Saturday, September 20, 2014

Restaurant Review: Pacific Catch Fresh Fish Grill

Pacific Catch - dinner on September 5, 2014

I met my friend and former coworker, Michelle, at Pacific Catch one night for dinner. I'd never been there before and I think they're fairly new in the area. They're right next door to Paul Martin's American Grill.
Inside, they remind me of Paul Martin's as well, enough to make me wonder if they're owned by the same people. But I checked both websites and they're not. I think the similarities stem from the fact that they're in the same building built by the same developers.
Fish Tacos
Pacific Catch is fairly casual dining and as their name implies, seafood is the typical order of the day. They also offer "pan-Asian" rice bowls if you're more inclined towards that although those also lean towards seafood. But there are beef and chicken options as well. Michelle got the Mahi Mahi fish tacos with sweet potato fries while I opted for the fish and chips with the chips also being sweet potato fries. I love that sweet potato fries are becoming a more common option on restaurant menus.
Fish n Chips with Sweet Potato Fries
The fish 'n' chips were okay. They weren't bad but I don't know that I found them particularly memorable. The fish was a bit bland and I would've preferred the breading to be a bit more crisp. If I'm going the deep fried route in all its greasy glory, I'd like them to be really worthwhile deep-fried goodness; these just missed the mark although the sweet potato fries helped.
Macadamia Nut Brownie
Fortunately, though, we ordered dessert and the macadamia nut brownie that Michelle ordered made the whole visit completely worthwhile. Macadamias are one of the few nuts I'll tolerate in a brownie and this brownie was superb. Rich, moist, fudgy - everything I could want in a brownie. Enough to make me want to go home and bake my own version. Except I couldn't get up from the table until I'd had a few more spoonfuls.
Bread Pudding
My own dessert was bread pudding and while I adore bread pudding, again, this one hit just the "okay" mark with me. Which is surprising considering how much I love bread pudding and tend to look at most bread puddings with a friendly eye. Like the fish n chips, this wasn't bad but it could've been better. It just didn't have the flavor I love in bread puddings. I don't know if it was their bread being just okay or there not being much sugar in the custard. You'd think the caramel covering the top would've provided enough sweetness but I was looking for that in the bread pudding custard itself. I found myself eating more of Michelle's brownie dessert than my own. Fortunately, she was good about sharing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bakery-Style Double Chocolate Cookies

Bakery-Style Double Chocolate Cookies - made dough September 6, 2014, recipe modified from Whole and Heavenly Oven
I loved the picture of these from Whole and Heavenly Oven and that's usually all it takes to get me to try a new recipe. I made a couple of modifications though. I didn't have coconut sugar and had never heard of it so I used brown sugar which her blog says is acceptable. I also didn't want to use all whole wheat flour as I was afraid that might make the cookies too heavy so I used 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Despite the amount of both flours plus the cocoa powder, the dough was a little softer than I expected. Still, it handled well and the cookies didn't spread much. It did have a wholesome sort of flavor and texture from the whole wheat flour so it's not as smoothly chewy as an all all-purpose flour cookie would be but this is still a good chocolate cookie. I went a bit overboard with sticking chocolate chips all over each dough ball before I baked the cookies but hey, you can't have too many chocolate chips.

1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups white whole wheat flour (I substituted 1 cup of all-purpose flour for 1 cup of wheat flour)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, plus more for topping (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat on medium speed until creamy. Beat in eggs, milk, and vanilla until smooth.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add to liquid mixture, beating on medium speed until mixture forms a dough. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Shape dough into 1-in balls and place on prepared baking sheets. Flatten slightly and press additional chocolate chips on top if desired.
  5. Bake cookies at 350F 8-9 minutes (cookies will be very soft) Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Copycat Sprinkles Red Velvet Cupcakes

