Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chores day

Living alone in a foreign country is not all about sight seeing or even enjoying days at work. One also has to do things called chores.

Back home, I already have my own place so cooking, washing dishes and fixing clutter is not really new. But living away means the help could not dropby twice a week to clean up or do the laundry. Its all me. So today, i'm doing laundry and  and cleaning the kitchen (by force because the apartment will be doing some work in the kitchen tomorrow so it has to be all set for them).

I just need to vent. Yesterday, i just realized i had tons of things to do and putting a clock on chores is a little too much. I was supposed to go to the grocery today but I was too lazy to go out. I blame it on the cold weather although today is not as cold. Anyway, I better start cleaning, because clothes won't wash themselves.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bistro Date Night

One day, my fellow graduate student decided to go out for dinner at our favorite French bistro, Yves Bistro in Alexandria. We initially chose this place because of its proximity to our supervisor's place and the metro station but because of the great food and service, we eventually became regulars.

Since we went there on a Friday night, they have a French lady singing French songs. She even goes around the bistro serenading all the diners.The serving is quite generous and for an Asian appetite, I feel that this is good for sharing.

Here's what we had:

They have a special menu that changes every week.

Crispy Risotto with Roasted Red Pepper Salad

Salmon with Lentils

After dinner, we really wanted to have dessert but we were quite full so we decided to move to the next store in order to try out their ice cream.

Cold Stone Ice Cream Shop

So many flavours!

Mixing the add-ins on a cold stone

I had the Coffee Lovers Dream (like-it size)

Joanna had the Cheesecake fantasy also in like-it size

I personally loved the coffee lovers ice cream because it had the right kick that i needed. the cheesecake fix was a bit too sweet for me but Joanna found it great.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Like I said in a previous post, i used to bake a lot back in high school. i could have imagined myself setting up my own cafe if I pursued a different life back then. But my mom was too traditional to let me study culinary arts. It was assumed that a career in the kitchen will not sustain a living, maybe she was right. I mean, I wouldn't be where I am if I wasn't pushed to choose my course in college.

Anyway, enough about my past, I usually get recipes online and revise them to achieve the texture that I want. Today, I tried to make a famous southern dessert, red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Despite the lack of culinary education, most of which can be attributed to food network tv, here are some lessons that I've learned:

1. Follow instructions: unless you already know what you are doing, follow every instruction down to the last detail.

2. Use different measuring tools for dry and wet ingredients: this will definitely affect the quality of your product.

3. Use the best ingredients: when the recipe calls for butter, use butter and not margarine! they are called two different things because they are definitely not the same! Some manufacturers may claim that their product tastes like butter but the process and ingredients used to make butter will enhance the texture of your finished product.

4. Do not be afraid to bake in the absence of proper tools, i. e. mixer. I've always wanted a Kitchen Aid mixer, but sad to say, I cannot afford one as of the moment. I am currently using the whisk attachment of my cuisinart hand blender as a whisk and a fork to cream butter and sugar and mix everything together. Maybe a mixer will make your life easier, but lets just say that machines make life easier, in general, but they weren't always there.

5. Never forget to preheat your oven! This will affect the quality of your baked goodies. You wouldn't want to throw in your mixture in an oven that's just about to warm up. You want the oven hot and ready for you.

Enough about the pointers and here's how to make this delectable moist dessert:

Here are the ingredients
Notice, that I do not really use name brand products, as long as they have it the store brand I'm fine. I noticed that there isn't much difference in the quality (at least here in the united states) :)

I usually have my recipe written out before I start and I have my "entertainment" all set up while preparing.

First thing you have to do!!! PREHEAT YOUR OVEN to 350F

In a bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups of flour (I use all-purpose but some people use cake flour), 1/2 cup  unsweetened cocoa (I used hershey's dark cocoa but most recipes just call for unsweetened cocoa,  but I couldn't resist the dark cocoa when I saw it on the shelf, I love dark chocolate), 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt.

In another bowl, cream 6 tablespoons butter at room temperature and softened with 1 1/4 cup sugar.

Add in two eggs

In another bowl, set up 1 1/4 cup buttermilk.

Mix in a part of the dry ingredients in the butter mixture.

Mix a part of the buttermilk mixture. Do this alternatingly, ending with the dry ingredients.

Here's where the magic begins: mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, and 2 tablespoons red food colouring.

Line your cupcake pans with liners and fill them with your red mixture 2/3 full, and toss them in your preheated oven.

And after 18-20 minutes, you have these!

Make your frosting: combine 5 tablespoons butter, 4 teaspoons buttermilk, 1 block cream cheese, 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Put them all in a piping bag with your favourite decorating tip.

Frost and enjoy your yummy cupcake!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Presidents' Day at the Library of Congress

Americans celebrate the Presidents' Day every third Monday of February to celebrate the birthdays of President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln. It used to be called President's Day celebrating the birthday of President GW, but later on they made it a bit generic to include Abe. I enjoyed this holiday because the Library of Congress opened the doors of its Main Reading Room to the public for photography. On normal days, photography is not allowed.

The Library of Congress is literally the library of the American Congress. Only congressmen and their staff may borrow books from the collections. But aside from being the world's largest library, it also houses various pieces of history such as The Giant Bible of Mainz and The Gutenburg Bible.

Since it is a national holiday, I went to the library with my supervisor and a fellow student. who says graduate school is not fun? The library has three buildings but we only explored the Thomas Jefferson Building, named after the U.S. president who declared that he could not live without books. This president offered his personal library to the congress in 1815 after the British troops burned down the new Capitol building. Unfortunately, two-thirds of his collection was destroyed in another fire later on. to date, the library houses the Thomas Jefferson Library exhibit showcasing the remaining books from the original acquisition.

The library has many curious fixtures, such as the original light bulbs donated by Thomas Edison for the opening of The Great Hall in 1897, Italian rennaisance architecture inspired marble sculture by Philip Martiny (they say that the hall was patterned after the Paris Opera House), a tile mosaic of Minerva with a list of subjects that she wants to study (and economics is one of them <3) among others.

It was an overwhelming experience and everyone should see this place. Here are some photos but I truly believe that these pictures do not do justice to the real thing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chinese New Year DC style

People often neglect things when its always there. Now this is the first time that I am away from home in Chinese New Year and let me just say that it felt weird. First of all, since its not really part of the regular calendar, I didn't even know it was already that time of the year. If not for the people posting stuff on Facebook, I would have not clue. 

Every year, my mom would prepare tikoy in turon form and send them to friends. I would even free ride on this and bring a box or two to school. I would only give it away but I didn't really like tikoy but the recipients were quite happy. This year, I was unable to see the anything close to tikoy here in DC. This made me feel a tinge of sadness, but do not be misled, I am very happy here. In order to lift my spirits, I quickly searched the net for festivities in the area and lo and behold, they have an annual Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown. They close a block to hold this parade. It was so cold but not too cold, I survived with a light jacket that day but they didn't start on time so its not really too good if people were waiting for it to start for almost an hour.

 Before the parade the street was so empty

 Costumes in place

 Dragon dance practice in the park nearby

 They have two dragons!

 Chinatown Ark

 Shaolin Temple invasion