Restaurant Review: Yama

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Ever since I moved to Morgantown, there has been a single restaurant that I will always hold above the rest.  That restaurant is Yama.  I am a complete sucker for Japanese food, and Yama is all about Japanese food.   They don’t specialize in high-end cuisine.  Yama is all about mom’s home cooking, washoku style.

The owner and head chef is known only as Yama-san, a smiling, older gentleman on the other side of the window, always busy cooking something tasty.  When you step into Yama, he will be the first to smile and greet you, and he will be the last to thank you for your patronage as you leave.  You place your order at the front desk, and pay with cash, and cash only.  This particular trip I was looking to have something cool and refreshing, as it was 80F outside (in March!)  I chose my old standby, the spicy tuna roll.  I also ordered up some takoyaki and some miso soup to sip.

The waitress brought me  glass of water and my miso soup, then my entree and appetizer shortly after.

Let’s start with the tasty, tasty miso soup.  Yama is where I was introduced to miso and their miso soup will always be my favorite.  It’s made with shiro miso in a dashi base, with silken tofu, wakame seaweed, and scallions tossed in.  It’s always piping hot when it gets to you and is designed to sip straight from the bowl.  The waitress refilled my soup a couple times while I was there, on the house.  Delicious stuff and full of antioxidants.  I like to make it at home.

Next is the takoyaki.  Takoyaki is street food in Japan.  It is like American hotdogs that you get from a food cart.  That’s not to disparage takoyaki, because it’s delicious, but it is very much street vendor food.  It is made with a batter, with scallions, benishoga, and tempura bits, poured into oiled half-sphere molds over high heat.  Pieces of cooked octopus are then dropped in and the batter is rolled in the mold until it cooks into a golden brown sphere.  It is served with Kewpie mayo, Bulldog sauce, more benishoga, and aonori.  It might sound exotic, but it’s really not.  I highly recommend it!  I like mine with lots of sauce.

Finally, let us discuss our entree.  I adore Yama’s spicy tuna roll.  Much of the spicy tuna rolls in Morgantown are made with shredded tuna rather than whole chunks, as Yama does.  The shredded tuna version tends to be mushy and lacking, but Yama uses firm, whole tuna in his rolls.  It is rolled with cucumber, with tobiko roe mixed into the rice.  It is then topped with a delicious spicy mayo.  Absolutely wonderful.   Yama serves a lot of it, too.  Each plate averages about ten to twelve rolls, which is easily a meal on it’s own.

Absolutely delicious!  And the color is gorgeous.  I apologize for the less-than-stellar iPhone picture, but my dSLR threw a fit in the low-lighting.

There are many more things I love about this restaurant.  They have a pretty large menu given how small the restaurant is, with authentic ramen, soba, udon, donburi, and appetizers.  They also have ice cream desserts, namely mochi ice cream and green tea ice cream, my personal favorite.  Everything is available to-go upon request.

I have and always will give Yama an A+, and will return as often as I can!

Yama on Urbanspoon

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Watching our girlish figure

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A little while ago, Ray decided he was going on a diet.  He was not happy with his body and decided to change it.  I jumped at the chance for two reasons:

1.)  I’m a firm believer that all you have is your health.  Money, people, and things come and go, but your health sticks with your forever and decides your future more than anything else.

2.)  I like the challenge of making tasty meals that are both healthy and something he will still eat, because he’s a picky eater.

My first step in overhauling our diet was to cut out red meat.  Not entirely, because even I, little miss former vegetarian, enjoys a good medium-rare steak now and then.  But in our everyday diet, I say our red meat consumption has gone down around 80%.  I substituted ground turkey for ground beef and it does just fine.  We primarily eat chicken, pork, and fish.

The second step is to get rid of excess sugars and snacks.  No more cookies.  No more pop (even if I really miss Coca Cola).  This wasn’t so hard.

The next step is cutting corners.  You don’t have to solely eat skinny salads and drink ice water to lose weight.  Little changes and substitutions can make a world of good, though that’s not to say it should be your only plan of attack.  Using 98% fat-free canned soups (as I am prone to using in the Winter), using less or no butter, even cutting out a single egg yolk (while leaving the white) in an omelette can make a difference.

The last step is more vegetables. They are so much better for you and the amount most American’s eat is disappointing.  I find them immensely delicious and preferable to meat.  Ray does not quite agree.  This one was a touch tougher.  Ray likes veggies, but the list of veggies he likes is a shorter one.  Sending veggies in his lunch was not well received, so we went and picked up a case of V8 in individual cans up at Sam’s Club.  Two servings of veggies in each can.  Plus it’s tasty.  The only sad part is Ray insisted they be for lunches alone, and not to be enjoyed in the house.

I’ve been thinking of other ways to rebuild our diet, and my mind sprung to a more Asian-styled diet.  It’s no secret I love traditional Japanese (and Chinese) cuisine.  They are often complex meals with lean protein and lots of vegetables.  Ideal for many people watching their waistline.  The drawback is the sodium.  Ray is also watching his sodium intake for medical reasons so I have to keep that in mind too.

I gravitate towards the Japanese-styled diet because the health benefits are apparent.  The Japanese are some of the most long-lived people of the world, and their culture places emphasis on fresh ingredients and seasonal dishes.  The food is visually appealing with plenty of umami.   It is delicious and good for you, holistically speaking.  In the spirit of the theme, I want to cook more fish and use less boxed ingredients when making my meals.

My work has paid off, and Ray lost ten pounds, which he was pleased about.  It emboldens me and makes me think of how to shape up favorites so that they are healthier.  My next big project is gumbo.  I love gumbo, especially after having some at my friend Rochelle’s house in Virginia, courtesy of her step-dad.  Yet gumbo is laden with calories and salt.  I need to make it so that it is both delicious but waist-conscious.  It can be done.  I know it and I will find a way.  I will post pictures of the results, along with a rough nutritional estimate.

So expect tasty but trimmer recipes in the future!

Best Wishes!

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One of my favorite Youtube channels of all time is Cookingwithdog.  The entire channel focuses on popular and traditional Japanese food.  I eagerly await the bi-weekly update so I can learn more about my favorite cuisine.  I love Francis’ accent and Chef’s skill.  I have learned a lot from watching and it has fostered my love of Japanese cooking.

Six days ago, however, the person who manages the Cookingwithdog channel posted a bulletin, saying that Chef has been involved in an accident in the Tokyo suburbs and had to be taken by helicopter to the ICU.  She is in stable condition, but she still sustained serious injuries.

So I just wanted to send my best wishes to Chef and all the crew!  Please get better, Chef!  We look forward to your return!

Restaurant Review: Naticakes

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I kind of fell out of the habit of doing restaurant reviews, because lately when I’ve been out to eat, it’s been with a group of friends.  I don’t want to be bothered when I’m entertaining or being social.  However, I was out and about in the (abnormally) glorious weather the other day and was walking around Suncrest Town Centre when I decided to pop into Naticakes.

Naticakes bills itself as a frozen yogurt bar, and is a satellite location to their main store in Lexington, Kentucky.  The chain is named after young Natalie Wynn Carter, a lovely little girl whose smiling face is on their about page and is peeking in various photos throughout the store.  Sadly, young Natalie passed away at 23 months old of a blocked coronary.  Her aunt, Nicole Sloan, was inspired to raise money for the foundation started in Natalie’s honor, and decided the best way to do it was to sell cupcakes.  It took off from there to include frozen yogurt, and became a smash hit, raising one million dollars for the Natalie Wynn Carter foundation to benefit children all over the world.

It’s an inspiring story, and I can certainly get behind stuffing my face with tasty frozen yogurt for the benefit of little kids.  (I’m sure they’d approve of my method.)  I stopped in, asked the manager on duty if he was okay with me snapping pictures, then went to work.

The first thing I noticed about this location is the lovely decor.  The inside is awash with light, cheery colors and upbeat wall hangings.  The tables and accents are very kitschy, all in distressed cream colors.  It was charming and inviting, to be sure.  Even the table I ate at was a door painted and roughed up, then put on legs!  It was pretty neat.

