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.