getting slightly hungry and tired from walking, and being cold from the drizzly Seattle weather, I insisted on getting some deep fried oysters and shrimps with a cold glass of beer. It just seemed like something I HAD to do. I didn’t want to miss out on it and regret later (like the oyster shooters and the mini donuts at the market). I’m not a big fan of deep fried stuff, but I was ready to take it down. I must say these deep fried seafood did the trick though. I was happy as a clam when I was done eating!

After getting my fried food fix, we went to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) to catch the Picasso exhibit. I was very excited because I actually missed this stuff when I was in Paris last year. Last summer in Paris, I went over to the Musée de Picasso, only to learn that it was closed for about 2 1/2 yrs for a renovation. So to catch what I have missed in Paris was just wonderful. I didn’t feel like walking in the rain anymore either, so it worked out perfectly. There were a lot of peeps (strangely many middle aged couples who seemed to be on a date), probably because it was a weekend, and probably because it was drizzly and cold outside. And probably because Picasso sort of is a big deal. It was a lot of stuff to digest, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his work. It was well organized, so it was quite easy to follow his changing style. He was the kind of artist who didn’t settle for anything but to be ahead of the curve. True visionary in that sense. By the end of that evening, I was feeling as good as it gets in Seattle. (NYC, take that!!!)

West lake, where I stayed

Red Mill Burgers

The next morning, we grabbed a good cup of latte and drove around the other side of the town, where Bill Gates and the alikes reside. It was rainy, but still pretty to look at. The tall and skinny trees were everywhere, something I would never see on the east coast. I also liked how close it was from the waters. Seattle was a very good mix of metropolitan and the burbs, but also with the warm and cozy town feel to it. After a long drive through the Seattle rain, we were ready for a greasy breakfast. And at that point, I couldn’t think of anything but burgers. So we headed to the red mill burgers for a quick fix. It was a cute joint – I wasn’t knocked out by it, but it was still good. If anything, I knew I could only get it in Seattle. After that big burger, I was ready for a sunday nap. Zzzzz.

Bimbos in Capitol Hill

Awesome burritos here


Sadly, this night was the last night in Seattle. I was scheduled to leave at 11 PM, going back home  on a red eye flight. But that didn’t stop me from taking advantage of what Seattle has to offer. We headed over to  the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is kind of like a mix between Brooklyn and Chelsea. It’s very hipster, very cool, and very LGBT. It’s a place where I feel like home, but still original enough to believe that I’m somewhere else. Parking is pain in the arse especially on weekends, but it surely has the cool hipsters streaming in, as it is one of the most exciting and fun neighborhoods of Seattle. Passing through many cool shops and bars on the side, we went into to M’s favorite burrito spot, Bimbos. We ordered some burritos (doh!), chips, and a pitcher of sangria, and may I say that the food here was excellent, and the pricing, very reasonable. Staff were friendly, and fellow restaurant-goers very hip. If I lived in Seattle, this would surely become one of my favorite spots. I’m not a big fan of sour cream, but their cumin sour cream was just so good, I ended up licking it with my finger. I’m not sure whether it was because I was hungry, or I was already tipsy, or I was just happy, but it was that good. Overall, I would highly recommend. There is also a bar downstairs, but didn’t have enough time to check it out. So that will have to be another “next time.”

Seattle’s cream cheese dog

Cupcake Royale

Mini chocolate/salted caramel cupcake

Chill + vibrant deco inside

As full as I was from the dinner, I still wanted something sweet to close the deal. So we started walking over to Cupcake Royale, mainly because that was the only sweets shop we saw in the vicinity. On the way, I saw a hot dog sign where it said cream cheese hot dogs. M told me that Seattlers take their hot dogs with cream cheese, which I thought was a bit confusing because I would think of Philly instantly with anything cream cheese. I would have tried it had I not been ridiculously full. Actually I’m sure I can try making at home.

Anyhoo, Cupcake Royale was chill and vibrant inside. I’m not even a big cupcake fan, so I just kind of walked in with no expectation, only with one mission that I will get myself some sweets. I ordered a small latte with a mini chocolate/salted caramel cupcake. And 10 seconds. That’s all it took me to finish that delicious little cake. The cake was very moist, and the ganache, just right. It wasn’t too sweet, too rich, nor too dry, but just scrumptious enough to give you that satisfaction. In fact, it was so good that I picked up another one so I can have it in the early AM when I land in JFK for breakfast. The nice lady at the counter also gave me a sticker for free that reads “Legalize Frostitution” in hot pink. Sharing is Caring indeed.

The famous Space Needle

After walking around a bit to digest all the food, we hopped on a car to get to the airport. And M insisted that he won’t let me go without taking a good picture of the famous Space Needle. So we stopped by quickly to get a full shot of it. I guess you would have to take a picture of either Empire state, Statue of Liberty, or Chrysler if you were in NY. I would’ve regretted like there is no tomorrow if I didn’t take this picture, so thank you M. In fact, it was a perfect wrap to the short but sweet Seattle weekend trip.

I will remember the city fondly, and will be sure to come back soon.

Rainy day treats

4 Dec

Sablé cookies

This wednesday in NYC, it rained quite a bit. Actually, earlier in the day, it wasn’t so rainy. Then towards noon, it started pouring down. And for some stupid reason, I thought it would be a great idea to walk around and get some shopping done. And you bet I was a royal mess by the end of the trail – highlight was getting soaked in a dirty puddle water thanks to the nonchalant driving-by cab. With the shopping bags in both hands, I just had to be standing by the biggest water puddle there was. Oh how everything goes wrong when you put down first the wrong foot.

So anyways, when I got home, I was wet and cold, and had a craving for something warm and comforting. Then I remembered that the french butter cookies I made last weekend at my sister’s place came out super buttery and comforting. These french butter cookies, namely Sablé, are good in a plain way. On the same line of thought, I decided to make some good old madeleines as well. Like Proust said, it’s one of those plain but good treats that take you places across time.

In french, sable means sand. So sablé means “sand-like.” The name comes from its crumbly sand-like texture. And since butter will be a main flavoring agent, it’s important to get good quality butter. If you follow my blog, you would know how much I love good quality butter (I think that’s what makes the world a better place). Also, the yolks that are separated from fresh eggs. Making these cookies are quite easy. All you need is 5 egg yolks, 250g butter, 500g flour, 20g baking powder, 200g sugar, and one vanilla bean (you can use vanilla paste as well or omit it all together). Sift the dry ingredients together, and in a separate bowl, combine egg yolks and the sugar. Scraped vanilla bean can go into the egg yolk mixture. Then mix in softened room-temp butter to the dry ingredients and combine well to form a ball without working too hard. To that, add in the egg yolk mixture. And that’s it. Could it have been any easier??

Now, this is what I do next. I put the dough ball on a parchment, top it off with another parchment. Then roll it out with an empty wine bottle I use as a roller (if you have a real dough roller, even better!!). Because the dough is still soft, it rolls out easier and faster. Then I put it on a tray and pop it in the fridge for half hour or so. That way it’s much cleaner and easier to cut out into circles (or whichever shape you like). Once you have the cut out cookies on a tray, brush the top with egg wash (just one egg beaten will do). Off it goes in the oven at 335F until the cookies are golden and caramelized.


Ever since I bought the madeleine mold pan, I’ve been making them more often than not, just because I feel like I need to get the most out of my investment. Well of course, that’s not the only reason why I make them. I also make them because they’re ridiculously easy to make, and they have this comforting effect on me in an organic way when I bite into them. There are a lot of so called madeleines out there in stores, but I’ve seen many un-authentic ones. They should have a distinct half dome shaped belly in the middle like this, and taste moist and light. I wish I could learn how to make them the real authentic way from a french grandma if I had one. Maybe I will ask my french friends if they ever got their grandma’s recipes.

For now, I use 2 eggs, 80g of flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 80g sugar, 1 TBSP of honey, 80g salted butter, and any flavorings like vanilla extract(I like to use orange oil or lemon oil). First off, whip eggs and sugar along with the flavoring of choice until they double in volume and become pale yellow and creamy. It’s important to whip the eggs well, because if it’s not whipped well, the madeleine will be too dense and not airy. You want to make sure your cake later will be soft and fluffy to the bite, not dense and hard. Once you have the well whipped egg mixture, slowly incorporate sifted dry ingredients and carefully mix in. Mixing it too hard will deflate the air, so mix in just enough that there is no clump. Then, add in the melted butter little by little, and fold the batter to mix. The batter must rest in the fridge for at least an hour before being baked. When you are ready to bake, set the oven at 400F, and butter and flour the mold so they won’t stick. Take out the batter, mix/fluff it through with a spoon, and fill about 2/3 of each shell cavity. Bake at 400F for 5 mins, then turn down the heat to 350F and bake for another 5 mins. Really simple.

Cheap and chic gift ideas, get creative!

Since if I ate everything I made by myself, I would be a hippo by now, I like to share them with friends. It always makes me happy to see them happy. But realistically speaking, if I had to buy the containers all the time, it would get quite expensive. So I get creative. I use empty blueberry containers or salad containers. It’s also just a fun way to share. I like to put little name stickers for each friends too, that way it feels more personal.

But this time around, it was a treat for myself for being soaked in the dirty puddle water. So I ate a lot of them. Eating fresh out of the oven madeleines is like falling into a plush down comforter. I did start to feel better after about 3 of them. Then, I ended up having 5 of the Sablé cookies for breakfast the next morning with a cup of coffee. The cookies tasted better the day after. Soul-nourishing. Was definitely a good treat for myself. Though I must apologize to my waist line for eating so much…

Tarte aux pommes to lighten up the cold NYC weather

19 Nov

Tarte aux pommes et une petite pomme – Apple tart and a small apple

Ever since I bought the tart pan, I’ve been itching to make tarts. Nowadays at Jean-Georges, we make many different things apple for the Apple tasting, so I thought I’ll give it a shot at making a simple apple tart. In any case, I needed something to do to distract me from the crazy NYC weather that just keeps getting colder and colder. The cool thing about this tart is that even though it’s very easy to make, the end result is not only tasty but fancy looking, enough to charm anyone’s socks off. For that matter, I prefer the apple tart over the big apple pie that America is more accustomed to. It’s really a good way to please all senses of the fall and lift up any grey moods.

Pie shell – Pâte brisée sucrée

Tart filled with the compote and zested

Ready to go into the oven!

Simply put, the apple tart is 1) pie shell, 2) apple compote filling, and 3) shaven apple pieces on top. First, I started out by working on the compote filling. I used the green crispin apples, but you can use any other types of apple that are firm enough for cooking – mushy apples such as Mcintosh don’t work. I cored and cubed 4 medium to large apples, and cooked it down with 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 TBSP of water. Once they cook down completely, take it off the heat and cool. Add juice of half lemon to the cooled down compote to bring out the bright apple flavor. I added a tiny bit of orange extract here as well. I find that a bit of orange extract in anything makes people go “What is that?”

For the pie shell, I used the same dough recipe I used for the tarte au flan. 250g flour, 125g butter, 25g sugar, 5g salt, and one egg. I really like this recipe – the pie crust comes out very tasty and flaky every time. I also used french butter to make it, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it tastes so good. It’s just enough butteriness to savor the flavor, but minus the unwanted grease. I usually use Lescure butter, but I couldn’t find it at the store so I used Celles sur belle. French butter tend to produce flakier and crispier crusts due to its higher butter fat than its American cousins. Also the quality of the dairy cream they use over in France makes a big difference in the flavor. Once the pie shell is blind baked at 370F for 10 mins, let it cool.

Then it’s the final stretch. First, make sure the oven is on at 400F. Then on the cooled pie shell, pour in the compote filling, zest one lemon on top. Finally, make thin slices of apple that will go on top of the tart. When making them, I had a bowl of ice water with lemon juice in it ready, so the cut apples don’t oxidize while I prepare them. I used about 2 medium apples, probably because I sliced them thinly. 2-3 should be good for one tart. Core the apple, cut it into quarters, and peel. Then thinly slice the quarters. Easy as pie. Fan them out on the compote filling, then brush melted butter on top of the apples and Voila ! Ready to go into the oven.

Good for all dessert, really.

Depending on the oven, it takes about 35-40 mins. when the apple slices are golden on top, the tart is done. Even I was amazed at how good the tart looked when it came out of the oven. The apple slices make it so much prettier than the good ole’ apple pie we eat. And it’s actually easier to make too. This would be the perfect gift to bring to a Thanksgiving lunch/dinner if you get invited to. It’s simple, pretty, delicious, and it just looks impressive. I guarantee this will wow your host and their guests. No one will know how easy it was to make. ;)

Piece of pie, I mean tart

I gave some to a few friends, and I can tell you that they were very happy. My friend J told me that it’s the hottest piece of pie he’s ever had. And you know, I’ll take that. If it made him happy, it makes me happy. In fact, I think I’m going to bring the tart pan to my sister’s place in Boston this weekend, and make some more for her. I can only imagine how happy she will be, AND how happier she will be if I gave her a piece with a scoop of really good vanilla ice cream. So there it is, I’ll surprise her this weekend with this tart. Everybody Shhhhhhhh Keep it downlow please!