Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting


At my tot's school, Sometimes parents can bring special snacks and I decided to bring some cupcakes. I usually bake this cake into a bundt cake with glaze and chopped nuts but for those little hands, I made them into mini cupcakes. And as they're for school snack, I sprinkled some cinnamon instead of chopped nuts. 


Teacher asked me if it's my tot's birthday this week since I was bringing cupcakes. Well..his birthday is months away but it's fall. And I thought pumpkin cupcakes are fitting for the season. =)


At pick up, I peeked in and my tot put a whole lot of stickers on the paper in front of him and asked one of the teachers to take pictures of him with the stickers. She asked me if I take pictures a lot. Haha Uh..yes..of him and of food. It's funny how he feels so comfortable with his teachers now, he even asks them to take pictures. This boy...Anyway, he said everyone enjoyed the cupcakes except one kid. I said, really? He didn't like the cupcake? And my tot goes, well..he spitted out vanilla cupcake last time too. Okay, that makes me feel better! 

These cupcakes are so moist and pumpkinny. But not with overpowering pumpkin flavor. I always WANT to like pumpkin flavor but I don't love so many fall treats out there that are way too overpowering. This to me, is just enough pumpkin and the spice.

Pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

* Makes two dozen regular sized cupcakes. 
Ingredients :

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
15 oz pumpkin puree(by weight)
Extra cinnamon for sprinkling(optional)

8oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp maple extract

Directions :

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl of stand mixer, add sugar and eggs. When well incorporated add oil and vanilla extract.

2. Mix rest of the dry ingredients in a bowl and add it to the sugar mixture. Mix until well incorporated and add pumpkin puree.

3. Line the mini cupcake pan or cupcake pan and scoop the batter evenly. 

4. Bake for 15-17 minutes for mini cupcakes, 20 minutes for cupcakes. Or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean or with a few crumbs. Let cool.

5. Make frosting - Cream the butter and cream cheese together and add maple extract. Mix in confectioner's sugar. 

6. Pipe the frosting on the cooled cupcake and sprinkle some cinnamon on top if desired.

* Cake recipe adapted from Lickthebowlgood.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Japanese beef curry


As it's getting cooler lately, I have been craving soup, stew and anything warm that goes over rice or noodles. What I like about these dishes is that you get plenty of vegetables which I love. Large chunks of vegetables in warm soup or stew is just so comforting. Talking about comfort, my tot and I like to cozy up at home, cuddle and read books after books and it's perfect in weather like this. It is such a great comforting feeling. So this week, we skipped all the extra classes other than his school and did just that. That felt so good. I feel that my little baby's growing so fast and when he's in my arms reciting his favorite books to me, it feels like everything just stops. =)


So..back to the dish, I prefer Japanese curry to any other curry. It's lighter and a little on the sweet side and got a very subtle tang. I have tried apple chunks before but apple puree definitely works better in my opinion. Makes it so smooth. I had this for dinner with my tot and when Steve walked in hours later, he said it smells like a maple syrup factory. Haha Don't know which note from the curry would smell like maple syrup but that's not so bad. The only problem with making curry is the long lasting "flavor in the air"It was well worth it though. My tot and I cleaned the plate completely and we were happy bears for the rest of the evening. =)

Japanese beef curry

Ingredients :

2 tsp oil
1 large onion, diced large
1 lbs beef of your choice, diced large
2 large carrots, diced large
2 cups chicken stock
2 medium yukon gold potatoes, diced large
1/2 cup pureed apple(or apple sauce with no added sugar if you have)
1/2 cup frozen peas
salt and pepper

3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper(or less if you want it less spicy)
fresh ground black pepper
1 Tbsp ketchup or tomato paste
4 tsp worcestershire sauce 

Directions :

1. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onions. When onion is getting browned, add beef, carrots and potatoes. Saute for another 10 minutes or so.

2. Add chicken stock and pureed apple. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are fork tender.

3. Meanwhile, make the roux. Melt the butter in a pan and add flour. Cook on medium heat until starting to brown, stirring. Add curry powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper and stir until incorporated. Add ketchup and worcestershire sauce. Mix and set aside.

