Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Yarnlings

Most of these were made last year, but this week I made several changes to the formula which is the mini alien pattern found here. If  you click over to my flickr photostream, you can see individual pictures of all of them, I think they're quite appealing. I gave them all names according to their personalities.

This really is a very excellent pattern, and all but the last two I made followed it exactly. I knitted them in the round on size 2 double pointed needles for the most part. Peeve and Bigfoot are the only ones I made on different needles, Peeve was made of sock yarn and requires a set of size 1's, and Bigfoot was made with a rather different beginning that required a circular #3.

This is Six
Six was my first attempt to alter the construction. I followed the instructions for the circular cast-on exactly, up to the point where you make bobble arms. After the first set of bobbles are made, knit 4 rows plain, then repeat the bobble row, and finish as directed in the pattern.

After Six, the notion I  had of making an alien with more pronounced lower limbs took hold of me, and I made Bigfoot. Bigfoot requires a circular needle, because I used my favorite start-in-the-middle cast on, found in this handy video. 

To make your own bigfoot, cast on 20 stitches according to the video. That's 10 on the top needle, and 10 on the bottom. On round 1, start by making a bobble, knit 8, make a bobble, knit 10. Knit rounds 2-7 according to pattern. Knit an extra round, maybe two, depending on how squatty you want the body to be ( I think I knitted 2 extra, because I wanted him taller). Continue following instructions from round 8 to the end of the pattern. Run a long tail of yarn through the remaining 6 stitches, and stuff the alien through the hole on the top. Pull the yarn tight,tie off, and decorate as you like.

None of these guys is very big. Bigfoot and Six are only about 3 inches tall, and Peeve barely tops an inch. Maybe that's why he's so irritable.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013



In honor of national pie day, I made a coconut pudding pie. It isn't as strange as the basil seed thing, but it's not what I thought it would be either. I was thinking of a sort of egg custard pie, but with a coconutty aspect to it. But I distrust egg custard pies; I have it in my head that they are difficult and finicky things. There's no reason for me to think this. I've never tried to make one. But I decided to go for a pudding pie recipe instead, where you cook the crust and the filling separately. Irrespective of my fear of egg custard pies, the big reason I chose the pudding route was that I bought a disappointing coconut substance at Fubonn the last time I went.

You can get several brands of powdered coconut milk there. I have no idea what you're supposed to do with it for, but I put it in coffee as creamer, I use it as a topping for oatmeal, and I make rice pudding with it. Out of curiosity I tried a new brand, and it turned out to be slightly loathsome for any of my usual purposes. Unlike my preferred brand, this one has a large percentage of starch added. It also has a bunch of salt. The starch makes clumps in my coffee, and tastes chalky in my oatmeal. The salt is gross for both applications, so I didn't even try a rice pudding. So, pie.

One 9" pie crust of your preferred type. I made a slightly sweet pastry crust. 

Should have read the ingredients.
1 pack of this coconut powder
2 eggs
2 cups water
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
a pinch of nutmeg
toasted coconut flakes for the top

Pre-bake the crust until it is slightly browned and then let it cool completely.

Put everything else except the coconut flakes in a blender for about a minute, then pour the mix into a small saucepan over medium heat. Using a whisk, stir constantly until the filling is as thick as jello pudding. Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for at least a couple hours, until it is quite chilled. Top with toasty coconut just before serving.

This is super easy, but there are a few things that are worth explaining.

1. For the first 8 minutes the filling is on the stove, absolutely nothing will happen. Then it will thicken rapidly.
2. So why stir for all that time? To prevent lumps. The bottom of the pan will be hot enough to cook the filling solid down there before the rest of it is done unless you keep stirring.
3. A moderately slow and lackadaisical stirring motion is sufficient until it starts to gel up. Then you want to stir fast and methodically or again, lumps.
4. The toasty flakes add crunch, which is important because otherwise this would really be boring.
5. Remember the salt complaint? That's what the sweetened condensed milk is for. The salt is still in there, but the sugar balances it out. Also improves the mouth feel.
6. What if you don't have a blender? Make sure you whip it to within an inch of its life or else, Lumps!

My pie research led me to believe that the starch in the coconut powder would lend itself to a pudding-style filling, and I was right. If you like coconut pudding pie, there is no reason to go looking for this particular off-brand of coconut powder either, you can just use 2 cups of coconut milk and 1/4 cup of cornstarch instead. Make sure you get the full-fat kind of coconut milk too, no sense in doing things by halves.

Well of course I had pie for breakfast. And a boogerty egg and coffee. That's what you do on Pie Day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Shao Bing


The last time I went to Fubonn, I got some frozen things that said they were shao bing. They were ok, but they weren't much like the shao bing I remember. Naturally, I had to make a batch of my own.

Take a tablespoon of flour, a tablespoon of sesame paste, and 3 tablespoons of cooking oil and simmer them together in a little sauce pan until the flour doesn't taste raw any more. Set it aside.

Make a recipe of the ubiquitous dough. Let it relax for about 15 minutes, then divide it into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a long skinny strip about 3 inches wide by 12 inches long. Spread a small amount of the oil mix over the whole piece of dough, then roll it up into a little log about 4 inches long and maybe 1 1/2 inches thick. Repeat with all the dough bits.

Cover them and let them rise for about half an hour, maybe a little longer. They won't be really poofed up, just relaxed enough that you can roll them out flat.

Now is a good time to pre-heat your oven to 475.

Start by laying your rolling pin along the long axis of the rolls. Smoosh them down firmly and flip them over once or twice before rolling them long ways once or twice or your shao bing will be way too long and skinny. Lay the shaobing on a cookie sheet and brush with egg wash, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 10-15 minutes. They should be just slightly brown.


1. Dough texture is very important. This dough should be quite soft, and it takes a lot of kneading to get the flour to absorb all the water and then smooth out. If you do this by hand, don't be tempted to add a bunch of flour to cut down on sticky. Just keep kneading, it'll eventually pull together. I can't over-emphasize the convenience of a machine that will knead things for you- I would never make yeasted anything otherwise.

2. Frying the flour in oil is also key. Frying causes the starches & proteins in the flour to respond differently to water. Spreading a layer of cooked flour over the dough creates regions of particles that prevent the raw dough from gluing itself together, resulting in a layered end product. Yes, oil alone will do that, but the flour allows you to treat it much more roughly.

3. I used cooking oil. Dad used some kind of animal fat. If you did that, it would probably be a lot less gross than when dad did it. There were always things in the drippings he used.

4. As always with yeast breads, the temperature and humidity of the room will affect the amount of time it takes to do this. If its cold and dry in your house, you will need to be patient, and cover your dough with a piece of oiled saran wrap. If you bake in the summer when its warm and humid, things will go very quickly.

These are undeniably best fresh out of the oven when they are crispy on the outside and chewy inside. The Chin Family Approved Method for cutting open shao bing is to grab your chinese Nana's cast iron scissors, check to see if there are any hair clippings, bits of paper or other fluff stuck in the hinge, ignore it if there is, then cut open the shao bing by poking the bottom blade in one end and snipping it open along the edge. A very sharp knife used like a letter opener works too. I don't remember what we used to put inside them when dad made them, probably ham and hoisin sauce. I like tuna, or roasted eggplant, or scrambled eggs and cheese. Butter and honey is mighty fine too, but it can be a bit drippy. I don't think dad salted the dough as heavily as I do either. He used to sprinkle salt mixed with crushed szechuan pepper in them I think. I like this better- the dough is evenly savory instead of having random streaks of bitingly salty bits. Maybe I'm thinking of duck rolls though. That's another story, and I might have to see if I can get Pete to try to fry a duck.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Brussels Sprouts Again


Every time I eat brussels sprouts I wonder what happened to me that I now enjoy them so much. The first time I ate them was the last time for about 20 years. Mom got some once, and was very excited about them. She kept saying how she'd loved brussels sprouts, even when she was a little kid. I thought that was a positive sign. She cooked them in butter, and the buttery delicious smell did not prepare me for the sulfurous, bitter, mushy stringy reality of eating them. It was an early example of the many things which were to instil a profound philosophical skepticism in me. So, it's totally awesome and will knock my socks off and all like that, will it? Well, I'll believe it when I see it.

Twenty years later I was washing dishes for a living. One of the kitchen managers (they hadn't got all hoity toity and started calling them 'chefs' yet) decided to make some roasted squash and brussels sprouts. To my surprise, I thought, "hm, those really don't smell like ass the way I remembered". It took me about another year to realize that I actually liked brussels sprouts. I think I've written 3 or 4 posts about brussels sprouts now. Here is another thing to do with them.

1 pound or more brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
handful of raw walnuts
handful of dried apricots
dab of butter
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp smoked hot paprika
tiny pinch of allspice
1 tsp sugar

chevre, because everything is better with cheese.

Put a dab of butter in a frying pan and add the walnuts, salt, and sugar. Fry on medium-low until the nuts are golden and the sugar has begun to form dark brown crunch bits. Toss evenly with the spices and remove from heat. Slice the apricots into sticks and toss them into the pan with the nuts, and give them a stir to get a little of the spices on them.

Put the sprouts in a lidded casserole with a little butter and a sprinkle of water. Microwave 3 minutes at a time until they are bright green and just tender. Toss with the nuts and apricots, serve with a few cheese crumbles.

David asked me how I come up with food ideas. I hadn't thought about it much before, but in this case, it went something like this:

1. I like the aforementioned sprouts and squash.
2. But I was bored with it.
3. So I thought about what it is about squash that makes it tasty.
4. That would be the fact that roasted squash is a little nutty, a little sweet, and has a little bit of texture.
5. So, use nuts, duh. Toasted ones are best.
6. And something sweet, but not very sweet. And not too squishy. Apricots are that, plus they have a nice color.
7. Bacon makes everything taste great, but I didn't have a hankering for that much grease.
8. So I added smoked paprika, which has a bacony smell.
9. But no protein, which is one of the things that makes bacon so good.
10. So, cheese.

And there you have it. Brussels sprouts with walnuts, apricots, and goat cheese.