A place for me to share my love for all things cooking, wine and Bento.  The research for this blog is going to continually be grueling my friends.... ;)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sharing Pics From Japantown and Today's Bento

This blog post is full of out of order pictures!  I apologize.  I don't have time to fix them all.  You will have to just go all over the place with me lol!

I wanted to share our pics from our trip to San Francisco this last weekend.  I took my girls up for the day to Japantown.  It's a 3-3.5 hour drive from us but it was fun to be in the car with them and listen to music and get Starbucks etc.  They had a blast.  The main reason was to go to two Japanease "dollar stores" for some Bento supplies.  I had been shoping online to compare if it was worth the drive and it was.  The outing of a fun day was a bonus as was the fact that my eldest is a big Japan anything lover.  It started with Anime but has developed into an over all cultural admiration. So, this post is going to take us there, and show some Bento from just this morning using some new wares.  At the end of the post, I will put my youtube showing our haul.  The girls got some fun things of their own like Japanease candy, stuff for Halloween and just little things they liked.  Dollar stores are fun as they are but a cultural one was even more fun.  
Can you imagine living in one of these gorgeous San Francisco homes!!?  They are so beautiful.  
The wall going into the East Mall in Japantown is a great colorful backdrop for a picture. 

Skipping all the way to the bagged up bento from this morning.  I hate that these are out of order....

Rick's Bento from this morning.  Asian noodles, shrimp, a sauce (made of soy, sesame oil and infused overnight with fresh ginger), asian pears, rasberries, carrots, mini cookies and Seaweed salad)

Another gorgeous building, and Emma trying to get in the shot. 

Emma at lunch in the West Mall.  She ordered some shrimp tempura that came with a bowl of Miso Soup

Close up of Ricks noodles.  I purposefully fork rolled four sets for presentation.  
While in SF, I saw some amazingly cute onsies that I wanted to get so badly for my friend's baby but they were $22 ea!!! My friend and her husband are our wine and sushi kindreds so she would have loved this. 

Victoria in the Kinokuniya Bookstore looking over all the Manga books!! It was hard to choose just two. 
The second main reason we went, Ichi Ban Kan.  This store is $1.50 to $2 for most things.  I look forward to going back here, they  had the best boxes in my mind. 

Victoria in accessory heaven. 

Okay...skippng to mommy's bento for today.  Seaweed salad may not be something I do again.  Not a fan.  I may have let it soak too long.  The shrimp, noodles and sauce was great though!  I took a very low portion of noodles (one because that's all that was left after making everyone else's but also for carb reasons.  I took the tops of the kids carrots that I'd cut off to make them fit in their bento.  
Japantown flag.  Need a better pic next time. 

Close up of Emma's bento for today.  I love the little berry buckets!  The mini cookies are at Trader Joes and work so well for Bento and portion control. I'm hoping to get better at the carrot flowers :&

Victoria by her Naruto themed Anime. 

I would not let the girls leave SF without seeing the Golden Gate for the first time.  We did not even get out of the car though it was so busy.  They probably have some better pics than me, I was at a traffic stop.  I of course got the usual question: "Why is it red if it's the Golden Gate?" :)

Unfortunately, this lovely Japantown fan is under a bypass and therefore in the dark!

Loved this mini structure inside the mall.

Emma loved the Sanrio (makers of Hello Kitty) store for it's candy.  They both would have loved this store in their Hello Kitty days.  They secretly admitted to still loving her. 

Close up of the new sauce squeezers.  They are so cute.  

Victoria holding one of her favorite Anime characters.  Mommy was documenting for gift ideas. 

Okay, I was in scarf heaven for a moment....I did not buy one but omg...kid in a candy store you know? 

One of our first pictures actually, arriving at Daiso Japan, the main reason for our trip.  Fabulously fun store!!! Amazing deals. 

All the kids Bento for this morning.  Shrimp on the bottom level, others on the top. 

Another great onsie I wanted to snag. 

Rasberry bucket close up.  Using the new food pics.  This is Caedmon's Bento. 

The poo onsies:  "Grumpy Poo", "Stinky Poo", and "Smarty Poo".  All supposed to be actual poo.  Ah, funny. 

Her first sushi lunch out from home.  

Close up of those adorable cookies.  The carrot shows you how mini they are. 

The assembled line up: Emma's, Caed's, and Victoria's .  Remember the bagged picture was further up in the blog post lol?  That should be the next one...oh, well. 

Winding down our day...

It was a blast! 
Hope you enjoyed our sharing.  We look forward to going back.  There is so much to see in life, it's a grand thing. 