4. When the veggies are ready, Add 2 cups of water(1 1/2 if you like your curry thick) to the roux. Mix until smooth and add it to the veggies and beef. Bring it to boil and add salt to taste and cook until it thickens. Add peas and heat it through.

Adapted from Norecipes.com

Monday, September 22, 2014

Turkey cheeseburger pasta

I can't believe it's fall already. Actually, I totally can, I have been seeing color of leaves changing since around labor day. But with fall country fair and pumpkins everywhere, I can now really feel it. As we started to see neighbors putting out some orange here and some brown there, we felt a little pressure. It's time! Usually I am pretty well prepared for decorating according to different seasons but summer went by so quickly, we still had seashells around the house till beginning of September. We hit some hardware stores and a local nursery and spent a little more time than we expected. Already time for lunch. Gosh, why does time go twice faster on weekends??
Because of my tot's nap, lunch should be served no later than noon. I know it's kind of lame but I eat my lunch at 11:30-12 every day. My body got so used to it, if I don't eat around then, I feel the extreme hunger! And on weekends, Steve joins the lame meal schedule. If we don't have any guests that is. Skillet pasta is always a great option. Within 20 minutes, you get this flavor packed pot of meal. I love that pasta absorbs all the flavors as it's cooked with everything. 
We attempted to start no red meat challenge a little while ago and that's when we started to really like ground turkey. Well..the challenge is over now. Steve's doctor basically told him it's the carbs that people need to watch more, not the red meat. Thank god, we don't have to give up on our big fat juicy steaks! The challenge did make us use more turkey meat though which is a good thing. And we were so glad to realize that we like non-thanksgiving turkey too. 


Turkey cheeseburger pasta

Ingredients :

1 lb ground turkey 
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 can(14.5oz) stewed whole tomatoes
4 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 tsp mustard
1/2 lbs rotini pasta
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded cheddar or American cheese
2 scallions, chopped

Directions :

1. Heat olive oil in a deep skillet and saute diced onion. Add ground turkey and cook until browned while crumbling the ground turkey. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Add the whole contents of stewed tomatoes and roughly break it up. Add pasta, ketchup, mustard, tomato paste and chicken broth. Bring it to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 13-16 minutes.

3. Turn the heat off, add cheese on top and cover for 2 minutes or so or until cheese is just melted. Sprinkle chopped scallions and serve immediately.

*Recipe adapted from damndelicious.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mekong grill - Ridgewood, NJ

Every so often we crave some good Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine is clearly not as popular a choice as Chinese, Thai or Japanese food, as a result, our choices are limited. This is unfortunate, as in many respects the cuisine is similar to both Chinese and Thai food, with much lighter and more refreshing sauces.

This week we decided to hit up Mekong Grill in Ridgewood, as Christine was craving Pho. We have eaten here before, once for lunch, and once for take-out. The restaurant is in the heart of Ridgewood, which means parking will be a challenge!   We were pleased that the staff allowed us to call ahead and reserve a table, as after circling Ridgewood for 20+ minutes to find a parking spot, the last thing we wanted to hear is that there is a long wait.

The restaurant is very casual, and is BYOB.  We were greeted quickly, and given that we were both starving, we managed to get our orders in fast. Surprisingly, they did not have any bottled sparking water, which is our staple when eating out.   We ordered spring rolls as an appetizer, they came out quickly and were crispy and very tasty. Christine ordered the Pho, which she enjoyed. I ordered a beef dish, which came with steamed angle hair noodles and lettuce wraps. The sauted beef was very tasty.  What was disappointing was the size of the entree, at $17 was the most expensive item on the menu.  I was convinced they mistakenly sent out the appetizer version of the dish...as it was that small. As a result, we placed an order of pan fried dumplings, which we both enjoyed.  

All in all the experience was average.  Given that there are not many local Vietnamese restaurants for us to choose from, Mekong would definitely rank as the best option around. The service was just OK, our waitress had forgot a couple of our requests, which was surprising. Our bill came in over $50, which felt high given what we ordered, particularly since no drinks were involved

Xteve rating : 2.5 *****
Website : no official website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Braised chicken with daikon


Second week of school. I am so glad my tot absolutely loves his school. Today at drop off, he was so anxious for the door to open just like the first day. But this time, he just ran in without even saying good bye! My gosh..When I went to pick him up, he asked me why we had to leave. Haha I love how fast he gets used to the new environment. Hopefully it stays this way. It is so hard to see a kid crying going into a classroom. Especially when they're that little!

After a fun day at school, a long nap, snack and running around outside for a while - what a life!, I guess he got a little hungry. He loves his daikon and when he saw me cooking it, he could not wait. Every 5 minutes he came to me and shouted with excitement, "DINNER TIME!!!!!" Uh..dude, it's 430pm. After the anticipation, he thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Every. Bit. Of. It. =) 

It used to be hard to get daikon from local supermarkets but these days, along with napa cabbage, you can find them easily. If not, Asian markets always have them. They are good for digestion and cold. 
This dish is especially more enjoyable as it's getting chilly out just like stew is perfect fit for the chilly days. Drizzle some sauce over the rice and a bite of daikon with super tender chicken. YUM! 

Braised chicken with daikon

Ingredients :

1 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs(or breast), cubed
1 lbs daikon, cut into fan shape - thick quarter rounds
2 scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp Sesame oil 
2 hard boiled eggs, cut in half.(optional)


3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp agave syrup
3 Tbsp mirin
2 Tbsp sherry
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Directions :

1. In a deep saute pan, heat up sesame oil and add chicken. Saute for 5 minutes. Add the daikon and 1 1/4 cup of water. Bring it to boil.

2. Add sauce and once it starts boiling, close the lid and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. With the lid open, bring it to boil again. Add eggs and boil for 5 minutes on medium high heat. 

4. Off heat, sprinkle scallions and serve. 

*Adapted from cookpad.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pear gorgonzola pita pizza


Back to school season. And my tot started his school! I can't believe how big he got and he's already going to school(even though it's just 2's). Until the day of, I didn't think it's a big deal as it's only a couple of hours and twice a week. He walked in so confidently, offered me a hug and a kiss. Then said, "See you later, mommy." and just walked away! I came right out of the classroom as I wanted to keep things smooth. But I could not leave. I stayed around like other first time preschool moms did, and saw one kid crying hysterically. I suddenly got so emotional and couldn't help but crying! Anyway, I thought I could do so much while he's at school but time went by so quickly, it was already time to pick him up, which means it's almost lunch time!

On the short ride home, he told me all about school, who took him to the potty, what song he sang, what he ate for snack, etc. And...how teachers offered him water with animal crackers and he asked if he could have sparkling water. WHAT?! Oh boy..this kid..Well, he now knows that still water or milk are the only options at school.

Anyway, for my pizza loving boy, I quickly whipped up a "pizza" with one of my most used appliances in the kitchen, toaster oven. Of course I did not have time to make the dough nor did I have the dough in the fridge. Prep is so quick that I could finish and put it in the oven while my tot was still chatting away. If you like thin crust, this is a great option for crunchiness and it's healthier than real pizza dough. And you can also make individual pizza with the pita. I guess first day at school made him extra tired, soon after we ate, he started to yawn and went right up to take a nap. =) 

Pear gorgonzola pita pizza

Ingredients :

2 whole wheat pita bread
2 Tbsp goat cheese
3 Tbsp gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 d'Anjou pear(or pear of your liking), thinly sliced
4 strips of bacon
Honey to drizzle

Directions :

1. Cook the bacon until crispy and chop them into small pieces. - I microwaved them for 6 minutes between paper towels on a plate to make it quick and easy but feel free to use the method you like.

