Thursday, December 18

Ron Ben-Israel Teaches Sugar Paste Flowers Course at the ICC

Photo Credit: RBI Cakes
Ron Ben-Israel of RBI Cakes makes cakes decorated with world re-known life like sugar paste flowers. His work has been featured in Sex and the City 2, Modern Bride magazine, The Knot and countless others publications. Personally I stumbled upon his work while browsing for inspiration for my wedding and instantly lusted over his luxurious cakes (samples pictured above).

Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
The International Culinary Center in Campbell hosted a three day sugar paste flowers course taught by Ron. For a fee of $1600, students received three full days of lessons using specialized cutters and supplies, as well as lunch and refreshments served. The course is taught at the NYC branch of ICC as well.

This sugar paste course is just one of the many offerings of the school's pastry program. If you are interested wedding cakes or other pastry elements like chocolate, petit fours, cakes, breads, etc, you can visit the pastry arts course site to get more information.

Photo Credit: Rachel T of ICC
Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
After sitting in on part of the first day of class, I found Ron to be a charming and personable teacher as well as through and detailed. His students come from a variety of backgrounds and locations to spend 3 days under his tutelage. 

Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
The stamens and pistils take the longest to dry so the students started them first on day 1. Most items take as long as 24 hours to dry and it takes 3 days to make all the decorative elements to go on the cake. Everything is edible except for the wires used to hold the flowers.

Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
All items were made of a special sugar paste mixture which looks like fondant but is thinner and more pliable. Here are some tulip petals drying in special molds. The sugar paste color is purposefully lighter and will be brightened at the end with a colored powder spray.

Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
The cutter pictured on the right of the student is specially designed for RBI Cakes to make the sweetpea shape and cannot be purchased in stores.

Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
Some very complicated sweetpeas being fringed and folded. 

Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
Photo Credit: San Jose Food Blog
Photo Credit: Rachel T of ICC
Photo Credit: Rachel T of ICC
Anemone flower in the works.

Photo Credit: Rachel T of ICC
On the last day, Ron demonstrates the final assembly on a fake cake topper. The flowers are painted with a sugar powder to bring out the vibrancy and add realistic details. When seeing how beautiful the student's final results were, I think the class is entirely worth it. It was probably as fun and useful for the students to participate in as it was for me to watch.

Photo Credit: ICC
More information on ICC's pastry courses can be found in this link

Wednesday, November 12

Mavericks Brewing - Half Moon Bay

Photo Credit: Becky Ruppel
Photo Credit: From Mavericks Press
Mavericks Brewing is a new brewery launching canned beers out of the Half Moon Bay area. The company is named after the legendary surfing competition in Half Moon Bay, which explains their choice in canned vs bottle. They aimed to provide beers that one could bring to beach and enjoy after a cold surf without needing bottle openers. The beers are intended to provide the full beer experience with a lower alcohol content of 3.75%. They currently have 3 flavors, two of which are already available in stores in the San Jose area at these businesses and aiming for a nation-wide release in Spring 2015.
  Ava's Downtown Market - Mt. View
  Maplewood Liquors - San Jose
  Royal Liquors - San Jose
Vyne Bistro
Cork and Bottle
CJ Liquor
Chabot Liquor
Farmers Union

Mavericks shipped samples of two of their three flavors to me. I gathered a few friends and we had a taste test.

Photo Credit: Becky Ruppel
The Rye Pale Ale was clearly the more popular of the two flavors we tested that day. My friend even said it was better than any other IPA she's ever tasted which would be in the closest category as she had never had RPA before. The RPA is made with Cascade and Chinook hops and 20% rye malt in addition to barley malts. It's fuller bodied with more pronounced hoppy notes. We would definitely order this at a bar.

Photo Credit: Becky Ruppel
The Belgian Style Wit was not so popular with our group. It didn't taste bad but mostly left no impression on anyone and was difficult to describe. It smelled stale even though that wasn't necessarily the taste. Brewed with barley and wheat malts and spiced with bitter orange, coriander, and hint of lemon. None of the latter fruity/spicy notes could be tasted.

Photo Credit: Becky Ruppel
The release of the Chocolate Porter is on hold for now. It looks very interesting based on the photo. 

Photo Credit: Mavericks Press
There is also a Tunnel Vision IPA available on tap at the brewery in Half Moon Bay and will be launched in cans by January 2015. 

If you're interested in tasting these beers, make sure to ask for them at your local bars listed above. Or you can visit Half Moon Bay Brewing Company to taste them on tap for yourself. Here is the link to Mavericks website for more information.

Friday, November 7

Whole Foods Diestel Natural Light/Dark Meat Boneless Turkey

With the holidays approaching, my food samples this quarter courtesy of Whole Foods included the Diestel Natural Light and Dark Meat Boneless Turkey. The roasts vary in weight but I would say mine was about 5-7 lbs. They retail for $34.99 at Whole Foods stores.

