Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Recipe: Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Who doesn't love red velvet cake? I see it more as a vehicle for eating cream cheese frosting but the moist dense buttermilk cake is a real hit and stays fresh for several days in the fridge.

Red Velvet Cake

2 1/2 cups Plain (all purpose) flour
1 1/2 cups Caster (bakers) sugar
1 tspn baking soda
1 tspn fine salt
1 tspn cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups Canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 tbspn red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 tspn white or white wine vinegar
1 tspn vanilla extract
oil / butter for the cake tin
Maraschino cherries for decorating

Cream Cheese frosting:

500g (2 packets) Cream cheese
4 cups Icing (Confectioners) sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (equivalent to 2 sticks)
2 tspn lemon juice


  • Preheat your oven to 180C (350F)
  • Oil a large cake tin or two layer tins and then dust with flour
  • In a large jug or bowl beat the eggs and then add the other liquid ingredients - buttermilk, oil, food colouring, vinegar and vanilla

  • Into a separate bowl sift the dry ingredients - flour, baking soda, sugar, salt and cocoa
  • Into a mixer on low alternate the dry and wet ingredients - 1 cup at a time
  • Mix on a medium speed until well combined
  • Spoon the mixture into the tin and then smooth the top with a spatula
  • Place the tin into the middle of the oven and cook for 30 -35 mins until the middle springs back
  • If you are dividing the mixture between two tins then rotate the tins after 15 mins
  • Once cooked move the cake to a cooling rack
  • After 10 mins remove the cake from the tin and turn back onto the cooling rack
  • Once the cake is cooled (and not before!) make the frosting, if you premake the frosting it will lose its consistency and if you try to frost a warm cake it will melt
  • Cut the cake in half and leave open to ensure it is cool on the inside while you prepare the frosting
  • De-stem and cut your Maraschino cherries in half, leave soaking on paper towel to remove as much of the syrup before you decorate the cake. Syrupy cherries will leak red food colouring onto your beautiful cake and ruin the look of the frosting.
  • Let the cream cheese and butter reach room temperature so that they are easy to mix
  • Place in a stand mixer and cream the butter until it is pale in colour 
  • Add the cream cheese, you may want to add this one half brick at a time
  • Then add the icing sugar 1 cup at a time on low (so you don't spray fine sugar all over the kitchen!)
  • Once all the cream cheese is incorporated add the lemon juice - or if you prefer you can use vanilla instead but I find lemon brings out the tang of the buttermilk in the cake
  • Leave the icing on a medium speed for 4-5 minutes, this will make it light and fluffy and should increase the size of the frosting by about 50%
  • Transfer the bottom half of  your cake to a stand or platter and cover the layer with frosting, around 1/2 - 1 cup should provide a thick central layer of frosting
  • Carefully place the top half of your cake over the bottom
  • Frost all over the top and sides of the cake - use a cake spatula and a turning decorator if you have them
  • Once frosted add your drained Maraschino cherries and any birthday candles or candy decorations

Monday, September 14, 2015

Yamadaya Ramen, Japantown San Francisco

Regular readers of my blog know how much I love ramen and particularly tonkotsu ramen - a milky pork broth made with lots of collagen. So when I found out there was a tonkotsu specialty restaurant mere blocks from my house I got very excited. 

We were not disappointed on arrival, this is the best and most authentic ramen joint in San Francisco today. Most ramen places in the Bay Area have either great soup or great noodles but not both. Yamadaya is the restaurant that is the exception to prove the rule. A simple Japanese style menu with a handful of options and multiple additions focuses on high quality but simple comfort food fare. Yamadaya has become our "go to" ramen restaurant and we've eaten repeatedly since finding it. Given our Japantown location this is a real sign - with all the choice of noodle restaurants this is where we choose repeatedly.

The secret to the gooey thick soup is printed on the wall - masses of pork bones are boiled down for their collagen for 20 hours to produce delicious fatty goodness. 

The decor is simple with wooden booths and shared tables very reminiscent of Osaka hole in the wall eateries. 

Yona Yona Ale $9USD

Yamadaya features a range of imported and craft beers on tap and in bottles / cans. Standard fare like Sapporo and Kirin are available but also this Yona Yona Ale, Ebisu, Koshihikari Eichigo and more. The beers are rotated on a regular basis so look for something new each time. Be careful to watch the price tag of the beers since rarer options like this beer are hefty in price. Mass imports like Sapporo are much more affordable. 

Torii karaage $6.95USD

Appetizers like this fried chicken dish are cheap and good quality. Good quality meat is used, the oil is fresh and the dishes come out piping hot. Healthier fare like Miso Soup ($2USD) and Edamame ($2.95USD) are also available and all go great with a beer. 

Teishoku add on set - curry rice and salad $3.95USD

Order your ramen as a teishoku (meal set) and you can have a choice of small salad or rice and a small serving of a main dish like dumplings, curry, spicy tuna or karaage. 

Tonkotsu ramen $9.25USD

The 'standard' tonkotsu ramen at Yamadaya comes with half an egg, a slice of chashu roast pork and vegetables. Tokyo style soy tonkotsu and kotteri style with garlic oil can also be ordered as variants. 

All the tonkotsu dishes come with thin style Japanese wheat noodles common in tonkotsu. If you're looking for thick noodles similar to what you would get in a miso ramen order "thick type noodles" for an extra 50c. The money is worth it the thick noodles are chewy and delicious, just the right level of al dente. 

Cheese ramen $12.95USD

Plain tonkotsu broth and noodles are served with a mountain of shaved fresh parmesan cheese that melts into a gooey mess with the pork fat. I recommend adding a fizzy drink and some vegetables to cut through all that fat. Great as a comforting but slightly bland meal for the sick.

Spicy Tonkotsu $9.75USD

This is my go to meal when eating noodles and really hard to get past how excellent it is. Spicy tonkotsu (level 3 hot hot hot!) is served with a fermented chili miso paste, eggs and pork. 

I always add the thick noodles and if you're extra hungry add the Yamadaya Special to any dish with both chashu and kakuni (belly) pork, extra egg, seaweed and bamboo shoots. My only wish is that they would do this dish as a tsukemen (dipping noodles) since their only tsukemen has fish based broth which I think negates the point of going to a tonkotsu specialist.

Unlike many Japanese restaurants there is also a vegan and vegetarian option made with salt or soy milk. Bento boxes and donburi rice dishes are also available and suitable for children but I always recommend eating the house specialty so go for the noodles. 

Service is as you might expect in a high turn over Japanese restaurant, fast efficient service but minimal on English and niceties. The restaurant is wildly popular on Friday / Saturday nights and during Japantown / Filmore Street festivals, I recommend eating early (~5pm) to avoid waiting. Highly recommended, definitely our choice of the Japantown eateries. 

Ramen Yamadaya

1728 Buchanan St
San Francisco, CA 94115

Casual noodle eatery and tonkotsu ramen specialty restaurant

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ferry Building Food Market, San Francisco

We do love food markets and I've been making more of an attempt to visit them in various cities. I admit that I had not taken the time to go to the Ferry Building despite it being in my city primarily because of it's location at the Embarcadero - a busy and touristy area of town. Don't let that put you off though the markets are well worth a visit and the crowds are manageable if you go mid week or early morning on weekends. 

The San Francisco Ferry Building was converted into a food hall after the decline of ferry transport in the city and earthquake damage. Large renovations have been completed to bring the beaux arts building back to its former glory. 

I had heard it touted as a farmer's market but there's no flimsy marquees here, this is high end boutique eating from California creators like this Golden Gate meat company stall. The Ferry Building is one of the few places in the Bay Area that you can reliably get dedicated butchers and game meat. 

Drying hams and beef can be found on display at a number of butcher and charcuterie vendors. You can see the deliciousness forming over time. 

Prather Ranch Meat Co. is another specialty butcher featuring sustainable and humane meat, free of antibiotics and hormones common in the US.

Mariposa is the gluten free bakery that amazes my coeliac friends. This is no dull heavy brick style bread that some wheat free bakers produce but instead a huge range of bread, cookies and pastries that have the mouth feel and density of wheat based products. I don't know what their magic is but Mariposa makes for great gifts for those with dietary restrictions and always delights. 

This nut stall offers a huge arrange of raw and roasted nuts but also the most amazing natural nut products like additive free nut butters and brittles. Try the cinnamon almond brittle it's amazing. 

Finding good quality honey in the US can be hard and shockingly honey is often watered down with glucose or corn syrup. Beekind is the answer offering pure local honey from a variety of orchards and wildflowers.

There are plenty of options for the tea lover like this stall from Heath Ceramics with a wide array of tea cups and pots as well as crockery. Or try the Imperial Tea Court for an Asian traditional tea house offering Chinese and Japanese teas in a formal setting. There's even a dim sum restaurant included for those who like their tea with a side of pork. 

A number of the bakery vendors like the Acme Bread Company sell sandwiches pre-made or on custom order and featuring the meat and cheeses of other vendors on display. This makes it a great option for a brunch or lunch outing. Be warned though there are only a couple of venues that have actual seating. Consider buying yourself a picnic and heading down to Pier 39 to watch San Francisco's infamous urban seal lions.

We decide to stop at Boccalone - a charcuterie store run by celebrity chef and Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino. This is a great stop for the cured meat fan or the foodie TV obsessive. You can buy cones of shaved cold meats - great for a low carb lunch option or buy yourself a pressed sandwich filled with melt in your mouth charcuterie.

Prosciutto cotto with provolone and whole grain mustard $8.50USD

Hot italian sausage sandwich with peppers and onions $8.50USD

Of course my favourite offering has to be the Cowgirl Creamery Cheese shop. They offer a huge range of cheeses direct from Cowgirl and other local cheese producers from Marin and Sonoma Counties where goat's cheese is a speciality. They also have a small sandwich shop called Cowgirl Sidekick offering the fanciest grilled cheese one could imagine. 

Buy local artisan cheeses by the round or tub and take home plenty of sides like fresh pickles, jams and nuts to make the perfect cheeseboard dinner. 

They don't stop themselves at local cheeses though. European cheeses from Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and more are available as well as American cheeses from Wisconsin (which rival the European cheeses in taste and quality). 

All in all the Ferry Building is a fun day out if  you can handle the crowds or plan around them. Definitely take the chance to buy local organic produce to take home or to have a picnic around the northern tip of San Francisco with beautiful ocean views and the usual eclectic San Francisco Culture. 

San Francisco Ferry Building 

San Francisco Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, CA 94105

High end food market and boutique eateries