2. Toast or broil the pita for 4 minutes.

3. Smear goat cheese on two toasted pita bread. Place pear slices, bacon and gorgonzola on top. 

4. Put it back in the oven and toast/broil for 3-4 minutes. Drizzle honey on top and serve.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Habit Burger Grill- Fair lawn, NJ

There was a time when we used to wait in line out the door two blocks away from our apartment for a burger. Shake shack. When they first came to upper east side in Manhattan, it was a pure excitement. I thought nothing would beat their burger. We've had our fair share of all kinds of fancy burgers but the winner was always the simple shack burger. As soon as we heard about this burger joint, people were already raving about it. We had to try it. And the winner is...The habit burger! The first thing you see when you walk in is the sigh "Respect the burger". And they mean it!

Left is teriyaki char burger I got, and the right is double char burger. Teriyaki char burger comes with grilled pineapple. They claim that burgers come with caramelized onions but it's not the caramelized onions you would think of, it's more like sauteed onions. But it's still good.

Green bean tempura and fries. Very crispy until we finished it. We enjoyed every bite of it. We also ordered a kid's burger as my tot would eat close to half a burger. Usually, we would make a plate for him from what we order but here, I did not want to share mine. Besides a burger, you have choice of apple slices or fries, soda or juice. And the meal comes with a cute little burger gummy which I told him it's not food. It's a very nice touch. He loved the little burger gummy, he held on to it and stared all the way home.

Oh boy..the shake. I got mocha. It is GOOD! Shake shack and habit ties on this one. Next time I'm going to try coffee shake. 

Overall experience was EXCELLENT! As they seem to cook to order, it wasn't super fast but wait isn't that long considering how busy it was. at 11:30am line was out the door. I thought we were the only ones who eat lunch that early! Service was good, they walk around and clean up the table quickly. Staff are all very friendly yet professional. There's a reason why this started in 1969 and still doing great!

Xteve rating - 5.0 *****

Friday, September 5, 2014

Peanut butter quinoa nut bark


I LOVE toasted quinoa. I scoop it and just snack on it. Sprinkle it on yogurt, granola or anything that needs a little crunch, I add it. Oh, better yet, coat banana slices in them. I am not a fan of bananas but when they're coated in toasted quinoa, I go bananas! =P How about with chocolate? Yes, please! I've been making these a lot and these are always a hit. It's like a whole lot fancier and healthier substitute for crunch chocolate bar. - Texture feels just like it. 

Toasting quinoa is really simple. Wash quinoa very well, drain and dump them in the skillet and babysit for a little bit until browned. When I make them I make them in large batches so I can fill up a big jar. Each batch takes less than 10 minutes and you will have a versatile crunchy element waiting to be used! 

On Labor day weekend, with our dear friends, we opened up a very good bottle of 14 years old port that we've been saving. Well, technically it's what Steve has been saving because when he bought that wine years ago, I was not even legal to buy alcohol yet. Muhaha! Anyway, the point is, that good port was even more fabulous with this nutty, crunchy, dark chocolate bark. With outdoor fire going, sipping great wine with good friends, eating delicious barks... Totally worth donating some blood to those darn mosquitoes here and there. =)

Peanut butter quinoa nut bark

Ingredients :

10 oz Peanut butter chip
14 oz chocolate chip
2/3 cup toasted quinoa(wash the quinoa, drain, toast until browned- no oil necessary) 
2/3 cup mixed nuts, chopped. 

Directions :

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the peanut butter chip. If using microwave, peanut butter chips are very easy to burn. Melt with 30 second interval method, checking carefully. 
2. Spread melted peanut butter chips on the lined baking sheet, making sure it is thin and even. If PB layer is too thick it's super hard to break when hardened. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes.

3. Melt the chocolate. Add quinoa to chocolate and mix well. Take hardened peanut butter layer out and spread chocolate mixture on it  evenly. Sprinkle chopped nuts. Place back in the fridge for 10-15 minutes. 

4. When ready, either cut the way you like or break them into pieces. And they are ready to go!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Restaurants in Myrtle beach, SC

One week at the beach is now over and we're all back to reality. What a fun week it was! 