Copycat Sprinkles Red Velvet Cupcakes - made September 6, 2014 from Cooking Classy
Remember when I said I bought a red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles so I could compare it to a copycat recipe I was making later the same day? Well, this is the recipe and above is one of the cupcakes I made from it. No, don't get excited that I made an exact copycat of it. At first glance what might make it appear to be exactly like Sprinkles is the iconic dot on top. Uh, that's actually from the Sprinkles cupcake I bought earlier. See, told you it was iconic.
Since I never eat the dot, I thought I'd briefly re-use it for picture taking. It made the copycat cupcake so Sprinkles-looking that I almost got my pictures mixed up when I downloaded them from my camera, wondering which one was real and which was the copycat. Fortunately I had accidentally gotten a couple of - haha - sprinkles of powdered sugar on the dot when I was making the copycat recipe so I was able to figure out which picture was of which.
Dot notwithstanding, I don't know if I would consider this a true copycat of Sprinkles' red velvet cupcake. Maybe because I'd had both cupcakes within a couple of hours of each other so my taste buds were already primed but I think I could tell them apart in a blind taste taste. The taste of the copycat recipe was good but the texture was a bit more dense than the Sprinkles red velvet and it wasn't as moist. I don't think I overbaked it as it wasn't dry. It just wasn't as moist as Sprinkles. And this seemed to have a tad bit more flavor  than Sprinkles. Oh and the frosting isn't like Sprinkles either. I'm convinced Sprinkles' frosting is a plain vanilla frosting rather than a cream cheese frosting. Which is another reason I prefer Sprinkles since I don't normally like cream cheese frostings that much.
One recipe makes twelve cupcakes and I ended up taking the eleven I didn't eat to church the next day to give to the kids in Sunday School. Since I wasn't going to give them a recycled Sprinkles dot, I went with my own sprinkles. And I thought they were quite pretty if I do immodestly say so myself.

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup butter, firm but not cold
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup salted butter or 1/2 cup unsalted butter plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and baking soda, set aside. In a separate large mixing bowl, with an electric hand mixer on medium speed, whip together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. 
  3. Add in eggs one at a time stirring after each addition. Add red food coloring and vanilla extract and mix until combine. In a small mixing bowl (or in the measuring cup you used to measure milk), combine milk and 1 tsp vinegar.
  4. Add milk mixture and flour mixture to cupcake mixture, alternating in two separate batches, mixing until combine after each addition. Divide batter evenly among 15 paper lined muffin cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full. 
  5. Bake in preheated oven 18-21 minutes until toothpick inserted into center of cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 2 minutes in muffin tin, then transfer to wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container to cool completely (this just helps them retain more moisture). Once cooled completely, spread generously with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. In a large mixing bowl, using and electric mixer, whip together butter and cream cheese until pale and fluffy (about 1 minute on high speed, then 3-4 minutes on medium high speed). Mix in vanilla extract. 
  2. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. If doing optional infamous Sprinkles Cupcakes dot on top then scoop out a few tablespoons frosting into two separate bowls and tint with food coloring (lots of red in the one and barely any blue in the other). Spread a small circle of red on top followed by a small light blue, use a toothpick to spread if needed (it helped me get a more circular shape around the edges with its finer point).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bakery Review: Sprinkles Cupcakes

Sprinkles Cupcakes - visited September 6, 2014
I'm very fond of Sprinkles. It has the distinction of being the first cupcakery ever opened, at least according to Cupcake Wars where Sprinkles' founder Candace Nelson serves as a judge. I'd heard about it being open in Beverly Hills but since that's not my usual 'hood, I didn't expect to add Sprinkles to my treat list. At least not until they opened a shop in my area several years ago. It's still a bit far to drive for a cupcake but when they first opened. I joined the throngs lining up to fork over $3.75 for a cupcake.
I still remember that first visit (or, er, those first visits) in the early months of Sprinkles' opening at Stanford Mall. The line went out the door. Dozens of people lined the sidewalks, waiting for their turn to get inside the shop. When you do finally make it in, you line up against a short display length of cupcakes on offer that day and when it's your turn, the counter people write down your name and your order then someone fills your order and rings you up. Sprinkles has some core flavors offered daily then "special" flavors that are rotated on different days of the week and, for the more rare, every day for a certain length of time during the year, usually a few weeks.
They give you a flavor card so you can see which flavors are on offer on any given day of the week. Red Velvet is always on offer and what I first came to know Sprinkles for. Subsequent visits also allowed me to sample the banana cupcake with cream cheese frosting (my favorite), the peanut butter, the coconut, the orange, the pumpkin....well, you get the drift. That first year, I probably visited Sprinkles more times than I care to admit. It couldn't be helped though. It's not like you can load up on cupcakes. I'd like to tell you in my best portion-control voice that it's because each cupcake has approximately 550 calories and I didn't want to consume more than 1 on any given day as almost a third of my daily caloric allotment.
Of course, truth of the matter is, while I do believe in portion control, I also believe more firmly in only eating yummy, delicious, empty calories when they're fresh. Best to go every once in awhile and get 1 fresh cupcake than to stock up and eat subsequent ones when they're no longer at their peak goodness. I can be greedy but I'm greedy with discrimination.
Nowadays, the cupcake craze has faded somewhat and competition has opened around Sprinkles so they're no longer the only game in town. Now, on my most recent visit, there was hardly any line at all and only a few people in the shop on a Saturday morning.
I hadn't been to Sprinkles in awhile so instead of torturing myself with which flavor to choose, I went with the classic Red Velvet. I credit Sprinkles with nurturing my love of good red velvet. Plus I had a copycat recipe for Sprinkles Red Velvet Cupcakes that I was going to try out later that day and I wanted to get a taste of the real thing so I had something to compare to. Again, I go that extra cupcake mile to further my baking research.

Sprinkles has the iconic dot on their cupcakes and it's probably the only thing I never eat. It's pretty, it lets you know you're eating a Sprinkles cupcake but it adds nothing to my flavor palate to eat it so I don't.
I also credit Sprinkles with being one of the few places where I'll actually eat the frosting on the cupcake. Normally I don't because they'll either be too airy like whipped cream or too greasy or too sweet. But I like Sprinkles' frosting. I still can't eat all of it but it's a mark of how well I like it that I scrape less frosting off a Sprinkles cupcake than I do other cupcakes :).
Some people find Sprinkles cupcakes too greasy but I just consider them moist. Yeah, they probably have a ton of butter. Those 550 calories per cupcake have to come from somewhere. I like the texture of Sprinkles as well. I hadn't had a red velvet cupcake from them in awhile (more than a year? I'm slacking) and for some reason the one I got didn't taste as good as I remembered. Hmm, I don't know what that's about. The texture was still good but the flavor wasn't very chocolaty or red velvet-y. Maybe I should've gotten the banana or gone on a day when the orange was available. Something to remember for next time.
In any case, if you do find yourself in the neighborhood of a Sprinkles, I would definitely recommend giving them a try. Even though the cupcake craze has passed, I still enjoy a good one once in awhile.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chocolate Rads

Chocolate Rads - made August 17, 2014 from The Model Bakery Cookbook by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen
This recipe didn't turn out exactly as I had envisioned. But that was my fault. I'd made the dough, following the recipe to the letter but it turned out to be somewhat liquid, more like a cake batter than a cookie dough. Which of course has the power to sufficiently freak me out. With so much chocolate in the batter, the best thing to do is chill and let it set. Then it should have stiffened enough to portion into cookie dough balls.
I tried that, I really did. But after half an hour in the refrigerator, I was only able to scoop out less than a dozen "balls" that threatened to flatten before they froze sufficiently in the freezer. So I decided to hedge my bets and poured the remaining batter (seriously, it was batter) into an 8-inch baking pan and treated them like brownies.
In hindsight, they somewhat turned out as brownies - just on the rich and fudgy side. Which is not a bad thing, mind you. Except....what with beating the mixture so much after the eggs are added, the top formed a substantial crust, bringing out the meringue properties of highly beaten eggs. I don't like meringues or crusts on my brownies. These didn't cut cleanly because of the crust. But underneath it was fine. Just take small bites as you fill up on your chocolate quota.
And the ones I managed to make as cookies? Far better than as brownies. The cookies also formed a crust but not as thick as on the brownies. In cookie form, the crust made for a nice texture contrast with the soft fudginess of the inside of the cookie. It was still rich so I'd advise making these small. I used a large cookie scoop and mine came out too large. I ate a third of the cookie at a time. There was a time when I could down a rich cookie and keep on truckin' but alas, those days are gone. Bummer.
2/3 cup (95 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 pound/455 g semisweet chocolate (55% cacao or less), finely chopped
4 tablespoons (55 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cups (330 g) sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon cold brewed espresso or 1 teaspoon instant espresso dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water and cooled
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (340 g) semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Melt the one pound of semisweet chocolate and butter in the top half of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Stir until melted and smooth. 
  3. Beat the sugar and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on high speed until mixture is fluffy, thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Beat in the espresso and vanilla.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the melted chocolate-butter until blended; do not overmix.
  5. Add the flour mixture until incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Scoop into small to medium-size dough balls. Chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the tops of the cookies are cracked and the edges are beginning to crisp. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Restaurant Review: Thai Kitchen

