Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas!

To any who celebrate Christmas, a happy one to you! and season's greetings to all!
When I was very young, we used to spend winter break with extended family from TX. We'd either make the long drive down to TX, or they would haul the entire clan up to IL. As we grew older, we took to the slopes -- Santa Fe, NM; Breckenridge, CO. Then we stopped spending the holidays together entirely as each of my cousins went off to college.

These days my parents' daily routine doesn't change much during the holidays. Christmas is a very important holiday for FH's family, however, so the past 5 years have found us flying to NJ for the holidays. This year is no different, except that FH has to work tonight. We'll be off on the 27th.

In the meantime, I decided I would finally try my hand at another amazing delicacy from across the pond: Welsh Cakes. Had them all of once, and they were VERY nice. Unfortunately, my skill with breads is basically 0 for 0, and continues to be so after today's attempt...(didn't have real butter on hand and had to go with margarine, despite knowing it was a bad idea...).

Welsh Cakes
[modified by flook from and Jamie Oliver]

Ingredients (Serves 24)

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, slightly softened
6 tablespoons lard
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 cups raisins
4 eggs
8 tablespoons milk

  1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into bowl. Put in butter and lard and mix until resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar and currants or raisins. Beat the eggs lightly and add to flour mixture with just enough milk (~2 tbsp) to make a firm dough similar to shortcrust pastry.
  2. Chill dough 1 to 2 hours. (Some recipes omit this step, but I did it since I had used margarine instead of real butter.)
  3. Roll the dough to 1/4 inch on floured surface (~1 cm thick) and cut with 3 inch rounds. Bake the cakes on a greased griddle or frying pan (I use my electric skillet with just a little non-stick spray) over low heat until golden brown (~4.5 min ea side). Cool and sprinkle with sugar. These also freeze well.
  4. Variations: Use all butter instead of part lard; form the dough into balls and press down to the appropriate thickness instead of rolling out and cutting the dough; add 1 tsp nutmeg; Jamie Oliver: Whip double cream and marble-in vanilla bean paste. Slice welsh cake in half, add dollop of cream + a few fresh berries and make a sandwich.
Notes: Do NOT substitute margarine or oil for the butter (though butter for lard is OK). Texture will be terrible. Don’t be afraid to flour very well -- the sides will brown more softly and evenly. About ½ cm thickness is good; it will puff up a little bit, and if it’s too thick it won’t cook through fully. I cut the sugar by ¼ cup and it was still quite sweet with only sprinkling caster sugar on one side. If you use the roll-and-pat method, pay attention to the edges of the cake otherwise it will look very uneven.

Still working out the ideal formula; will update with future attempts! Tips or advice are welcome, as always.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Crêpe attack!

I spent the summer of 2006 with a wonderful family in Putney, SW London. The family took in short- and long-term lodgers -- some coming to the UK to work or to study, others for travel. A pair of girls from France came to stay for a few weeks and made the most delicious crêpes I'd had in my life:

Unfortunately, I was never able to get the recipe. Thus we come to today, wherein I remain a complete amateur on the making of the perfect crêpe. It normally wouldn't matter, except that I offered to make a millefeuille crêpe cake for a friend to celebrate the conclusion of 2011! So, by trial and error, I'm still trying to figure out how to replicate those crêpes...

Batch #1: The key to the perfect crêpe, in my opinion, is the texture, which is also something I've always struggled with in the past. This time I allowed the batter to rest overnight then come to room temperature before cooking in hopes the gluten would relax. I don't know if I let it rest for too long, or if I overmixed it, but the texture turned out terribly. Not only were the crêpes rubbery, but they tasted both too floury and too eggy simultaneously!! Not sure how I managed that, but needless to say that method was out...

Batch #2: Mixed very minimally and allowed the mixture to rest in the fridge for about 45-60 minutes. The texture was much, much improved! However, I think it could have used more sugar and salt, bc the flavor was very flat despite having used salted butter. Also, it was slightly dry or spongy, like store-bought crêpes. Not the end of the world, but still not that perfect moist, slightly chewy authentic French crêpe I've been dreaming of! At the same time, however, this lighter, foam-like texture may be more suited to millefeuille anyway. Some pics and the method (including adjustments to sugar and salt) follow:

This method enabled me to get very thin crêpes. Pictured here is probably a stack of 5, though it doesn't look it!
The fun thing w/ crêpes is that they are so versatile -- these were very plain in taste, so they probably would've been better with a savory filling. Pictured here as the filling and topping is the strawberry sauce that normally goes with shortcake.

[recipe as modified by flook from,, Alton Brown, and others]

2 eggs
1 cup milk (skim or 1% is ideal)
2 tbsp. butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Large pinch salt -- I would even go to 1/8 tsp.
1-2 tbsp. sugar (as needed)
1 tbsp. vanilla

  1. Melt butter over low heat until caramel in color (note: you can use oil, but the authentic taste of a crêpe should be slightly caramely, and you won't achieve this with oil). Add the milk, stir for about a minute, then turn off heat and let stand to warm. This allows the fat to suspend and mix more thoroughly in step 2.
  2. Sift flour together with the salt and sugar. If using a blender, combine with milk liquid, eggs, vanilla, and mix on high until completely combined, about 30 seconds. If using a whisk or hand mixer, whisk until just combined (do not overbeat or your crêpes will turn out rubbery). Cover and let mixture rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. (If the batter separates, mix it again just before cooking the crêpes.)
  3. When ready to cook the crêpes, melt enough butter to coat a 10-inch nonstick skillet or an 8-inch crêpe pan over medium heat. Pour in about 1/4 cup of the batter (about 3" diameter) and immediately swirl and tilt the pan to create a thin, even layer. (If it sets before you have a chance to swirl, lower the heat slightly. However, note that the heat should be high enough to cook the first side of the crêpe in approx. 1 minute.)
  4. Return to heat and cook until the crêpe is golden around the edges and dry in the center, about 1 minute. You'll notice that the edges will start to curl in, away from the pan. Use fingers or spatula to flip and cook for about 20 seconds more.
  5. Slide the crêpe onto a serving plate. Repeat with the remaining batter, buttering the pan as needed (approx. per 5 crêpes). Serve immediately.
If you have that elusive "perfect" crêpe recipe, do share! Bon appétit!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Your favorite cheeses.

When most people think of Wisconsin, they inevitably think of cheese -- yes, among other things, but I'd bet the most consistent association is cheese, even for the Wisconsin born-and-bred. I recount a real conversation from class a few months ago:

Prof: What's one major natural resource Wisconsin lacks?
Class: ...
Prof: Natural gas. There are no natural gas basins beneath the state of Wisconsin.
Prof: Alright. But what's one resource Wisconsin has that no one else does?
Class: ...
Prof: Come on guys...
Class: (unanimously) ...cheese?

(At which point everyone broke out in laughter. The real answer was water...Madison alone sits on the edge of 5 lakes, not to mention state borders on Lake Michigan and Superior).

So, in honor of the great product of my current state of residence, my current top 5 favorite cheeses:

1. Smoked Gouda
2. Mozzarella
3. Harvati (cream-style)
4. Camembert or Brie
5. Muenster

Most interesting cheeses of 2011:

1. Juustoleipä, aka 'bread cheese' (love this post just bc they mention Wegmans AND Carr Valley)
2. Stilton (tasted a bit like cheesecake, imo)

Some cheeses I would like to try:

1. Gruyère
2. Cave Aged Marisa
3. Cardona

What are YOUR top 5 favorite cheeses?

[UPDATE: Cardona is fantastic (goat cheese)!]

ไข่เจียว - The frying process.

M wanted to learn how to make ไข่เจียว, so I took the opportunity to ask him to record the frying process in photos. The product:

Prepare your rice beforehand. Heat the oil until the pan is quite hot and slightly smoking.
The edges should puff up immediately (note: if you put too much oil, it will splatter -- be careful!).
Moving too quickly for the camera :)
Push the edges in with a heat-resistant spatula and tilt the pan to let uncooked egg run to the edges.
Repeat all the way around.
Until most of the runny egg has been diverted to the edges.
Flip! If you're making a very large omelette or find this task difficult, you may consider heating a 2nd pan and flipping the omelette into it.
Flip again onto your bowl of rice. I always think the underside browns more beautifully than the first side!
Unfortunately, our apartment isn't very well lit, and please ignore the various splatters on the stove, but hopefully you get the idea! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The perfect sauce for ไข่เจียว

I'm a weakling when it comes to spiciness, despite my Thai heritage. A few years ago, I was introduced to a mild sweet/sour/spicy sauce akin to Sriracha to use on Thai fried omelette (kai jiew -- ไข่เจียว). I searched high and low both in Bangkok and in the US, and so far no luck.

The below sauce has been so far the best substitute. What sauces do you use on your eggs?

As far as the ไข่เจียว recipe goes, it's one of my favorite comfort foods and very much an organic process. Make sure to review the steps before you start bc with the pan so hot, it goes pretty quickly -- quickly enough that I can't take pics during the process. I may ask M to help me out next time.
  1. Put a small frying pan or wok on the stove with about 1 tbsp oil and heat it on medium-high to high. The hotter the pan, the better the texture of the eggs...but also the faster your eggs will overcook/burn, so with practice you'll find the right heat level for you.
  2. Beat a few eggs with light soy sauce and fish sauce to taste; I usually use a 1:3 ratio. 2-egg omelette is good for 1.25 cups cooked rice.
  3. When the pan is nice and hot / lightly smoking / the oil is very runny, it is ready. Dump the beaten eggs into the pan. It should crackle and puff up immediately on the edges.
  4. Use a heat-resistant spatula to push the edges in and let the uncooked runny egg on top rush to the edges. Let it set a little bit, then repeat a few times until most of the runny egg has been redistributed to the edges.
  5. Carefully flip the omelette to cook the other side. It should puff up a little bit more, but if it doesn't don't worry. 
  6. 30 seconds should be enough if your pan was properly hot, but you can check the underside. It should be a nice golden brown.
  7. Flip directly onto a bowl of steamed rice and serve with sriracha sauce! Yum!

Another favorite, and far more dramatic Thai dish: