Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thanks Vancouver

About the only times that I feel like I need cable TV is during the olympics and the world cup. We gave in and bought basic cable for the month of February, and as of last week, we even have a cable splitter, so we can watch TV and use the internet at the same time. Welcome to the 21st century, Ali.

Watching the men's 50K nordic race this morning was the ultimate end to a fantastic olypmics (no, I'm not an ice hockey fan.) The frantic start, the early leads, the formation of the leading group, and the epic ending embodied the excitement of these olypmics. (Did you know that nordic skiiers have a higher capillary concentration than any other type of athlete?) Favorites have to include the Norwegian curling team's pants, the success of Asian figure skaters, and the comeback of US alpine skiings not-so-has-beens.

The olympics even inspired me to bake an olympic rings cake out of brioche dough, though my frosting was way too runny. Continuing the family tradition of over-milking your icing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Alfajores and butter jewels

The weather in Colorado is just crazy. It can be 40 one day and snowing buckets the next. I'm so used to the limited precipitation here, that I'm downright appalled when it does. I even have to stop myself from getting grumpy when it gets all snowy and makes my bike messy and shushes up the roads. by remembering that it's supposed to snow in February. Getting soft.

They kind of look like hills with snow.

This is a little postponed, but the weekend of valentines day, my friend E and I got together and made an amazing array of cookies. 4 hours of sweat and toil netted us over 250 cookies, most of which were apparently devoured by E's co-workers the next day. She's made these cute butter jewels every valentines day for about 8 years, and I'm always looking for an excuse to bake something for a pre-destined audience.

E lived in Venezuela for a summer and is generally enthused about South America. On this occasion, she introduced me to alfajores. Dulce de leche sandwiched between two soft pillowy cookies. A perfect excuse to eat two cookies and some dulce de leche and call it one things. Not that I need such excuses. The dough was similar to chocolate chip cookie dough, but with slightly less butter and added orange juice and cocoa powder.

The well known, seemingly idiot-proof method for dulce de leche is to simmer a can of sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan for 2 hours. Apparently not idiot-proof enough for us at 5,000 ft, as ours was not nearly caramelized enough. Thanks to the genius of David Lebowitz (again), we also tried a second method: baking the milk in a water-insulated pyrex pan. This turned out so much better, even though we forgot to cover it with foil.

Just as we put it in the oven

After 2 hours. Whisk away!


adapted from Matt Bites
  • 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. For the dulce de leche, preheat the oven to 350. Nest a 9x9 pan in a larger pan (both glass or pyrex preferrably). Pour the sweetened condensed milk into the 9x9 and fill the larger pan with water to just above the level of the milk. Cover with tin foil and bake for 2 hours until golden and bubbly. Alternately, you could buy dulce de leche or make it by simmering the milk in the can for 2+ hours. When it's finished, whisk until smooth and cool.
  2. Combine flour baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time, while stirring. Slowly add the dry mixture until combined. Pour in the milk, juice, and vanilla, and continue mix until dough is cohesive.
  4. Drop by tablespoons 2" apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Making them round here makes things easier later on.
  5. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool completely.
  6. Match the cookies up by shape and size and sandwich dulce de leche between
  7. Try not to eat them all in the first hour. (good luck)

Pillowy sandwiches of goodness

Our second cookie was butter jewels. I don't have the recipe, but that's just an excuse to make them again with E next year. She let me use her camera, which is not new, but is certainly better than my 5 year old point-and-shoot. I felt so powerful and in control. Needless to say, I may have to get a new camera sometime. I took pictures of just about everything in her house.

Someone couldn't wait until the cookies were baked. . .

Filling them with tasty jam

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A crazy holiday weekend

Do you realize that last weekend was not only Valentine's day, but also Chinese New Year, President's Day, Olypmics Opening Weekend and Mardi Gras? That is an epic combination.

We had a lot of festivities, so by Tuesday afternoon, I was already feeling like I needed a weekend. So we invited some friends over and made creole food and watch Olympics. Red beans, black eyed peas, king cake, corn bread, and my personal favorite, gumbo.Our king cake actually turned out pretty good. Though due to a lack of small babies or other innocuous plastic objects, the special piece had a slice of carrot in it.

And in proper King cake fashion (this is French, not Creole), we had the smallest person call out who would get each piece from under the table, so the cake-cutter couldn't snag the carrot/baby for herself.

I spent a few months in China in 2008, but have lost most of my Mandarin in the intervening months due to lack of practice and motivation. So I started going to a Chinese-English language corner this semester and learned a few important things.

1.) There are no half-assed Chinese people in Boulder. At Minnesota, there were a lot of second generation asians or half-asians or otherwise locally grown Asian-enthusiasts. Thus, the Chinese Student Group at the U of M had very few "real" Chinese people. In Boulder, there are no local Chinese people. I have yet to meet an Asian person born and raised in Boulder. As a consequence, the Chinese Student Association here is far more Chinese and disorganized. Not that Chinese people are disorganized. But you know what I mean.

2.) I can actually still speak Mandarin a little. Enough so, that the CSSA president asked me to be one of 4 MC's for their Chinese New Year celebration this weekend. It was pretty crazy. There were two Chinese MC's and two American MC's. The event was held in a large, very awkardly shaped hall, and the performances featured some adorable small Chinese dancers and some pretty outstanding kung-fu.

I also spent 4 hours making cookies with Erin on Saturday, which will be described in full in the next post (I may have to get a nice camera to replace my 5-year old point and shoot. . . )

Back to Mardi Gras. I've never made gumbo before, but it involves a very dark roux that imparts a dark, rich flavor.

The roux after flour is added

After 10 minutes
At 20 minutes, it looked eerily like melted chocolate.

Creole Gumbo
adapted from the New Best Recipes Cookbook

  • 1 pound fresh shrimp, shells removed and reserved
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine
  • 6 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp sale
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, cut into rings
  1. Bring the reserved shrimp shells to a boil in the 4 cups of water. Simmer for 20 minutes and set the strained stock aside for later.
  2. Heat the oil over medium-high in a dutch oven until hot (1-2 minutes). Reduce to medium and slowy add flower, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly until the mixture's color is between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Make sure it doesn't burn or get black in any places.
  3. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, salt, and cayenne to the roux and cook until veg is soft, about 10 minues.
  4. Mix in 1 cup of the shrimp stock and bring to a simmer. Add remaining stock and simmer for 30 minutes. If it starts to get thick, add more water.
  5. Stir in the sausage pieces and cook for another 25 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for 5 minutes or until they're cooked through.

And look! I remembered to take a picture at the end.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hippie food

I have another admission. I really enjoy quinoa.

Let's back up a little bit. I moved to Boulder, CO from the midwest about 6 months ago to continue the epic adventure that my formal education has become and for the most part, I love it here. It's definitely a change. Here are some of the things that makes Boulder "different."

1.) Social bums. They always seem to be in groups. Sometimes, you see a couple of sops having a chat with them about who knows what (hygeine?). In, the summer, they'll sit around by the creek with a couple of guitars and just jam and sing together. Many of them have dogs.

2.) Absurdly athletic people. I have always thought of myself as a relatively active individual before I moved here, but I think my new surroundings have slashed me down to a little below average. Everyone I meet is either does triatheletes, rock climbs, races mountain bikes, runs marathons, or bikes "casually" (100 miles a week).

3.) A different concept of political spectra. It is a well known fact that Boulder is a liberal haven, but it didn't quite become apparent until I came here. If you're a moderate conservative elsewhere, you are way out at that end of the spectrum compared to everyone around you. There are also a lot of converted Tibetan buddhists.

4.) Mountains. This might seem pretty obvious, but it means that anyone who has moved here from elsewhere loves mountains too. You can successfully strike up a conversation about skiing with almost anyone you meet. And you can go up skiing for the weekend.

5.) Foodies. The number of grocery stores and restaurants in this town seem grossly out of proportion with its population. There is an awesome farmer's market downtown in the summer. And everyone seems to be into slow food, sustainable food, nourishing food. What the rest of the country calls "hippie food."

When my brother was considering CU for university, a friend of the family said, "Does that mean he's going to start eating granola and bean sprouts?" Now we're back to quinoa. Quinoa is a grain that's grown mostly in South America and supposedly has the perfect ratio of carbs/proteins/fat and the perfect ratio of amino acids for human functioning. It's kind of a big deal around here. I've started bringing it for lunch, and it makes me feel pretty awesome in the afternoon. Here's what I did this week.

Tasty Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • various fresh veggies
  • tahini dressing or other tasty sauce
  1. Combine the quinoa and water (always in a 1:2 ratio) in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes until the water is absorbed. Let it sit off the heat for 5 minutes to let it fully absorb the moisture.
  2. Meanwhile, cut up your veggies. I used cucumbers, tomato, and red onion.
  3. Make a sauce. Hummus is good. Vinaigrette too. I made a tahini dressing with 1 Tbsp tahini, 3 Tbsp plain yogurt, and a couple of shakes of cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  4. Mix it all up and eat.

And I'm new at this, so I forgot to take a picture of the finished product. But it was beautiful and succulent.

In truth, hippie food can be pretty scrumptious. And I do make a kickass granola. More on that later.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter Coats

I had some trouble deciding on a good first post, it just seems like it should be special. Inspiration came along with 10 inches of snow, and I will be posting some of my favorite winter looks. In Minnesota, warm layers and a good coat is essential everyday for nearly five months of the year. Since I get tired of looking the same for so long, I switch up my coats pretty often.
vintage fur coat, leather gloves, target tights,
kenzie lace up boots
I was very lucky to find this coat for a mere $20! It needed some new buttons, and I cinched the waist in a bit, but it was definitely worth the effort. Plus the fur collar is oh so soft.
zara zipper coat, charlotte russe pumps, target tights
When everyone else is wearing black, like in the city, I feel a little crazy in any sort of color. This coat is perfectly simple and has beautiful zipper detailing.
vintage coat, dehlia jeans, vera wang for kohl's hat,
secondhand pumps
...and if the last picture didn't have enough color, this should make up for it. A friend and I actually saw this coat at the same time, and raced for it. She got there first, but it fit me better, and she graciously renounced her claim.
Forever 21 coat, target boots, h&m beanie,
charlotte russe knit top
I've been wearing a lot of this jacket recently, mainly because it's so soft and comfortable. Honestly, I just woke up from a satisfyingly long nap wearing most of this outfit.
Apologies for the bad webcam photography. By the next post I hope to have located an actual camera and photographer!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dijon (it's not French for mustard)

Admission: I've been meaning to food blog for a long time, and have always come up with some excuse. My camera is too old, my kitchen's lighting sucks, my food isn't pretty. And so on. But here I am, ready to take the plunge. Luckily, I have an immensely charming sister who also spends way to much time reading blogs (of another sort) and was willing to go in together. Also, I got a cute little lamp to improve the lighting in my kitchen.

Doesn't it remind you of the Pixar lamp?

To start off, I figured I should make something fantabulous and unusual. Enter dijon + pretzels + caramel + chocolate. I've always been partial to mustard as a condiment, and to salty sweet things, so I figured this recipe from Gourmet's website would be a good excuse.

The recipe instructs you to make a wet caramel with water and sugar. As you can see, my first try didn't turn out so well. And it actually looks better than the second try. I think they all got the idea to crystallize and it spread like. . . a prion?

Caramel fail.

But finally, success!

Thanks to David Lebowitz though, I tried making the caramel without water, which worked much better. When it gets nice and smooth, stop the caramel with the butter, cream, mustard, and 2 Tbsp water (because I didn't add it at the beginning)

Mmmmm. Dijon.

Line your pan with foil (I used a 9x9) and lightly grease it, then lay in your pretty pretzels in an organized fashion. Though less organization would certainly taste good too. A third of the pretzels should be crushed/chunked up.

Naked pretzels

with the caramel

When the caramel is done, pour it over the pretzel layer and let is hang out for about 20 minutes until it's hard. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a bowl over a pot of boiling water. Spread it over the caramel and sprinkle the crushed pretzels over it. Then let it cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Mustard Caramel Crunchies with Chocolate Glaze
adapted from Gourmet
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 6 oz thin pretzel sticks, divided
  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  1. Line baking pan with nonstick foil, leaving an overhang on 2 sides. Arrange two thirds (4 oz) of pretzel sticks in baking pan, all in same direction.
  2. Heat the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, folding and stirring as the bottom begins to melt. Keep stirring to keep the caramel from burning. When the caramel is smooth and dark-amber colored, remove from heat and add mustard, butter, cream, and water . It will bubble a lot, but keep stirring carefully until incorporated
  3. Pour caramel over pretzels as evenly as possible. Let caramel set, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Put remaining 2 oz pretzels in a resealable bag and crush with a rolling pin.
  5. Melt chocolate in a bowl over a pot of boiling water and pour over caramel layer, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with crushed pretzels. Chill 30 minutes.
  6. Lift out confection using foil overhang and transfer to a cutting board. Let stand about 10 minutes, then cut into 36 squares. Invert to serve caramel side up (lift squares off foil to serve).

Food and Fashion

Welcome to Breads and Threads. We are two half-asian sisters with dissimilar but complementary interests: food and fashion. Because if you're eating good food, you may as well look good. Or the other way around, depending on your particular viewpoint. Enjoy!