Friday, January 14, 2011

Handmade mochi from Taiwan

Though mochi is a japanese confectionery treat, it is widely popular in chinese cuisine as well. I’ve noticed some noticeable different between japanese style mochi and chinese style mochi.

Japanese mochi tends to be beautifully designed, using a bean paste jelly-like substance to create intricate shapes.  It is similar to how we use fondant on cake. However, like fondant, the bean paste jelly used is very sweet, and I find that the mochi often gets lost in it.

Traditional chinese mochi does not use the bean paste jelly. Instead, it only uses the mochi flour and filling. There tends to be more emphasis on the chewy exterior flour and less filling. There are often very pretty Taiwanese mochi as well, but it’s usually a print embossed onto the mochi dough.

One of the things I used to always request from Taiwan was mochi. There was a store that I used to go to (the name now escapes me), which sold tons of mochi, many of them beautifully designed. However, a few years ago, my relatives told me the place wasn’t any good anymore. I also noticed that the traditional mochi, which once had been found everywhere, wasn’t as widely available.

On my last trip two years ago, my aunt took me to a place called Pau Chuan, located inside Sogo shopping center, which made several types of mochi. The one that is really special is their handmade mochi. Most mochi is made by machines now, so handmade is quite a lot of work. The mochi was so soft and yet so chewy at the same time.  I loved it. It’s been a while since I’ve been back, so there may be better places now. But at the time, this was my favorite.

So with Baby Bro’s GF going back to Taiwan during her winter break (you can read about part 1 and 2 of her visit here), I requested she bring me back some mochi.

These mochi can be kept in the fridge or freezer — in fact they need to be or else they will go moldy. Luckily they still retain their chewy texture even after being in the fridge. These mochi don’t look as fancy as some of the other ones in Taiwan, but they taste so good. The one fancy one was this one with the flower embedded on top.

The mochi come in a few flavors: taro, green bean, red bean and peanut paste. My favorite is still the traditional red bean. The flower one was red bean as well, but with a fancier decoration.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nico’s Steakhouse Restaurant Week Preview

San Diego Restaurant Week is upon us again. It runs from January 16- 21. You can view all the participating restaurants here as well as the menus for each of the restaurant offerings.

Over 160 restaurants are participating, offering three course price fix menus, priced at either $20 $30 or $40.

As you may recall, I’ve been lucky enough to participate in a sneak peek of restaurant week menus in the past. This time around, the people of McFarlane Promotions once again offered me and one guest a complimentary meal to preview restaurant week.

In the past, we were able to choose from a list of restaurants. This time, we were each paired up with a restaurant.

Admittedly, Nico’s Steakhouse would not have been my first choice because of location. Located in Chula Vista, it’s quite a ways from where I live, and is hard to commute to during the weekday evenings.

However, I’m not one to turn down a free meal, so off BF and I went to check out Nico’s.  Nico’s underwent new management about a year ago and is currently owned by retired NFL player Robert “Griff” Griffith.  It is located in the sprawling Otay Ranch Town Center shopping plaza.

Normally when I participate in Restaurant Week, I choose the $40 menus so that I can try out some fine dining places at a reasonable price. Nico’s offers a $30 price fix menu, so going in, I knew I had to adjust my expectations accordingly.

Once we arrived, we were promptly seated, and presented with the Restaurant Week menu as well as some hot bread rolls.

For our appetizers, I chose the smoked wings. You get a choice of sauce with the wings. The server brought us three different sauces to try: tamarind, spicy and BBQ. The sauces were a little too much like ketchup to me, with some flavoring added.

The wings had crispy skin and were moist. The smoked flavor wasn’t very apparent. The wings themselves didn’t have much flavor, and definitely needed the sauce.

BF chose the chili. We were informed the chili has some filet mignon tossed in.

We saw pieces of steak, but neither of us thought it was filet mignon. The chili was a mix of ground beef, beans, and steak pieces. I thought the steak pieces were a nice touch, though they were overcooked. BF thought the chili should have been served warmer.

For the main course, I chose the Fire Grill Salmon. Being that this is a steakhouse, I would have liked to see more steak options on their restaurant week menu, but the lone steak option was a skirt steak.

The salmon had a sweet glaze. It was served on top of a bed of mashed potatoes and spinach. There was also some pineapple salsa accompanying the salmon.

BF chose the BBQ ribs. The ribs were served on a large bed of mashed potatoes and a bowl of cole slaw. The ribs were tender, with the meat falling right off the bone. I would have liked a sauce that was a little more unique.

For dessert, I chose the banana bread pudding. The pudding came out piping hot and was topped with vanilla ice cream.

The first few bites of this dessert were heavenly. Chunks of banana were mixed with chunks of soaked bread. I was surprised at how good the dessert was, especially because dessert tends to the weak point on a steakhouse menu. After my initial few bites, BF stole my dessert and it took me a while to get it  back. When I got the dessert back, it was no longer hot and no longer tasted as good as a result.  This dessert definitely needs to be eaten straight from the oven.

BF chose the chocolate mousse pie. It was chocolately, rich and a bit too sweet for me.

Overall, we felt that the food we ate was representative of the $30 price. Nothing stood out but there wasn’t much criticism either. The one thing that did stand out was the service, which was excellent.

It also would have been nice to speak with the manager or chef, something we’ve been able to do at all our past restaurant week sneak peeks.

Nico’s Steakhouse
2015 Birch Road
Chula Vista, CA 91915
(619) 421-9500
Nico's Steak & Chop House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Braided Milk Bread

I love challah breads. When Christine’s recipes made a variation on the tangzhong bread and created a braided version of a walnut raisin bread, I really wanted to try making a braided version of milk bread.

Next time I’m going to try making a double braid, but this time I only made a single. The bread was yummy and soft and fluffy as always. I’m absolutely addicted to make bread with this tangzhong method, as it always produces such fluffy bread. I had some problems with my  braiding skills. Next time I need to roll out the dough ropes to be more smoothe and even before I start and I need to make my braids tighter. I also had problems tucking in the dough at either end of the bread.

Christine’s recipes made two braided breads, but I opted to make one giant one so that there would be more of the soft, fluffy inside of the bread.

Milk Bread (adapted from two of Christine’s recipes here and here,which she adapted from the 65 degrees book)
Yields 1 loaf


2½ cups bread flour
3tbsp+2tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
120g tangzhong (click here for making tangzhong)
2 tsp instant yeast
3 tbsp butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)

1. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast in a bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the center. Add in all wet ingredients: milk, egg and tangzhong. Fit the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer and begin mixing on medium speed and knead until your dough comes together and then add in the butter and continue kneading.  Keep kneading until the dough is smooth, not too sticky on the surface and elastic. I kneaded the dough for about 18-20 minutes. Each mixer may vary.

When the dough is ready, you should be able to take a chunk of dough and stretch it to a very thin membrane before it breaks. When it does break, the break should be form a circle.

2. Knead the dough into a ball shape. Take a large bowl and grease with oil.  Place dough into  greased bowl and cover with a wet towel. Let it proof until it’s doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
3. Transfer to a clean surface. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Roll out into ropes.

4. Braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends inside. Put braided dough on baking sheet and put plastic wrap on top. Let dough sit and double in size, about 40 minutes.
5. Beat an egg and brush egg mixture on top to create shiny eggwash finish.
6. Bake at 325 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes.