Tuesday, July 31, 2012


After several failures at baking, I took one (last) shot at brownies over the weekend (mostly out of boredom). I had some leftover bananas in the fridge from buying too much at Costcos. They were already turning mushy so I had to do something before they completely become mush.

 Thankfully, I had a package of brownie mix, so I decided to make some banana-brownies.

I was also inspired by the banana-chocolate mousse cake that hubby got me over the weekend to make me feel better from my ear infection which I incurred from swimming last week in St. Thomas (he also made dinner the other day!).

He got a slice of choco-banana cake at Martha's Country Bakery after lunch with a friend at the nearby raman shop.

It tasted absolutely sublime - the layers of dark rich chocolate melted into the sweet, plush banana cream, forming a fusion of banana chocolate fondue in your mouth. It was so rich and creamy that I had to eat it in two servings because you can get quite full after a few bites.

So with my standards set pretty high, I set about with my banana-brownies.

First I mushed up four ripe bananas. I used an ice cream scooper here, but I think the mixer does a better job if your banana is not mushable enough.

Then, all I had to do is whip up the hand mixer and slowly, batch by batch, mix up the brownie mix with an egg, the bananas, and some oil. I used a little bit of left over soy milk to substitute the water. I like my brownie mix to be more on the watery side, so that it does not become as dense when you eat it. I considered adding some coffee, but it was already getting pretty watery with the bananas, so I decided against it.

And of course, it wouldn't be a Belle Boulangerie creation without some creative flair! I decorated the brownie with some malt balls! These added some texture and design to the brownies.

Finally, I popped it into the oven at 375F and watched the Olympics while I waited.

Half an hour later...

Personally, I was amazed at my beautiful creation. Never though I could be successful at baking again since my last two incidents, but hey, I'm back at it again!

The taste test went fairly well - it was a bit on the sweet side, I guess I really should have added the coffee or maybe some salt to even out the taste (cracked salt brownies anyone?) The banana flavor really came though in a big and bold way. It made the brownie a little jello-y, but added some flair to it. And the chocolate malt ball melted through, making a delish topping on top of an already sweet treat.

Unfortunately, hubby doesn't like bananas in his brownies, so he didn't really enjoy it. We both brought it to our workplaces to help consume it, and our coworkers all gave it thumbs up =)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Costless Biang!

(Note - sorry for the slow updates...this entry is a week behind due to last week's craziness. I'll try to catch up to the times, literally =)

After waking up late from last night's late plane trip, we hit Costcos to remind ourselves again of the in-expensiveness of mainland cuisine.

Costco cafe

I've never noticed this in other Costcos, but this neat little device struck me as kinda funky and cool. It's an onion pumper that when you rotate clockwise like on the instructions, you can get some onions for your hot dog!

Onion pumper

Couldn't believe that they served hot dog + drink for only $1.50. In St. Thomas, that would cost at least $7!

I was hungry from the morning's tidying up that I needed something substantial to eat. So we got a chicken bake, a churro, a frozen swirl yogurt and a Very Berry smoothie - all for the low low price of $7.

Chicken Bake

The chicken bake was fresh out of the oven. We split this in the ratio of 6:4, with me taking the smaller part of course. The chicken was oozing out of it, with the rich creamy broth following right after.

Wonder Bird

It was really an amazing creature of salty creaminess with tender chicken bits and a crunchy yet not too hard coating with felted shredded bits drizzled all over it. I could eat this everyday!

Very Berry Smoothie and Swirl Yogurt

Then the yogurt. Oh man it was pure dairy goodness. I got this versus the ice cream because I wanted to be at least a little calorie-conscious, although I know that's not really possible when everything on the Costco menu is above 300 calories.

Want a bite? (Get it yourself!)

But what I like best about this yogurt is that it's not too sweet. And you can keep on enjoying it even after the meal because of the large proportion.

The smoothie was full of berries like the name suggests. But it wasn't artificial like a lot of the other smoothies - this thing is the real deal. Although I don't like berries all that much, this was still pretty awesome. (Next time I want to try the frozen mocha.)


The churro though fell short of expectations. I guess it must have been sitting in the window for too long, because there were bits and pieces that were hard to chew. But still, we finished it, with me dipping it into my yogurt.

