Sunday, November 24, 2013

Apricot Nutmeg Bread

"What's this purring box? Is a cat stuck in there?"

Karla Peering inside the Bread Machine

"When in doubt, sit on it! Show the stranger who's boss!"
Karla Sitting on the Bread Machine
Ever since I unearthed the bread machine from the storage, I've stopped buying bread from the grocery stores. Why buy pricey loaves with loads of additives and preservatives when you can easily make delicious bread with inexpensive and creative ingredients!
Here's a successful Apricot Nutmeg Bread recipe I followed from Taste of Home.  The recipe churns our a firm, dense bread that's perfect for a filling breakfast.  In the future, I'm going to try adding some kind of herb - perhaps sage.

Apricot Nutmeg Bread

Middleton, Wisconsin: National Mustard Museum

 Besides cheese, what other culinary delights can Wisconsinites be proud of?  Apparently, mustard to go on their beloved brats! 

The National Mustard Museum in Middleton shows off 5,566 mustards from all over the world.  The best part are the free samples in the mustard store!  You can get a taste of any mustard in the store by asking a staff in the mustard bar!  I tried the truffle mustard.  Mmmmmm!
National Mustard Museum in Middleton, WI

Mustard Vending Machine

5,566 Mustards!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

No-Name Bao Zi (Filled Buns) and Rou Jia Mo (Meat-filled Burgers) Trailer

I'm starting to see great potential in Madison's Chinese food scene!  I can't believe I said that, but one visit to the bao zi trailer on N. Mills and University Ave. on the University of Wisconsin campus made me somewhat "glass half full!"
I have no idea why the trailer doesn't market itself better with at least a name so admirers can spread the word.  Afterall, they did go as far as paint nearly all that's on their menu on the Chinese...
This awesome trailer focuses on Chinese pork steamed buns 包子 (bao zi) and Shaanxi-style "burgers" 肉夹馍 (rou jia mo).  Besides these two items, they also have daily specials that they write in Chinese.  I don't know what advice to give besides go with a friend who can read Chinese or be adventurous and point to one of the specials to try out.  I believe the bottom special remains the same everyday, 豆浆 (dou jiang) soymilk.  
包子 "Bao Zi" and 肉夹馍 "Ro Jia Mo"

Daily Specials in Chinese

Unlike Dumpling Haus, the bao zi here tastes homemade rather than frozen.  This trailer serves up authentic baozi.  The quality of the filling is high.  It's juicy and flavorful without being too oily.  My fear with dumplings and baozi when I'm eating out is that they would just fill it with low-quality meat or drown the ingredients in oil.  No worries here!  

Shaanxi-style burger and bao zi

The Shaanxi-style burgers are delicious but very different from what is shown in their trailer photo. Instead of sliced roasted pork, the meat is ground or finely shredded and chopped braised pork. It doesn't have the smokiness and crunchiness that I expected from their menu photo. It's also a lot bigger too! Even with these disparities, the burger is juicy, fluffy, and super filling. Perfect for cold, damp days. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tucson, AZ: Sushi in the Desert?

The job that brought me to Madison entailed traveling to different customer sites in the U.S.  The two sites that I was assigned were Tucson, AZ and St. Louis, MO.  I count myself as lucky in that both cities have a wealth of culture, diversity, and amazing food. 
I had never been to Arizona before I started working with the client in Tucson, so I was extremely excited.  When I landed in Tucson for the first time, I embraced the flat roads in the city and the high, dry mountains rising all around.  Everywhere you looked, there were mountains, giant cacti, and blue sky.
My Mom in Awe of the Cacti

Seeing how nice and dry this place is, it makes total sense that my mom asked to eat at a sushi restaurant for dinner when she came to visit me over the weekend.  I told her that she was crazy, but she pointed to an ad in the hotel's "places to see" magazine that featured a picture of a sushi boat.  My mom countered my protests by reasoning, "See! There's a sushi place!  Why would any business owner willingly shoot himself in the foot and open a sushi restaurant that's bound to fail?  It must be good!"
I gave in.  I think it's because Madison doesn't have many options for sushi, and I hoped that my mom was right so that I would have a go-to sushi place when I'm in Tucson.
Ginza Sushi is the name of the restaurant that I thought would give me inauthentic offerings drenched in super sweet teriyaki sauce at best and unfresh fish at worst. 
Ginza Sushi (5425 N. Kolb Rd.)
Boy was I wrong! Just look at the gorgeous Ginza Chirashi.  Yes, I made the photo extra large for your viewing pleasure.