Since we were eating out every meal, where to go was always a big decision. We know eating at local restaurants was risky as we really don't know what we're getting into but we still enjoy trying new things so after reading some reviews, we gave a few restaurants a try. We ate at some national chain too due to schedule and my tot's nap time but here are a few local restaurants and local chain restaurants we tried.

Chuck's steak house 

Read good things about the place and steak sounded great on the first night. Looked kind of plain from outside.

Inside, it looked very cool and we were seated at a large booth which was perfect. Server was super friendly and professional, service was pretty fast. We ordered some steaks and it includes salad bar which wasn't impressive. But steak was good. Onion rings were pretty good too. Overall, it wasn't wow but pretty good. 

Xteve rating : 3.0 *****

McAlister's Deli

Very nicely done deli. We went there at least 4 times as far as I remember. Everything we ordered was very fresh and great, every time. It is very welcoming and gives you the clean feel to it. Staff were friendly and service was very quick. I was tired of having bad lettuce in my sandwiches from the hotel pool bar and it was a life changer! Quick lunch place that does things right. If we stayed longer, we would have gone back more. In deli category, this was a winner!

Xteve rating : 4.0 *****
Website : McAlister's deli

Islamorada fish market

We randomly found this restaurant at a mall close from the hotel and decided to give it a try. Restaurant was decorated nicely and very spacious. They served sweet bread to start with and it is so delicious. Ordered tuna to cook medium but it was a lot closer to well. Was not happy but because we were in a hurry to go back to the hotel for my tot's nap, I decided to just finish the meal. Waitress was very kind and attentive but I was surprised that a big restaurant like this doesn't have sparkling water. Not a big deal, I ordered seltzer and some tropical cocktail and it was so good I couldn't stop drinking it even though it was very filling. Food was a little too salty to my taste but it was very tasty. 

Xteve rating : 3.0 *****

Chestnut hill

It was such a chaotic meal with kids in the family, we don't have any pictures of it. They have a big pond where they have alligators and turtles and you can see them from your table. Not exactly my cup of tea but something different and kids loved it. Our waiter was very calm, funny, friendly and professional even though we weren't the easiest table. Food came out pretty quickly. Some ordered steak, some ordered seafood. Steaks didn't get good reviews. Seafood was average. Brownie got good reviews from kids. 

Xteve rating : 3.0 *****
Website : Chestnut hill


For Steve's birthday, we went to this hibachi restaurant. I read reviews stating that food was good but hostess wasn't nice and it was absolutely right. She didn't seem to want to be there and was not nice at all. But food was pretty good. Our hibachi chef was entertaining as one should be. Food was a little on the salty side. Especially chicken teriyaki was soaked in sauce, if you're ordering teriyaki chicken, ask them to go easy on the sauce. Oh, the amount of rice they give you is INSANE. When they dump a gigantic "bucket" full of rice, I could not believe it. I've never seen so much rice at one table before. It was a very pleasant meal with entertainment for kids even though my tot said hibachi chef started the fire and he almost got burned - which the latter part was made up. =P 

Xteve rating : 4.0 *****
Website : Miyabi


I have not been to Margaritaville before and I was happy to try. Because we went early and it wasn't the peak time, we didn't expect the wait to be so long but I almost had a heart attack when they said 2.5 hours!! It's in the broadway at the beach, so I recommend putting your name down, then go for rides. We ended up getting a table outside and everyone was melting. Food was average and of course their margarita was especially refreshing after melting in the sun for a while. Our waitress was nice enough to switch the table for us. Balloons they give out seemed to keep the kids busy for a little while. Everything was just as I expected for a chain family restaurant. 

Xteve rating : 3.0 *****
Website : Margaritaville

Overall, dining experience in Myrtle beach area was disappointing. Obviously we weren't looking for fine dining experience or anything but most places we went to were very average, nothing exceptional. I have to say, our favorite meal was not steak or fancy seafood dish but it was sandwiches from McAlister's deli. Bring a few good sandwiches back to the beach and have a little picnic at sunset. You'll probably enjoy it better than an average sit down restaurant in the area.