The Diestel turkey is gluten free, hormone and antibiotic free, and humanely raised. Diestel has been a trusted brand for turkeys in California since 1949.

My photos turned out blurry so here's a stock photo of a cross section of the roast. My roast didn't have all white meat in one section and all dark in another. In reality the sections are a little mixed and more like marbling of colors. Here are directions to roast the roast. It takes much less time than a bone-in turkey and yields pretty much the same result.

·         How much is the roast per pound and how much does the roast generally weigh? Generally speaking with a 350-degree oven it will take about 45mins-1hr. Be sure to place a little broth or water in the bottom of the pan.
·         How long to store? We would suggest enjoying the roast specifically for the holiday. The roast is best enjoyed 3-5 days after it is picked up.
·         How many people do they serve? The roast can comfortably serve 4-people. It is a perfect addition for a small gathering or just a little extra meat on the side.

For more information, check out the bottom of this page

I overcooked my turkey and it turned out a little dry so here's a quick tip for how to fix dry turkey. Cut the turkey pieces and put them into a casserole dish. Pour in the turkey pan drippings and toss it around for even coverage. Pour in a can of chicken broth, cover with foil, poke holes at the top and put it back into the oven on a lower heat like 300* for 20 more minutes. I had already made the drippings into gravy when I cut the turkey and realized it was dry. I still put the gravy into the casserole dish. This helps moisten the meat a bit more. I learned this tip from Google.

Whole Foods also gave me a gift card to purchase sides for the meal. Here are the experimental new Thanksgiving sides I tried.
Thinly shaved Brussels sprouts tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, shaved parmesan, and topped with caramelized almond slivers. A healthier alternative to eating Brussels sprouts.

Phil made mashed potatoes with organic potatoes and milk we bought at the store. He added chopped garlic as well as whole garlic pieces on top. I'm happy to say it was one of the better items of this dinner.

I tried a new cornbread recipe that had corn and sour cream. It didn't turn out so great so I won't be sharing the recipe. 
I also made some of Ina Garten's ever so popular roasted tomato basil soup pictured on the top right. Here's the recipe. If you love tomato basil soup, make this. It's so easy. I actually preferred it without putting it through a processor. You'd have to eat large tomato chunks at that time but the soup is clear and light vs heavier like when you blend it. But the taste is good either way.

If you're interested in a low key Thanksgiving dinner this year for a group of 4-6 people, the Diestel boneless turkey is a great time saver. It's very simple and you won't have to worry about dressing and seasoning it. I took the liberty to try out some non traditional sides. Although the cornbread was a miss, the salad and soup were great. Make sure to stop by Whole Foods this year for your holiday needs. 

Thursday, October 23

The Great Meltdown by Tasting Table and Lexus

On a sunny beautiful California October day (can you believe those words describe October), we attended the all you can eat grilled cheese festival in Woodside. It's also known as The Great Meltdown hosted by Tasting Table and Lexus. Woodside is only a short 30ish minute drive from San Jose. The venue was the beautiful Mountain Terrace which I've seen that people book for their weddings. It's set against tall redwoods through which you see a sliver of the Silicon Valley.

The cost was $20 + $1.75 tax + Eventbrite fee of a few bucks. It's all you can eat grilled cheese from 6 local Bay Area restaurants and all you can drink beer (4 different types). Psycho Donuts served donut holes for dessert. There was also a photobooth. The event lasted 3 hours and there were no lines for anything - not for food, drinks, or porta-potties. These were the classiest portable bathrooms I've ever seen. They had a sink with counter top, flower vase, and decorative rug in each stall.

I was immediately impressed by the venue set up. There was also a live jazz band playing in the corner. 

They also displayed a 2015 Lexus GS 350 for anyone interested in sitting in the lap of luxury. Luxury grilled cheese sandwiches are more my thing.

This sandwich contained 3 different kinds of cheeses and a side of pickled golden beets. The cheese was melty goodness but the ratio of cheese to bread was just too much. It oozed out in large gobs on each side and cheese is actually very salty so too much cheese made the sandwich too salty. The pickles were great. I don't think I've ever had pickled beets before.

This one looked the fanciest but I wasn't a fan. There's all different sorts of cheeses inside that were just too strong.

These were one of the best of the whole event. Sandwiches with melted cheddar and a thick slice of short rib with a dab of sriracha. So simple, so good.

I came too late and the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen ran out of their popular items like a jalapeno popper grilled cheese. They only had these plain cheddar and bacon sandwiches left.

Precita Park Cafe made the second best sandwich of the whole place. It was just plain cheddar with a fried green tomato in the middle and dipped in a creamy yogurty herb sauce. Like!

I ended the meal with two different sandwiches from the Grilled Cheese Guys. The top had bacon I think and the bottom one which was better, had roasted bell peppers.

