Mariposa Bakery

>>  Monday, August 31, 2009

I love this little, simple cafe right on the edge of Central Square towards MIT. The decor inside is slightly loft-like, with a nice mix of wood and metal. The baked goods are great, the fair trade coffee is good, and the sandwiches are delicious. I also got a delightfully refreshing crimson berry iced tea there recently. Perfect on a hot summer day.

One warning - the service is a bit slow. Expect to wait 10-15 minutes before getting your individually crafted sandwich.

Nevertheless, if you have some time to spare, sit down in the cool space and relax. It's a great place to study, meet up with a friend for coffee, or just to sit alone and ponder.

If you do go, definitely try the pretzel bread! I absolutely love their pretzel bread, which I have never seen anywhere else. It's so unique. Definitely get your sandwich on pretzel bread! They also make their own bagels and a slew of other interesting baked goods.

Roasted eggplant sandwich with roasted red peppers and a cucumber yogurt dressing on pretzel bread. This vegetarian sandwich was delicious. The roasted vegetables had a deep, rich flavor that complemented perfectly with the cool, cucumber yogurt dressing.
Avocado, mixed greens, and goat cheese with pretzel bread. I don't like goat cheese, but the person with whom I came to the restaurant loves goat cheese and absolutely loved this sandwich. (You can see my crimson berry tea in the background!)

Mariposa Bakery
424 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
Mariposa Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Kyaraben On Steroids (キャラ弁)

>>  Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ever since I was a child, I have loved Japanese animation ("anime") characters. More recently, I started discovering the world of "kyaraben" (or "charaben"), which is derived from the longer phrase "character bento." Kyarabens are elaborately decorated boxed lunches comprised of food made to look like famous characters. When Foodbuzz asked for proposals for 24,24,24, I immediately thought that I would try to make "Kyaraben on Steroids." Instead of just a boxed lunch, I would try to cook a dinner party for 6 where all the food would be made to resemble my favorite Japanese anime characters.

Before we begin with the food, here is a brief introduction to my favorite characters!

Meet Totoro. Totoro is one of the main characters in the movie "My Neighbor Totoro." The totoros are silent, magical creatures who can only be seen by children. In the movie, Totoro and his friends meet Satsuki and Mei, two girls living in the countryside. When Mei gets lost searching for her sick mother (who is in the hospital), Totoro ends up helping the rest of the family find her. Though the story is simple, the art in the movie is beautiful, the portrayal of Japanese country life is enriching, and of course, the characters are really cute!
Domo-kun is the official mascot of NHK, one of Japan's national broadcasting services. He appeared in a series of 2 minute commercials that aired in Japan. In the shorts, Domo hatches from an egg and lands into a rabbit's home. The first word he hears, which is an announcer on TV, is "dōmo, konnichiwa" which in Japanese means "Well, hello there" but can also mean "Hello Domo!" After Domo hears that, he immediately thinks Domo's his name.
Kerokerokeroppi (or "Keroppi"for short) is a frog character made by Sanrio, who also makes the much more famous Hello Kitty. Keroppi loves to sing and swim, and lives at Donut Pond. He has a brother named Koroppi and a sister named Pikki. Keroppi was born in 1988 and was really popular in the early 90's but has since faded. I loved Keroppi when I was a kid, and I bought tons of paraphernalia associated with him.
Doraemon is a robot cat from the future who was sent back in time by the descendants of Nobita Nobi, the boy in the cartoon (manga) series, to make improve his life. Doaremon has no ears because they were eaten by a mouse long ago. Doraemon has lots of cool gadgets that come out of his little pocket, and he often uses them to save the day. Doraemon loves doraeyaki - a snack that consists of red bean pasted sandwiched between two pancakes.
I invited six people over for dinner, and here is what we ate!

Appetizers - Sushi and Rice Balls!


Inarizushi (Totoro)
Inarizushi is sushi that is made from marinated tofu skins and sushi rice. For the Totoro Inarizushi, I cut dried seaweed sheets with scissors into the shape of his nose and the markings on his chest. For his eyes, I used black sesame seeds. Click here for a tutorial on how to make Inarizushi.
Onigiri (Doraemon)
Onigiri (also known as omusubi) is a rice ball that can be filled with a variety of fillings. Common fillings include salted salmon and pickled ume (plum). For this onigiri, I used seaweed as an outer covering to make his head and his whiskers. I cut out eyes with a straw from fish cake (kamaboko). I use scissors to cut the seaweed.

Maki is a specific type of sushi where rice and other ingredients are rolled up into a roll, usually using seaweed. I decided to make Maki rolls that, when cut, revealed the face of Keroppi.

Here is the step by step tutorial for how to make Keroppi Maki Rolls.

Main Dish #1: Domo Japanese "Hamburg" (ハンバーグ)
The Japanese rendition of hamburger has ground beef mixed with panko and sauteed onions. It is usually served with a brown sauce (like Bulldog Sauce) or curry. This Asian-interpretation of a western dish has almost become a separate type of cuisine in the states, and you can find restaurants that serve Japanese style hamburgers in the US.

I decided to make Domo-themed Japanese Hamburgers with brown sauce.
Domo has black beans for his eyes, red bell pepper for his mouth, and daikon for his teeth. For the recipe and tutorial on how to make Domo Japananese "Hamburg", click here
Main Dish #2: Totoro Rice and Korean Spinach Salad
This was the centerpiece of the meal. The dish was inspired by a scene from the movie in My Neighbor Totoro where Totoro is holding an umbrella because it is raining. It is one of the most famous scenes from the movie. Due to limitations in what foods I had available, I was unable to really recreate the scene. So, instead, here is an inspired picture that is loosely based on a scene from the movie.

The flowers are made out of red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers. The sun is a picked daikon, and Totoro is made out of sesame rice and also regular rice. For a tutorial on how to make your own Totoro, click here.

For the Korean Spinach Salad recipe, click here.

Other sides dishes that were served at this meal but did not necessarily make it into the final centerpiece included the Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad and the Taiwanese Meat Sauce over Rice.

Dessert: Rice Crispy Treats and Chocolate

Rice Crispy Treats
Having made Japanese style rice crispy snacks before, I was somewhat familiar with how to handle rice crispy treats. Here, I shaped them into Totoros and stuck on some eyes using white chocolate chips and melted dark chocolate. For a more detailed tutorial, click here. I also played around with some other shapes.
Can you recognize who this is?
Finally, I made some chocolates in the shape of Keroppi. I used food coloring to color white chocolate green. I used white chocolate chips for his eyeballs. For a step by step look into how I made the Keroppi chocolates, click here.

It was a crazy Saturday filled with many hours of cooking. Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for sponsoring this event. I never would have attempted so many interesting dishes otherwise! This is my first time making many of these things, and I'm definitely still a novice! I have to acknowledge two great sites that I used as wonderful resources: Just Bento and Anna the Red's Bento Factory.  I learned a lot from these sites, and you should definitely check them out. Just Bento has a ton of great tips about bento making in general, and Anna the Red makes incredibly detailed and crazy cute bentos that I can only dream of recreating.

Enjoy! And thanks for reading this far!

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Inarizushi and Onigiri
Inarizushi is part of a larger Japanese character based meal titled "Kyaraben on Steroids" featured in August's Foodbuzz's 24-24-24. Click here to see the entire meal.

Inarizushi is popular picnic food in Japan. It's easy to carry, tasty, and healthy.

Sushi rice
Inarizushi tofu skins

You can typically find inarizushi wrappers in Asian grocery stores. Here is a picture of the brand that I used.

Once you open the can, the tofu skins will look like flat squarish sheets. Gently take one out and carefully pry it open. It's sort of like a pita pocket.

Fill with sushi rice and optionally sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.

To make the Totoro shaped sushi, fill with a little less rice than normal and fold down the upper portion. Make 2 small V-shaped cuts as ears. Cut black seaweed into small flat triangles for the belly and also cut out a small diamond for the nose. For his eye you can cut out kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) with a straw (similar to the Totoro rice in this post). Finally, use sesame seeds for eye balls. I find that it's easier to handle these small pieces of seaweed and sesame seeds with some tweezers!
Totoro Inarizushi
For the sac, fill a tofu-skin halfway full of rice and then tie the top with a bit of scallion. The umbrella is just a small bit of cucumber with a toothpick.


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Japanese Hamburger (Domo-Kun)

Domo Hamburg

Domo-kun Japanese Hamburger is part of a larger Japanese character based meal titled "Kyaraben on Steroids" featured in August's Foodbuzz's 24-24-24. Click here to see the entire meal.

This Japanese rendition of hamburger has ground beef mixed with panko and sauteed onions. It is usually served with a brown sauce (like Bulldog Sauce) or curry. This Asian-interpretation of a western dish has almost become a separate type of cuisine in the states, and you can find restaurants that serve Japanese style hamburgers in the US.

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumb
  • pepper to season
  • vegetable oil for flying
Saute onion in a small amount of vegetable and set aside. Mix together the egg and the milk. Once mixed, incorporate the panko crumbs. Put the raw ground beef in another bowl and add both the onions and the breadcrumb mixture to the beef. Mix together the entire mixture with your hands.

Shape the meat into squares (if you want to make Domo-kun) or just patties if you are making normal hamburgers.

Pan fry the patties in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to brown the outside. Flip the burger and then add 1/4 cup water to the pan. Cover and steam the burger for a few minutes. Remove cover and continue letting it cook until the water has evaporated.

Serve with brown sauce (Tonkatsu sauce or Bull Dog Sauce) or make your own version by mixing ketchup and Worcestershire sauce to taste (start with a 1:1 mixture).

In order to make the mouth, cut up red bell peppers into squares. Using a peeler, peel off thin sheets of daikon. Using scissors, cut out the teeth.
Assemble all the pieces. I used black beans (from a can of Chinese black bean sauce) for eyes, but you can be creative and use whatever you can think of.

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Totoro Rice

Totoro rice is part of a larger Japanese character based meal titled "Kyaraben on Steroids" featured in August's Foodbuzz's 24-24-24. Click here to see the entire meal.

Here is the tutorial for Totoro Rice.

First, you must make the gray rice by mixing ground up black sesame seeds with rice. I typically use a small spice grinder and grind up about 2-3 T of black sesame seeds.

One you have made your gray rice, take a glob of the rice using plastic wrap, and form an oval out of it. You can also form the ears of the Totoro.

Next, make a mound of white rice and put another layer on as his belly.
I then cut out eyes with a straw using fish cake (kamaboko).

I cut out his eyeballs and the designs on his stomach from seaweed using a pair of scissors.
Next, decorate around Totoro using whatever you have. In this case, I used Korean Spinach Salad as the "grass" underneath him.

Finally, I cut out some carrot flowers and red bell pepper flowers. You can make the carrot flowers by cutting 3 notches into the side of the carrot and then slicing it.

With the tulips, you can cut with scissors the old fashioned way.

Definitely check out Anna the Red's Bento Factory for much more detailed tutorials on how to make Totoro bentos.

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Totoro Rice Crispy Treats

I made these treats as part of a larger Japanese character based meal titled "Kyaraben on Steroids" featured in Foodbuzz's 24-24-24 in August 2009. Click here to see the entire meal.
Totoro Rice Crispy Treats

Make Rice Crispy Treats according to the package instructions except stop at the step before you press the marshmallow-rice mixture into the pan. Instead, while the mixture is still hot, using either well oiled or wet hands, pick up glob of rice-marshmallow mix and shape it into a Totoro.
Totoro Rice Crispies
Dip the Totoros into melted chocolate.  Make melted chocolate by heating baking chocolate chips in the microwave for about 1 minute. You may have to stir the mixture and heat for an additional minute. If the mixture is still hard to stir, you can add a little bit of canola oil to soften it up.
Totoro Rice Crispies

Let the Totoros rest while the chocolate hardens (it may not harden all the way if you add too much vegetable oil - so use it sparingly only if you have to!)
To make the eyes, take white chocolate chips and insert them (pointy side first) into the rice crispy. Using a toothpick, take a dab of the melted chocolate and dip on the eyeballs.
Totoro Rice Crispies


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Keroppi Chocolate

I made these chocolates as part of a larger Japanese character based meal titled "Kyaraben on Steroids" featured in Foodbuzz's 24-24-24 in August 2009. Click here to see the entire meal.

