Monday, August 29, 2011

Mochi + Peanut Butter = All My Dreams Come True

Can you believe I grew up here?
Simply gorgeous. 
Growing up in Hawaii, a delicious cultural melting pot, Asian food was and is a regular part of my life.  While there's a sushi place on every corner in LA, my favorite Japanese treats can be a tad more difficult to find.

Which is why I'm obsessed with Mitsuwa, my local Japanese food court/ bakery/ grocery/ magazine/ toy/ beauty store.  I head here pretty regularly to get my fix, always dragging a few colleagues with me.  No matter what kind of day I'm having, the minute I walk in the door, I break into a silly little grin.  Feels like home.

The Torrance location is phenomenal.  Not only is it the size of a small country, it houses everything a girl from Hawaii could want-- good kine rice, chicken katsu, spicy hot ramen, the best shrimp tempura ever, tofu curry, fresh sashimi, and of course, my reason for living--treats.  Ohhhh the treats.

While I like food, the treats are my main reason for visiting.  And without fail, before leaving this glorious place, I always pick up some type of mochi.

Row upon row of marvelous mochi 
I've been a Fan of Mochi my whole life.  It may have started because of the Japanese New Year tradition to make and eat lots of mochi.  And New Years happens to be one of Hawaii's most celebrated holidays.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Another theory: my mom makes a killer butter mochi and I make a pretty good coconut mochi; I'll cover both another divine desserts another time.

So imagine my surprise when a recent lunch visit (edamame and tofu salad) uncovered a genius new offering I had never seen before:  Peanut Butter Mochi.

Wait, what?

I came to a screeching halt and got up nice and close to re-read--and take pictures of--the sign.  This is when The Mochi Lady started laughing at me.     
The sign that stopped me in my tracks

Could it be?  The combination of two of my all-time favorite treats in one?

I adore these sweet rice treats plain with no bells and whistles, but I especially love daifuku--mochi with a little surprise in the middle.  Red bean was my favorite, until now.  Peanut butter???  Holy mother of pearl.
The Peanut Butter Mochi in all its glory

I politely (perhaps creepily) asked The Mochi Lady to please hurry and wrap up two (one for me, and one intended for my friend Lisa, another pb fan--more on that later).  The Mochi Lady painstakingly--and slowly, I might add--wrapped each delectable ball of goodness individually in several layers of tissue, and then gently placed them in an adorable treat bag, and perfectly sealed them with a Mitsuwa sticker.  It's not Japanese if it's not covered in 18 layers of gorgeous packaging. 

I literally couldn't think straight as we drove back to work.  (Burton, next time you drive).

As soon as I got back to my desk, I ripped through the layers of tissue paper to get to my treat (sorry, Mochi Lady).  Staring back at me were two beautifully and perfectly made mochi balls.  I dove in.

So much peanut buttery goodness packed
into a tiny little package.
The yummy yellow mochi covering, decorated with a happy little sunshine, was sensually soft and gorgeously gooey.  But the star of the show was simply breathtaking: the unique peanut butter filling was moist, sweet, and slightly crumbly.  It was generously packed with wall-to-wall peanut butter, so you're guaranteed a peanut butter chunk in every bite.  Heavenly.

You're probably wondering if the second Peanut Butter Mochi made it to Lisa.  I'm not gonna lie, it was a difficult decision.  In the end, I gave it away.  Here's why: Lisa is my Peanut Butter Enabler, ie the owner of the jar of peanut butter that I tend to snack from every day at 4pm.  (I cannot be trusted to have my own jar of peanut butter, I am required to eat it under supervision).  To continue regular access to my pb supply, and since she's such a crazy pb fan herself, I couldn't deny her my newly found treasure.  So I shared.  

(Of course I will also be back to Mitsuwa very shortly and plan to order the rest of the tray).

21515 Western Ave
TorranceCA 90501
(310) 782-0335

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Elvis, You're a Mess. A Wonderful, Wonderful Mess.

I just had drinks with Elvis.  How is he?  He's good.  Reeeeeeally, really good.

I've always had a little thing for Elvis, but my fascination reached new heights when I learned that he was also a peanut butter nut.  The fried peanut butter & banana sandwich?  Elvis, you are The King.  

Elvis is in the building
So when I saw "The Elvis" on the dessert menu of the slammin' hot new restaurant Manhattan Beach Post, it was a no-brainer.  And when I read that this little concoction featured not just peanut butter mousse, but carmelized bananas, chocolate pudding and bacon brittle...well, I was All Shook Up (Warning: this is just one of several super tacky Elvis song references included throughout this story).

The Elvis is also called a "Wonderful Mess", and for good reason.  This dish was an absolutely delicious disaster.

The Elvis is served in a large white bowl that cradles the first layer, a smooth, cold pool of rich chocolate pudding.  But the first thing you notice (at least I did, being the pb-obsessed fool that I am) is the giant dollop of thick peanut butter mousse, framed by chunky carmelized bananas.  I Can't Help Falling in Love.
No this isn't a roasted chicken.  I forgot my camera so
I had to resort to my crappy camera phone. Sadly, I am now
forced to go back in order to take fancy pictures.
I asked for the bacon brittle bits on the side (I'm so LA sometimes, please do not do this), but of course we ended up eating those too.  Every last morsel.  And in about 2 minutes flat, it was gone.

Don't worry, I shared it with a fellow obsessed pb fan.  Ryan, I'm sure you're just as embarrassed as I am about these terrible pictures.  We need a re-do asap please.

Manhattan Beach Post changes its menu regularly.  So.  It's Now or Never.

Manhattan Beach Post
1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan BeachCA 90266
(310) 545-5405

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dessert for Breakfast? Yes please.

I just love breakfast.  What better way to start your day than with blueberry pancakes dripping in maple syrup, chocolate chip belgian waffles, almond croissants, ricotta crepes covered in strawberries and whipped cream...let's face facts, my friends.  These are desserts.  They just happen to be served in the morning.
The Cinnamon Streusel Peach Surprise Breakfast Muffin

One of my favorite breakfast treats is the Muffin.  Especially when they're warm and fresh out of the oven, a bit crumbly, lightly buttered...mmmmm muffins.

I try to make something once a week for my colleagues (aka "guinea pigs").  I had a long day and didn't get home until pretty late, so I wanted to make something really quick, but still unique.  So I decided on a Cinnamon Streusel Muffin mix-- but of course with a twist.
Cinnamon muffin batter with
fresh peach chunks

The scrumptious muffins
entering the oven
I looooove summer fruit, and peaches are my absolute favorite.  I throw them into as many dishes as possible--salads, yogurt, oatmeal, bread--and I particularly adore them grilled, drizzled in brown sugar and a dash of vanilla.  YUM.

I've had a few mishaps.  For example, I don't suggest making peach soup.  Feel free to trust me on this one.

But these muffins were super easy.  I followed the box directions, chopped up peaches and mixed them into the batter, gently sprinkled the cinnamon sugar mix on top of each muffin, and placed the chunky batter into the muffin holders.  I promptly licked the bowl (c'mon now, I know I'm not alone here--isn't the batter is the best part!?!)  12 minutes later, they were perfectly baked, which for me means still slightly gooey in the center.  There's nothing worse than a dry, overbaked muffin.

I let them sit overnight (I may have tried 1 muffin before bed,  just to make sure they came out well.  It's extremely difficult to pass up a piping hot, just-out-of-the-oven muffin for goodness sakes).

Good Morning to me
The following morning, I decided to take my little  muffin, freshly sliced peaches, and some Earl Grey tea into my garden for a delicious little breakfast.  Such a fabulous start to my day!

And what did they think at work?  Let's just say the 9 muffins that made it into work ( I may have had 1 more before heading in) went fairly quickly.

Everyone thought they were light, delicious, and had just the right amount of sweetness, but they couldn't place what fruit I had used.  This is how I came up with the incredibly ingenious name, Cinnamon Streusel Peach Surprise Breakfast Muffins.

Personally, I feel a bit less guilty about having dessert for breakfast if fruit is included in some way.  That's because fruit is good for you.  (Yup.  I can justify just about anything).

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Incredible Edible Ice Cream Birthday Cupcake

I just love birthdays.  Of course I love celebrating my birthday most of all, but I also adore celebrating anyone's birthday because birthdays mean BIRTHDAY CAKE!  Hooray!
Well hello,  Fudge.
As you can probably tell, I'm not a vanilla cake kinda girl.  I like to keep life interesting.  So when my sister Aulani's birthday approached, and she asked for an ice cream cake, I thought well, anyone can make an ice cream cake.  I take your ice cream cake and raise you.  And just how do you take ice cream cake to the next level?  Ice cream cupcakes, of course.

