Sunday, November 29, 2009

Philly Foods: Chinese Custard

It seems that in a lot of cultures egg custard appears as some kind of dessert; there's creme brulee, flan, crema Catalana, Vietnamese steamed custard, and of course the egg tart.

These often personal-sized Chinese desserts have a crumbly, flaky, crust with barely a high enough ratio of flour to crisco to stay together. This shell houses a sweet egg custard that can have a thick heavy consistency similar to French custard or a more jell-o like consistency.

The tarts are cooked until they just begin to caramelize, browning on the edges of the shell and custard. When you bite into the tart you get a taste of every flavor it has from less cooked to more, from buttery crust to the bright custard flavor of egg yolks. That sunny flavor is really important to have in the egg tart. Don't settle buying tarts without that taste, because they are really easy to make (if you have an oven, but I'm working on other methods). The only recipe I can vouch for is from the cookbook Every Grain of Rice by Ellen Leong Blonder and Annabel Low, but I'm sure that there are many more out there.

I got the egg tarts in the picture from KC Pastries Inc. in Chinatown. They were 75c each. At about 2 inches across that's not too bad. These were definitely not the best egg tarts I've ever had, but they were still perfectly addicting (ones that were coming home for Thanksgiving may have never made it that far...)

Besides egg tarts KC, as well as many other bakeries, have some variety of a custard stuffed bun. Remember char siu bao? Well, these are the same idea except filled with custard instead of pork. KC's version of this was pretty weird; the custard's taste reminded of eggnog and was lighter than I'm used, too. If you dig eggnog, though, you have a winner. For a really good custard bun (really good being thick, yellow, eggy custard) go back to Mong Kok Station Bakery where the winning char siu bao were.

  • KC Pastries: 109 N. 10th St. in Chinatown. Great cakes, too!
  • Mong Kok Station Bakery: 153 N. 10th St. in Chinatown. Has incredible buns of almost any variety. You want to get there decently early because they do sell out of a lot of stuff. Do NOT buy cakes from Mong Kok. Stick to buns and what is in the glass cases perpendicular to the street only. There is one kind of hidden which faces the street. Nothing sells from there and stuff gets old and spoiled.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The College Microwave Basics: Potatoes

Before anything else I just want to give some serious love to William and Mary for somehow having this huge number of the Tribe become facebook fans all at the same time. You guys basically made my week (sorry UVA).

On to business, though. To continue the College Microwave Basics, this week: potatoes. I have always heard that you could cook potatoes in the microwave but it wasn't until my friend showed me Real Simple's 14 Surprising Uses for Your Microwave that I actually saw the details:
While the microwave won't give you a baked potato with a crisp skin, it will cook the average russet in about 4 minutes. You can simultaneously cook as many as will fit. (The general rule for heating more food is to check for doneness every 30 seconds beyond the regular cooking time.) Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and cook for 2 minutes. Turn them over and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Quick note: before you cook the potato wash it, so that you can eat the skin

: Add the butter, add some chopped chives, or sour cream.

Something new and fun: Potatoes work really well as a foil for almost any other flavor mixture. The potato I made has chopped up roasted red peppers, cream cheese, and minced garlic. Quick note on red peppers: incredible things, one of my favorite foods of all time. The one downside is that to get them at a decent price, you have to buy them in fairly large quantity. Therefore, more on these peppers will follow in posts after this as I try to eat through the whole can.

Another thing to try is this, one of my favorite things when I was little was this:
-Cut the potato in half and scoop out the inside of each half
-Mix in some cream cheese, curry powder, and thawed frozen spinach
-Put everything back into the potato skins and grate some cheddar or other semisoft cheese on top
-Microwave for 30-45 seconds or until the cheese is melted
-eat =)
Add basil or parsley with Parmesan cheese and olive oil or try bay seasoning and salt.

So enjoy! Omnom

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The College Microwave Basics: Oatmeal

Oatmeal gets a lot of hate. Why? It is delicious, shouldn't that be the path to love instead of hate? Not only is it wonderful to eat, but apparently decently healthy, as well (until you add chocolate, but that comes later). Also, like ramen, oatmeal is a great base for a bunch of different flavors.

