French Night: Chez Moi

I always want to try French Cuisine; the cuisine that is known for its exquisiteness.  I always have the mentality that French dishes are served in a very small portions on a very large plate with rich sauces at a very high price.

We were excited that one of the French restaurant was part taking in the restaurant week. We were very excited and decided to try it out. My first ever French experience (french fries don’t count!) We were already planning to have dessert or another meal afterwards, thinking our stomach will not be satisfied from the small portion of food. When our food arrived, contrary to our beliefs, the food at Chez Moi is at a reasonable size. It won’t considered a French experience without trying out the French’s famous luxurious escargots. Startled by the green color at first, but I was amazed how smooth the texture was. The other dishes ordered was  pretty amazing with rich favors. It was worth the experience.

 

Cuban Cuisine- 90 miles

Cuba is only 90 miles from the southernmost point of USA, yet I was not too exposed to their culture and their cuisine. We were wondering what food are they known for?

Recently, my friend and I discovered a few Cuban places in the city. We started out with their sandwiches and their coffee at a Cuban cafe. The spicy sauce they put into the sandwich was very favorable that I have never try elsewhere. What amazes me is their tiny cup of coffee. Although the cup was tiny, it was very strong that we had to add quite a few packets of sugar.

Given the positive experience, we went to another Cuban restaurant to try other specialty besides sandwich. Inside 90 miles, the decors on the walls resembles Latin style. There’s outdoor patio, two dining rooms (one of them over the tent) and another outdoor lounge on the other building connecting by a small bridge. After a few recommendations from our server, we made our order (calamari, empanadas, beef, and pork entrees served with black beans, plantain and rice). When the food runner brought the calamari, our eyes were widened.  It came with 3 bread stacked above a puddle of black sauce. We had calamari at many different restaurants before, but we had never calamari in an unrecognizable state. At first I thought, did we ordered the wrong appetizer? As we spoon through the sauce, we realized it is calamari. This must be the black ink from the calamari. Our mouth and teeth were blackened as we eat the bread.The taste was pretty good, not thick at all and quite flavorful. We even ask for more bread to accompany this sauce.  The rest of the food came right after. The empanadas (beef, goat cheese and shrimp) was bigger than expected but was great. I love the sweet plantain, it makes a good dessert. The meat especially the pork is very tender and juicy yet had that smokey taste to it. The beef was a bit salty for me. Overall, it was another great experience, the food and the atmosphere. We tried something new and quite interesting and learn not to judge a book by its cover.

 

 

Getting ready for spring-new adventures awaits

Spring is here in Chicago. For the past few weeks it has been raining. Today, the sky was covered with dark clouds in the morning but quickly drifted away in the afternoon. The temperature began to rose from lower 60s to high 80s. It was such a superb weather for sunbathing, I also meant for the plants. I took the remaining plants that survived the super strong wind from yesterday for a sunbathe. I also did a little shopping for our garden, got some tulip and ranunculus bulbs. It’s a matter of time before our garden blooms with colorful tulips, lilies, ranunculus, peppers, basil, mixed wild flowers, cherry tomatoes, and more additions in the future. This is what Spring is all about: the birth of life.  And also the beginning of a whole new adventure!

A whole new adventure, starting from food choices. As I was packaging for tomorrow’s lunch, I suddenly decided to ditch the same old kind of lunch (typical rice with meals and vegetables) and make sometime different.  Something I never had nor ate before: a nori sandwich. A sandwich made with seasoned rice (ketchup mixed with white rice) and added in whatever meat i can find in the refrigerator sandwiched between the rice and wrapped with seaweed. Technically, it’s more like sushi roll but in a different dimension and with different ingredients.

 

Anderson Japanese Garden

Anderson Japanese Garden located in Rockford, Illinois roughly about 1 1/2 hour from the heart of Chicago. Walking down the trails of the garden on a sunny day, one can explore the beautiful scenery and its landscape.  There are many ponds, waterfalls,  tea house and a guest house of Japanese style architectures. This garden provides a very peaceful and relaxing environment, which is ideal for a Sunday walk. It is also a great place to practice photography as well especially on a sunny day. I saw a newly wed having their wedding photos taken on the day that I visited. There is admission fee to help keep the garden running. For those that are interesting in buying souvenirs, there’s a gift shop located at the entrance of the garden. They carry lots of cute Japanese items to bring back to love ones.

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Childhood memories-Lisa Frank Merchandise

One of my favorite store in the area is DollarTree. Sometimes I can find some real treasures for only a dollar. Don’t underestimate this place, they sometimes carry the exact items that can be found elsewhere for three or four times the price. I often shop there for baking pans, accessories, stationary, gift bags, books and seasonal accessories. Recently, I was shopping around for craft ideas and I stumbled upon Lisa Frank merchandises. I’m surprised this line of characters still exists after so many years. It once had its glorious moment back in the 90s when I was in grade school, around 9 years old. Every girl in my class was so obsessed with it; there were  Lisa Frank sticker book, pencil cases, notebooks, school bags, etc. I remember going to the store and saw a whole section filled with Lisa Frank products. I looked down at the price tag and shocked at those high digits. I was a kid with no job and I was raised in a very frugal environment; my parents will never spoil their kids nor reward them with good grades unlike most parents in my class. For unnecessary stuff, I won’t ask my parent’s for money. As far as I remember, I probably bought one or two of the Lisa Frank stationary using my new year money which was customary in our culture for married adults to give the kids during new year for luck. As an adult, seeing the products or characters that I grew up with, still exists in today’s market really brings back joy and memories.

Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake

I remember when I was little, my mother would make steamed sponge cake on important days. By important days, I meant days that the Chinese would celebrate according to their beliefs and traditions. The upcoming festival is Qingming where the Chinese would visit the burials of their ancestors.  In some families including mines, steamed sponge cake or some kind of cake is a must. The ingredients to make a sponge cake is fairly simple:

6 eggs

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar

However, the METHOD is the key. Back when I was little about 7-8 years old, I rarely had steamed cake that are fluffy with smooth texture, more often it was hard like a rock with uneven top. I remember when I was helping my mother make those cake, she would tell me to beat the eggs until there’s bubbles and it WILL take a long time. Back then, we don’t have any electric egg beater, all we had was chopsticks. After beating the eggs for 30 minutes with a sore arm, I saw bubbles forming over the top layer and excitedly thought it was ready. Little did I know, it was nowhere ready, which I found out recently.  Obviously, the resulting cake was just the opposite of what was expected. I kept thinking what went wrong; there were only 3 ingredients, how can that happen? We were later introduced to the easy commercial cake mix which cut down time and energy by half. We later phased out the steamed sponge cake for the cake mix.

When I start baking from scratch in my early twenties, I try to venture different recipes from different bakers.  Never had I stop and try the one where I first started and fell. Until one day my aunt call my mother over the phone that she made some sponge cake and she claimed it look so good.  Mom told me the method that my aunt used with the same old recipe: beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy and then mixed the flour. We were skeptical at first since we made sponge cake by beating the whites until fluffy and separately combined the flour and egg yolk before folding both the egg whites and the flour mixture together. In the end, we gave it a try. With the same method as my aunt instructed and relayed from my mom to me, the cake turned out flat. Bakers are definitely no quitters! Unsatisfied, my mom called my aunt again to make sure there’s no missing steps or making sure how “good” was my aunt’s cake claims to be. It took like 5-6 calls before we learn aunt uses her hand to mix in the flour as opposed a electric beater in our case. That all make sense! We over beat the batter, that was why the cake was flat. The second batch, we fold in the flour. Sadly, that failed too since I guess we were so scared of over mixing it. This time, it turns out the batter was UNDER mixed as there were spots of raw flours in the cake. Well, thirds a charm! We gave it a try for the third time. First was over mixed, second was under mixed, this time was just right.  You learn from your own mistakes whether it’s big or small, the most important thing is to acknowledge them and correct them. Also to never give up along the journey.

Hazelnut Chocolate French Crepe

One of the greatest thing in life is when someone share things with you, especially great food. A coworker of mines brought some hazelnut chocolate crepe to our happy lunch table one day and immediately I felt in love with it. This crepe can be found at Costco and was imported from France, sounds luxury already in my opinion. I believe this snack is seasonal as they don’t carry them at Costco year round. It did took me a while to find them in the store, I was going through aisle after aisle. The crepe was so thin, which reminded me of the Lady M crepe cake that I had before. Obviously its not the same as the Lady M crepe cake, but the thinly layers of crepe, although chewy, does melts in my mouth if leave a bit longer. The hazelnut chocolate fillings is not too sweet which creates a nice blend. It is great for anytime snack.