Thai Kitchen - lunch on August 24, 2014
My parents and I tried out a new Thai restaurant after church a few weeks ago. We don’t normally go Thai since there aren’t that many Thai options in their town and my parents tend to prefer Chinese or Filipino food. But they’d seen Thai Kitchen for awhile and wanted to try it. I love pad thai so I was happy to try out a new place for it.
We arrived early for lunch and the restaurant was empty. It was actually a pretty decent size for a restaurant and I hope they do more business at other times. We had a very attentive server who seated us and took our order; she was friendly and welcoming which is always nice.
Spring Rolls - $5.95

We started with an appetizer of fried spring rolls, I got my usual pad thai, my dad went with the Beef Fried Rice and my mom got a noodle dish with the wide, flat noodles you normally get with pad see ew. We all shared our dishes family-style; the portions were very generous, considering the $7.95 price point for each order. I liked the pad thai. It was similar to the pad thai from my favorite Thai Restaurant, Krung Thai, and was slightly cheaper. 
Beef Fried Rice - $7.95
Chicken Rard-Nah: $7.95
My mom’s Chicken Rard-Nah was on the spicy side so it wasn’t my favorite but if you like spicy, this is a good option. The beef fried rice had a lot of rice but there was also a decent amount of beef. I also liked that the fried rice was moist and seemed to be made with “fresh rice”, i.e. not leftover, day old steamed rice.  But my favorite was the fried spring rolls – yum. They were crisp but also chewy, tasted great and weren’t too greasy. I could’ve eaten half the plate. For $5.95, it was a great deal.
Pad Thai - $7.95
I liked Thai Kitchen based on what we tried and would definitely go back.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Double Triple Oreo Brownies

Double Triple Oreo Brownies - made September 1, 2014, recipe adapted from Yammie's Noshery
Although I've been getting some intermittent baking in, unless my freezer is stocked with cookie dough and slabs of brownies or individually wrapped slices of cake residing in freezer bags, I feel unprepared. Unprepared for what, I'm not exactly sure. Armageddon? I'm sure we're all going to need sweets then. I know I will. Still, I like having a well-stocked freezer for when I have social occasions and I need to pass out goodie bags or if I'm moved to send a care package.

When that happens, the best thing to do is find a brownie recipe that makes a 9 x 13 pan. That yields plenty of brownies for future needs. I also happened to have a package of Double Triple Oreos that's been sitting in my pantry begging to be used. In case you've never heard of the Double Triple Oreo, it's a three cookie Oreo with two cookies sandwiching the original vanilla cream filling and the third cookie enclosing a chocolate creme layer to make one fat cookie. These Oreo people are brilliant. I bought the package in a moment of weakness, thinking I'd try them out before baking with them. Then I forgot about them for awhile. Until now.
The original recipe only called for chocolate chips to be added to the brownies but I conveniently ignored that for my Oreo add-in. You actually can't tell by looking at the picture that I put in the Oreos but they're there. The chocolate cookie part is evident to the sharp eye but the particular pieces I took a picture of didn't have the vanilla creme filling in the visible edges of the brownie. I only had a small piece of this to taste test and I didn't really get an Oreo chunk in it so I don't know if my experimental add-in really added anything. The brownie itself is good although, with the chocolate coming from the cocoa and the chemical leavening being baking powder, it was lighter and more cakey than I preferred my brownies to be. It was still good though and my freezer temporarily held some advance preparation for the end of the world.
I say temporarily because they're gone now. I decided to frost them with Nutella and, because I don't believe in being subtle, I sprinkled the remaining Double Triple Oreos over them and brought them into work today. So they're really gone. Armageddon will have to wait.
2 sticks of butter
2 1/4 cups of sugar
4 large eggs 
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups of cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 "sleeves" of Double Triple Oreos, cut into chunks
  1. Grease a 9x13 in. pan. and preheat the oven to 350ยบ.
  2. Mix together the butter and sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave, stirring about every 30 seconds, until the mixture is bubbly and smooth (you can also do it on the stove top if you want). Add in the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. 
  3. Mix together the cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and flour and add to the butter mixture, mixing until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. 
  4. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for about 28 minutes.