Here is my amateur video of our Haul. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Our Date Day Tasting and "Helping" With the Local Harvest (Video Included:)

Every now and then, one must take a break from the rush of life and surround ones self with pretty, tastiness. One must take the one one loves, whatever state that love is in, and get away. Like a good nap, it's rejuvenating. We had a huge issue on the morning of our much anticipated date day. We both had been looking forward to it for a long time. Every six weeks, we get a Monday together for five hours or so while the kid are at school. This was our first of the year. Rick even had the opportunity to do overtime and he turned it down so we could have this day. The plan was to get out to Hearst Winery for a tasting. We are members there (being a member does not cost money, it just means you plan to buy so much wine through the year with perks of free tastings for you and your friends and events with Hearst Beef!) because we love the local history of Hearst. Visiting the castle is one of our haunts and we try to go on some of our Anniversaries. It's just north of our favorite getaway, Cambria. The tasting room is right by the pier at San Simeon State Park. IT's held in a quaint old wood floor building that also includes the old post office a small deli. The deli has the most amazing French Dip sandwich with Hearst beef, Au Jus, and horseradish (which you could ask to omit if you are not like us and adore it). Sadly, they are not open on Monday's however so we did not get to eat our yummy favorite with our tasting. We had lunch at a local Bar and Grill we had a BOGO coupon for, and it was OKAY.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I had a melt down before we could go have our beautiful day.  Our dishwasher has not been working and though the household is use to helping me with loading (Rick), unloading (Emma) and putting away (Caedmon and Victoria), if the machine stops no one seems to notice there is a problem.  I kid you not, I think EVERY dish in the house was dirty!  Rick was ready to go out the door but when I saw my kitchen I knew I could NOT come home to this (or if I knew I had to, I'd be tempted to ask for repeat tastings!!!) When I stuck my hand in and pulled up rice and egg shells and banana from four days ago, yep, I started to cry.  I made it clear I needed space, he went do something else, and I did dishes for an hour and a half.  I'm hoping everyone got the message when they saw how many were done by hand.  I hope. I'm the only cook in the house so it's tough on my psyche when there is a ton of clean up too.

Once that was done I knew I could actually enjoy our date time.  It was a gorgeous day on the coast.  The lighting coming through the tasting room door was magical to me with the coastal water in the background.  

I loved the close up even better and the blue of the sea is easier to see.

We enjoyed our treat of a Three Sister's Cuvee which is almost sold out.  It's named after three of the main old mountain tops east of the Castle.  I believe they are former volcanoes.  
To go with the lovely Cuvee I made a simple Fettachini version of Spaghetti.  I love the texture of Fetachini.  If find it a lot more pleasing to the palate.  I was thrilled to find frozen organic grass fed beef at the Grocery Discount for $2.99 (went back today and bought it out to save in the freezer because that is a fantastic price) and used that with some tuscan seasoning for the dish.  Yum. 

I'm skipping around in the day but... anyway.  We went in the afternoon to visit our friends recommended Ranchita Canyon Winery out east of us a few miles.  We got to help "make" some Syrah and Zin!  We helped plunge the mixture that was harvested a few days ago.  Harvest is in full swing around here!   In fact, I have a few fun You Tubes of us enjoying this learning process: 


Before we left we got an Old Vine Zin 2008 to save for the holidays. 

Earlier in our day of wine tasting we visited Edward Sellers   We had been given a free tasting card so it was no loss to try it out.  Let me say, I'm SO glad we did!  There were only a few to taste but they were really great!  I also loved their decor, it was so bright and lovely.  They are a newer winery in the area (about five years old).  We will have to go back there sometime!  

This was our favorite and we were lucky it had been on a Labor Day special of which I asked whether we could still take part in.  He said sure and we were happy with our Mayhem.  We will save this for a dinner with our friends who we think would love it there.  

So, it was a great day (after the dishes and working out real life issues...and may I say, my husband went and built a shelf when he got kicked out of the kitchen for me to cry and do dishes by myself.  I've needed that done for weeks, and I'm grateful) out in our great wine country back yard!!  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Homemade Ricotta AKA: Pure Determination

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I first saw this idea while at the gym.  While sweating away, I love watching Food Network.  I don't have it at home so it's such a treat.  I think I was watching Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.  She makes amazing braised meats all the time, I love her cooking.  At the end of her dish she whipped up a batch of warm fresh Ricotta, threw it on some crusty baguette and drizzled it with olive oil.  I thought I was going to drool onto the floor more than sweat onto it!  Are you kidding me!! Is making cheese (yes, Ricotta is not technically cheese, but hush up you know it all types), that easy!!! 


My first try I had such high expectations!  I was going to look like a culinary genius.  I had my husband all prepped to see my awesome magic.  I had my palate ready. I had my Gazpacho made and awaiting it's perfect side.  I dove in.  

I poured my three cups whole milk.
I poured my one cup cream.
I sprinkled my one tsp salt. 
I heated it slowly till it boiled. 
I took it off the heat and added the 3-4 Tbs. Lemon juice. 
I stirred and waited for the magic....
and I waited....
and I stirred.....
and I waited....
and I began to feel sick.....
and I saw it thicken and have filmy thickness that turned into NOTHING.

Darn those smarty pants cooks!   How dare they charm me with their "so easy" talents!  It was awful.  I let it sit overnight to see if it would curdle in the night.  NOPE.  It looked the same in the morning.  I tried adding more acid, and boiling it some more.  NOPE.  Honestly, I don't know what went wrong except for one thing I'll share in a min.  

I immediately got on You Tube on my phone and started watching many different videos on the method.  It looked like I'd done it right! Darn it! 

I gave it a few weeks.  
Last night I tried again.  I did NOT plan it into a menu.  I was not that hopeful at all.  One batch I did with lemon juice....NOTHING.   I even tried letting it boil longer....nope.  
The second batch I did with vinegar....NOTHING.  
Then, I thought perhaps I should use a larger pot.  I had been using a large saucepan but I thought perhaps the boil was not getting to be as effective in such a thick amount of milks.  I got out my dutch oven and put the ingredients in.  I brought it to a boil and let it boil a bit.  I put in my lemon juice and stirred.  I did get a few more of the filmy curds than before but nothing exciting really.  I was now starting to get mad at the wasted milk (which I did save and plan to use as a creamy buttermilk substitute in waffles and pancakes).  I added just a splash of vinegar and decided to let it simmer, and simmer, and simmer.  I started doing things in the kitchen and just stirring it now and then.  I had it on a low to med heat.   Suddenly, it started to get thicker!  It was not really defined in curds but it was thickening!  I thought it would be worth straining to see what happened.  I put it in the strainer and went to bed.  I knew it had to sit for an hour. 

I played my Home Design app (which I LOVE!) and wished I'd not had so much Diet Pepsi that day.  My brain was wide awake.  My husband slipped into soft snoring next to me.  It was about 11:30pm.  I got up in about an hour and decided to go check (honestly the truth is, I almost forgot about the darn thing).  There was a great puddle of liquid under my strainer lined with cheese cloth, and there waiting for me in the strainer like a little mischievous but well meaning rascal, was my cheese.  In some fashion, I did it!  I put it in a bowl (I did squeeze a little on the cheese cloth to get out a tiny bit more liquid) and it held good shape!  I snuck in and gently tapped the sleeping mailman: 
Me whispering:
"I know this is so selfish and mean of me, but can you just open one eye!?"  
He loves me, so he did: "oh, eh, yeah?"
"I made cheese!!!!"
"oh, wow, alright!  Good job!"
Me: "okay, thank you, go back to sleep" 

So, next time?  Well, I think I'll bring it to a boil slower.  Letting it simmer and simmer.  Then, I'll add just the lemon juice and let it simmer low, low, low till I see some thickness.  I will not be turned off by tons of tiny curds because I know they still make cheese.  

I hope you get brave enough to try, but I really hope I've saved you some stress.  It's a good thing I'm stubborn.  

Looks Are So Deceiving!

The other day I HAD to use up some veggies.  I got out my crock pot and started chopping like I just didn't care, but seriously, I didn't.  The day before I'd cooked a left over rotisserie chicken in the crock pot all day with two carrots, two celery, one onion, salt and pepper and thyme.  The broth was strained and the meat taken off ( I also saved the icky bits for mixing with the dogs food and he has been in heaven for meal times!).  So, I chopped up what I had to use: 
3/4 head of green cabbage
3/4 head of red cabbage
3 carrots
3-4 celery
1 whole onion
1 head of cauliflower

Once I chopped them up every so vigorously and without much care, I piled them into the crock pot. I then, seasoned with some salt and poured over my broth from the day before.  I plunked the chicken pieces right on top.  Lastly, I threw in some Tuscan themed seasoning I had purchased at the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market.  I'll try to add a pic of that and whats in it later. I threw the lid on, turned it on low and ran out the door to school drop off and work. 

When I got home around 4:30 I stirred it and it smelled great! It looked horrid.  I splashed in about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar because I saw right away it was taking on a Borscht look.  I usually splash some vinegar or Worcestershire sauce in my soups anyway because it adds a depth to it that I love.  I mean think about it, your fresh veggies get some oil and vinegar and spices, why not your cooked ones!? 

So, the flavor was astounding.  At first I thought it was because I was so hungry but I had more last night (actually, this pic is from that leftover portion) and it was just as amazing.  In tradition with the Borscht feel, I plunked a spoon full of sour cream on top. The fact that it was a rotisserie chicken stock may have helped with the flavor as well.  

I love when amazing things just come to be out of necessity.  What's that they say?  "Necessity is the mother of good soup"?  lol

Mama's Got Some Loot!

So I took a few minutes to see if Ross had anything for my culinary passions today. I was not disappointed! (may I say, I love Ross!) Some of the others I picked up in the baking party isle at Walmart.

Character cookie cutters are used in kids Bento for cutting sandwiches or more traditionally on the Japanese end of things, shaping shushi rice.  This is about as far as I'll go into making characters, though later I'd like to get Bento accessories to add cute hats and faces to things, but I don't like all the in depth character making really.  This is simple enough for me.

These have matching cupcake papers and pics that I can use when making themed Bento boxes.  The muffin papers will be for arranging and the pics for skewers or accent decorations.  With One packet, costing me $2.25, I have 24 of each.  That is plenty for the whole school year of every now and then having a Sponge Bob themed lunch for Caed.  The pics can be reused as long as they don't get messy.  Frankly, so could the papers if used for dry goldfish or something but I may not bother.  I think 24 is plenty. 

Well, this picture is upside down!!! Sorry.  I found a pie mold set at Ross for $3.49.  Rick is really excited about these!  They come in four sizes.  I can make batches of meat or fruit pies and freeze them!  He can have big ones, the kids can have smaller ones for their Bento lunches or snacks.  I'm really excited about this.  I hate making pie dough but if I made a huge batch I could just get it all done on a sat.  Honestly, I think I could even make dumplings and perogies (I polish dumpling) with these.  I'll have to look into it.  Even ravioli.  The bottom has the perfect circle press to cut out the dough, then you just place it on top, fill it and press it.  OMG.  So excited! 

I was also excited to find my first sandiwch press set at Ross.  These are great because, unlike the cookie cutters, they don't waste much of the sandwich.  My plan with the cookie cutters is to save the pieces to make mini sandwich skewers later, or give the dog a treat! :)  Anyway, I found out that you don't want to put a ton of PB&J on these if you want them to cut right.  Caedmon went off with these in his Bento lunch today.  The picture is further down.  Not going to bother moving it. Blogger is annoying with that. Oh, and know too that if I had wanted I could have added carrot or cheese circles for the extras on these.  Shapes were enough for today!

Ross had some brand new Halloween stuff too!  (May I say, I'm so anxious for Halloween this year!  I have a fun plan for the kids and I'll share later on).  

They also had mini cutters!!!! Yippie!  These are great for shaping small bites of cheese, bread, meat, veggies and some fruits!

Some non-bento loot, my Sushi ware!!! I've been hangin out looking for sushi dishes for a long time.  I was so thrilled and they were so well priced.  Four square plates, two rectangles, five Miso Soup bowls (Trader Joes has awesome Miso Soup packets!) and I grapped the matching bowl from the set to serve extra rice for my kids when we have sushi.  I'm making sushi tonight!  Victoria is having her special friend over for a movie with our fam and sushi is on the menu!  I'm also making the Japanese omelet dish Tamagoyaki.  I'm practicing on those for future Bento so be looking for a post just on that dish!  (See!  This is why I had to do this blog, I'm just so excited about all this...how can I not share!)

So, just the other day, I was thinking to myself that I really hoped to find some shallow gourmet soup bowls.  Soup is just not given its glamour gown often enough!  A nice shallow bowl let's it look glorious and gives a ledge for crostini or other bread sides. These were just $2 each!  I got them all.  Later today I'm posting a soup recipe and used one of these to try out the look.  The soup was amazingly yummy but ugly.  Somehow, it looked better in one of these.  I'm ready for another batch of Gazpacho in these too!

So, lastly, here was today's kid Bento.  Caedmon got the sapped PB&J, animal crackers, string cheese bites, cucumber and a fruit snack.

The girls got a more sophisticated looking version for their age.  Unfortunately, I ran out of cucumber for them.  

Some exciting possibilities ahead!