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Thursday, March 29, 2012

[Cincinnati chili] Unique cheesy chili from Cincinnati

In August 2009,
we drove down to Cincinnati, Ohio for summer vacation.

It was the summer after we went to NY for three consecutive years,
to see the US Open.
Flushing Meadow is great. But, the only thing is that everything, including hotel, food, tickets, parking and even toll fee, was really too expensive.
So we decided to try a Masters 1000 series instead. That was how we chose Cincinnati Masters.
The official name of the tournament is Western & Southern Open and it is a part of US Open series.
As I wrote a few times, we are all tennis fanatic. And my clock and calendar goes around the tournament schedule of the ATP.

We were surprised indeed by the tourist attraction spread over two states, Kentucky and Ohio.
The hotels were so much affordable.

(My favorite player~ Mr. Roger Federer)
Considering the scale of the prestigeous status of the tournament that the total prize money reaches $5.6 millions, the size of the main stadium of Lindner Family Tennis Center is rather modest. It means that with a relatively cheap tickets, you are pretty close to the court and see the players in action very much in detail. And you can see the players' practice session really up close.
I actually loved it. I'd like to go back to the tournament again in a near future.

That being said, another attraction of the city was its chili.
Have you heard of Cincinnati chili?

Cincinnati chili is a typical chili con carne, chili stew with meat, but developed in its regional style through the chili parlors and hotdog stand run by Macedonian immigrants, since 1920s.

The unique twist of Cincinnati chili is that it is commonly served over spaghetti or a hot dog, and topped with ample cheddar cheese.
Seriously, I've never seen such a generous amount of cheddar cheese on anything else.
You can barely see some hints of chili that lies underneath.

Isn't it already so appealing? :)
As a chili-loving family, we were already excited to the prospect of tasting a unique spin on chili.
Well, maybe not the entire family, but Mr. D and I were obviously the two people who had talked about it more than 5 times~
We even studied the basics of Cincinnati chili, which are called "way(s)".

(@ Skyline restaurant, one of the biggest Cincinnati chili restaurant chain)

The ways are as follows:
Bowl: chili in a bowl
 Two-way: chili and spaghetti
 Three-way: chili, spaghetti, and cheese
 Four-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions
 Five-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans

Kids had Three-ways and Mr. D and a I had five-way chili.

Kids loved the chili served on top of spaghetti or a hot dog.

So, when we get back home, I decdied to make chili in Cincinnati style.
and that become one of my family's favorite!

Oh the major difference is that I always make chili in already-five-way chili :), with cheese & onion and beans~
Oh I don't let grated cheese overpower my chili either.

It's really easy to make, as most stews are. :)

Here goes the recipe for the "Cincinnati chili"
And I'll share the golden ratio of chili seasoning.

2 lb lean ground beef
(or 1lb lean ground beef + 1 lb stew beef)
1 large onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
*1 + 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
(I used only 2 teaspoon since my kids cannot eat anything spicy)
1/2 teaspoon chili flake
1 teaspoon salt
1+1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tomato can (28oz)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinetar
1/2 cup water
1 red kidney bean can (14 oz)
Cheddar cheese, grated
Olive oil
How to make

1. In a small bowl, mix allspice, coriander , cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper chili flake, salt and unsweetened cocoa.

2. Drain the kidney beans and rinse.

3. Over the medium-high heat, cook diced onion until it gets transparent.

4. Add ground beef and cook.

5. Add minced garlic and cayenne pepper.

6. Add water, chili mix, canned diced tomato, Worcestershire sauce, and cider vinegar.

7. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low to simmer at least for an hour. I usually let it simmer for about an hour. Be careful not to make it too chunky.
Add some water if the chili got too thick.

8. Add rinsed kidney beans 20 minutes before it is done.

9. Meanwhile grate cheddar cheese and cook spaghetti.
When chili is ready,
pour chili over spaghetti and top with grated cheddar cheese.

If you can get oyster cracker which is served with chili when  you order chili in any Cincinnati chili restaurant, please serve with your chili to make it more authentic. :)
Oyster cracker is an usual saline cracker, but in hexagonal shape. There is no oyster in an oyster cracker!

If you like chili, I'm sure you will love Cincinnati style chili. :)

Cincinnati Chili

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

[Villandry castle] The most beautiful garden & somebody's ambitious project - Spring 2012

I have a great ability that not many people possess.
I tend to kill living things that are green. :(
Mr.D told me once that I would be able to kill a cactus :(
And I couldn't even protest, because I knew that I was more than capable.

But, in this year, I made a big decision which Mr. D still casts doubts on.
I will become a  gardener~ :)
Well, it sounds like a massive exaggeration, even to me. LOL
I dream big and I am ambitious!

I will be a gardener to two 4' x 4' square-foot gardens that Mr. D will build for me once this cold be gone, hopefully in a few weeks.

As a near-future gardener :),
I feel sudden urge to share my love for a beautiful garden.

I am not (yet) a good gardener, but I admire beautiful gardens immensely.

I have seen a lot of beautiful gardens.
The garden of Versailles was the pride of Louis XIV, the Sun King.
The garden of Fontainebleau was adored by Napoleon I.

The garden of Het Loo in Apeldoorn, Netherlands boasts the 17th characteristics of a perfect symmetric beauty.
The garden of Herren Chiemsee, Germany stretches the dream of Ludwig II, the misfortunate Swan king of Bavarians.
(I'll post about these gardens later too)

the garden that struck me with its useful artistry
was that of Château de Villandry.

Villandry is one of a few dozen Châteaux standing along the Loire valley.

The Château was built for over 2 centuries. The construction started in 16th century, but finished only in 18th century.

One noticeable fact about Villandry is that the Château is famous for its fascinating garden.

When we went there for the first time in 1996,
we were brave enough to bike 70 km or 43 miles,
to see three Châteaux in one day.
We biked for 70 km of valley where there were only uphills, surprisingly.

 We couldn't bike back to return our bikes since our bum hurt so much :(
We had to drag bikes for almost 2 km.
When we went back there for the second time a few years later, the trees in the garden seemed greener and taller, of course, thanks to the sweat we dropped in 1996. :)

 French gardening is totally different from North Americans os Japanese.
Everything has to be immaticularly trimmed and perfectly symmetric.

You can admire the garden from the balcony of the castle,
or walk between the flower/vegetable beds.

Villadry garden is not only filled with ornamental plants,
but mostly with edible vegetable and fruits.

You can appreciate each block of vegetables.
It was at Villandry that I realized how vegetables can be so beautiful. :)

Villandry has a huge man-made lake where a pair of graceful, but gigantic swans live.

I didn't know how big a swan was until I faced it in person.

The last time I visited Villandry was August 2005, when Remi was 16 months old.
Pablo has never had a chance to see this beautiful garden, and I think it's kind of unfair for my little 5+1/2-year-old baby. To be fair parents, we should  seriously plan our next trip to Villandry.

You see, I love gardens. It is something very different, according to Mr. D, from loving gardening.

But, this time, I'm firmly determined to keep green things alive in my square-foot garden :) What an ambition!
Please cheer for me.
I'll start the project within a month when spring finally comes, and post about the progress :)


Sunday, March 25, 2012

[Victoria Sponge] Regal tea cake sealed by Queen Victoria

The Victoria sponge (cake) is named in honor of Queen Victoria of England.

It is said that a slice of the sponge cake with extra fat, i.e. whipped cream, was the Queen's favorite treats with her afternoon tea.

A typical Victoria sponge consists of raspberry jam and whipped double cream. And the jam and cream are sandwiched between two sponge cakes, which is why the cake is often called Victoria Sandwich.

Victoria Sponge cake is not a strictly sponge such as Genoa Sponge. However, it is easy to make, and also very good. :) The cake is made only with common ingredients.
And another bonus is that you don't need to use an electronical device to make this scrumptious cake. Your own and/or your other half's man power will do. :)
Queen Victoria is the great-great-grand mother of Queen Elizabeth II, who reigned England and other  colonies. It was her reign when England was called the "empire on which the sun never sets".

She became the queen when she was only 18, and did lots of good things as well as bad things. She was a stubborn monarch who reigned the country longer than any other British king/queens in the history. However, I believe her record will be broken in a couple of years by her great-great-grand daughter, Elizabeth II. :)

I have used this recipe for a few years. I believe it was adapted from a BBC recipe which I couldn't find after a crazy search. :( 

Anyway, the recipe is all converted to volume measure from the original weight measure. I use European recipes often, but still I convert them to volume-measured recipes since I do not appreciate weighing all my ingredients before I cook. I find weight measuring method takes at least 3 times longer than volume measuring one.

I always try to make it in a traditional way. But, there still  is ont thing that doesn't meet the "Traditional standtard":
I use extra raising agent, i.e. baking powder. In traditional method in Britain, self-rising flour is used instead of extra raising agent. Usually, I don't use self-rising flour. So~ I quickly decided to use flour+ a little bit of baking powder instead, as mordern Victoria Sponge recipes do.

Here goes the recipe.

1 Cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 Cup sugar
2 Cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoon baking powder
milk, to loosen
2 Cup whipped cream
1 Cup Raspberry(or strawberry) jam
** You need two tins of 7-inch (18cm) round tins. **

How to make

1.Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

2.Grease and line 2 x 7 inch(2 x 18 cm) cake tins with parchment paper.
(Lining is only an option :))

3. Cream the butter and the sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
This step is normally completed by Mr. D.
The status of the creamed butter is like the picture above, before the first egg is added.

4.Beat in the eggs, a little at a time, and stir in the vanilla extract.
If the batter is cluttered, add about a tablespoon flour and continue beating.
5.Sift the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold in the flour using a large metal spoon.

Please do not overmix!
Add a little extra milk if necessary, to create a batter with a soft dropping consistency.

6. Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and gently spread out with a spatula.

7.Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

8. Cool a little, then turn them out and peel off the parchment paper. Cool off completely on a wire rack.
9. Meanwhile, make whipping cream~ with a hand or stand mixer.

10. As the cake was risen by baking powder, cake tops are slightly risen.
I cut off the top. But it's up to you.
11. Layer the two cakes with the jam and cream - to make a sandwich.
Top with the second layer of the sponge cake.
12. Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.
The drizzled cream and jam of Victoria sponge always stimulates my appetite. :)
I don't drink coffee.

As a tea drinker, I love having a slice of Victoria sponge with my favorite black tea, English breakfast or Darjeeling or Assam, with cream. :D So, it means that I have some regal traits shared by a Queen. :)

The cake is very easy to make. I bake it for a birthday too.
Enjoy :)

Victoria Sponge Cake