Thursday, September 2, 2010

What College Students Eat

I moved back to Berkeley about two weeks ago, excited to be back in the city, to see friends, and to actually have an apartment with a kitchen rather than just a dorm room with a microwave.
You may think college student food = ramen and microwavable macaroni and we will undoubtedly be consuming some similar foods over the year.  However, our meals so far have exceeded expectations.  For example, we started out the year with homemade wontons.  My roommate's parents really deserve all the credit, but we did help out a little.  That is, we attempted to learn how to stuff and wrap them as Frank's mother and father cranked out professional status ones at a much faster pace.  Still, in a matter of time, wontons were piling up on platters everywhere, spread over our small kitchen table.  They were cooked, boiled, and devoured a few minutes later.  Yum.

The first Sunday the four of us were together and all moved in, we decided to have friends over for pancakes.  For me, at least, Sunday pancakes is practically a tradition.  At home my dad would wake us up on Sunday mornings by telling us that blueberry or banana pancakes were on the table.  Aside from maybe yelling "fire!" I can't think of many better ways to get someone out of bed.
Having friends come together at the breakfast table made me feel like I was back at home again with my family.  It was a nice way to reunite with friends some of us hadn't seen in several months and to share summer stories.  Better yet, we had some awesome pancakes. Okay, maybe we used pancake mix, but it's what we added to them that made the difference.  My friend Airi, who I blame for first introducing me to Tastespotting and other food porn sites, found a pancake recipe with peaches and rosemary.  Since she had the ingredients, we decided to try them out.  Dylan added peaches to the pancake batter and then after they cooked, we topped them with fresh, thinly sliced peach slivers and sprinkles of rosemary.  After drizzling a little maple syrup, they were ready to eat.  It was my first time with peach pancakes but I'd definitely be down to have them again.  The rosemary was an interesting addition, but I really liked it and am now curious as to how it would taste mixed into the batter rather than just used as a garnish.
We have had several other nice meals but I think I'll save them for later posts just in case we do start to live off of canned beans and peanut butter sandwiches, leaving me with no pretty pictures.  Stasa, one of my other roommates who happens to be able to flip crepes like a pro and invent dishes on the spot, is planning a pasta carbonara dinner this Friday so I think we should be continuing to eat well for a while.  I will need to devote a post to her creations sometime soon.  Now, I'm off to class. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blackberry Kuchen

Kuchen is the German word for cake, but whenever anyone in my family uses the word, we are referring to this particular dessert.  What's great about this recipe is that it's easy to make, hard to screw up, and it works with so many different kinds of berries and other fruits.  It's also really good.  Besides blackberries, I've had this kuchen with blueberries, apricots, plums, peaches, and more.  I would like to try it with raspberries or a mixture of several kinds of berries one day.
My grandmother dropped a blackberry kuchen off at our house the other night, made with the last of the berries from down by our creek.  Although we had it for dessert after dinner, this kuchen recipe serves as an excellent breakfast or brunch dish.  I think blackberry kuchen is my favorite kind, but go ahead and try it with whatever fruit you have lying around the house.  It'll probably turn out equally delicious!
Out of laziness, but also because my grandmother has cute handwriting, I'm just posting a picture of the recipe she gave to my family a while ago instead of typing it all out.  

A Monday Brunch

...with chocolate French toast!

One thing I love about summer vacation is that even if it's the middle of the week, you can still relax outside, drink some fresh-squeezed orange juice, and enjoy a leisurely brunch with friends.  And if you're friends with my friends, go ahead and add "indulge in some delicious chocolate French toast" to that list.  Since I already consider normal French toast to be a synonym for perfection, I was curious to see what would happen when my friend, Emma, said she was making it with chocolate, one of the world's greatest inventions.  What would happen when you add two perfect things together?  Would it result in some insanely perfect creation that only a god could eat, or would the blending of these two majesties clash horribly and cause some sort of disaster that would destroy the universe?  I didn't have long to wait.

When I arrived at Emma's house, one of Vacaville's gorgeous historic homes, homemade bread and freshly picked oranges were already resting on the counter.  As we chatted, Emma sliced the loaf into triangles, dipped the slices into an egg batter swirled with spices, and started cooking the French toast in a frying pan over the oven.
Then, after heating the slices for a while, she springled semisweet chocolate chips on the bread and folded one slice on top of the other, creating a sort of chocolate french toast sandwich.

