Archive for February, 2011


Giving Chocolate

A few weeks back Emlyn Chand posted a new contest on her blog at The Ambitious Ambigue. This contest was to write a romance story between two kindergarten children in dialogue format.

Unfortunately I did not finish on time, and I did not follow all the rules. But I have now finished and I think that I like the feel of this tale. So, for your reading pleasure here is my take on a little romance. Enjoy.

~ Daniel

***

“Alright, Katy, now you just need to fill the pot with water and set it over the stove to heat slowly.

“That’s it and carefully set the bowl of chocolate over the pot.

“Good, good. Adjust the flames a little. We don’t want to burn the chocolate as we go.

“Very nice. Now just keep stirring it until its nice and smooth as I showed you earlier.

“Careful. Don’t get too close to the stove. We don’t want you to get burned as well.”

“Yes, Daddy”

“I know you know what you’re doing little one. But I worry about you getting hurt at times.”

“Ill be careful”

“Ok, just keep stirring and turn the cream to very low heat once the chocolate is about half melted. I’ll keep watching while I’m on the phone.”

“Ok”

“Hello.

“Oh, hey Tom. What’s up?

“Nothing much here either. Katy is making a cake and I’m supervising.

“What? Chris too? I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Our kids do tend to spend a lot of time together. Do you know who he is making it for?

“Really… That’s too bad. Katy’s is for him.

“No, she can’t hear me right now, but I can still see what she is doing. I’ve got her melting the chocolate now and I’ll have her add the cream soon.

“Well she knows Chris likes the cakes I make so she wanted to make a special one for him. I’m letting her do the decorations however she wants but the base will be exactly as I usually make it.

Is April making something too?

Wow, Katy’s favorite…wait, is she making them for Katy?

“I don’t know if I really like this. The kids are way too young to be thinking about love.

“I know. Their starting out much earlier than we did. I want to blame their teacher since Katy says she has made a big deal out of valentines day in the last few weeks. But I know it’s not her fault.

“True I don’t know how any of them will react to the one their giving something to giving something to their other friend.

“Their young enough that I don’t think it will be a problem. They should be able to handle it and Katy already said that she is coming over to the bakery to help out after school.

“Right, so we will be able to watch them all and see if they need us. We will just have to be there in case of heartbreak.
“Anyway. I need to get going Tom. I can smell that the chocolate is just about ready and I’m still going to help Katy as much as I can till she doesn’t need her daddy anymore.

“Ya, I’ll be at the store around 3 so we should have plenty of time to get the last of the pastries made for all the orders we have. Mary wont be there till 9 but she’ll be closing up the shop as well.
“Yup, good luck with Chris. Bye.

“How does the chocolate look, little one?”
“It just finished melting dad.”

“Good, then we just need to add the cream next. Did you warm it like I told you?”

“Yup”

“Well done. This should be a wonderful cake your making for him.”

:”I know. He’s going to love it”

“Yes, dear. I’m sure he will.”

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Milk Tea Anyone?

Last year I decided to start learning about Japann, Japanese culture and their language. In my research I found that one of the best methods is total immersion in the language/culture you are aspiring to learn. Essentially this would mean traveling to Japan and living there in order to become fluent and really understand them. Someday maybe that will be an option but for now the best I can do is to bring little pieces of Japanese culture into my life.

To do this I started looking for ways in which I could add some Japanese products to my life and start learning a bit here and there. Sadly most of the avenues I found involved purchasing the items from Japanese stores and having them ship what I want to me. This was not very feasible as the cost of shipping the products was often more than the cost of the product itself and thus unless I was making a very large purchase it simply was not a valid option.

However, in November I discovered a place in Arlington Heights, Il called Mitsuwa Marketplace. In many ways it was an answer to prayers that I never made. Mitsuwa is very simple a Japanese grocery store containing a lot of the items that most Japanese would expect to find at their local markets. It has pretty much everything from Japanese vegetables and meats, to soy sauces, curries, spices, various rice and tons of products that you just can’t get anywhere else.

The store also has other shops connected to it including a bakery (Pastry House Hippo), book store (Books Sanseido), liquor, small eelectronics, household goods (haven’t paid much attention to these yet), and also several small restaurants as part of a food court. In essence Mitsuwa is a small Japanese mall with a lot of good stuff. And these other stores are great for what they have but I’ll get into those more in another post.

Ideally, what the store does is bring a little bit of Japan to those Japanese which have immigrated to the US and might miss something from their homeland. I know of a few people that make frequent trips here just to stock up on specific goods that they can’t get anywhere else or that simply do not work as well for them as products that are designed for them. The good news is that since they want these products and Mitsuwa is willing to bring these products over for their consumption then I get a chance to try a lot of different things and in the process expand my knowledge of both the Japanese language and a little about their culture.

Yesterday I stopped by on my way out town for a little trip. Ostensibly the visit was to pick up some of the breads from Pastry House Hippo (I am going to write some posts about Pastry House later on as their breads are simply wonderful and I they are worth writing about), but I also grabbed a couple drinks. One of these was Milk Tea.

This is something that I have heard about several times in the past and really didn’t care one way or the other if I would ever try it. But seeing as was taking a trip why not start it off with something different?

Milk Tea is exactly that, a blend of teas with milk, and some sugar. Now I am a pretty big tea drinker. I typically have at least two pots of tea per day. One in the early morning with breakfast and another in the evening as I close out my day. My tea is usually drank with just a little sugar in it as I have yet to find a tea that I feel is enhanced by adding milk.

So while I wanted to be a little adventurous it was with some hesitancy that I bought the milk tea. The drink was about what I expected. The tea is a blend of assam and green that I found to be alright but nothing really special. The milk in it was marginal and as the label shows that it is simply a condensed milk powder. That in an of itself is no big deal. What got to me though was that the first ingredient in this drink is sugar. 18g of sugar per serving to be exact and since there are 2 servings in this bottle that means there was a whopping 36g of sugar in that drink. It’s a good thing I’m slow at drinking and it took me nearly six hours to finish that bottle because that is a lot more sugar in my tea than even I like.

From what I have been told Milk Tea is supposedly a drink for those that are not accustomed to drinking tea at its best and I think I can see why. It’s a bit weak, it has way too much sugar and the milk itself may act to cover some of the real tastes of the tea.

I will not say that the drink is bad because I’m sure it has its supporters and those that truly enoy it. But sadly I cannot be one of them. Milk tea may be a decent product out of Japan and I have plans to translate that label in order to better understand what other labels at the market may say but for me I will not be buying another bottle of milk tea.

My next cup will be my usual earl grey, loose leaf, with just a little sugar, and at a proper 195 degrees as it rests in my cast-iron tea pot.

Until next time my friends, be well.

~Daniel

Edit: After I wrote the above post it was suggested that the problem was likely that it was a powdered milk. So due to this I may give milk tea another chance and will see how it plays out with some real milk in good hot tea.  But first does anyone have any suggestions for tea that would be the most suitable for adding milk? Further, should the milk be warm or cool?

Thanks all.

I think the title of this post sums it up quite nicely. Steak sauce should not be put on steak. Some of you out there may be nodding and agreeing with the thought even before I get to the explanations but I can imagine that most would think I’m a bit off my rocker. Which possibly isn’t too far from the truth. But give me a few moments and I’ll explain what I mean.

First you need to remember that there are several different meanings for steak sauce and for steak. And here I am talking about one specific combination. But first I’ll explain specifically what version of sauce and steak I mean.

Steak sauce: Quite simply there are two basic sauces here. The first is the mass produced commercially available sauces you can get at any grocery store. Sauces like A-1, Bulls-Eye, Heinz 57 and a dozen others that can taste good in their own way. But lets face it, these are factory produced concoctions with quite a bit of preservatives and in the end their main function is to cover the meat in question to impart whatever flavoring they are toting. And that is where the problem really lies.

The second form of sauce is the home-made variety. Something you can make on the fly with a few simple ingredients. Usually I make these with some beef broth, cognac or sherry, the drippings from the cooking meat, and some other spices for kick. Overall, these are small batch items that you make for one meal (unless you like to think ahead and have a really great recipe in which you might make enough for a short while if you have a good way to preserve it), have a great flavor and can only compliment the meat with which your working. These certainly deserve to be on good quality steak as they will only enhance the meal you have planned.

Steak: As far as the steaks go we have three distinct options. 1)Chopped Steak, 2) Strip or other type of steak that is typically of a lower quality (or was stored improperly), 3) good quality Steak like a filet. I should mention that this post is really geared towards the steak and egg breakfast which tends to be when I have the most steak. I’m not really sure why but steak makes more sense to me early in the morning than at night.

Typically when I go to a family restaurant you will get the first option readily enough. This can be a good thing but a ground up piece of meat in a vaguely steak like shape is not really steak. It’s hamburger and really the restaurants should not even try to make it sound better by having steak in the name.

However, it can be very good particularly if the cook knows what he is doing and spices it well. I have had some great chopped steaks and they did not need any help, but these are few and far between. Typically the chopped steak is dull, lifeless and lacking in any real quality.

At slightly better restaurants you might get the strip steak. Sadly these are usually not very good. They tend to be fatty, greasy, tough, with little or no seasoning and overall a very unpleasant meal. I think I have had one good strip steak in this context over the years and that was a fluke at even that particular restaurant.

I would also be very careful of ordering this at most restaurants as I have found many of these steaks with an extra element of flavor which can only be described as the refrigerator or freezer. This is a taste that can only come from meat that has sat in their fridge for far too long improperly wrapped. Be warned my friends that many restaurants will not properly handle their meat and you can get a very nasty taste from it (this is certainly a time when steak sauce would be appropriate just to mask the added taste dimension, if you can even stomach what you are served).

The last category is the absolute best and the most rare. To find a restaurant that will serve a pair of fillet medallions that are well seasoned, cooked just right (always to medium rare, why would you ever ruin a steak by taking it pass this stage?), and presented by themselves or maybe with a few mushrooms is simple something wonderful. I know of one restaurant that has this and when they are on their game it is truly an enjoyable meal. Always look for the highest quality in your foods my friends as that is certainly a part of the path to happiness.

Now, steak sauce doesn’t belong on steak. This phrase means first the commercial sauces and second the quality, well made steak.

A steak by its very nature should be a cut of good quality meat containing just enough fat to render added flavor without making things tough. It should be something to enjoy that melts in the mouth with every bite. It should definitely be something well-seasoned and well-prepared. This is the steak that I am talking about here and I have to wonder why anyone in their right mind would cover the natural flavors of a good steak.

In my view the other items I mentioned are really not steaks. Ground meat of any sort is not a real stake, its ground beef, hamburger and really should be labeled as such on the menu. The strip steaks and others cuts can be steaks but if your going to leave them with so much fat and gristle that they are really not edible then why bother offering them? Overall, the only real steaks I know are good, quality pieces of beef that are handled properly with seasoning and heat to bring out the best flavor.

With all that being said, why would you ever cover a good quality steak in a commercial grade sauce? Why would you hide the delicious flavor and well-done execution of such a steak with an overpowering sauce that doesn’t enhance anything but merely masks? I cant think of no rational reason to do so and to me that is a bit insane.

This is what I mean when I say that steak sauce does not belong on steak. You don’t need it. Steak sauce is something that belongs on pieces of sub-standard beef that have not been prepared well. If you cannot find the beef to be tasty in its own right, then by all means cover it in some sauce. At least then you can get some protein for your diet but all you really will taste is the sauce.

Steak sauce does not belong on steak but if you insist on having it, then at least try to limit the sauce to your eggs. At least they almost never have any real flavor and the sauce becomes a blessing.

Until next time my friends, I bid you well and happy eating.

~Daniel

The Daily Ramble

Good morning everyone, it’s a lovely snowy day here in Chicago and while I got up late I am here to bring you a new feature for this blog called the Daily Ramble.

Since I started this little corner of the net I have wanted to fill it primarily with things that interested me and to focus almost exclusively on my writings. But, since it is rather boring for me to talk about how much I have written on any given day, giving you percentages, number of words or pages, etc. I have seldom posted anything that resembled straight statistics. Instead I would wait until I finished one of my works and perhaps give a snippet.

Unfortunately, this means that my blog remains somewhat silent most days and i realize that this becomes a turn off as most people would want to see some action on any given day.

So I am introducing this new method for me to have something out here every day. The Ramble will be primarily just that as I contemplate something in my life each day. Some days I will talk about my writing, others may involve my studies. Then there will be days where I may talk about nothing at all or just something a bit strange (for instance yesterday I may have talked about how steak sauce is not meant for steak but is best on eggs. Of course I will also touch upon some of my hobbies.

Essentially dear friends this will be a daily look into my life without being an actual journal entry.

I will try my best to make it interesting as we go forward. I should also mention that I will not be making this a political rant on purpose at any point although I may touch upon some things slightly if they truly catch my eye. Particularly since there are already an abundance of political blogs out there.

I think that should do it for this first entry to the Ramblings. And as I watch the snow fall outside, it looks like it’s already another 2 inches on top of the 20 inches we had in the blizzard on Wednesday, I wish you all a cheery and warm day.

Be well

~Daniel