Naticakes of Morgantown boasts an impressive selection of frozen yogurt readily available on tap.  They’re labeled with kitschy signs and the middle handle is a swirl of the two on either side of it.  Very neat!

In the name of research I grabbed a bowl of got a nice swirl of pomegranate raspberry and mango.  Peculiar flavors for frozen yogurt, no?  I then headed over to the toppings bar.

Modest with a wide variety of ingredients, ranging from junk food like Swedish Fish and cake chunks to more healthy toppings such as fresh pineapple and blueberries.  I sprinkled some coconut flakes on mine, with some granola, strawberries, and blueberries.

The awesome thing about Naticakes is your final cost is done by weight.  No gouging when it comes to toppings.  Just plop your bowl of fro-yo on the scale at the end of the line, and they figure the cost from the weight of your cup.  For a substantial cup of frozen yogurt with some toppings, my bill came to roughly four dollars.  Not bad!

Have a look at these colors!

Even the yogurt is cheerful.  The topping ingredients were so fresh too.  Look at this blueberry!

All in all, it was absolutely delicious.  The mango and pomegranate raspberry swirl complimented each other nicely.  It was the perfect amount of sweetness, without any sort of chemical flavors or taste of refrigerant that you occasionally get at soft-serve machines.  Just simple, delicious fro-yo.  The toppings were fresh and tasty.  Overall, this is probably the best bowl of frozen yogurt I have ever had, and I love me some fro-yo.  I want to return as soon as I can to try their other flavors, and I absolutely plan on doing so.

Naticakes is a unique break from the normal fast food places in Morgantown, and a healthy competitor to Cold Stone Creamery.  I would encourage anyone I know to visit and try everything.  It is also my understanding that this store will soon boast an assortment of cupcakes sometime in February, sticking with the original spirit of Naticakes.  I look forward to it!  A+ establishment!

Naticakes on Urbanspoon

Caramels with Sea Salt

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Tasty, tasty...

One of the reasons I love FoodGawker is I can observe trends in the blogger world.  Cupcakes, macarons, cake pops, and lately, sea salted caramels.  (And tonka beans.  What in the world is a tonka bean?!)  I’ve slobbered over many a picture of these delicious little beasts, and it was high time I got off my butt and made them.

Come with me.  I will show you the mysteries.

The key to luscious caramels is cream.  Not half and half.  Not milk.  Heavy whipping cream.  A full artery-clogging cup of it.

The stuff dreams are made of.

The stuff dreams are made of.

Cream

Toss that into a small sauce pan with five tablespoons of butter and heat until the butter melts.  Add a pinch of salt, then bring the cream and butter mixture to a boil.  Once it begins to boil, take it off the heat and set it aside.

Go get some parchment paper and line an 8×8 baking dish.  Keep it near you because you don’t want to be searching for it while your caramels are burning.

Now grab a bigger sauce pan.  Not something too deep because you’ll be whipping out a candy thermometer in a minute, and that bulb of said thermometer needs to be in the center of the mixture, not touching the bottom.

In this sauce pan, add 1-1/2 cups white sugar, a quarter cup of light corn syrup, and another quarter cup of water.  Bring it to a boil and set your candy thermometer in the mixture.  Candy making is a science, entirely dependent on temperature to reach the right consistency, and the temperature can change quickly so don’t walk away.

You will wait until your sugar mixture starts to boil.  DO NOT STIR IT.  It will cause the sugar to crystallize and the entire thing will be borked.  Just let it boil and watch the temperature and color.

When your sugar mixture begins to turn a golden color, it is nearly time for the next step.

Bubbling syrup

Exact science

When your thermometer reads 310°F, grab the saucepan with the heavy cream, and pour it in.  The caramel mixture will bubble very violently, so I hope you picked a deep enough sauce pan.

The color that results will make your mouth water.

Delicious!

You can stir it now, so give it a couple stirs to evenly mix the sugar and cream mixture.  Let it simmer for a while longer until the temperature reaches 248°F.

Find that baking dish I told you to line earlier.  Pour the molten caramel into that dish.  Give it a very gentle tap on your counter top to dislodge any bubbles, then stick it somewhere cold.  The advantage to living in the mountains  in January like I do is you can just stick it out on the deck and it will chill nicely.  I left it out there for a few hours and brought the dish in, diced it up on wax paper squares, and sprinkled it with tasty, tasty sea salt.

I fell in love.  Wouldn’t you?

Close-up of a salted caramel

Om nom nom!

Down the line

 

They just glow in the light!  They’re firm and buttery, melting on your tongue in a sweet and salty swirl.  I might have moaned when I ate the first one.  And the second.  And the seventh.

I do recommend, however, that you keep these guys in the fridge.  They’re sensitive to warmth and will lose shape if left at room temperature.  I don’t expect it to be an issue, though, because you will have eaten them all by the time it occurs to you to save some in the fridge.  It’s okay.  I won’t tell.

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup heavy whipping cream

5 tbsp butter

pinch of salt

1-1/2 cups white sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

sea salt, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

Combine the cream, butter, and pinch of salt to a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a larger sauce pan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water.  Bring to a boil.  Do not stir.  Position a candy thermometer so that the bulb is suspended in the liquid without touching the bottom of the pan.  When it reaches 310°F and is a golden amber color, pour in the cream and butter mixture.  Stir until it is evenly mixed and boil until it reaches 248°F.  Pour it into a parchment paper lined 8×8 baking dish.  Cool in the refrigerator until firmly set, about two to three hours.

Dice into small squares and sprinkle with sea salt.

 

 

A New Chapter

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So about that blurb in my last post.  The part where I said Ray had been whispering in Santa’s ear.  Well, Santa came through, last Wednesday.

You see, As much as I adore my little Canon point-and-shoot (and it really is a darling piece of machinery for its intended purpose), I had had a chance to play with Ray’s mom’s Nikon D5000.  I took maybe ten pictures with it, but it was immediately apparent how different a point-and-shoot and a dSLR really are.  And so I began slobbering over these pricey pieces of machinery.

Ray realized it, and left a voicemail for Santa.  Santa called him back and said he wouldn’t be able to get it here on time for Christmas, but he would have it shortly thereafter.  And sure enough, the Wednesday after Christmas, my baby arrived.  Thank you, Ray Santa.

Behold, my camera:

Yes, I know, crappy photo.  It was a quick shot with my iPhone 4s under crummy lighting.

So I began fiddling with it.  There is a massive difference in operations between a point-and-shoot and a dSLR.  So.  Many. Buttons.  After some trial shots, and some major learning, I started to take some nicer shots.

This is one picture out of the results.

Rice

Look at those sesame seeds!  Look at the individual grains of rice!  Look at the gorgeous bokeh in the background!

Be still my heart.  Ray isn’t getting a Valentine’s Day card this year, because I’m giving it to my camera.  I’ll probably take it out to dinner, too.

And so begins a new chapter of my food blog, in which I take pictures of everything.

Returned Triumphant (or not)

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My poor blog.  It’s been neglected and abandoned, left to whither.  I swear it is not something I did on purpose, but rather my blog was a victim of circumstance.

But I’m back.  I had planned on my very first entry being on macarons.  Macarons are the new cupcake.  Or rather, macarons are cupcakes’ cranky, fussy younger sister.  They are in vogue right now in all the foodie circles, with pictures all over FoodGawker whispering a challenge: make me.

I had seen a blogger dub the macaron the cookie that will make your hair go white.  Jesus, isn’t that the truth.  Until now, I never ran into anything I couldn’t bake to perfection.  This…this “cookie” has stumped me not once, but four times.  Hell, even Ray gave it a shot only to have the exact same problem as myself.

Look at this!

All of my macarons met similar fates.  Cracking, collapsing, no feet.  It was a disaster, and I seriously considered just giving up.

Ray convinced me to keep at it, because he’s positive I can get it.

So hopefully the next post I make is a triumphant picture of perfect macarons.

Also, Ray has apparently been whispering in Santa’s ear.  It means good things for this blog.  😀

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