Archive for January, 2011

I’ve never been one to give up on something in cooking.  I made Bearnaise sauce until the emulsion stayed.  I made Tonkatsu until the breading stayed on.  And I wasn’t going to give up on the pancakes until I got recognizable Star Wars faces on them.

I made the same Star Wars pancake batter again, this time with some extra buttermilk to thin it out again.  I bought some non-stick spray, and sprayed every millimeter of the pancake mold surface.  I used a lot of oil in the pan too, just in case.  I started off with Yoda, since I didn’t try him last time I made the pancakes.

After the top got sufficiently bubbly, I took off the mold (again using a potholder, those things are HOT!) and I was amazed to see the shape was maintained.  A bit of batter dripped into the eyes, but otherwise it looked okay.

I carefully flipped over Yoda with my awesome Darth Vader spatula, and he actually looked pretty good.  I was worried all the non-stick spray might negatively affect the taste of the pancakes, but my son didn’t notice at all.  He was very impressed by the pancake design and taste.

There was a bit of dough still on the mold while I was done, but most of it easily rinsed off with water, and then I took a dry paper towel over the rest.  It’s kind of a pain to be constantly cleaning the pancake molds as you go.

I made a storm trooper next.  It’s a bit of a challenge to avoid all the cross bars and eye holes and things while pouring the batter, but I didn’t make too much of a mess.  Having seen the Yoda turn out moderately well, I was more optimistic about the storm trooper this time.

As I lifted off the pancake mold, I realized I used too much batter in this one.  It’s easy to do that, it rises up so high.  But flipping it over, it still looked great.

My husband got to try this one.  Again he didn’t notice any odd taste from the non-stick spray, which was good.

Lastly I tried Darth Vader, again covering every bit of the mold with non-stick spray.  Again I think I overfilled him a bit.  It’s incredibly hard to get the batter evenly throughout the mold without filling the thing up too high.

Darth Vader turned out pretty good as well.  I got to try him, and he tasted really good.  These end up making for some very fluffy, light, spongy pancakes because the batter rises up instead of out.

The constant cleaning and spraying of the pancake molds got pretty tedious.  Towards the end I just start make the plain ‘ol circle pancakes again.  I don’t think I’ll be using the pancake molds as often as the cookie cutters or sandwich cutters, but they are still fun to have around for a special occasion.  I’m still wondering how Williams-Sonoma got theirs so perfect: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/star-wars-pancake-mold/

Read Full Post »

Star Wars Pancakes

I bought the set of 3 Star Wars pancake molds from Williams-Sonoma and was very excited to try them out.  I was hoping that they would turn out as well as the cookie cutters I bought.  The set comes with a storm trooper, Darth Vader and Yoda.  The set also comes with a pancake recipe, which I’ll print here.  I can imagine a lot of people probably threw away their cookie and pancake recipes thinking it was part of the packaging.

Star Wars Pancakes

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 c. sifted flour
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. butter (softened)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

The directions on the recipe don’t say so, but I always mix the butter and sugar first, then the eggs and the rest of the liquid ingredients.  Lastly I add the flour, powder and soda that have been sifted together, and mix just until the lumps are gone.  I found after the first batch, that the pancakes work better with thinner batter.  I added about 1/4-1/2 cup extra buttermilk to the recipe.

I tried to grease up the pancake molds the best I could.  I coated the entire inside with an oil-covered paper towel, and made sure the pan was also well oiled.  Despite these precautions, the batter stuck all over the pancake mold.  It was a real mess.  The storm trooper turned out pretty poorly.  In addition, the small handle that sticks up that you use to handle the pancake mold gets really, really hot.  I’ve had another one for years, a star, and it’s got a small wooden end on the handle to keep from burning your fingers.  I had to grasp the handle with a pot holder to keep from burning myself.

I tried again with Darth Vader, using even more oil on the pancake mold.  Again I had terrible luck trying to get the batter from sticking all over the pancake mold.  The end result, again, was a mess.  I think I was overfilling the mold too, which is why I started using some thinned-down batter.  I didn’t try with Yoda, it just seemed like too much work with no reward.  I was going to wait a week, think about the issue, and come back at it all with some non-stick spray.



Read Full Post »

I stopped at the Williams-Sonoma at the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh 2 weekends ago and found a bunch of really cool Star Wars supplies.  I ended up buying 2 sets of cookie cutters, a Darth Vader spatula, a set of 3 pancake molds, and a lunchbox with 2 sandwich cutters in it.  The lunchbox we haven’t used yet; my son eats school lunch and I like to bring an insulated lunch bag with giant Pyrex containers inside, which wouldn’t fit in a lunch box anyway.  I don’t suppose we’ll get much use out of the lunchbox, but it’s still cute.  The sandwich cutters are in the shape of a tie fighter and Millenium Falcon.  My son was impressed the first time I made his sandwich with it, but it made for a lot of extra sandwich “scraps” he wouldn’t eat.

It was the cookie cutters I was the most impressed with.  I didn’t realize until I got them home that they actually press designs into the cookies as well as cut them out in different shapes.  I bought both of the sets they had there, so now I have 8 cookie cutters total.  The cookie cutters also come with a recipe:

Star Wars Cookies

  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. butter (12 tbsp.)
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Basically follows the same directions as most cookie recipes; mix the sugar and butter first, then the egg and vanilla, then the sifted dry ingredients.  They suggest chilling the dough 2 hours to 2 days, rolling it out, and baking the cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

I didn’t like that there was no rising agent included, so I used a similar recipe that uses 1 tsp. of baking powder as well.  I bake my cookies at 400 degrees for 7 minutes and I like the results I get.  Perhaps someday I’ll follow their recipe exactly, but I was really happy with the way my cookies turned out.

Despite the fact that my cookies did rise more than their recipe would have, all the cookies maintained their pressed designs.  They were tasty and beautiful.  My only complaint is that the Death Star makes for a very large cookie, bigger than I normally like.  The Yoda was more my size.

I think I’m most happy with the cookie molds, and I would recommend buying these over the other Star Wars items that Williams-Sonoma was selling.  I think they’d be even cooler if I would have taken the time to ice them along their lines to make them colorful and sweet.

Read Full Post »

My husband is a fan of Italian and Bocci offers kids foods that would appeal to my son, so we decided to stop by Bocci for lunch on Monday.  It’s quite a ways further south than we normally go for restaurants, in a small shopping center off Kildaire Farm Rd.  There’s only a small sign that says “Bocci” visible from the street, otherwise the restaurant itself is not visible from either Kildaire Farm Rd. or the cross street.  The restaurant’s entrance is hidden down the interior walkway of the shopping center.  I guess this makes for some nicer outdoor eating when the area is somewhat enclosed, but I imagine they don’t get a lot of drive-by business because of this.

Kid's Lasagna

The interior of the restaurant was nicely decorated, but when I sat down my leg hit a strange wood piece hanging down from the table.  I’m not sure if it was built for extensions to be put in the middle, but it’s kind of a hazard to have your guest hit their limbs on unexpected table bits.

The menu offered a nice array of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pastas, traditional Italian entrees, and an extensive wine list.  It was nice to see they did offer some special lunch options in the Pasta section, with a smaller price tag, and I would assume a smaller portion.  They also had a kid’s menu.  Usually my son won’t eat the typical kid’s menu options, but he seemed interested in the kid’s lasagna so we ordered that for him.  He also ordered an apple juice, which we were informed later that they didn’t have.  So he ordered the orange juice.  They ended up not having any orange juice either.  So then he ordered the chocolate milk and they did have chocolate milk!  My husband ordered the Panini Club with fries (very Italian, I know), and I ordered the Ravioli Bolognese, the lunch portion.

Panini Club

We didn’t order any appetizers since my husband was in a bit of a hurry, but they do provide some free sliced bread at the table with some little pots of whipped butter.  The bread wasn’t fabulous, and they don’t serve it with fancy herbed olive oil like at other Italian restaurants, but it’s still nice to chew on something while you wait for your food.  My son’s lasagna came out really quickly anyway (we did request it to come before ours) and the sauce made for some good bread dipping material.

I tried to take the nicest picture I could, but no matter what angle, the kid’s lasagna just looked like a wad of red meat sauce that had cheese melted over it.  It looked like something I would have made working at Country Kitchen back in college.  My son ate a bit of it, and it did taste okay for a kid’s lasagna, but they could have tried a bit harder with the presentation.

Ravioli Bolognese

My husband’s panini came out looking like a panini is expected to look, but with higher, rounder bread.  I tried one of his fries; they were good but not as hot as they should be if they just came out of the fryer.  He said the panini was good, but didn’t like the bread very much.  He said it tasted like “Subway bread” and not like the Italian bread he’s had with other paninis.  He also said that the cheese hadn’t melted enough, another issue with the temperature of the food.

My ravioli bolognese came out looking like the pasta Darth Vader: more sauce now than pasta.  This was again like some trick we used to pull at Country Kitchen, back when we featured the lobster ravioli, drowned in a pint of sauce.  Except back then I think we served at least 5 raviolis, not these pitiful 4.  Designing 101 tells you never to make arrangements in even numbers.  Besides the terrible presentation, it was actually a decent meal.  The flavor was all right, and it was a filling meal for me.  But compared to the pasta dishes I’ve had at Biaggi’s, it really didn’t live up to my expectations.

The service wasn’t bad, and the restaurant itself was very nice looking.  I just really wish they could take some time to make their food look a bit nicer.  Since the price is similar to that of Biaggi’s, but Biaggi’s tends to have better food, I think we probably won’t be returning to Bocci.
Bocci Trattoria & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Read Full Post »

Yuri in Cary

Yuri is next to Trader Joe’s on Kildaire Farm Rd, so I’ve driven past it many times but from the exterior it looked something like a fast food chain, so I’ve never bothered to stop by.  After our trip to Shabashabu last week, my husband was in the mood for tonkatsu, so I deliberately picked a restaurant that would serve it.  Yuri has a menu online so it’s easy enough to check it out, and I would advise it since the lunch menu and dinner menu seem to be quite different.  I only saw the tonkatsu offered at dinner so we stopped by at about 5:30pm on Saturday evening.

The exterior looked pretty cheap and generic, like all the other stores and restaurants along this strip of Kildaire, but the interior was really nicely done.  Immediately to your right on entering there are a couple of semi-private eating areas for up to 6 people, where you would sit on the floor and eat off a small table just a foot above the ground.  I asked if these tables were available and was told no, they were already reserved.  So instead we were seated in a booth, which was fine too.  Each booth comes decorated with a Fiji water bottle.  I ordered tap water and a Kirin beer, since I’ve never tried Japanese beer before.  My husband warned me they try to make their beers taste like American beers, and sure enough, it tasted like any other Bud/Miller/Coors I’ve had.

Vegetable Tempura

For the appetizer my husband and I got the vegetable tempura to share.  The included vegetables were two pea pods, green pepper, carrot, onion, broccoli, squash, and zucchini.  I thought they all tasted terrific and the onion was my favorite.  It was impossible to eat with chopsticks though, it was too big and unwieldy.  I ended up using my fingers for that one.  I usually like sweet potato too, but was kind of disappointed to see it wasn’t included.  My husband also got a miso soup that was included with his tonkatsu meal.  It was pretty standard for miso.

Tamago Nigiri

For entrees my husband ordered the tonkatsu, and I spent a great deal of time with the waiter discussing my options with the yellowtail.  First I asked about the “Hamachi Lovers” rolls, since it sounded perfect except it was lacking tamago.  He said he would ask the sushi chef if it could me made with tamago as well, and I got the reply that it would be too large if tamago was included.  So I decided just to get the Hamachi Lovers and order some tamago nigiri on the side, and that could be good enough.  I also asked about the hamachi kama (yellowtail cheek) I saw on the menu under the appetizers.  I understood it was commonly served grilled at many restaurants (and the grilled hamachi is pretty good) but I was wondering if it was possible to get nigiri with yellowtail cheek instead of the regular body slice.  Again this idea was shot down.  I was told that when the yellowtail comes in, it’s sliced off for nigiri, and the head gets thrown into the freezer.  They can cook the head then, but they can’t slice off the cheek from frozen.  What a pity.  Someday I’m going to finance my own sushi restaurant and demand all the leftover yellowtail heads for my own dining pleasure.


My husband was pretty impressed when his tonkatsu came out.  It was the perfect uniform color, compared to the pale, spotty-colored tonkatsu I make at home.  Though he didn’t have a side of tonkatsu sauce, they had liberally added the sauce to the tonkatsu already and he said it was just the right amount.  I tasted a bit of the sauce and yes, it was real tonkatsu sauce.  It was served on cabbage, which is normal, but the little bit of corn on the side threw him off.  The corn was cold as well.  Was he supposed to eat it?  Was it there for decoration?  I don’t know, we didn’t ask.  He didn’t eat it in any case. It would have been tedious to try and eat corn with chopsticks anyway.  The tonkatsu was also served with a bowl of steamed rice.

Hamachi Lovers

My tamago nigiri and hamachi makizushi were brought out at the same time.  I was very surprised to see so much hamachi used over the top of the rolls.  This was a very good portion of yellowtail, and I usually don’t get this much in rolls.  But I was also very surprised to see inside the rolls, there was cooked yellowtail!  How odd to have both raw and cooked yellowtail in the same roll.  I think the texture of the cooked fish really threw off the balance of the roll.  I think next time I will have to insist that either the tamago replace the cooked yellowtail inside the roll, or the inside be raw yellowtail as well.

The service at Yuri was excellent.  There didn’t seem to be much of a wait for anything, and the server was incredibly patient and responsive to all my comments and questions.  Though my makizushi was a bit of a disappointment, it seems it would be easy enough to correct in the future.  My husband loved his tonkatsu and would probably eat here every week.
Yuri Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Read Full Post »

It’s a very rare opportunity to get to try Shabu-shabu in the United States.  In Los Angeles I only knew of one restaurant there that served it, and unfortunately never got a chance to visit it.  I was skeptical when I heard there was a restaurant called “Shabashabu” in Raleigh and Durham, especially when I heard they served sushi and Thai food.  But after seeing other reviews that indicated they did in fact serve Shabu-shabu as well, we decided to give it a shot.  We picked the Raleigh location solely on the fact that they are open on Sundays, and because a previous review I read did mention the Shabu-shabu.  I’m still not entirely sure if the Durham location serves it or not.

We arrived at the restaurant shortly before 5pm, so there were very few other people in the restaurant.  The building is divided into several different sections, and because we requested Shabu-shabu we were seated at a bar-type section with a sushi bar across the room and cafeteria-like seating in the rest of the area.  From the stories my husband had told me about Shabu-shabu, I was expecting a 4 to 6 person table with a large pot in the middle, but instead the bar was set up for individual pots for each person.  The Shabu-shabu isn’t on the online menu, but in the restaurant it’s on the menu under the chef’s specials.  It can be ordered with seafood, steak, or seafood and steak.  We both chose the steak option (NY Shabu) at $23.99 each.  We also got an appetizer of chicken harumaki to share, and some green tea.

First the waitress turned on the pot burners, and brought out two giant lidded pots of boiling broth.  She brought out a plate of 3 sauces and explained that one was ponzu (citrus/soy), one was flavored like a Korean BBQ sauce, and one was a Thai peanut sauce.  The Korean sauce was spicy, the Thai peanut sauce was not at all, but still tasted ok.  Then she brought out our appetizers, the chicken harumaki.  From the menu description (fried chicken and cheddar) it didn’t sound like a real Japanese dish, but my husband assured me it’s a real street food in Japan.  He said it’s not served quite the way they serve it in Japan though, instead of being rolled up in a spring roll wrapper, it’s usually just deep fried in little breaded balls.  I dipped the harumaki in the sweet and sour sauce provided and it was pretty good.  I don’t know if it was $5.49 good, but I like to be able to say I’ll try anything once.

Chicken Harumaki

The Shabu-shabu ingredients started coming out a little later.  We each got served a huge plate of chopped carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, pea pods and cabbage, with a smaller dish of udon and 2 chunks of tofu.  We got tiny pots of covered steamed rice.  Lastly we each got our big plate of thinly sliced steak, rolled up neatly.  The waitress said she normally dumps all her veggies and noodles in the pot, waits until the pot boils again, then starts swishing the meat.

I did as she instructed and dumped all my veggies and noodles in.  It took a while for the pot to become boiling again, so I started munching on some of the veggies before they were fully cooked.  The utensils we were given were a soup ladle, a slotted spoon, chopsticks and a fork.  I’m not sure what the ladle was for because I wasn’t given a bowl… maybe I should have used that dish that the noodles came in.  I ended up eating most of my food off the small plate we used to eat the appetizers off of.  Honestly I don’t know if there’s a way to do Shabu-shabu that doesn’t come off as silly.  I think I made a terrible mess dripping and splashing broth, but maybe that’s part of the fun.