 Ginza Chirashi - Uni (sea urchin), Toro (fatty tuna), Amaebi (sweet shrimp), Tako (octopus), Sake (salmon), Ikura (salmon roe), Hamachi (yellow tail), Akagai (red clam), and Hotatagai (scallop) over rice
Something as simple as raw seafood on a bed of well made Japanese rice can taste this good because it's fresh!  The ingredients aren't hiding under globs of sauce or fancy accoutrements.  My favorite part is allocating the fish roe so that I could pop at least one in my mouth with each bite of rice and seafood.  Mommy's right...sigh.
Mom and I also shared teppan squid with ginger sauce and hamachi kama, which were both delicious.  The squid was tender and smokey.  Mom and I order grilled squid dishes at Japanese restaurants for nostalgic reasons.  Growing up in Honolulu, my parents would always take my brother and me to Shirokya on the weekends and have lunch at their cafeteria.  My mom and I always craved their squid.  After we left Hawaii, grilled Japanese squid just wasn't as easy to find...until I found myself in the desert...
Hamachi Kama is a family favorite as well.  If it's on the menu, we have to have it.  The collar is particularly flavorful and flakey.  It's usually just seasoned lightly with salt and served with a side a ponzu.  Again, simple but the natural flavor of fresh ingredients makes it amazing!
Teppan Squid and Hamachi Kama (broiled yellow tail collar)

Needless to say, I revisited Ginza on subsequent work trips to de-stress:

Agedashi Tofu

Nabeyaki Udon
Yuzu Miso Halibut

Spider Roll
Here are photos of my last meal in Tucson with my co-workers.  What a great way to say goodbye to a great city!:
I can't remember all the different Ginza Special Rolls...

Izakaya - Chicken Karaage, Agedashi Tofu, and Seafood Dynamite
Green Tea and Red Bean Mochi Ice Cream

Green Tea Cheesecake and Tempura Apples
Awesome Co-Workers

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Apple-Banana Coffee Cake with Walnuts and Honey

Ever since I pulled out the bread machine, I've wanted to become a better baker.  I'm the first to admit that baking is difficult for me.  Why is it so difficult to adhere to the damn recipe instructions?!?!  I think my ego gets in the way.  I think I know better than the baker who actually made a successful end product out of the recipe that they shared. "The ingredients on this list are so dull...let me spice it up with..." or "This batter doesn't look right; it looks too dry...let me add some milk..." 

Sometimes, I just can't follow the simplest instructions and things like this happens:

Fail! What was supposed to be a pineapple banana bread.

Until I know the science behind the core ingredients (rising agent - yeast/baking soda-baking powder, sugar - brown/white, flour type, "moisturizer" - butter/oil/honey, liquid - milk/water/yolk/egg white), I really shouldn't try to fuss with the base ingredients or instructions!

However, I can't help but come up with excuses.

This past weekend, I was doing my daily foodgawking and spotted an awesome apple coffee cake with creme fraiche and honey recipe posted by Baking the Goods.  I had most of the ingredients listed in the recipe but was too lazy and budget-oriented to get creme fraiche or use an additional Fuji apple that I had in the fridge.  Instead, of 2 apples, I used 1 apple and 1 super ripe banana (just because it was an eyesore and I wanted to get rid of it).  Instead of creme fraiche, I used whatever yogurt was left in the fridge - blueberry.  I also nixed the yummy crumb topping because I was lazy and wanted to avoid additional sugar and butter.

Please rise properly and taste delicious even though I deviated from the recipe!


This recipe turned out forgiving and I was able to produce a beautiful and delicious Apple-Banana Coffee Cake with Walnuts and Honey!

Apple-Banana Coffee Cake with Walnuts and Honey and
served with Mike's homemade Cranberry Ice Cream

Manna Cafe and Bakery

One of my recurring weekend highlights is sleeping in and getting brunch.  Our favorite spot on the east side is Manna Cafe and Bakery because not only can you get awesome breads and pastries, they offer a number of well made breakfast dishes.
Pastry Case by the Counter

I stupidly neglected to take photos of my breakfasts at Manna so you'll just have to trust me that the dishes are beautiful and delicious.  It's no wonder that Manna is always packed in the mornings.
Mike likes getting the Cravenous Carnivore, which is an egg sandwich with bacon AND sausage, jack cheese and basil pesto.  This gigantic sandwich is also served with fruit and pan-fried potatoes.  We make sure that we sleep in late so we can eat this enormous dish for breakfast and lunch without feeling guilty. 
We also like the various egg scrambles Manna offers, from the standard American ham, cheese and scallion scramble (Wisconsin Sunrise Scramble) to the creative Ojibwe Scramble, which has wild rice, mushroom, bacon and scallions.
Too bad we live on the West side...this means we'll have to get up earlier to make the trek over.