In the afternoon, we went furniture shopping for a coffee table. I thought this painting has a pretty exclamatory remark =) 

Then later on, we went to Flushing to get some groceries (yay!). While hubby was busy, I got an iced coffee from Kung Fu Tea. This is their original (isn't everything these days?) iced coffee, and it was actually pretty good! Contrary to my other Kung Fu tea experiences, this one was surprisingly full of good coffee flavor and just the right amount of cream, and not too much sugar like I requested.

Iced Coffee

In the Flushing mall, we saw this large shoe.

Would you like to live in there?

Before shopping, we went to Biang! The reportedly top 10 cheap eats by New York Magazine.

Created by Jason Wu, a first-generation Chinese American, his entrepreneurial genius transformed his father's Xian mall-stand into a hip young trend that can be compared to Mission Chinese.

Complicated character

Yes, biang is a real Chinese character, a complicated one albeit. It's supposed to be the sound of dough hitting the table (they specialize in hand-made, hand-cut noodles), but it's sounds more like a gunshot to me.

Their menu is pretty cool, printed on parchment paper and then stuck to a cardboard backing by two old-school silver pins.

It was just starting to get busy when we arrived, and Jason was at the greeting table to seat us down. I would have gushed "omg are you the Jason Wu featured in NY Magazine?", but thankfully I was too busy detangling my hand bag from my sweater to react.

The waitress brought us water right away. Compared to the islands, we're already starting to feel the speed of the East Coast. 

We ordered the tofu and lamb skewers, both 3 for $3 (just like the ones on the streets!). We also got the cold chili noodles with cucumbers and cilantro, and the lamb dumplings (as recommended by NYM). The food came almost 8 min after we ordered. I couldn't believe the speed! 

During our wait (which was barely enough for us to drink some water!), I was telling hubby about what I read about Jason Wu, while drolling over the next table over. The two ladies ordered everything on the menu, from the skewers to spiced quail wings to the cold chili tofu skins to the lamb pao mo to these scrumptious looking spicy cumin lamb burgers. (I thought they were Chinese food critics or something, til I started talking to them...just regular customers who has a great appetite =)

Tofu skewers 

The boiled tofu skin skewers are slathered with spicy fermented tofu sauce, Szechuan bean sauce, sesame paste, garlic and chili oil. With all those ingredients, they were a little too salty. Actually, way too salty.

Cumin Lamb Skewers

Being a Xian meat staple, you can't leave Biang! without trying their lamb. And what could be more authentic than lamb skewers? These slivers of fatty lamb bits are barbecued over open-flame grill, seasoned with cumin, red chili powder and other spices. 

You could smell this dish from miles away. The meat is tender, with the bits of fat soaking up the spices  fully. It's a little hard to get off the silver skewers, and you have to be careful eating it lest you poke the poor person sitting beside you.

Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles

Of course, we also had to try the Liang Pi, their signature dish. This is wheat-based cold and chewy ribbon-like noodles, with wheat gluten slices, blanched mung-bean sprouts, cucumber and cilantro, and fizzled with chili oil, soy sauce and vinegar.

It was the dish recommended by NYM. Personally, I didn't really enjoy this dish. Although we asked for mild spicy, it was still quite spicy in terms of my tastebuds. But of course, my tastebuds can't really handle spice all that much anyways. The hand-pulled noodles were pretty good though.

Steamed soup dumplings with lamb meat

These little things were delish! Handmade into bite-sized pieces, the dough is oh-so-tender and the meat  fresh and flavorful with a slurp of soup in every bite (well, there's only one bite from start to finish). I ate most of these since I love lamb and bao zi, especially the combination of such. 

I heart bao zi

The noodles kind of grow on you after a while, that is, after you are numbed by its intense spiciness. Hubby really liked this dish which reminded him of his hometown cooking.

All done! (dare you to drink the sauce)

And once again, we managed to swipe the plates clean. And the total bill? $17!!! I couldn't believe it. All this under an hour of service + eating + bill. Incredible! Just for the bill, I had to go thank Jason personally. He was rather confused when I approached him and said his name, I guess because he just had to deal with a difficult customer who was unsure of what they wanted to go and how to pack it to go. 

Me  - "Jason, I just wanted to say.."
J - *blank look*
Me - "Thanks for a great meal!"
J - *huh look* "Oh...you were sitting over there?" *point at table*
Me - "yes, you are doing an awesome job, keep it up!"
J - "Oh thanks."

Wow, I guess years of restaurant service (esp in Flushing) dulls you down huh?

Next time I would love to try the Chang-an Spicy Tofu, the Spicy Cumin Hand-ripped Noodles, and of course, the Lamb Pao-Mo Soup. I also like their fusion menu, like the sunny side up quail-egg toasted on slices of mantou and home-made spicy pork sausage, almost reminiscent of tostini. 

Unfortunately hubby wasn't completely full (he should have told me - we could have ordered some more dishes hehe), so I suggested the $1 Peking duck served from a window shop.

I peeked inside the store, and it was chaos. The lady measuring the food was practically screaming at the customers and her coworkers, although most of what she said was just the weight of the food.

These slowcooked chicken wings were only $2 for the whole box (but you don't get much meat on it, just lots of bones).


The duck burger consisted of a Chinese mantou bun, some sweet duck sauce, few slices of duck and some slivers of scallion. Hubby said it tasted awesome, and wondered why he never saw it before. Sigh - that's why you need a wife to notice these things.

Finally, the moment I was waiting for - grocery shopping in a Chinese supermarket!

You won't find as diverse a range of veggies as here, as like this veggie pictured above. Don't know the English name for it but it's in the shape of a fist, which is why Chinese people often call it "Buddha's palm".

We explored their shampoo section quite a bit, and found some pretty interesting combinations of Chinese ingredients, like this one here:

Nourishing and Tastes Good

And let's not forget Mr. Good-luck Panda (this is shampoo btw).

Notice the red banner wishing you good luck after you wash your hair?

And some leftover New Year's choco wafer sticks...
Happy Year of the Dragon!

Ah...it's nice to be back in the diverse (and cheap) mainland!

Costco Cafe
***** (5/5)

**** (4/5)
Kids-not-friendly (small restaurant, about 20 (small) tables)

Au Revoir la Belle Isle

It's finally our last day in the beautiful St. Thomas. I keep on thinking it's the Bahamas, because the scenery all looks the same in these islands (though I've never been to there before).

I couldn't wait to enjoy every last moment of this day, so I got up and ran to the convenience store to grab some breakfast.

I always wanted to try their banana-nut muffin since day one, but was temped by the carrot-raisin muffin, and the double-choco brownie muffin for hubby. But I decided to settle on my original idea.

Banana-nut Muffin

For hubby, I got an apple danish. And I got two Marley iced coffees for the two of us.

Apple Danish

I sat outside my balcony enjoying my breakfast. It was a mighty hot day, around 35C, with the sun's rays hugging the island tightly. 

I convinced hubby to go swimming one last time (by making a call to reception to extend out checkout time to noon). We got ready as quickly as possible, as if we were military personnel on call of duty, and ran to the ocean. I checked out a small surf board so I can snuggly ride the waves. It was a pretty windy day, and bopping up and down the waves was really fun.

Hubby says I was cheating the waters because on the first day I was knocked to my feet by the waves (it really hurt!). I told him that I was going to take down the waves for once and for all. He said using a board doesn't cut it, and he tried to steal the board away from me so I'd have to swim by myself, but I grabbed it back. 

While I was on top of the board and riding the waves close to shore, a giant wave came and enveloped me, rendering the board useless. I was totally engulfed by the waves. Thankfully, I was already pretty close to shore, but I did have a nose and ear full of salt water and sand. 

We washed off the sand in the pool by the beach, where we spent one last time in the waters and the jacuzzi. 

We checked out around noon, and hung around the hotel before going to the airport. I watched the newcomers come in with giant smiles on their faces, and reminisced our "firsts" as well. Most of the tourists that we've grown accustomed to seeing around the island is leaving today as well, probably so they can have at least one day to settle down before getting back to the grind.

While waiting, I was getting hungry, so I got some plantain chips to munch on. These chips were just like the ones back home - crunchy, oily and tasty. I'm not sure why they are called the "alternative snack" when half of the calorie is fat.

After an hour of lounging around, we took a taxi to the airport. I found this display pretty amusing. The thing in front of the bug spray is a jar of grape jam, which they do not recommend you carry onboard the plane, at least not without some peanut butter to go with.

There were long lineups at the airport because of all of the tourists waiting to go home. I was so hungry when we finally checked in. Thankfully, the airport was the size of a small terminal in a normal airport, and it only had one food place, the Hibiscus Cafe and Bar.

Once again, not surprisingly, the lines were out the door at the cafe when we got there. While I waited at a table to reserve seats, hubby lined up.

It was refreshing to see that finally, somewhere on this island offered a taste of the tropics. They have a specialized fast-food menu with the usual chicken fingers and burgers, as well as an island menu with specialities like jerk chicken.

I got the island beef plate and hubby a hot dog. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my box...

Meatballs n rice!

The rice and beans were so delish - different from Mexican flavors, this one was infused with spices and herbs that melted together and settled comfortably into my mouth.

I was also surprised that I got beef balls - I was excepting a slice of steak or something. But these were really nice and tender, really like the Swedish ones you get at Ikea. But it can get a little overwhelming after a while, because it's too full of flavor. You have to mix the sauce with the rice and eat it together to even out the flavors.

The veggies were kind of meh, as they were just frozen food heated up to add some color (not much nutrients after it's been frozen and then zapped).

Hubby got something uneventful - a hot frank. He ate that and half my plate because he loved the meatballs so much.


We waited at the airport for a good two hours, browsing the only two stores they have, which is the Duty Free with racks upon racks of cheap rum and the convenience store with overly priced souvenirs. 

I did however get the chocolate rum cake to bring back.

While waiting for our plane, we sat behind a cheerful Floridian couple and their grandchild, whose parents just got married at the islands. They were pretty funny and their granddaughter Ariel was full of life, jumping up and down her seat and asking me to play with her.

Starring into the eye of the fan engine, there's a spiral thing that can get you pretty hypnotized...

You are getting dizzy...

Around late afternoon, we finally boarded our first flight. I had some foresight in buying some chips at the airport, because I knew hubby was going to get hungry on the plane.

While sipping my coffee, I opened up an issue of Sky Mall, an on-board flight shopping magazine full of crazy inventions like the ones you see on infomercials. 

Now I've always loved ketchup, but is this going a little too far?

Protein-infused Ketchup (in takeaway size!)

Beside the ketchup btw is the world's first yogurt that does not need to be refrigerated. Guess it's a crossbreed between yogurt and Jello.

This futuristic machine purported melts away stress and tension, allowing you to enter a state of euphoria. Sounds kind of scary if you need a helmet to be induced into euphoria.

Euphoria helmet

It's a bird, it's a bird-house, no wait, it's actually...

Yes, ladies and gents, a barking dog deterrent

One of those products that make you go huh? The birdhouse apparently carries a high frequency ultrasonic tone inaudible to humans which startles your dog into silence, because it considers it to an unpleasant sound. Not sure if the animal cruelty people would like it very much.


Who needs an iPad when you're in the tropical beaches? 

Wiener Leash

Btw the add that accompanies this one says it's funny even if you don't have a wiener dog. If you do, then it's hilarious. I would just get a hot dog and tie it up to the wiener leash. 

Need I say more?

This one I felt to be a little weird...

iGrow technology (not associated with Apple, I think)

This helmet apparently helps you grow thicker, fully hair with microbes that massage your head, stimulating your hair and scalp. I'll have to see the results to believe this one. 

Finally, a slimmer for men!

I'm not sure how comfortable this will be...

SkyRest pillow

I never realized how wacky the stuff in this magazine really were until now. Oh well, maybe people actually find this stuff useful.

After our first flight over, I was starving! We got off at North Carolina again, but this time our connecting gate was in another wing. So we trekked a good distance, passing by tons of fast-food stalls, smoothie stands, stores and a BK.

Near our gate, we got some dinner at Sbarro.

I decided to be a little creative with our drink, which I mixed sweetened ice tea with Sprite (they didn't have ginger ale...notice the pattern here?). The result was sweet bubble tea! Even hubby who normally doesn't approve of my drink mixing liked it. Nestle should really considered this concoction =)

Iced Tea Soda

I got a mushroom spinach pizza, and hubby a meat pizza.

My large slice of pizza was re-toasted. I really enjoyed the texture of soft mozzarella cheese topped with spinach and mushrooms on top of doughy crust. But towards the very end the crust was hard to chew, but oh well, it's airport food.

Steamed Veggies

We also shared some steamed veggies. The zucchini, snack-sized carrots and bits of broccoli flowers were drizzled in garlic and olive oil. It was lacking some flavor, so we sprinkled some red pepper flakes on top.

Overall it was a pretty enjoyable meal that cost $17. I was just happy to be back in the mainland again and spending normal prices for food, even though this price would still be considered kind of lucrative in NY.

After a short two hour flight where I slept soundly, we finally got back home. I had some energy to unpack before crashing in bed, this time not from swimming exhaustion.


10 hours later

Hibiscus Cafe and Bar
**** (4/5)
Kids-not-friendly (especially during peak hours!)