When the broth finally came to a boil again, I started swishing my meat.  I found the fork worked the best for me, since I was consistently losing it while using the chopsticks.  I would lightly swish my meat until it just barely turned a lighter color, then dip it in the sauce and eat it.  If you’ve ever complained that your rare/medium beef comes to your table too cool, you’ll be impressed by this method of cooking it.  The veggies turn out pretty good too, but by the end of the meal they tend to get a bit over-cooked.  I’d say it took us about an hour to complete the meal, much longer than I normally take to eat.  But it was a lot of fun!  If you’ve ever wanted the experience of cooking your own food, while someone else has done all the preparation and will do all the cleaning up for you, this will be an enjoyable experience for  you.

NY Shabu

The restaurant has modern decor that can come off as rather cold and impersonal.  I suppose it depends upon where you sit, but the Shabu-shabu side seemed less inviting than some of the other areas of the restaurant.  But still, they obviously spent a lot of time and money on the decor and it was nice to be able to look around while waiting for food.

I wish I could comment on the Thai or sushi, but that will have to wait for another visit.  I really did enjoy my Shabu-shabu experience though, and I think it’s something everyone should try at least once.

Shabashabu on Urbanspoon

Read Full Post »

It had been a while since I had been to Tangerine Cafe. Though I remember loving the food, I always found during lunch that it was next to impossible to get a table (there are only about 15 tables in the restaurant I’d guess) and service was always very slow. Unfortunately now it’s much to far from where I work to stop by for lunch during the week, but I discovered Tangerine is one of the few restaurants that offers their lunch specials on the weekends as well.

Thai Ice Tea, Mango Lassi and Tom Kha Soup

The lunch specials here really are something special. All the lunch entrees range in price from $4.95 to $7.95, and include your choice of soup (miso, tom kha or dal). Some places give you a smaller portion then for your lunch entree, but not Tangerine. I think their lunch sizes are just as big as their dinner ones, with plenty of leftovers for a second meal.

We’ve ordered the appetizer sampler before and I thought the pakoras were especially good, so I ordered just the pakoras this time. You get 6 for $2.95 which is a really good price, but they weren’t quite as good as I remembered.

The Tom Kha soup was great though. The perfect amount of spiciness. Could have used a few more mushrooms, but for being free with the meal it was fine.

Vegetable Pakoras

The beverages here are a great deal too. The Thai ice teas were only $1.50 each, which is about half what you’d pay elsewhere. The mango lassi for my son was a bit thick for his taste, but you could tell it was made with real mango fruit and yogurt, not thinned down with milk or juice. It was only $2.25 for this huge glass, which is twice the portion you’d get at most other Indian restaurants around the area.

Though I’ve enjoyed some of the curries and Korean BBQ here before, I decided to get the Pad Thai this time. I got mine vegetarian, and my husband got his without the shrimp (but still with chicken). This place does their vegetarian Pad Thai a bit different than most. Instead of just substituting tofu in for the chicken and shrimp, they also add various vegetables such as broccoli and beans. They also ask you how spicy you want (unlike some places that just serve it without spice) so you can get it pretty hot here if you like it. It’s a decent Pad Thai, and I had a good meal of leftovers the next day as well.

This visit we got really quick service. There was just a few minutes between when we ordered, when we got our drinks, our appetizers, our soup and entree. The check was even taken care of in a short amount of time. The seating situation was still a bit dismal, only 2 open tables when we arrived at near 1pm. But it’s good to see they still get plenty of business.

Pad Thai with Chicken (No Shrimp)

The restaurant has a pleasant atmosphere with brightly painted walls, large mirrors to make the place look bigger, and cute little Asian decorations around the walls. But I’d really like to see Tangerine move to a larger location where they can have enough seating for all the people who’d like to try their delicious and reasonably priced entrees, and a location closer to where people shop and work, instead of in this mostly residential corner of Cary.

Vegetarian Pad Thai

Tangerine Cafe on Urbanspoon

Read Full Post »