Eataly: Where Italy Meets Its Match

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There’s just something so delicious about Italian food.

I’ll admit that I’ve been spoiled very much when it comes to food, especially Italian food. A lot — most — of the Italian restaurants in the Dallas suburbs aren’t really that great. They’re not authentic. Italian food is so easy to mess up, and these “imperfect attempts” ruined Italian food for me.

That was until Eataly.

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A Spaghetti Challenge

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Today was an incredibly fun day in my Culinary Arts class.

Today’s class was much closer to a competitive cooking TV show than a normal class day where we learn how to make a dish. The challenge: to make the most appetizing and visually appealing spaghetti.

It started with one of our teachers, Mrs. H-, saying that two of the Teaching Assistants (TAs) were hidden somewhere together. Our goal was to find them. The first three people to find them would choose to either get out of cleaning or to pick ingredients first, the latter being very important in the quest to win. She told us that it’s not anywhere dangerous, and we wouldn’t need a car to get there. It could be on campus or off campus, but not past any major roads. Our hint was “children’s laughter.”

I followed one of my teammates, A-, out of the building, across a small street, and into the park. What do you know, there were children laughing! The park was full of children from nearby schools—or more likely, summer camps—playing on the playground and some in the water area.

Sorry for the low quality pictures. I only had my phone, and it’s difficult to cook while taking pictures!

There was a group of five of us out there, which worried me since only three of us could win. I took my chances though because I just knew the TAs had to be here, and I was confident I could outrun the others.

Our group of five ended up splitting on its own, I went with two kids—a boy and a girl—from another group and A- went off with a girl from another group.

About a minute later I heard A- call out “Joshua!” That was it. I turned and saw that she and the girl she was with were running as fast as they could toward an isolated park bench. The two TAs were sitting there.

The boy next to me was running too, and he had a good 10 yard lead on me while the girls were too far to catch up to. I outran the boy and I was set to be the third person. That’s when I noticed another kid—he was in my group as well—running to the TAs from the other side. He was much closer, but I sprinted on.

As I was just a foot away, he tagged the TAs. I was in fourth place. That means I had no special benefits—I couldn’t avoid cleaning, and I couldn’t get our ingredients first.

We came back inside. A- decided she didn’t want to clean, and the other guy said he wanted to pick our group’s ingredients first. A- and I went with him to tell him what to get.

I said we had to get bacon and garlic no matter what. I told A- that I wanted to use my mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe, and she was all for it. (None of us really knew how to make a really tasty spaghetti sauce anyway.)

I texted my mom with an urgent plea saying, “Mom, how do you make the spaghetti sauce with bacon in it?” (This was completely fair game as we could use any human or internet resources to help us.)

My mom replied back with instructions, and we followed them. I was going for as close to that homemade Filipino taste that I could get with the limited ingredients available to us.

The recipe called for a sauce with bacon and garlic, as well as salt, pepper, and sugar. (I know that in a lot of the Filipino pasta sauces I’ve had before, they put in hot dogs, but my mom prefers bacon.)

Normally, I’m a little shyer in the kitchen. I don’t want to mess anything up because we’re judged on our plates every day in Culinary Arts, so I usually don’t take many risks. Today changed that. I was the only one who knew what I was doing so I was in charge.

I started by getting the pan on the burners to start cooking the bacon. We added a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil because that’s what my mom does, even though bacon, because of the fat, makes its own oil. I fried the bacon until it was golden brown. Next we needed garlic.

Luckily for our team, we have B-, the garlic master of our group (although we share the title for whisking). He can dice garlic, mince garlic, whatever. The rest of us aren’t so good with garlic.

My dish is the top right, and Mrs. H- is sitting to the right.

Then we added tomato sauce. I don’t really want to call it “tomato sauce” because it was really a value can of diced tomatoes from some grocery store (Culinary Arts is on a budget). It had a lot of sauce in it, and we had to mash the pieces of diced tomatoes so it wasn’t so lumpy!

At this point, we sent B- and my other teammate (the one who won the challenge and took my rightful place) to the main kitchen to cook the spaghetti. I told B- to make sure to add a little salt to the water.

I simmered the sauce and continued stirring it. A-, the girl who’s great with seasoning and plating (and pretty much everything else), helped add salt and pepper as well as more garlic. My mom usually adds sugar to her sauce because the tomato sauce is usually pretty sour. Unfortunately we only had powdered sugar which just wouldn’t cut it. We just ended up seasoning the sauce with salt and pepper as well as we could.

We had to plate the food much sooner than we expected. A- mixed the spaghetti noodles with the sauce, and then we added two spinach leaves and some diced garlic on top, as well as three slices of mushrooms on the side.

It went over really well with the judges resulting in a first place win! That scored my team, The Lion’s Whiskers (get it? It’s a pun on whisking), three points which ties us for first place with two other teams. Thanks for the recipe, Mom!

The thing I learned today is that I really enjoy cooking. I love being there with the wooden spoon and the frying pan, watching my bacon turn golden brown. I love brining my own culture to the plate. I love adorning my cooked creation with garnishes and other visually appealing food. Most of all, I love eating the food!

The Bakery Life

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Last night, I dragged my parents over to Café Mozart Bakery, a Korean bakery in Plano right next to 99 Ranch Market (an Asian market). We went in, and I bought an iced mango green tea and one of each of the eight French macaron flavors they have.

One of the things I love about Café Mozart is that they actually have macarons! Maybe it’s because I don’t go into bakeries very often, but I haven’t found the French macarons I grew to love anywhere in the Dallas area (actually, I should say “Plano” area, because I’m not making the hour-long trip to downtown).

Mozart Bakery Box

Inside this box was my favorite French confectionary: macarons!

I’m not sure what exactly happened, but somehow nine macarons made it into the box. (Raspberry was repeated.) I can’t complain though, I do like macarons after all.

The eight flavors of macarons that Café Mozart carries are Blueberry, Chocolate, Coffee, Green Tea, Mango, Raspberry, Strawberry, and Vanilla. My personal favorite is mango, but my little brother likes vanilla.

Richard and Macarons

Richard likes the raspberry flavored one the best!

I also used this time to try a little food photography! Unfortunately, I only have a small digital camera (Nikon Coolpix L22) so my pictures aren’t nearly as good as other food bloggers. I really admire food bloggers and food photographers because they get the food to look so good! I’ll have to get a nicer camera in the future, just for the purpose of taking pictures!

A macaron is a sweet, almond-based, French confection. They’re all different colors and flavors and very visually appetizing (as well as actually appetizing)!

My first taste of the macaron was in Paris, France in 2009, about a month after I turned 11. My mom, a major foodie, brought us to Ladurée, a luxury cakes and pastries place well known around the world for their macarons. That probably spoiled me, but there’s nothing wrong with having good taste, right?

I forgot about my favorite French confections until about a year later, where I saw them again in the basement floors of department stores in Tokyo. My mom’s friend from when she and my dad used to live there brought my mom and I to the department store and even bought us some macarons! Auntie Kaori, you’re the best!

Tokyo Macarons

Me in front of Sadaharu AOKI’s second boutique in Tokyo, housed in ISETAN department store. Notice the many flavors of macarons available (and the green Cebu Pacific hat!).

My mom and I did our best with what he had. We even resorted to “stealing” Dad’s nicer camera from his little home office to use before he came home! I did my best to try and figure out how to use it. I tried adjusting the aperture and shutter speed to no avail, and I think I messed up his camera! That’s okay, I’m sure he won’t notice…

Not only that, but we even tried putting them on different colored plates other than the commonplace white used in most food photographs!

After it was over, I got to have the pleasure of eating some of them. I gave the vanilla to my brother, and I split the mango one with my lola (grandma). Oh, and I gave the coffee flavor to my dad. My mom didn’t want any (she got her wisdom teeth taken out a week ago), so I was left with the task of eating the rest.

Sorry for the lack of posts in the past two days everyone! There was a thunder storm – Texas weather is unpredictable — so I had no internet for a few days. And then, I got pretty busy because of DECATS. Later tonight, I will be at my friend Alessia’s house, and we will do our best to get caught up on our NaNoWriMo word count. We’re supposed to be at 15,003 words before the end of the day. I’m only at 8,435. Whoops.

Anyway, I’m working on some new posts about DECATS (my Culinary Arts and Journalism classes included) and another thing that I’m not sharing just yet! Plus, I signed up for a GoodReads account. I’m trying to read more, because as we all know, reading improves our writing!

I guess that should be all for now! Before you go, I’ll tempt you with one more picture: