October 29, 2009

Putting down rice pudding

A friend of mine, whom I will refer to simply as 1.26, recently told me that "Rice pudding is like American people's way of making congee."

Needless to say I found this highly amusing. Bold claim, 1.26, bold claim.

I've personally never had rice pudding, most likely because I feel more than a tad apprehensive about the concept of a pudding with chunks in it. I like my pudding smooth, rich, and preferably of the chocolate variety.

Who knows? Perhaps someday I try and even enjoy this mysterious dessert. For the moment, I'd much prefer to consume rice in other forms, like spam musubi. Yes, that is a layer of egg in there. So delicious.

October 28, 2009

Augusten in October

From N.Y. Mag's Interview with Augusten Burroughs:

Where do you go to be alone?
I am alone all day every day. The only difference between me and an inmate in solitary confinement on death row is that I have Internet access and an uncertainty about my future.

Augusten Burroughs, I have not read your memoir with the creepy claw fork on the cover, but thank you for leading me (and hopefully my fellow quarterlife-crisis-ers) to realize that struggling with uncertainty about one's future is so much better than struggling with the certainty of death by execution. It's all about perspective.

October 27, 2009

Rolling in the Doughnuts

Whether they originate at Stan's in Westwood, or Tim Horton's in Penn Station, delicious doughnuts really do reside on both coasts of the U.S. And whether you enjoy them in moderation or bulk discount at 11:30 p.m. right before closing...well, that's your choice. Mine is pretty obvious, I think.

Seriously, can sprinkles be any more tasty than when they adorn a delicious doughnut? Especially one that's slightly warm from the microwave.

Attn: Tim Horton's is having a Curling Story Contest. SO CANADIAN. I wish I had a "favorite curling memory" so I could take a shot at winning a $100 Tim Card. Oh man. $100 of doughnuts sure beats the grand prize hands down (a trip to the Canadian Curling Trials).

October 26, 2009

No-butter Snickerdoodles

For some inexplicable reason, I've been fascinated with Mona Simpson lately. She happens to be a creative writing professor at my alma mater and the biological sister of Steve Jobs. And just from reading her novel, you can tell that brains run in the family; she really knows how to write. I once saw her speak in person and was not impressed, but when I started reading her book, I was hooked.
"The white VW gleamed in the sun and she carried me, hers again, my legs sticking out from her back. I felt sorry for my grandmother that day, moving around the kitchen in a blue print dress, there was flour all through the yellow light, she was baking, rolling out dough. She cut around our fingers, making cookies the size of our hands, all day she looked down at her work on the table, because I was not hers to watch anymore."
--Anywhere but Here, Mona Simpson
Few of her sentences are as lengthy and run-on as the above--it's just that I liked the imagery of this particular passage. There is something quite tragic about a grandmother rolling out cookie dough, concentrating on cutting perfect shapes for a little girl who is not her own. It's passages like this, and the fact that I have very little counter space, that confirm why I prefer to make drop cookies.

One drop cookie I absolutely adore is the snickerdoodle. Those who remember elementary school will understand why I feel pure joy at the words "book order." It was book order that exposed me to the wonders of Magic Eye, Paddington bear, and Pogs. And it was through book order that I got a hold of The Cookie Lovers' Cookie Cookbook, a tiny little thing that contains a recipe for snickerdoodles that I recently adapted into a batch of seriously delicious cookies.

The unusual thing about these snickerdoodles is that they are made with oil. The original recipe called for melted butter, but I discovered that using vegetable oil makes for tastier cookies. Why? I do not know. I do not question. I simply eat.

Recipe follows.

I Can't Believe It's No-Butter Snickerdoodles

For the Dough
scant 1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of salt
For the Sugar Coating
*1 tbsp sugar
*t tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix ingredients for dough in order listed. Form into walnut-size balls and roll generously in sugar coating. The more coating, the most sparkly and pretty the cookies will be.

Place the cookies a few inches apart on a foil-lined ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly if desired (flattening has a negligible effect -- I tried making both flattened and unflattened cookies, and they looked and tasted practically the same). Bake 8 min. for chewy/soft cookies, and 10 min. for crispy...they're delicious either way.

October 18, 2009

To crave and to have...cake.

"To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing--the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries."
--Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

"Here's a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life..." writes one reviewer on the back cover. Housekeeping is not one of my favorite novels, but it contains passages of such thoughtfulness and breathtaking imagery that I found myself folding pages so that someday I could read them again. I suspect these passages are the author's most valued reflections that she stowed away over the course of many years, until she was ready to reveal them to the world in a spectacular literary debut: her first novel. I'm sure she treasures this novel like her first child, and justifiably so.

I love this passage. Of course, many of my blog posts tend to gravitate toward the thought of cake, and this one is no different. So longing may "bring us wild strawberries," but in my case one autumn night, it brought strawberry coffee cake. When I came across the recipe for it, I thought I had never longed for something more in my life. So I baked it. You can, too.

Strawberry Coffee Cake
Adapted from Joy the Baker (great blog)
For the strawberry glaze
1.5-2 cups frozen strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp water
1 tbsp corn starch
For the cake
1 stick butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
For the streusel topping
3 tbsp cold butter cut into small cubes
1/2 cup flour
3 1/2 tbsp sugar

For strawberry filling:
Plop the strawberries in a saucepan until they start to defrost and break down. Add the sugar, water and cornstarch and cook over low heat until it looks like pie filling. Set aside to cool.

Grease and flour a 10x10 in. baking pan (I think you can also use 9x13). Set aside.

For the cake:
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one by one. Add vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed butter in 3 parts, alternating with the sour cream. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Combine until uniform.

Spoon 2/3 of the batter in the pan. Pour cooled strawberry mixture over the batter. Pour the remaining third of the batter over the strawberries.

Now make the streusel topping by rubbing ingredients with your fingertips until it forms a rough crumble. Some crumbs will be small, others bigger. Sprinkle the topping over the batter and bake 50-60 minutes. The smell will be buttery and heavenly, trust me. You'll know it's done when a knife comes out clean.

October 16, 2009

Sweet mother of soup

Ever since I was a wee child, I've had an unhealthy obsession with all things red bean. For those unfamiliar with red bean, it's generously sweetened, often mashed into a paste, and used as the filling for breads, buns and mochi.

Green bean is also a popular dessert filling, but given the choice, I'd choose red over green in a heartbeat...except when it comes to soup. Why? Because green beans are much easier to make into soup. They cook faster too. After work, I made this no-fuss green bean soup in about an hour.

Just bring the beans to a boil in some water, turn the heat down to a friendly boil (by which I mean to say above a simmer but not a rolling boil). Just like shrimp turn pink when they're cooked, green beans burst open when they're ready for the eatin'. Don't forget to sprinkle a ton of sugar in there. Mix of dark brown and white sugars = yummers. Fail-proof, season-proof dessert eaten cold in the summer, hot in the winter.

You can also add glutinous rice balls if you want to make it special. Add some red coloring to the rice balls and you can call it Christmas soup. Behold:

October 15, 2009

Callaloo who?

"Well, maybe," Roy conceded. "But if you can't get the real thing, you make it with spinach. You put in coconut milk: you grate the flesh of the coconut fine and you squeeze it and the moisture come out. You also put in a whole green pepper--it don't be hot unless you burst it--thyme, chive, garlic, onion. Normally you put in blue crab; others put in pickled pig tails. You cook it and you bring out a swizzle stick and you swizzle it until the bush melt down into a thick sauce like a tomato sauce. That's the old-time way; now we put it in a blender. Pour it on stewfish--kingfish, carite fish: mm-hmm. You also eat it with yam, sweet potato. Dumpling."

Chuck said to Vinay, "He's not talking about Chinese dumplings."

"Our dumpling different," Roy said. "Chinese dumpling soft. We make our dumpling stiff."

"Callaloo," Chuck said wistfully.
--Netherland, Joseph O'Neill
Callaloo is a Caribbean soup made with the spinach-like leaves of a tropical plant by the same name. Everything in it sounds good except for the coconut milk. I found a recipe without coconut milk in it though. Perhaps I will try my hand at making it. I do have a bag of frozen spinach...

I don't know about the concept of a stiff dumpling though. I think I prefer my dumplings nice and soft, like a plump, warm bosom. Haha. Maybe not the best comparison, but you know what I mean. Something like this:

P.S. By the way, "It don't be hot unless you burst it"?? Best quotation ever. This logic also applies to soup dumplings straight out of the steamer, I believe.

October 11, 2009

0 x eggs + 2 x pineapple = 1 magical carrot cake

Happy belated birthday, Dad.

My dad isn't much of a dessert guy, but he loves carrot cake. His birthday was last Tuesday, and sadly, I wasn't able to make him a carrot cake in person. However, for reasons partly sentimental and partly fatty, that didn't stop me from making one anyway. For as long as I can remember, the only carrot cake recipe I've ever needed was "The Richest Carrot Cake Ever" from my mom's old McCall's Cooking School binder.