I have never made an ice cream cake nor ice cream cupcakes, but I was confident that because ice cream would be included--in the form of the cupcake no less--that no matter what happened, these things were going to be phenomenal.  (I was right.)

Oreo cookie crumb crust...a really good start.
I started with cute little sports cupcake holders (we're big sports people).  My mom suggested an easy crust--crushed Oreo cookies mixed with melted butter.  Please do me a favor: if you find pre-crushed Oreos, don't tell me.  One of the most hilariously fun things about this on-the-fly recipe was my mom and I peeling off the Oreo lard and crushing them into tiny pieces.  Trust me, do it by hand and watch the laughter (and Oreo crumbs) fly.

I continued to build the cupcake by adding two separate layers of ice cream--Pralines and Cream and Cookies and Cream--both favorites of the birthday girl.  (A Redo Tip: I'd grab two or three different colored flavors--say, chocolate, strawberry and green tea--so the difference in the layers really pops).   I topped it with whipped cream, drizzled it in dark chocolate fudge, and added fun sprinkles on top.  Voila!  A super easy, colorful, fun, and decadent birthday treat!

Happy Birthday Aulani!

We quickly sang Happy Birthday (hello hot candles sitting on ice cream), and each promptly devoured our refreshing little "cakes".  The cookie crust combined with the ice cream, fudge, and whipped cream was pure yumminess.  And really easy to make.  Also, I can't say enough about the convenient portability of this little treat--very easy to grab and go, or stick in the freezer for another time.  
The birthday girl, ridiculously excited about
the most incredible ice cream cupcakes ever invented.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Champagne Almond Cupcakes with Raspberries

The now famous Champagne Almond Cupcakes with Raspberries

The name alone makes me smile.

My friend Sylvia was having her annual Summer BBQ and I wanted to make something spectacular.  So I thought, what better way to properly celebrate any event than with champagne?  And I love cupcakes...hmmmm...what would happen if I combine them?  Sheer genius.

I was pressed for time so I decided to wing it.  Btw I should warn you that this is a common theme--I know baking is a sciencey artform blah blah blah.  But life is short people and who has the time to test 5 different iterations of champagne cupcakes before their big debut?  I prefer to have a general idea of what I want to do, and then I cross my fingers.

I decided to skip some steps and bought a box of Duncan Hines white cake mix.  I substituted the water with champagne, added some almond extract, and gave it a stir.  It was light, airy, a bit bubbly.  But the best thing about the batter (and I am a very experienced fan of batter so I say this with confidence), it wasn't overly sweet.  Too many times when I make box mixes, the dough is so incredibly sweet it makes your teeth hurt.  Not this batter.  It was lovely, even elegant.

But I wasn't sure how it would hold up in the oven.  So I waited with bated breath and tried not to check on them every few minutes.  Luckily they came out perfectly.

I then added some almond extract to a creamy white frosting, gave it a vigorous stir, and gently placed a dollop on top of each one.  I swirled the frosting to a tip in the middle so they resembled a little fluffy cloud.  I then placed two fresh red raspberries on top and voila, the Champagne Almond Cupcake with Raspberries was born.
They disappeared shortly after this picture was taken
But how did they taste and how did people react?  They were a HUGE HIT and the talk of the party! (This may have something to do with the fact that I was running around asking people, "So what do you think of my delicious cupcakes?" "You should totally try the cupcakes, I hear they're to die for.")

My fabulous sister Aulani enjoying the cupcake
with a glass of almond champagne

Toronto aka "Chocolate Wonderland"

Toronto, you caught me by surprise.  It turns out that I like you a lot.

What was I expecting?  The nicest people on earth, certainly (aren't Canadians just the best?).  Tall buildings and meetings were a given.  But I was not expecting to run into one of the most amazing dessert bars I've ever eaten.  Plus I added a new word to my vocabulary: Nanaimo.  As in, Chocolate Peanut Butter Naniamo Bar.  Yes, it tastes as good as it sounds.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Nanaimo Bar, The Sweet Escape Patisserie

I ran into a few of these bars throughout the area, though Nanaimo is actually located in British Columbia, on the opposite side of the country.  The funny thing is, no one that I talked to seemed to know the origin of the bar or anything beyond the fact that it's called the Nanaimo bar, and Nanaimo is in BC.  Your geography lesson for the day, my friends.

