Sunday, January 31, 2010

kentucky fried comfort

One of the challenges of living in East Asia, for me, was keeping my head up when things got rough. There would be days when I would feel so beaten and broken down, days when it felt like my language teacher chewed me up and spit me out for breakfast because I couldn't construct a sentence using the character 把, days when I missed the bus because someone cut in front of me in "line" again, days when I would unwittingly step in some freshly manufactured baby poo on the sidewalk, days when I couldn't get rid of the sensation of pollution on me because it was clinging to my eyelids and my clothes and the insides of my nose and throat. (I know I talk about East Asia as much as humanly possible on this blog (in generally positive tones) because I am still processing my experience (high fives to slow processors!), but lest you be deceived--living in East Asia was NOT a daily bright sunshiney walk in the park by any means.)

My friends and I, being of the remarkably adaptable human species, quickly found out what we needed to do to survive a bad day. Sometimes it would be a simple bottle of Coke or a popsicle if it was hot outside. Midway through the year we found that one supermarket carried those little cakey powdered sugar or chocolate frosted donuts (yeah, you know the ones, the transfatty gems), and those also contained remarkable healing powers. I was quite partial to the 35 cent McDonald's ice cream cones and, unashamedly, KFC's egg custard tarts. I know, I know, shake your head mournfully if it helps you get it out of your system. Some of you believe the C in KFC stands for cruelty, still others think it means chicken...I think crazy (good) would work, or even charisma because geez louise, I was drawn to these things like a moth to the flame. I went all over town, scoping out the best ones--KFC would always come out on top, like magic. I have no idea how they did that!

This I do know: one bite of an egg tart can, in an instant, take me back to childhood (countless Saturdays spent dim summing it up in the Bay Area) and East Asia (where they served as a Band-Aid for a bad day, celebration of a good day, and all other things in between) simultaneously. Smooth, creamy, bright yellow custard + buttery, crumbly crust = pure magic in tart form. One of my ultimate comfort foods. C is for comfort.

Egg Custard Tarts
adapted from Baking Bites (I want to make everything Nicole writes about!)

a disclaimer: if you're not used to working with this type of dough, you may consider these slightly labor intensive to make (I found them to be a little time consuming) but that does not detract from their deliciousness at all!

Preheat oven to 350.

1 3/4 cups flour
3 tbp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 egg

In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt together to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the dough looks sandy. Blend the egg in--now it should look like wet sand. Pour everything into a ziploc bag and press the crumbs together into a cohesive dough. Chill dough in fridge for at least 15 minutes. Press equal sections of dough into muffin tins, 2/3 of the way up. Square off the tops with your finger so that the filling doesn't run out when you pour it in.


1/2 c sugar
4 egg yolks
2/3 c milk

In a bowl with a spout, whisk sugar and egg yolks together until sugar is mostly dissolved. Whisk in milk. (You will be tempted to do this while the crust dough is chilling, but I would advise not to do that because the milk separated from the rest in a weird way and never really recombined again...) Pour into dough-lined muffin tins and bake for 25ish minutes until the center jiggles just a teensy bit. Cool in pan.

Makes 10-12 egg tarts.

(You may have noticed that I made baby ones too because I thought they'd be really cute, but they turned out weird for me (and pressing the dough into the mini muffin pan took forever), so I'd stick with the big ones.)

Your question: What's a comfort food of yours?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

hello, lover

Behold...the Monte Cristo sandwich. Turkey, ham, and melty (gorgeous!) cheese, sandwiched by egg-battered-then-deep-fried bread (tastes like a French Toast/donut hybrid). To summarize: heart attack sandwiched by two slices of triple bypass surgery.

Can I get an "Amen" or a "hell yeah", depending on your mood? Holler if you love fried sandwiches.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

peace, love, and granola

If I were me as a child writing this blog, it would not be called "i ate everything", by any means. A more accurate title would be "i ate just a teensy bit"...yes, I was that kid, the kid who hated most foods, save spaghetti, ice cream (no fruity flavors), chicken and corn. As I think about the foods I love now but would never have made the cut back then--spicy everything, macaroni and cheese, cilantro (along with most all green things)...I can know that I've grown, in many senses of the word. (Ha.) (It's especially difficult to play the role of little miss pickypants after a year of this...)

But why did I dislike so many things? As a perfectionistic little girl, anything "wrong" was banished to the island of No, I Will Not Eat That. Things of the wrong color, wrong smell, wrong was an extremely arbitrary system, and I'm glad today it is no longer in place. Get this: granola was rejected by my system because of its wrong connotation. I associated granola with hippies, those legendary figures with their tie-dyed everything, their patchouli and incense, their general willingness to smoke many things, and their general unwillingness to shave at all. (Gross generalization.) (Hemp granola did not help the cause.) (Readers will be interested to note that I entered Cal as an uptight right-winged nutjob and emerged 4 years later...decidedly different in thought, opinion, and heart. But that can be fodder for another post.)

Over time, my view of hippies (and more importantly for this post, granola) changed. My senior year, I constantly berated Alisa, one of my roommates, for (sometimes) not recycling her plastic water bottles, and her response would always be "Fine, you hippie! I'll recycle just for you, you hippie of a roommate. Fine!! PS, have you seen the South Park episode 'Die Hippie Die'? It's so you." Interesting progression there...

I also remember shopping with Jena at Berkeley Bowl one day; she picked up a box of granola there and cracked it open in the car. I timidly grabbed a handful for myself...and so it began. (Jena is a wonderful teacher with exquisite taste, and some of the other life-changing things that she's introduced me to include (but are not limited to): Feist, the power of scarves, cheeseburger pie, and Jackson 5 dance parties.)

Then in Chicago last October, Lisa threw this awesome pad thai dinner party, but at the end we realized we had completely forgotten about dessert. Enter Lisa's friend, who quickly whipped up a storm of granola, which we used to top scoops (a mountain for me) of vanilla ice cream. Love at first spoonful, I vowed that it would be mine.

There was one last thing that was tripping me up. Most granola that I had seen in the past contained at least one weird ingredient like wheat germ or flax seed or quinoa--none of these are everyday things in my pantry/stomach. This was a turn-off. But one day the clouds parted and I found Molly's take on it all.

No weird stuff.

All normal stuff.

Plus chocolate!!!!!

Now close this window, preheat your oven, and accept that the game is over because this granola is so so so so good and the hippies have won (for this scenario, let's pretend that we're all hippies)!

(If you'll pretend (for me) that cell phone pictures are adequate for now and better than no pictures at all, I will too.)

Molly's French Chocolate Granola
(adapted from Orangette) (my #1 food blogger girl crush)

3 1/4 c rolled oats (old-fashioned)
3/4 c sliced almonds
2 tbp sugar
pinch of salt
6 tbp honey
2 tbp vegetable oil
at least 1/2 c chocolate (dark of course), chopped into little pieces

Preheat oven to 300. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Heat honey and oil in a small saucepan on low, stirring frequently until honey is loosened up. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, sugar, and salt. Add the honey/oil to the oat mixture and mix well.

Spread evenly on baking sheet and bake 20 minutes, stirring once in the middle and once after you take it out to prevent French chocolate granola bars from forming (unless you want that).

When granola is cool, pour into plastic ziploc bag and add the chocolate. Shake to combine! Just try to keep your hands out of the bag until breakfast. You will lose.

(I am partial to eating this with Costco 1% organic milk.) (Thinking cinnamon and vanilla (and cranberries??) for the next iteration.) (Also, I'm so sorry that this post was flippin long. Something about lots of words in me or etc.)

And now a question for you! What's something you used to hate but now love?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

how the madeleine crumbles

Anyone else feeling the sad (seasonal affective disorder) coming on recently? I am hardly one to talk, given that I have friends living in Minnesota and Illinois, but this California girl is tired of the rain. Tired tired tired. Today marks day #3 of the week of unending rain, and I know I'm supposed to be supportive and everything because previous to this week we have been very behind on our rainfall total, farmers need rain for growing things, etc. Maybe I'm just a little on edge because I gave away my polka dot rainboots (and therefore my puddle jumping opportunities) last month, my thought process being a) I'm too old for polka dot rainboots and b) I don't need these anymore. Clearly both are very untrue. I'm going to have to get over this at some point.

So I turned to baking. It is now becoming as familiar to myself as breathing; the quiet, rhythmic movements required are perfect for calming down my overactive brain and antsy hands. I just received this as a late Christmas from the ever-amazing JH (of White Lily flour gifting fame), and it is massive. Full of techniques, cakes, etc, but mostly just massive. A certain family member was flipping through it last night and exclaimed, "Look! Two madeleine recipes!" Said family member used to complain about the way I made madeleines in the past, citing their overly cakey texture. Said family member would say, "Why can't you just make them they way they come at Starbucks?" Said family member is a little insane. To appease, I tried to make today's version dense and chewy, so I wouldn't end up being the only person eating them (though I'll never understand what Proust was referencing in his novel; read this for an overly involved investigation into the Proustian "madeleine", which falls neither in the "cakey" category nor the "dense and chewy" category but most likely the "dry and crumbly" category, which honestly just sounds nasty).

Back to today's madeleine. Thanks to another certain family member, my camera currently lacks a battery and battery charger (both are floating around somewhere in New York, thank you family member) and so no pictures. But can I just tell you something? Brushing softened butter into each mold creates an amazing madeleine crust. And working the flour in far more than my basic instincts would like creates the gluten necessary for chewy. Oh yeah. Kicking madeleine ass and taking names is certainly enough to dispel the gloom for me today.

(Non cakey) Madeleines
adapted from Baking by James Peterson

3/4 c sugar
3/4 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 egg whites
1/2 c butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400. Brush each madeleine mold with softened butter (1 tbp should be more than enough for this). Flour molds, unless you have a silicone mold (in that case, it's not necessary).

Sift together the sugar, flour, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg whites until smooth. Stir in the melted butter until smooth. Give it a couple more beats for chewiness. Using a spoon, fill molds 2/3-3/4 full.

Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the edges of the madeleines are slightly browned. Transfer to a cooling rack and try not to eat 5 in the span of an hour (...I didn't do this).

Makes 18 madeleines.