When they were done cooking, we took the food outside, passed around the syrup and some cinnamon sugar, and eagerly cut into the slices.  Chocolate oozed out of mine and mixed into the warm, maple syrup.  The chocolate flavor was at first subtle amongst the taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and egg in the bread, but grew stronger as I made my way to the ooey gooey chocolatey center.  I thought it was fantastic, and definitely a great French toast variation.  Better yet, the French toast and chocolate went together wonderfully, leaving the world intact. 
Emma was inspired to make this chocolate French toast after trying some from Joan's on Third in Los Angeles.  Now I must visit this place. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Putah Creek Cafe

I move into my apartment in Berkeley on Friday so I am trying to enjoy as much good home cooking and tasty local restaurant food as I can in these last few days.  I'd say so far I'm succeeding.  This week, my grandma not only brought over three types of baked goods on separate days including peanut butter chocolate bars and fresh out of the oven banana muffins, but she also took my mom and me out to a delicious dinner in Winters.  Note to self: remember to be as awesome as your grandma when you have grandchildren.  We had been planning on getting tapas at Ficelle since I have never been (everyone tells me it's pretty great), but as the owners were gone that night, we decided to head across the street to Putah Creek Cafe.
Filming for the Food Network show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, is currently in progress this month at the restaurant, which is exciting since Winters is our small, but charming, neighboring town.  Hearing this news only made me anticipate the meal even more.  Putah Creek Cafe is located right across the street from the Buckhorn and is under the same ownership.  In the outside seating area, you can watch pizzas going in and out of a wood fire oven.  Inside, the atmosphere is comfortable and there are wooden tables with fresh flowers and large windows, allowing for a nice view of downtown Winters.  
The three of us decided to split 3 sides and a vegetarian pizza.  Since I don't have a menu and can't locate one online, I'll just post some pictures and describe the dishes as I remember them.  
We ended up with a fresh and tasty tomato and mozzarella salad,  

Corn pancakes with lox,
and delicious, crab cakes!
Then our pizza came out of the oven, topped with caramelized onions, peppers, artichoke hearts, and more.
Even though we were all pretty full, we couldn't leave without trying one of the enticing baked items in the glass case up front.  After mulling over the menu for a few minutes we decided to split a piece of chocolate cake.  When it turned up, we realized we should have ordered a few extra people along with our extra napkins, since the one slice was more like a quarter of a cake.  The cake was moist and especially chocolatey, the latter being a feature that immediately earns high marks from both my grandma and myself.  I'm glad I got her dessert taste bud genes.  Leftovers were brought home to a hungry Ryo and we left satisfied and happy!  
Since Putah Creek Cafe is very popular for breakfast, I'd definitely like to return sometime during the morning hours.  It'll probably have to wait until the next time I'm home from school.
P.S.  As you may have noticed, this post has more pictures than writing.  That's because I realized I won't have Ryo photographing all of my culinary adventures when I'm at school and therefore decided to finally purchase a DSLR camera of my own.  I ordered a Nikon D3000 and have been trying to test it out a lot.  Yeah, it's not as nice as his or as many other bloggers', but it'll work for me.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Portland, Part 1: Food Carts

One of my favorite things about our recent trip to Portland?  Definitely the food carts.  Food carts are genius.  Need to grab something quick during your lunch hour? Food cart.  Too excited about exploring the city to sit down?  Food cart.  Just want a cheap, quality meal?  Food cart.  In Portland, there are hundreds.  There's the Thai food cart that sells out daily, the cart devoted to grilled cheese, Korean fusion carts, Czechoslovakian food carts, and for basically anything you could possibly be craving while walking the streets of Portland--yes, there's a cart for that. 
bloop, the oatmeal food cart in Portland.
We sampled several food carts during our trip, but I'm going to start with the one I found most exciting.  Browsing the local carts on, I happened upon bloop, the oatmeal cart.  Over the last year I've made the drastic change from oatmeal despiser to oatmeal fanatic.  I used to only be able to swallow a bite or two before I was back to wondering who in their right mind would eat a bowl of mush for a breakfast.  Now, I swear, I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and occasionally I do).  I'll make it over the stove, add some blueberries, sliced bananas, a pinch of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey, and it's a great meal.  Oats are healthy whole grains, they're filling, and they're a fantastic way to start your day.  A bowl of warm oatmeal with fresh fruit is little short of perfection.  Don't ask me why I was so against it before.  It's good to know some people change for the better.  
Back to bloop.  After discovering the cart online, bloop was automatically transcribed into my internal itinerary so Monday morning I walked a few blocks from our hotel and located it on 3rd and Washington.  I was already impressed that a food cart specializing in oatmeal existed, but when I saw the cart, it had something else going for it.  This thing was cute!  I won't waste time describing it, so just check out the pictures.
close-up of bloop's "Peanut Butter Banana Dreams" oatmeal
I ordered the Peanut Butter Banana dreams oatmeal, described above, and which was voted one of the "10 Best Street Eats in America" by Men's Health magazine.  After taking the first warm, chewy bite, my verdict was already decided: de-lishhhh-ous.  But how could it not be when it's called "Peanut Butter Banana Dreams" with a chalkboard description that'll make your mouth water?  My dad tried the simple oatmeal with just almond milk, oatmeal and brown sugar, and my mom got the same thing but with an addition of cherries.  Both were similarly awesome.
Simple oatmeal with cherries
All of the menu options are vegan and all of them sound great.  I'm going to have to find some almond milk and try to recreate a few of them.  If that fails, I guess I'll just have to come up with another good excuse to go to Portland.

All of the other meals we had at the food carts were lunches.  Ryo tried burritos at two different Mexican food carts and rated them both pretty highly.  My parents and I had Korean burritos at a cart called Korean Twist.  These burritos contained bean sprouts, spicy chicken, rice, spicy sauce and some other veggies.  I'd never had anything like it before, but after trying these, I wish I had!  Unfortunately our hunger prevented us from snapping some pictures of these meals, but trust me, they looked and tasted great.
Handmade mozzarella sandwich from the Portland Soup Co.
On our first day my mom wanted to stop at the Portland Soup Company cart since she'd seen a video about it online.  She and I each had the sandwich with handmade mozzarella, fresh basil, marinated roma tomatoes, balsamic syrup, and roasted garlic aioli.  My dad had to try the slow smoked pork butt sandwich with purple cabbage apple slaw.  You couldn't go wrong with either choice.

Next time you're in Portland, try a few of the carts, and give me some recommendations for future visits!  Now excuse me while I go make some oatmeal. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Taste of Berkeley

I went down to Berkeley yesterday with my mom to drop a few things off at my apartment and somehow managed to eat a Souffle Pancake at Bette's Oceanview Diner, a few slices of Cheeseboard pizza, and a cone of ice cream from Ici.  It's not every day that I get to eat that much good food from not one, not two, but three quality sources. I'm still savoring yesterday's meals.  Let me just say, if you're on the fence about attending UC Berkeley let the abundance of fantastic restaurants in the city shove you onto the right side.  
First stop was brunch at Bette's on Fourth Street.  My parents have been many times but yesterday was my first time actually sitting down for a meal there.  One day, after making the mistake of walking from past campus all the way to Fourth Street (note: take a bus unless you have hours to kill and some comfortable shoes), I stopped at Bette's To-Go right next door to the diner.  You can pick up bakery items there, or, in my case, a nice and refreshing organic frozen yogurt.  But never before had I stepped foot into the restaurant, which is a little surprising considering that I'm in love with breakfast/brunch.  
We had about a twenty minute wait before getting a table, but easily filled the time exploring the surrounding shops on Fourth Street.  When we were seated, I already knew what I was going to order from researching the menu, so spent my time taking in the homey, comfortable atmosphere amidst the hustle and bustle of quick but friendly waiters carrying steaming plates of blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs.  I also observed the delicious dishes of the people around and behind me with the help of mirrors that lined the cute diner.  Yes, I was that hungry.  I had ordered a seasonal fruit Souffle Pancake, a favorite at the restaurant and which also appeared on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network.  When it came it looked a little like the picture below.  Only better.  Ryo wasn't there to snap the photos with his nice Nikon, so I couldn't give the wonderful food I ate as much justice as it all deserved.  Also, you have to be able to smell it and, well, eat it, to get the entire experience. 

Seasonal Fruit Souffle Pancake from Bette's Oceanview Diner
If you're like me you're probably wondering what this Souffle Pancake is.  After finishing it off, I would describe it as a really light and fluffy pancake that tastes a little like a huge popover with tons of fruit.  At the diner they make it in a pan and cook it over the stove and in the oven to get it all puffy, warm, and delicious.  My mom ordered some great lox scrambled eggs but after tasting some of the Souffle Pancake decided she would have to order it next time too.  I have never eaten something for breakfast with such a fluffy texture and am now tempted to find their recipe and try it out myself.   They sell a book containing some of their recipes called The Pancake Handbook at the front of the shop.  Maybe I'll have to acquire one.

The Daily Pizza and Salad at Cheeseboard Pizza Collective

After browsing and shopping a little and stopping by my apartment, it was about dinner time so we headed down to the Cheeseboard Pizza Collective on Shattuck.  Cheeseboard deserves an entire post of its own so one day we'll get some really nice pictures, eat several slices a piece, and write one.  For now, I'll just say the pizza at Cheeseboard is incredible.  It's a favorite of many, raved about constantly, and also very affordable, especially in contrast to its neighbor across the street, the great Chez Panisse.  So, go to Berkeley and eat a few slices!  It's equally owned and operated by the Cheeseboard Collective and they make one kind of vegetarian pizza to serve all day.  My mom and I had the pizza, as described on the chalkboard in the picture above, along with a salad a piece.  I would have never even considered putting corn on pizza, but man, is it a good idea--at least if it's on a Cheeseboard pizza.  I've only been a couple times which is a shame, but I'm already dying to go back.  I just can't stop thinking about it.  I think I'll take Ryo before school starts again. 
Cheeseboard is closed for the next week I believe, but you can check out the week's daily pizzas here.  If you live in the area, you might want to bookmark the link too.
Pizza from Cheeseboard.  Go get some.

Even though eating a couple slices of amazing Cheeseboard pizza is enough to keep you in a really good mood for a long while, we just had to grab some Ici ice cream on College Avenue before we left since my mom had never been.  Usually the line is tremendously long after dinner time, but we had eaten earlier than usual and since the fall semester hasn't started we didn't have to wait long at all.  At Ici, ice cream is handmade every day from organic ingredients.  There are 11 flavors that change daily and range from your generic flavors to the more interesting and exotic.  Pay a visit for yourself to see what cool flavors they have to offer you.  
When we went, I ended up getting the oatmeal-chocolate chip in one of their crunchy and sweet hand-rolled cones with chocolate tips.  My mom got the rose vanilla flavor.  Both were great and made for the perfectly sweet end to a fun summer day trip.
Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream from Ici

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blackberry Crumble Tart

Hey, it's Syd, and yes, it's blackberries again.  But this time it's not just your everyday cobbler or the garnish on a cake, it's cute mini blackberry crumble tarts!  With the help of my good friend Talia who came up with the idea and shared the recipe, we had the dough made, blackberries picked, and tarts baked in only a couple hours this afternoon.  As a recommendation from Talia, I knew they would turn out great and immediately jumped at her suggestion. Whenever I'm over at her house it is so common for someone to be pulling something warm and delicious out of the oven that if I didn't know better I would have guessed I had mistakenly entered a bakery.
We made the dough and crumb topping for the tarts first so they could cool in the fridge while we picked the berries.  Then after coming back with two colanders filled with the fruit and only a few scratches (we wore full-on rain boots for extra protection--laugh all you want, it helped!) we rolled out the dough and cut out circles.  Talia had brought adorable never before used mini tart tins so we molded the crust,
piled them high with juicy blackberries, 
sprinkled on the topping with almonds,
 and popped them in the oven!

This recipe was adapted from Gourmet's "Raspberry Crumble Tart."  We substituted blackberries for the raspberries and used the same dough and topping but baked the tarts in small individual tins rather than making one big tart that you have to cut.  When it comes to baking, I usually think smaller = cuter = better. 

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening (but we just used butter)
1/2 tsp. salt
5-7 Tbsp. ice water
3/4 cups sliced almonds
3/4 cups sugar
6 cups blackberries
For the dough: Blend flour, butter, shortening (or butter), and salt together in a bowl until the mixture is crumbly with some small lumps of butter.  You could pulse it in a food processor but we just used our fingers to get it to this consistency.  If you're making one big tart, transfer two cups of the mixture to a separate bowl and reserve the rest for the topping.  However, if you're making mini tarts like we did, transfer more, maybe around 3 cups.  (We transferred two cups and had way too much topping leftover that could have instead been used to make more tart crusts.)  Stir about 3-4 tablespoons of ice water into the transferred mixture with a fork and chill for an hour or so.  During this time, make the topping and pick berries!
For the topping: Add almonds and sugar to the reserved dough mixture and mix with hands until clumps form.  We let the topping chill along with the dough mixture while we were picking.
To assemble tarts: Preheat oven to 375 F.  Roll out dough with floured rolling pin on lightly floured surface.  We actually rolled it out between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, but either way should work.  Then cut out circles to fit whatever size tart tins you are using.  The thickness should be similar to a pie crust.  Mold the dough into the tins, fill them with the berries, and sprinkle evenly with the topping.  Bake until topping and crust are golden and filling is bubbling.  Ours went for about 45 minutes but oven time can vary based on tin size, as will number of tarts produced.  Cover with a foil sheet, if crust seems to be browning too much.  Finally, when tarts are done, let them cool a little and then enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Beautiful Blackberries

Hey guys, it's Ryo again. A while ago, I decided to get a macro lens to make my food photography a little better. I searched every nook and cranny of Ebay and Craigslist and I couldn't find anything that was within my price range. Finally, I found a Vivitar 90mm 2.8 on Ebay for a reasonable price. I'm still figuring it out, but I think it's really cool. As well as shooting pictures of food, I'm planning on taking pictures of flowers and insects, like this guy here.
It's blackberry season, which means it's time to go down to the giant blackberry bush to harvest the marvelous fruit. Blackberry picking has never been one of my favorite things to do because every twig and leaf is covered with sharp and poky thorns. Sometimes the blackberry juice on your fingers fools you into thinking that you are bleeding quite profusely from your hands. However, the displeasure of picking blackberries is often overshadowed by the tastiness of the treats that is made with them.
With the blackberries we picked today, I decided to make a blackberry-blueberry cobbler. I adapted the recipe from Ellie Krieger's "Mixed Berry Cobbler." The recipe is here. We used about 4 cups blackberries and 2 cups blueberries. Thanks to Ellie and Food Network, the cobbler turned out to be easy to make as well as delicious.
Blackberry-Blueberry Cobbler
Here are a couple more shots taken with the new lens:
Crape Myrtle Background
Cobbler Close-Up

Friday, July 23, 2010

Linguini with Everything

The Creation

Last night I risked everything and tried making dinner without a recipe.  I guess for the more experienced this might even be a pretty normal thing to do, but considering that I have only recently been spending more time in the kitchen, it was a little more of a challenge.  Fortunately the only people whose taste buds could be disappointed if the dish turned into an atrocity were my immediate family members so I didn't have to be too worried.  If I screwed up, I could live with it, and they'd still have to live with me.  Well, hopefully.  I shouldn't push my luck but I'd hope not to be kicked out of the house and sent back to Berkeley a few weeks early all because of one less than satisfactory meal.  
Anyway, none of that applies because everyone enjoyed the dish.  This is what I made: linguini with green zucchini, yellow zucchini, bell peppers, onion, garlic, basil, sungold tomatoes, thai chilis, chili pepper flakes, a cherry tomato sauce, shrimp, and goat cheese.  In other words, basically everything in our kitchen.  I wanted to use up a lot of vegetables since I knew we'd be getting a new box the next day so I just grabbed everything I saw on the counter or in the fridge that seemed like it had the potential to work in a pasta.  The baby shrimpies were added for protein and because they're just so delicious (and cute!).  To make the sauce I just sauteed everything little by little starting with a tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic and onions and gradually adding the rest of the vegetables, pureed red cherry tomatoes, and spices.  I tossed in the sungold tomatoes near the end and the shrimp last.  Then, just before pouring the mixture over the pasta, I stirred in a couple ounces of goat cheese.  This was inspired by the spinach pasta with goat cheese on the menu at Mescolanza on Clement St. in San Francisco (we went last weekend and thought it was pretty good-especially the bruschetta). The goat cheese really adds flavor and gives the pasta a nice texure, making it creamier.  The linguini was a little spicy because of the 2 thai chilis I added, leftover from the green curry, but the spicy flavor went well with all the ingredients.  We set a few hot rolls from Trader Joe's on the table, seasoned the linguini with a little salt and pepper, and the meal was complete.
This success in creating a meal more complicated than a sandwich without a recipe has given me a little more confidence and I will definitely try more dishes in the future without instructions.  It's much more exciting and gives you the chance to express some creativity at the same time.