So, here are the basics: For one person pour about a cup of oatmeal in a microwavable bowl. Add enough water so that some of the oatmeal on top floats. Then, and this is the trick, add some salt. Put it in the microwave for about 1 min -1.5 min on High. Make sure that the level of oatmeal/water isn't too high in relation to the top of the bowl or else it might explode over the top, which = a lot of microwave cleaning. After you've microwaved it, take the oatmeal out and stir it to see the general cook...edness of it and to see if you want more water/salt. I'm one of the people who loves stick-to-your-ribs oatmeal, so less water is better for me. Tada! Oatmeal (even less complicated than ramen.)

What to do now that you have oatmeal?

The Classics: Pour milk or cream on top with or without brown sugar and raisins. If you do use raisins though, try mixing them in before your cook the oatmeal so that they become less chewy and texturally out of place. Add cinnomon.

The Fruits: You can add most any fruit to your oatmeal. Try fresh berries if you have them or even add dried fruits and treat them as raisins. Bananas, pears, apples, peaches, or plums all work really well. Fruits with higher water levels such as watermelon or grapes might not work quite as well, but if you want you can try it.

With the bananas, pears, etc. you can also caramelize them with your iron. Slice your fruit and spread some sugar on it. Put them evenly spaced on a buttered or oiled piece of foil big enough that you can fold it in half and roll up the edges. Iron the foil packet on the Cotton (usually highest) setting, flipping the packet over about every thirty seconds. After you start to smell the apples, cook each side about three more times and then check to make sure that they are browning. If they are not, repeat this process until they are pretty soft and nicely browned. IMPORTANT NOTE: because this deals with oil, make sure that the packet is tightly sealed while you cook it, otherwise oil will leak everywhere. Also, when your iron has cooled make sure that you unplug and clean it!

Throw the fruit on your oatmeal and enjoy.

The Less Healthy: Chocolate. Pretty self-explanatory, chocolate makes everything better. This one is kind of weird, but if you have any egg custard or pumpkin pie filling those are amazing with oatmeal. A little molasses also never hurt anyone.

Get Creative: If you do have the iron, try making cookie bars.
  • About 1-1.5 cups oatmeal
  • Chocolate chips, amount is a personal preference
  • About a tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 egg
  • butter, room temperature, enough to decently mix in with the oatmeal
Put everything together and mix it well. Take the mixture and put it in a foil packet similar to the one for the fruits. Try this time, though, to make the whole thing very rectangular. This time however, try ironing the packet at a lower level than cotton, so that the egg can get cooked the whole way through. Flip the packet over every 1-2 min, but ALWAYS be in the room and keeping an eye on it! After about 5 flips, peel open the packet to see how brown the cookies are if very brown, unpeel it entirely and put it on a plate. Put that in the microwave for about 20 seconds just to cook any remaining raw egg. Cut into bars and tada! These were a bit chewy, but pretty good.

Feel free to post how you eat oatmeal in the comments! Omnom!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The College Microwave Basics: Ramen

There is nothing more classic in the college dorm world than Ramen. It makes sense, though. Ramen is one of the simplest, most wonderful foods ever created. Those of you who think ramen is just this cheap food that only a starving college student would consume, you are horribly wrong. Ramen, though normally just noodles and seasoning, can be a really dynamic dish.

So here are the basics:

Microwave about 3 cups water until boiling (about 3 minutes). Add the block of noddles, seasoning, and any dried vegetable packets. Cover the mixture for 3 minutes. Uncover and eat. Yea... basically it.

The cool parts of ramen is that you can add practially anything to ramen and it becomes this fantastic meal. Below are some quick suggestions for what to add to your ramen for that dish one step beyond noodles in broth.

Seasonings: Add soy sauce, sesame oil, Siracha HOT chili sauce, or chili oil. Also, you can try substituting the cooking water with beef, chicken, or vegetable broth.

Extras: If you feel experienced enough with your water temperature you can try cooking while stirring an egg. To do this, cook your water a little bit longer to make sure it's really hot. As soon as you take it out of the microwave crack an egg into it and stir quickly. This should make the broth an egg-drop soup-esque consistency. This takes practice though.

Add crumbled up dried nori or other seaweeds.

Add cut up tofu. Open the tofu container, drain water, and cut up into small pieces. Dump those into the ramen.

Add cut up vegetables. Have carrots? celery? or green or white onions? Cut them up and put them in your ramen!

My personal favorite though, is adding the left over Chinese take out food. My ramen shown here has leftover Eggplant in Garlic Sauce and Sweet and Sour Vegetables. YUMMMM!

Well, that's College Microwave Basics: Ramen. Omnom!