The Historic Distillery District in Toronto
I visited Toronto's Distillery Historic District, which is not only one of the most adorable restaurant/boutique areas I've ever seen, it is gloriously blessed with sweet shops every few inches (or centimeters for you Canadians).

At The Sweet Escape Patisserie, their take on the CPBNB starts with a chocolate crust interlaced with coconut flakes, followed by a creamy layer of peanut butter, a layer of light buttery whipped cream, topped with a thin layer of chocolate ganache.  My mouth is watering just thinking about this concoction.

What I love about dessert bars is the layer upon layer of deliciousness--so many different flavors and textures that could be a giant mess, but somehow work together in perfect harmony.  That first bite was ridiculous.  It's no surprise that I'm a peanut butter fanatic, so I was already pretty giddy with excitement--but add the chocolate, the coconut flakes, the whipped cream, all fabulously balanced so the flavors complement each other--and you have one of the best dessert bars ever invented. Thank you, Anonymous Genius Baker of Nanaimo.

There was one more amazing stop in my new favorite historic distillery district, Soma Chocolatemaker.  I really wish this was a real name because I would marry this man in a heartbeat--who wouldn't want to be Mrs. Chocolatemaker?

One of the unique treats at Soma Chocolatemaker
If you're even a small fan of chocolate, this shop will blow your mind.  They offer traditional chocolate bars, as well as unique chocolate offerings, but they incorporate very interesting ingredients and cocoas from around the world.  But their most unique offering, and one of the best desserts I've ever drank, is their famous Mayan Hot Chocolate.  So in addition to the amazing chocolate masterpieces they create, they also serve a variety of yummy chocolate drinks, a la the movie Chocolat.   I half expected Juliette Binoche to peek her head out of the kitchen.  Warm, spicy, rich chocolate coated my throat and slowly made its way to my very happy tummy.  I bought a few bags. 

After leaning off CN Tower at the newly installed Edge Walk (another story entirely), as soon as I got to my hotel, I hit the gym.  A very indulgent little stop, but completely worth it.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pony Cookie Cupcakes

What?  Oh you read that right.  I'm making Pony Cookie Cupcakes.

It's my niece Ella's 3rd birthday party tomorrow, and we have a tradition of making cupcakes together.  Red Velvet with Heart sprinkles for Valentine's Day, White cake with colorful Zoo Animals for her birthday last year...and this year, I'm proud to debut, The Pony Cookie Cupcake.
Carrot cake cupcakes with green pasture frosting
and two grazing ponies on top

Now this is a fun story.  As you can probably imagine, there will be a real live pony at the birthday party.  This is still a surprise since apparently this pony is very busy and there's actually a chance he may not even show up.  Seriously.  I really want to know what he's doing that makes him so incredibly busy, but I digress.

So in honor of the potential pony rides, I decided to make pony cupcakes.  Herein lies the first problem: what the hell is a pony cupcake?

I googled animal cupcakes.  The most adorable bunny, kitty and puppy cupcakes pop up.  Think cute little whiskers on their easily recognizable faces, topping fabulous little vanilla cupcakes.  Now think of a horse.  Try to draw a horse face, on a cupcake.  Uh huh, now you see the dilemma.

I quickly changed tactics.  If I couldn't put a little horsey face on a cupcake, maybe I could just buy little pony figurines and stick them on the top of the cupcake.  Aha!  Brilliant.  Next problem: where do I find 24 horse figurines that fit perfectly on top of a cupcake?  I'm sure all you moms out there are thinking, duh, a toy store.  Well I don't have a toy store around me nor do I know where to find one.  So I looked at Michaels.  And Target.  And basically everywhere.  No tiny horses.

So then I visited Sur La Table, for cupcake holders (they have the best variety of cupcake holders on the planet, btw).  I found cute little multi-colored confetti cupcake holders, and...(drum roll)...a horse cookie cutter.  OMG.

So now my mind is racing....what if I bake pony cookies, frost them and sprinkle them with colorful glitter, and place them ON TOP of the cupcake.  PONY COOKIE CUPCAKES!  Wow, I'm thinking in the store, I'm kind of a genius.  If I didn't think so before, then this life-changing idea certainly sealed the deal.

And that is the story of the Pony Cookie Cupcake.

Happy 3rd Birthday Ella! (And sorry to all you soon-to-be-sleep-deprived parents with kids who will be eating not just a frosted cupcake, but a frosted cookie too!)
This would be Ella with the pony.  He's dressed as Big Bird because it's not enough that he's a pony.