Although the McCall's recipe has great stuff like orange and lemon zest, orange juice, and even a whole pound of carrots (talk about a bicep workout shredding those things), I always wondered why it didn't include pineapple--thus the reason that I'd been hankering for a good carrot cake recipe with pineapple in it. I think I finally found one.

...except I made a few missteps along the way. First, I accidentally dumped in double the amount of pineapple. That wasn't so bad, but my second mistake was awfully strange. I didn't realize until after I'd already eaten it that I HADN'T USED ANY EGGS. For a person who loves eggs as much as I do, this was blasphemy! At first I thought it was the recipe's fault. Then I realized that I was an idiot. I guess it's pretty amazing the cake still turned out well, even in spite of my inability to follow a recipe. The recipe below incorporates the aforementioned mistakes I made, for despite the zero egg and double pineapple content of it all, I'm still quite pleased with the end product. Feel free to botch the recipe below...I'm sure it'll still turn out magically delicious.

The Moistest Eggless Carrot Cake Ever
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple (drained of juice)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray.

Combine shredded carrots and sugars, let sit for 5-10 minutes (a juice will form). In the meantime, combine the melted butter, oil, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Add to the carrots.

Mix dry ingredients (except raisins) together, and add to the wet ingredients. Stir until almost combined, then mix in the raisins. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool in pan 10 minutes, then flip cake out of pan and let it finish cooling outside of the baking pan.

P.S. For those in the NY area, D'Agostino's manager might have "gone wild" this week, but he's sane enough to know the joys of a homemade carrot cake--Dole crushed pineapple is on sale. C'mon...if that's not a sign to bake carrot cake, I don't know what is.

October 6, 2009

Hooray for MTA

This is mighty interesting. Oh, Train of Thought, how strange it is to look up and see you alongside ads for lawyers and online colleges.
"According to Alicia Martinez, the M.T.A.’s marketing director, the process for selecting quotes for Train of Thought is “elaborate.” Until recently, the M.T.A. outsourced its quote search to a committee of Columbia professors led by Henry Pinkham, the dean of the graduate school. Pinkham says that his committee split with the M.T.A. earlier this year, though, in part because the professors pushed for material the M.T.A. deemed too sensitive. He specifically remembers a famous line from Shakespeare being shot down because it contained the word “flood,” which sets off alarm bells in the subway world. (Martinez denies worrying about “flood,” suggesting that a word like “fire” would be far more likely to raise hackles.)"
Hmm...raise hackles? Who better but a New Yorker blogger to put it so strangely. Heh. And yet I love it.

October 5, 2009

Pagans & raisins

"This was the second time in his life he had seen raisins. He removed them from what they claimed was 'shepherd's pie.' He laid them side by side, along the borders of the dinner plate. The plate was painted with pagan scenes. He began to obscure the images with raisins. It was not calculated. He was in too much distress for calculation.
The first time he had eaten raisins was in that so-called 'fruit of Satan'--the Christmas pudding."
--Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
This book is really reminding me of James Joyce's stuff for some reason. I like it so far, if only for the fact that the chapter titles include "Christmas Pudding" and "Raisins".

Speaking of raisins, yesterday I baked oatmeal cookies and hesitated, as I always do, at the last step where one might add raisins and/or nuts to the dough. I'm kind of an oatmeal cookie purist. As you can see from the photo above, not a speck of dried grape is to be found in those cookies. I prefer my oats without raisins, but I know many people prefer raisins in their oatmeal cookies. Sometimes I make an exception and add chocolate chips. For some reason, chocolate doesn't offend me when it's added to most desserts. Dried fruit, on the other hand, I have less patience for. Still, I wouldn't go so far as to call raisins "the fruit of Satan" like Oscar's dad up there.

Recipe follows.

Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Yields approx. 15 cookies

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
scant 1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (also optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until combined.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and incorporate them into the wet ingredients. Add the oats and any optional mix-ins last. Drop tablespoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes if you like them chewy, 12 minutes if you like them regular, and 14 minutes if you want 'em crispy.

So are you a puritan or pagan when it comes to your oatmeal cookies? Walnuts, raisins, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips...all these items speak persuasively for the pagan side. But those who crave simplicity aren't so easily swayed. Not to mention the age-old chewy vs. crispy debate...who knew cookies were so religious and political? Ha.