Great festival. I hope they have it again next year. The venue was perfect! If anyone is thinking of having a wedding at Mountain Terrace, I am now sold on the ambiance!

Here's the link to the Eventbrite listing:

Saturday, October 4

Ramen Yokocho Fest - San Jose

Here's a quick drive by post with some information, photos, and ramen from this weekend's Ramen Yokocho Festival in San Jose. The festival is open until 9PM today and again from 11AM - 9PM tomorrow. Then next week it runs from Friday evening through Sunday. Click this link for more information:

Admission is $5 and ramen is $8/bowl
Express lane pass $20
VIP ticket $60 gets you early admission on Friday, express lane, 2 ramen, and a T-shirt

I went with a friend and we both used a media pass which got us free admission, express lane access, and enough tickets to try all 10 ramen stalls. Therefore, I can give you a truly comprehensive post about each ramen offered. They also had takoyaki and okonomiyaki but after 10 ramen bowls, we got tired. 
NOTE: none of the vendors served egg with their ramen because the health inspector said it's too difficult to regulate the cooking temperature in that kind of environment. Boo!

My tips are: go with friends, many of them. It'll be more fun this way and you can all taste different flavors. Generally stick to the longest lines because those people know what's up. Unless you want something specifically from what I describe. Have fun!

First of all, everyone gets a free packet of Pocky at the door. If you get in early enough, there are Pocky displays inside which is a free for all and you can get as many packets as you want.
There's also a booth sampling Snapea Crisps.

Here are the ramen.
Tastunoya - when you walk in, it's the farthest left stall
thin noodles, creamy broth, pork has 80% fat
This has the best overall balance of everything, though I don't think it has the best in any category of meat, broth, or noodles. Probably my vote for second best broth.

Shin-Sen Gumi - from the popular LA based chain
Best broth.
Creamy broth with almost egg noodle-like noodles, thinly sliced pork, and pickled ginger. This also had a decent balance in terms of the 3 major items but is only a winner to me because of the broth. I'm not a fan of these noodles.

Kohmen - from Tokyo - farthest right stall
This one had the best soy marinated chashu, hands down. They give you two different types of meat. One which is a piece of lean pork that looks white in the photo. Another, which is buried under my broth, is a flavorful, thick cut of soy soaked chashu that is all lean, no fat. The noodles are the thicker, wavier kind you get from most ramen shops. There's also menma (bamboo shoots) in this too. If it wasn't for the broth, this one would have been my favorite because chashu is so important too.

Jinya Ramen Bar - From Tokyo and Los Angeles
Best spicy broth. Only 2 vendors were really serving spicy broths.
There's a gingery taste in the broth. Noodles come with cooked sprouts and woodear mushrooms. Meat is thinly sliced and so tender it's almost shredded.

After the top 4, I don't have any favorites so the rest are just random.
Chanpontei - From Shiga, Japan
This was really interesting to me. It's not the usual miso, shoyu, or tonkotsu broth. Chanpon broth is a hodge podge of pork and seafood. It often comes with this variety of veggies pictured. The noodles are also different. They are just the right amount of chewy. This is a good ramen for those who don't like the heavier broth and noodles.

Tsujita - From Tokyo and LA
This was the other spicy miso vendor. I did not like the spicy miso flavoring they used. It's that red paste. Maybe you can ask them to omit it if you want this ramen. There was something about it not to my liking. The cubed chashu was very good though. Probably the second best chashu.

Hiromaru - from Toyama, Japan and Las Vegas
This is the vendor known for fusion ramen. The broth here looked like milk. It tasted like lots of mushroom and umami though. Not bad. Very interesting. The noodles were just eh. Chashu was decent.

Men Oh - Tokushima and San Francisco
I thought this bowl was average in all categories of meat, broth, and noodles. Just average.

Keizo Shimamoto - New York
This vendor was supposed to do the ramen burger and they provided this bowl, which can only constitute a deconstructed ramen burger with tiny patty topped with a small slice of cheese. You're basically getting a broth-less, pan fried noodle with bacon bits. The bacon was great, the noodles were seasoned and cooked decently, the patty was just a patty, and you do get a handful of greens to balance. It's all the makings of a ramen burger, just in a different form. Not too shabby.

 Shoki Ramen House - From Sacramento
This vendor was supposed to do organic tomato ramen but today he brought a ramen burrito. It comes with ramen, lettuce, sprouts, menma, and your choice of vegetarian, vegan, or pastrami inside. Topped with a sesame dressing and tomatoes on top. I'm never a fan of fusion things like this. I don't enjoy cold dry noodles and pastrami in a cold and dry wrap. But, I ate this after 8 bowls of salty ramen and was really relieved for the tomatoes and lettuce. Kudos for the heirloom tomatoes though. They're great.

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