To emulate his colors, I made "green" chocolate by melting white chocolate over a double boiler and then adding food coloring to it. Unfortunately, white chocolate does not melt as easily in the microwave, and I actually burned my white chocolate when I tried. Soooo . . I had to use my improvised " double boiler" (aka a metal bowl inside a pot of boiling water).
I made these Keroppi chocolates from a mold, which I bought years ago. So, I'm not sure if they are available anymore. Using the mold, here's what I did next.

Place the white chocolate chips as his eyes:
Add the green chocolate and then refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

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Sushi Rice

Here is a simple recipe for making sushi rice.


* 3 cups short-grain sushi rice
* 3 1/4 cups water
* 1/3 cup rice vinegar
* 3 Tbsp sugar
* 1 tsp salt
Make Japanese rice in a rice cooker. In a separate saucepan, mix the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. When the rice is done and still hot, dump the rice into a wooden bowl.

Add the vinegar mixture and start mixing until incorporated. Ideally, you would blow a fan on the rice while you are stirring to cool the rice, but this is not necessary.

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Keroppi Maki Rolls

>>  Saturday, August 29, 2009

Keroppi Maki Rolls is part of a larger Japanese character based meal titled "Kyaraben on Steroids" featured in August's Foodbuzz's 24-24-24. Click here to see the entire meal.

These are simple cucumber rolls filled with sushi rice, cucumbers, and seaweed. In order to make sushi, you must first make sushi rice. Click here for a simple tutorial/recipe.

Cucumber "Keroppi"
Let's prepare the cucumber first. I like to use thinner Japanese pickling cucumbers. Slice the cucumber in half, and then into three equal parts as shown below. The "V" that you are creating will be his mouth.
Cut a piece of dried seaweed the same length as the cucumber and sandwich it between the three pieces as shown below:
Now let's make the eyes. Roll up two thin cylinders of rice with dried seaweed sheets. You will need a bamboo wrapper to wrap the maki rolls. Lay a layer of seaweed on the bamboo roll and put a small layer of rice onto the edge.

 Roll up the seaweed around the rice until the edge of the seaweed is touching seaweed on the other side. Try to make sure that the roll is wrapped as tightly as possible.
Make two of these "eyes" maki rolls.

Now assemble the big roll. Put a new layer of rice down onto the seaweed. :ay the two "eyes" rolls on top of the cucumber. Can you start to see Keroppi?

Now roll the whole thing together and slice! Voila! I used sesame seeds for the eye balls.

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Zoe's Gourmet Chinese Cuisine

>>  Friday, August 28, 2009

Zoe Collage
Oh Zoe's. I really wanted to love you. I remember when you were a hole-in-the-wall not too long ago. I remember being pleasantly surprised at how good the food was - how you seemed like a "hidden find" with surprisingly great Sichuan food in the middle of a dumpy part of Somerville.

Now you look all spruced up. You really have a beautiful interior now, and I love the new space (uhh . . even despite the fact that it's adjoining a condemned building). Nevermind that. But the food. Did I just not order correctly? Or is something different? Was the head chef on vacation? Maybe because it was lunchtime? I know I didn't order all Sichuan dishes. Maybe that was my problem.

The food was alright. I can't complain. But it wasn't surprising. It was just . . fine.

At least the mapo bean curd, my favorite dish from the past, still had its characteristic sichuan peppercorn zing. I still love it - it's still one of my favorite dishes here.

But, the dumplings were tired. The beef chowfoon, which I think you recommended, was average at best. The duck was so-so, though the water chestnuts with snow peas was solid.

Maybe I just didn't know what to order. I do want to give you another chance. Maybe during dinner sometime, or on the night that the head chef is cooking?

Zoe's - you are so close to my house, and there isn't really any good Chinese food in immediate vicinity. I think I'll give you another chance. Oh . .I really hope you don't disappoint me. I do still want to love you so much.

289 Beacon St
Somerville, MA 02143
Zoe's Gourmet Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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