DIY: Kettle Corn

Yesterday was my grandmother’s 97th birthday dinner and at the last minute I decided to make party favors. Last minute meant going shopping for materials after 3pm for a 6:30pm dinner. I was thinking I might need to resort to buying candy. The farmer’s market already closed or I could have bought kettle corn. Who doesn’t like the sweet and salty flavor of kettle corn? My grandma sure does. There are few English words my grandma knows and one of them is popcorn. I became disappointed that I didn’t think of the kettle corn idea earlier, but then I thought why not try to make kettle corn. I already had all the ingredients at home so all I needed were the bags. $1.99 for twenty-five clear bags at Michael’s.

I reviewed a few recipes online and decided to just go for it one batch at a time.

Ingredients
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt
IMG_1290.JPG
Add vegetable oil and 3 popcorn kernels in a large non-stick pot over medium-high heat. Cover the pot with a tight lid. Once you have heard the three kernels pop, remove the 3 pieces of popcorn.
IMG_1291.JPG
The oil is at the correct temperature so pour the rest of the kernels and sugar into the pot. Place the lid back on and shake the pot a few times forward and backward to get the oil, kernels, and sugar to blend. When the kernels begin popping, shake the pot every few seconds. When the popping slows down between 2-3 seconds apart, remove from heat and pour into a large bowl quickly. Sprinkle salt over the popped corn.
IMG_1294.JPG
Mix the popcorn and try to separate any clumps. After cooling off for a few minutes, it’s ready to eat or in my case put into bags. I ended up making four batches in order to fill the twenty-five bags. A simple and inexpensive party favor that came out pretty cute. Friends and family were able to enjoy the snack, pre-dinner and were surprised it was home made and wanted the recipe. Some even thought it tasted better than the Farmer’s Market!
IMG_1297-1.JPG
I have a couple of secrets. The first is letting the popcorn cool off a bit before serving. It starts out soft and needs a few minutes to harden. If you eat it right away or put it in the bag too early, it won’t be crispy like it should be. The other secret is using Pop Secret Jumbo Popping Corn.

IMG_1298.JPG
You can now try this at home. Don’t forget the movie!

Manti: A Turkish Delight

Last night I was at a cooking party and the theme was Turkish food. When I learned of the theme, I immediately thought of making manti or meat filled dumplings. I found a recipe online and winged the instructions as I was making them. I had some trouble rolling out the dough, the manti needed more salt, and it seemed to have taken a very long time. Although everyone seemed to have enjoyed the dumplings, I wanted to improve my skills. Since I still had meat filling, I decided to give myself a manti mulligan and have a do over this evening.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of ground beef
1/2 cup of finely chopped onions
8 oz of plain yogurt
1 clove minced garlic
salt and pepper
2 tbsp of your favorite chili oil

Directions:
1. To make the dough, pour two cups of flour and 1/2 tsp salt in a mixing bowl. Add 2 eggs and blend together with your hands. Once eggs are mixed in you, will need to add approximately 1/4 of water to get the dough to form a ball and not stick to your hands. If it gets too wet, add a little more flour. If it gets too dry, add a little more water. Once you get the dough to the correct consistency, cover your bowl with Saran Wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
IMG_1132.JPG
2. Using a cheesecloth or a lot of paper towels, squeeze out the water content from the finely chopped onions. In a bowl, mix the onions to your ground beef and then season with salt and pepper.
IMG_1137.JPG
3. With some practice with my friend’s late father’s pasta maker last night, I did not have to pull out a rolling pin this evening. Divide the dough into four pieces using one piece at a time. Put the remaining dough back in the bowl covered with the Saran Wrap. This keeps the dough from drying out. Roll out the dough in a pasta maker on a thin setting or as thin as you can get with a rolling pin.
IMG_1161.JPG
4. On a floured surface, using a pastry cutter or a knife, cut the sheets into 1 x 1 inch squares.
IMG_1187.JPG
5. Fill each pasta square with a small dab of the meat filling.
IMG_1192.JPG
6. One at a time, take a meat filled square and pull each of the four corners diagonally to the center and squeeze the four sides closed. Place it on a floured baking sheet and repeat until done.
IMG_1203.JPG
Now that you’ve made 1/4 of your dumplings, repeat steps 3, 4, 5, and 6 until you’ve made all the dumplings.

7. Add the dumplings to a large pot of boiling water. Add 1/2 tsp salt. When all the dumplings float to the top, cook for another minute and then remove them from the water onto a large platter.
IMG_1274.JPG
8. Mix the minced garlic into the plain yogurt before spooning on the manti.

9. Drizzle your favorite hot chili oil on the manti.

10. Enjoy!
IMG_1282.JPG
The second time was a charm! The making of them was much smoother than last night. They were better seasoned as well. I love these little dumplings. I have been to a few Turkish restaurants in my life, but never had them as good as these homemade ones I made myself. I guess I’ll have to travel to Turkey to find better.

Love Our Lake Day

My wifi is down so I have no choice but to write this blog post directly from my iPhone 4S. Boy, I can’t wait for the iPhone 6 to come out! The City of Oakland was all about walking and biking today. Love Our Lake Day is an event sponsored by WOBO (Walk Oakland Bike Oakland) which took over many streets down Lakeshore Avenue of Lake Merritt and through Downtown Oakland. My friend and I started on foot from Glenview through Trestle Glen until we got to the Lake. It was still early where the festivities were still being set up so we decided to walk on the Grand Avenue side of Lake Merritt and start from Downtown. Latham Square was the location of one end of the event. To be honest there wasn’t a lot going on there. There was a band playing, one food truck (Docs of the Bay) an ice cream cart, and a table set up by Oaklandish. I got my temporary tattoo and moved on.
20140914-221623.jpg
We walked down 17th Street to get to Latham Square so we took 14th Street to get back to the Lake. The part of the lake with the footbridge was another area with festivities. There were a handful of food trucks and vendors, tables promoting different mayoral candidates, and a very cool stage completely powered by bikes. The best thing in this area was seeing the completion of an art installment located under the bridge. “Undercurrent” is 20 steel columns of light and movement.
IMG_7216.JPG
We made our way up Lakeshore Avenue to El Embarcadero for the end of the festivities. There was another stage powered by bikes, ethnic dancers, and more food trucks and vendors. We were quite hungry now having walked six miles already. I noticed that the food vendor/caterer Marus Kitchen was frying up empanadas to order. I ordered one of the combination plates which had a chicken empanada, beef empanada, and arroz con gandules (a Puerto Rican style rice). It was actually quite good and reasonable for $10 which includes a drink.
IMG_7215.JPG
Today was a beautiful day with perfect Oakland weather. I didn’t feel like it was a crowded event and I’m not sure it was because there truly wasn’t a lot of people or because the event covered so much distance and people were moving. It was great to have the streets closed off for pedestrians on foot and bicyclists young and old. I was pleasantly surprised by the bands as well. I had a nice time at Love Our Lake Day. My only recommendation is to have a lot more food trucks and food vendors at this event in the future. After all this walking or biking, people need sustenance.

Taro Root Ice Cream: Western Flare to an Eastern Celebration

Tonight my family had a traditional Chinese dinner to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Taro, a root vegetable grown in various parts of the world is a typical ingredient that is eaten for this occasion.
IMG_1121.JPG
Taro is said to bring good luck and wealth. I can always use both luck and fortune so I decided to make something with taro. My friend let me borrow me her ice cream maker a couple of months ago. I was unsuccessful in trying to make a basil sorbet so here was my opportunity to redeem myself. I looked up a recipe for taro ice cream.

Ingredients
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups grated taro
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 can coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
salt to taste
IMG_1091.JPG
Directions
Melt butter in a medium saucepan under low heat. Add taro and blend, stirring for a few minutes. Next add whipping cream, coconut milk, and sugar. Turn up heat to medium high. Stir continuously. When the mixture has a low boil, turn the heat down to low. Cover pan and continue to cook the taro down, stirring occasionally for approximately 20 minutes. Turn off heat and add some salt to taste.
IMG_1102.JPG
Pour contents into a blender and turn on high speed until smooth, about a minute.
IMG_1103.JPG
Transfer contents into a container and put into fridge for a few hours. I was under time constraints so I put mine in the freezer for about 90 minutes.

Pour into an ice cream machine and follow directions of the machine. (You would have needed to freeze your ice cream cylinder the night before.)
IMG_1110.JPG
I transferred my ice cream back into a container and placed it back into the freezer for another 90 minutes to harden.

I also whipped up some taro chips. I thinly sliced some taro.
IMG_1101.JPG
When my deep fryer (another borrowed appliance) reached 375 degrees, I placed a handful of taro in the hot oil. They are ready when they turn translucent, approximately 2-3 minutes.
IMG_1106.JPG
Pour over paper towels to soak oil and then salt them.
IMG_1105.JPG
So how’d it all turn out?
IMG_1114.JPG
My family enjoyed it. For me, the chips came out awesome and it was so easy. The flavor of my ice cream was delicious, but it was too thick for my taste. Well, I can say my ice cream skills are improving. Maybe it’s time to try a more traditional flavor – like strawberry. But what’s the fun in that?

Plumed Horse: For Special Celebrations

Earlier this month, I was invited to celebrate the birthdays of some of my close friends who were born in August. We celebrated fancy by dining at the Plumed Horse in Saratoga, a Michelin star restaurant.
IMG_1078.JPG
We all agreed to order the Chef Tasting Menu so here goes…

Cannoli with Salmon Mousse
IMG_1085.JPG
Tuna Carpaccio with Toybox Tomatoes
IMG_1071.JPG
Australian King Prawn with spaghetti squash, zucchini blossom, and crisp basil
IMG_1070.JPG
Black Pepper and Parmesan soufflé (My personal favorite)
IMG_1069.JPG
Alaskan Halibut with gooseberry, toybox tomatoes, and bacon vinaigrette
IMG_1080.JPG
Maine Lobster Risotto with shaved black Australian truffle (they were generous with the shavings)
IMG_1083.JPG
Semolina gnocchi with duck egg, Surryano ham, and Parmesan broth
IMG_1081.JPG
Sonoma Lamb with potato gratin, chanterelle mushrooms, and roasted lamb jus
IMG_1082.JPG
Coconut semifreddo with pickled green strawberry, micro basil, and strawberry consommé
IMG_1074.JPG
Valrhona Chocolate Neapolitan with raspberry and white chocolate mousse
IMG_1073.JPG
Outside the tasting menu, we ordered the white peach soufflé to share
IMG_1075.JPG
One of the waiters brought us each a truffle on a stick
IMG_1084.JPG
Another bonus birthday dessert
IMG_1076.JPG
This dinner was quite an event as plate after plate after plate was presented to us. The plating was picture perfect. ( Unfortunately the lighting didn’t allow me to capture it well.). It reminded me that food is art. Everything we ate was delicious. I can understand why they are Michelin rated.

The dining experience was very special because you feel privileged to be enjoying the meal. If you have a special occasion, the Plumed Horse might very well be a good choice to celebrate. Or if your name is Chelsea Handler and you happen to have a performance, you may want to dine here as well. (Celeb sighting as she was sitting at the table next to us.)

Grand Lake Kitchen: French Toast Battle

IMG_1063.JPGThis morning my friend and I went to breakfast at the Grand Lake Kitchen (GLK) on Grand Avenue in Oakland. My BFF posted a mouthwatering photo of the French toast she had at GLK a couple of weeks ago which prompted us to go.

GLK is a small neighborhood restaurant with counter bar seating and a couple of tables inside and several tables outside. We arrived shortly after 9:00am and already had to wait. The waiting wasn’t bad because they will offer you a mug to get your self service coffee while you wait. We were second on the waitlist so it took about fifteen minutes for us to be seated outside.
IMG_1062.JPG
My friend came to GLK already knowing she would order the French toast with seasonal fruit. Today the fruit was peaches. After reviewing the menu, I thought I would get the savory French toast and we could do a taste test.

The sweet French toast was served with Vermont maple syrup. The texture of the toast was crispy on the outside and custard-like on the inside. The fresh peaches were roasted to a soft, sweet consistency that was delightful. This French toast was amazing. This was going to be hard to beat.
IMG_1064.JPG
I have never heard of a savory French toast but I was intrigued by the creativity of the elements going into this dish. My French toast came with rye bread, poached eggs, wild mushrooms, parmesan, arugula, and herb oil. I had the added Prosciutto Di Parma. The eggs were perfectly poached with runny yolks spilling out as you cut into them. I loved the sautéed mushrooms. The arugula, herb oil, and grated Parmesan added freshness and flavor. I enjoyed the additional level of sophistication from the prosciutto.
IMG_1065.JPG
My friend was quite clear that her sweet French toast won the battle. I, who would take a bag of potato chips over a cookie, was on the fence. I liked them equally the same. I would like to enjoy both. There was a couple next to us that were each having their own plate of savory French toast. About halfway through their meal, one order of sweet French toast came for them to share. That is what I’m talking about.

I asked one of the employees whether it was the sweet or savory French toast that has the most sales. She indicated it was the savory, but it was definitely close. It’s worth visiting GLK to make your own decision. In the meantime, I’ll be deciding when’s my next visit to GLK and what I’ll try next. They are open everyday except Tuesday from 9am-9:30pm.

Ice Cream Filled Donut: The New Craze?

Last weekend, my friends and I spent the weekend in Lake Tahoe. On our drive home, we stopped in Sacramento to a shop called The Parlor for what could possibly be the newest craze. The Parlor calls the snack an Ice Cream Puff, which is basically a donut that is split open and stuffed with ice cream with the option of adding toppings.
IMG_0986.JPG
The Parlor doesn’t bake their own donuts nor do they make their own ice cream. They have relationships with vendors who make the products for them. I thought the donut was ok, but the ice cream was better than average. They had unique flavors as well.

Another shop that makes a similar product is Baker’s Donuts in South Sacramento and they call them “Ice Glazers.” Makes you wonder if this will be the new craze and whether the shops have trademarked the names.

The choice of donuts when we were at the Parlor was either the glazed donut or the apple fritter. My friends and I all chose the glazed donut, but chose different ice cream flavors.
IMG_0991.JPG
One of my friends and I decided we would each get a different flavor and split them. My Ice Cream Puff was the sea salt caramel which is caramel ice cream with a pinch of sea salt. Unfortunately my ice cream filling was melting really quickly and the donut was barely warm.
IMG_0998.JPG
My friend whom I was sharing with ordered the Green Machine which was mint ice cream with crushed Oreo cookies. The results of her Ice Cream Puff was better. The donut was a little warmer and the ice cream stayed firm.
IMG_0995.JPG
My other two friends ordered the best flavor we tried. Midnight in Paris is coffee ice cream with Nutella chocolate chips. They added toasted almonds as a topping which gave it additional texture. It was not attractive looking because it looked like a pate’ sandwich.
IMG_1045.JPG
The ice cream was so tasty, that one of my friends ordered an additional cone. Personally, I don’t think the craze should be about an ice cream filled donut, but about the coffee ice cream with Nutella chocolate chips.
IMG_1046.JPG