Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crispy Chewy Scallion Pancakes

These are my one of my Chinese carb favorites. They're not like American pancakes per se, which are fluffy and eaten sweet – these are more like a savory, chewy flatbread or roti. They're flaky and come apart in layers, each folded in with oil and a scattering of green onions.

The smell of fried dough and scallions and sesame oil...mmm. Your kitchen will smell amazing.

To get real flakiness, you're technically supposed to use lard, according to the mother. I use oil each time, just cause I'm happy with the texture it produces.  May or may not experiment with lard in the future.

Scallion Pancakes (葱油饼)

Makes 4 pancakes (each with a diameter of a large plate)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ~1/2 cup toasted sesame seed oil
  • 2 cups thinly sliced scallions, green parts mostly
  • Oil for frying
  • Kosher salt to taste


Prepare the dough:
  1. Mix the flour and the salt in a medium sized bowl.
  2. Pour in boiling water into the bowl, mixing little by little with chopsticks. Take out the dough and knead on a floured surface until smooth. 
  3. Cover for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  4. Divide the dough into four portions. 
Make the pancakes:
  1. With each portion: Roll out the dough until flat. Brush with sesame oil. Roll up into a tube, and then into a spiral.

  2. Roll flat again. This time, brush with sesame oil, and then sprinkle some scallion slices on top.

  3. One more time: roll up until a tube, and then into a spiral. Roll flat again for the third and last time.
  4. When each of the portions has suffered through this treatment, you should have four uncooked scallion pancakes. Heat up cooking oil in a flat-bottom skillet, and then fry each pancake until golden brown on each side – about 2 minutes.

  5. Stack the pancakes on a plate, and slice however you'd like. Taste and sprinkle with kosher salt if needed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Favorite scones

I was not a scone person until this year. I think my first scone must have been some horrible dry and coarse monstrosity, but after some amazing fluffy raspberry homemade ones that a roommate offered me a few months ago, I am no longer hating.

scones, pre-bake

Each bite of these scones from this recipe has a slightly salty, slightly sweet mix of crumbly exterior and tender interior (moistness due to the addition of sour cream). I finished these off with rough turbinado raw sugar, cause I like the crunchiness of the sugar on top.

I want some with chai right now.

Favorite scones
Adapted from Allrecipes

Makes 8 scones

  • 1/2 heaping cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (all purpose is fine)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 egg (yeah...)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional. Also, regular raisins are fine. For some reason I don't like them.)
  • 2 tbsp melted butter for brushing
  • 2 tbsp turbinado raw sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the baking soda, flour, sugar, powder, cream of tartar, and salt.
  4. Chop the butter up into small cubes and place into the dry mixture. With your fingers, work the butter in until it's kinda coarse and clumpy.
  5. Spoon in sour cream stuff with flour stuff until just barely mixed in.
  6. Beat the half egg with the vanilla extract, and pour into the large bowl. Mix in raisins, if using. Knead for a couple minutes until just barely mixed in. Don't overmix!
  7. Place scone dough on greased baking sheet, and shape into a circular object. Cut into eight slices, and carefully give each scone some breathing room by slightly rearranging on sheet.
  8. Brush each top with melted butter, and sprinkle with the turbinado raw sugar.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
Post baking

Moments before entering mah tummy

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Man Behind Elmo

I may be the last person in the world to learn this, but this man, Kevin Clash, is the muppeteer behind Elmo:

I listened to an interview with Clash, and here are the couple things I found especially interesting:
  1. There's something not quite right about the name of the toy, "Tickle Me Elmo." Clash (who wasn't consulted in the naming of the doll) remarked that Elmo never refers to himself in first person. It should technically be "Tickle Elmo."
  2. Muppeteers have to be fit. When they're on the set, they're covered in dark cloth and rolling around on these ottoman-like contraptions. To be able to pull off all the puppet movements while laying low, they apparently have to go through a regimen of crunches and sit-ups. Great images here.
During the interview, Clash morphed into Elmo a couple times. I don't know if this only happened during that interview, or if it always happened and I just had never noticed it, but when Elmo laughs there's a tiny twinge of a deep, low rasp at the end that is very much Clash's voice.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roasted Five Spice Chicken

Ever since I discovered five spice chicken, I've been ordering it like mad at Vietnamese restaurants. To date, it's my favorite meat accompaniment to both pho and vermicelli dishes.

I found and tweaked a recipe, and was very satisfied with the outcome. It's slightly less sweet than the versions at restaurants, but its flavors are much more amplified.  I am a huge fan of the spices. The toasted crushed star star anise is crucial – it imparts this really deep smokey sweet flavor that makes me swoon.

Only one piece was left for photographing...we'd eaten the rest :x

Roasted Five Spice Chicken
Adapted from Epicurious

Servings: 3-4
Time: 20 minutes active time + an overnight marination

  •  1.5 lbs chicken, preferably dark meat
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp sliced ginger (mine were about 2mm thick)
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp oriental five-spice powder
  • 1/2 tbsp sea salt
  • 4 whole star anise, lightly toasted for 3 minutes, pounded into powder

  1. Prep your meat: trim the chicken of any excess fat. Make 3-4 slashes in each piece to allow for better marinade penetration + quicker cooking time.
  2. Make the marinade: mix together the oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, turmeric, five-spice powder, and salt.
  3. Plop the meat into the marinade, coating all surfaces and crevices well. Leave covered in your fridge overnight. (Or for a minimum of four hours, if you must).
  4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil, and place a grill rack (with stands) on top. Place the chicken on the grill rack and sprinkle the toasted star anise powder on top. 
  5. Place the chicken into the oven. At the 20 minute mark, turn each piece of chicken. Bake for 20 minutes more, making it a total of 40 minutes oven time. Cool a few minutes before serving.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Death/Life Mask

Long ago, death masks were a common way to preserve the faces of the deceased. Death masks were made from the faces of royalty and nobility, notable poets and philosophers – Henry VIII, Voltaire, Dante, and so on.

It's highly ironic to me that the face of the CPR dummy was based on a death mask – the death mask of a young woman found drowned in the Seine River in the 1880s. She was called L'inconnue de la Seine – the unknown woman of the Seine.

L'inconnue de la Seine

One of the myths I've come across is that she threw herself into the river after an affair with a married man was uncovered. Nobody really has proof of the real story though.

When she was found, her body was laid out in the street for identification purposes (common practice at the time). She was considered so beautiful that a pathologist at the morgue made a plaster cast of her face, though she was not of nobility or royalty, or anyone famous.

Her death mask — with its "beguiling," "enigmatic" little smile — was beautiful enough to be cast and recast and eventually sold as a fashionable fixture in European homes.

Her mask made it to the living room where a Norweigan toymaker by the name of Asmund Laerdal grew up. This toymaker (whose own son had nearly drowned in the river as a little boy) had been commissioned by an Austrian doctor to create a dummy for people to learn artificial resuscitation. Laerdal happened to look up and see it on display in his parents' living room, and thought it perfect for the face of the now ubiquitous first aid mannequin, CPR Annie.

Friday, December 2, 2011

November Highlights

– Seeing San Francisco from two new angles:

– Re-watching two of my favorite movies of all time: Pan's Labyrinth and Nightmare Before Christmas.

– Attending a Disney dinner party, where the theme was "kiddie treats with an adult twist." We ate homemade full-size bagel bites, drank Capri Sun, and watched Lion King in Blu-Ray.  Somehow, this movie has gotten better since the first time I saw it.

I love Rafiki. I tried not to think about how real-life male baboons beat the sh*t out of female baboons and was able to preserve my warm feelings towards Rafiki.

– Listening to Radiolab live. Hearing two blind men debate the importance of sight. "They told my wife, 'you're lucky, he'll never see you age. You'll always be as young as the last day he saw you.'"

– Kayaking the Loxahatchee River, with its tangled mangrove roots, black water, and fallen palm trees.

– Picking a Christmas tree. I love the heavy evergreen scent in Christmas tree lots.

– For the very first time: mulling wine with cider, cloves, cinammon, brown sugar and star anise.

– Finally satisfying an ongoing caveman craving for a giant turkey leg.

– Watching Cirque du Soleil's Totem.  This by far was my favorite act.