Malted Milk, Milk Chocolate Scones with Banana Whipped Cream

Stella Parks over at Serious Eats has really elevated their baking game.  I have only been disappointed in her fruit pies and pie dough recipe.  She likes a very thick jammy pie and her pie dough always seems to leak for me.  However, everything else is gold.

I have been wanted to try her scone recipe since it sounds very easy.  I recently bought a huge tube of malted milk powder and I feel like it would pair well with milk chocolate and the tenderness of scones so I added a bit to the recipe.  My assumption is that about 2/3 of malted milk powder is flour and adjust the amount of flour proportionally.  I also add a touch of baking soda to nullify the acidity of malted milk powder.

Finally, rather than clotted cream my thought was to make some of Stella’s food processor whipped cream with freeze dried banana.

Malted Milk, Milk Chocolate Scones

223g bleached all-purpose flour
44g malted milk powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
2 ounces cold unsalted butter (4 tablespoons; 55g), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 ounces roughly chopped milk chocolate (1 cup; 170g)
2 ounces milk (1/4 cup; 55g), any percentage will do
6 ounces heavy cream (3/4 cup; 170g)
turbinado sugar, to taste

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 400°F (204°C). Add flour, malted milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt to food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add butter and pulse until butter disappears into a coarse meal.  Dump contents of food processor into a large mixing bowl.  Add milk chocolate and toss to combine, then stir in milk and cream to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch round. Cut into 6 or 8 wedges with a chef’s knife, sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar, and arrange on a parchment-lined half sheet pan. Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.



Mexican Wedding Meal

So the only impetus for this meal was seeing Diane Kennedy’s recipe for Estofado de Bodas or wedding stew.  She has me at dried chiles and tomatoes with fruit and vinegar.  I can’t imagine a more delicious combination.

Now strangely I learned that potato salad is a pretty common fixture of Mexican special events.  Kennedy suggests a pickled salad as an accompaniment so I kind of split the difference and adapted a potato salad that has pickled jalapenos/onions and a fairly sour dressing.

Finally, Kennedy’s recipe originally called for crumbling sweet rolls into the stew directly.  I am not a fan of thickening stews with bread/tortillas so I intend to just make some rolls to serve along side to mop up the sauce.  I took a milk bread recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and added more sugar, dropped some butter and then added in another egg yolk for eggy goodness and color.  We will have to see how it turns out.


For the stew: (Estofado de Bodas from Kennedy’s Oaxaca Al Gusto)

4¼ pounds (about 2 kg) stewing beef on the bone
1 cup (250 ml) chicken stock or more, as necessary
½ teaspoon whole cloves, ground
½ teaspoon whole allspice, ground
¾ inch (about 2 cm) cinnamon stick, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2¼ pounds (about 1 kg) tomatoes, roughly chopped
8 ancho chiles, veins and seeds removed, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and strained
8 guajillo chiles, veins and seeds removed, soaked for 15 minutes and strained
1 underripe plantain, peeled and cut into small cubes
4 apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
½ pineapple, peeled and cut into small cubes
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons mustard

  • Put the stock into the blender.  Add the tomatoes and blend well, then add the chiles, a few at a time, blending well after each addition. Add a little more water, if necessary, to loosen the blades of the blender. The mixture should be slightly textured.
  • Saute onions and garlic in large dutch oven until they start to brown.  Add spices and bay leaves and fry for 30 seconds.
  • Add chile tomato puree and rest of ingredients.  Cover and cook in a 225-degree oven until the meat is so soft it is falling apart, about 6 hours.


Spicy Potato Salad: (Adapted from Cook’s Country Texas Potato Salad)

½ cup red wine vinegar
1½ tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 small red onion, sliced thin
2 jalapeño chiles (1 sliced into thin rings; 1 stemmed, seeded, and minced)
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 teaspoons of chipotle in adobo sauce
2 large hard-cooked eggs, cut into ¼-inch pieces

1. Combine vinegar, sugar, 1½ teaspoons salt, and mustard seeds in bowl and microwave until steaming, about 2 minutes. Whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add onion and jalapeños and set aside until cool, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain onion and jalapeños through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Reserve pickled vegetables and vinegar mixture separately.

2. Meanwhile, combine potatoes, 8 cups water, 2 Tablespoons of reserved vinegar mixture and 1 tablespoon salt in large pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are just tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Drain potatoes thoroughly, then transfer to large bowl. Drizzle 2 tablespoons reserved vinegar mixture over hot potatoes and toss gently until evenly coated. (Reserve remaining vinegar mixture for another use.) Refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through chilling.

4. Whisk mayonnaise, mustard, ½ teaspoon pepper, and chipotle together in bowl until combined. Add mayonnaise mixture, reserved pickled vegetables and eggs to potatoes and stir gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate to let flavors blend, about 30 minutes. Serve. (Salad can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)


Sweet Rolls: (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Fluffy Dinner Rolls)

½ cup water
3 tablespoons bread flour
½ cup cold milk
1 large egg + 1 yolk
2 cups (11 ounces) bread flour
1½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened,
plus ½ tablespoon, melted
1. FOR THE FLOUR PASTE: Whisk water and
flour together in small bowl until no lumps remain.
Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture
thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency
that forms mound when dropped from end of whisk
into bowl, 40 to 80 seconds.
2. FOR THE DOUGH: In bowl of stand mixer,
whisk flour paste and milk together until smooth.
Add eggs and whisk until incorporated. Add flour
and yeast. Fit stand mixer with dough hook and
mix on low speed until all flour is moistened, 1 to 2
minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes.
3. Add sugar and salt and mix on medium-low
speed for 5 minutes. With mixer running, add softened
butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to mix
on medium-low speed 5 minutes longer, scraping
down dough hook and sides of bowl occasionally
(dough will stick to bottom of bowl).
4. Transfer dough to very lightly floured counter.
Knead briefly to form ball and transfer, seam side
down, to lightly greased bowl; lightly coat surface of
dough with vegetable oil spray and cover with plastic
wrap. Let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
5. Grease 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.
Transfer dough to counter. Press dough gently but
firmly to expel all air. Pat and stretch dough to form
8 by 9-inch rectangle with short side facing you. Cut
dough lengthwise into 4 equal strips and cut each
strip crosswise into 3 equal pieces. Working with 1
piece at a time, stretch and press dough gently to
form 8 by 2-inch strip. Starting on short side, roll
dough to form snug cylinder and arrange shaped
rolls seam side down in prepared pan, placing 10
rolls around edge of pan, pointing inward, and
remaining 2 rolls in center. Cover with plastic and
let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
6. When rolls are nearly doubled, adjust oven rack
to lowest position and heat oven to 375 degrees.
Bake rolls until deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Let rolls cool in pan on wire rack for 3 minutes;
invert rolls onto rack, then reinvert. Brush tops and
sides of rolls with melted butter. Let rolls cool for
at least 20 minutes before serving.

Three Styles of Red Braised Pork

There are infinite recipe for red braising.  Pretty much every Asian culture has their version, mostly because Chinese people get all over the place.  Here are three styles of notoriety: Hong Shao Rou, Dong Po Rou, Mei Cai Kou Rou.

First, let me link to the quintessential Hong Shao Rou.

This dish is braised in a relatively small amount of sugar, soy sauce and wine and typically star anise (with cinnamon or cao guo as other popular spices).  It is also browned.  Pork belly is certainly the richest way to enjoy, but it is frequently made with pork shoulder or entire shanks as well.

Now let’s go to Dong Po Rou.

  • 2 lb. pork belly meat
  • 1/2 c tablespoons sugar
  • 4 cloves of garlic peeled and smashed
  • 2 Tbsp of ginger, sliced
  • 4 scallions cut into 2-inch long pieces
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup Shaoxing wine

Layer the aromatics in cooking vessel and then place pork on top (not really necessary, but typical), skin side down, and then mix remaining ingredients and pour sauce into vessel.  Cover and place in 400 degree oven for 1 hour.  Flip pork, cover again and turn temperature down to 200-225 and cook for 4-6 hours.  Defat and discard aromatics.  Reduce sauce as needed.

The differences compared to hong shao rou are pretty stark.  We have a lot more soy sauce, a lot more sugar and a lot more wine.  This is also ALWAYS made with pork belly and braised for a lot longer so it is meltingly soft and tender and the fat is quite sticky and gelatinous.  There are also no spices.

Lastly there is Mei Cai Kou Rou.

  • 12 oz. pork belly meat
  • 4 oz prepared mei cai (fermented mustard greens)
  • 2 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp Shaoxing wine

Brown the skin of your pork belly on the stovetop or with a broiler.  Cut into very thin 1/2 in. slices and layer bottom of a steaming bowl with slices.  Layer mei cai and garlic on top of pork.  Mix remaining ingredients and pour sauce evenly over bowl and steam for at least 1.5 hours.

The hardest part is finding mei cai.  There are multiple types (Hakka versus Shaoxing) and it is a pain to prepare, requiring long soaks and washing (search internet for assistance).

Mei cai kou rou is pretty much hong shao rou with the addition of mustard greens and a change in cooking method to steaming.  More elaborate preparations add spices to the sauce.  Hakka style recipes also add oyster sauce on occasion.



Ma Jiang Mian (Sesame Noodles) Both Sichuan and Taiwanese Style

Cold sesame noodles are one of the great unhealthy pleasures of Chinese cuisine.  You are covering noodles with oil and sugar.  The fact that the bastardized version of this dish in America is often portrayed as a refreshing and light dish is a bit puzzling as it’s harder to come up with a non-dessert that is less healthy.

Anyways here are two versions, one with chili oil and one without.  I have bifurcated these as Sichuan vs. Taiwanese but it’s not a hard rule.  The other major difference is that the Taiwanese version is more nut forward while the Sichuan style is a soy sauce noodle with a bit of sesame paste.

Sichuan Sauce (mostly taken from here)

4 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Sweet Soy or 1 Tbsp Dark Soy and 1 Tbsp brown sugar
2-4 Tbsp Chili Oil goop
2 Tbsp Sesame Paste
2 Tbsp Zhenjiang Vinegar
1/2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
2 cloves of garlic, grated
(optional) 1/2 tsp of ground Sichuan peppercorns

Taiwanese Sauce
4 Tbsp mix of Sesame Paste and Peanut Butter
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Black or White Rice Vinegar
2 Tbsp Sugar or Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
2 cloves of garlic, grated

Mix sauce ingredients, adding hot water as needed to reach desired consistency.  Toss with prepared thin wheat noodles and any toppings (cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, red sweet pepper, peanuts, etc.)

Star Wars the Force Awakens: History’s Greatest Monster

My wife and a friend saw this movie yesterday, seemingly among the last people on Earth that had not already seen it according to the box office.  I was mostly pressured by our friend; it was not something I found myself urgently needing to see at normal ticket prices.  Also, in general I don’t understand using theaters as a social event.  I would much rather eat and socialize.  It was particularly awkward because afterward my wife and I expressed our disgust with the movie, while our friend seemed to enjoy it.  Just another potential pitfall of seeing a movie with friends.

Anyways, our friend is not alone in his praise of the film.  It currently sits at above 90% on both critical and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes for instance and Star Wars fans seem generally pleased.  I am of course floored at the response.  Where has all the vitriol the prequels generated gone?  This movie is at least as bad as Phantom Menace and a far sight worse than the other two prequels (which I enjoyed a good amount).  Apparently “fans” just wanted a slavish rehash of the original trilogy (OT).  George Lucas was apparently trying too hard by giving us a new story.  Unoriginality is only a minor sin, however, the real problem is that J.J. Abrams has made a potemkin village out of the OT.  Here are all the surface attributes of the films presented again but in a vastly inferior form.  It ends up like a horrible parody rather than a comforting homage.

Now before I entered the film I had already read a few articles documenting the very strong parallels between the film and A New Hope. However, I was still surprised at just how closely it aped ANH with a few things thrown in from the rest of the OT.  I am not sure how much it pays to rewrite what is written elsewhere in depth.  I will just talk about some particularly bad ones here.

One that stuck out at me was that the three major planets in the film are a desert world (like Tatooine), a snow planet (like Hoth) and a jungle world (like Endor), so the imagery is not even new or exciting.

For the main Sith villains we have an unsightly and pale old guy (like Emperor Palpatine) and a young man that wears a a voice altering mask (like Darth Vader) but for no functional reason.

Many criticized the heavy-handed political exposition in The Phantom Menace, but it was an integral part of the storyline.  The Force Awakens is so light on exposition that it never comes up with a plausible reason for why the universe is back to the status quo that presided at the beginning of A New Hope.  We have something called the First Order (essentially the old Empire) that appears to be the foremost power in the galaxy and a scrappy under-powered Resistance (the Rebels).  There is also an inchoate new Republic, but they are quickly eliminated in the film.

What happened after Return of the Jedi?  Everything that was accomplished in the OT has been rendered moot.  The Republic is so ineffectual that they allow the remnants of the Empire to build a new Death Star in secret.  Yes, they built a new superweapon inside a planet and nobody noticed.  It’s also never clearly explained how the Resistance and the Republic are connected or why there is need of a Resistance in a galaxy where the Empire was defeated and a new Republic exists.

Speaking of the Death Star, did we really just recycle this superweapon for a third time in the same series?  They destroyed it in Force Awakens in an unholy mashup of ANH and RotJ.  Here there is a vent (ANH) that is the weakpoint that someone eventually flies into with a ship to destroy the weapon from the inside (RotJ).  Let us not forget the ridiculous “planning” meeting where the Resistance, who are again caught entirely unaware of a planet-sized weapon, conjure up a scheme for its destruction in less than five minutes.  Recall that in ANH, the heroes at least had to secure vital intelligence about the Death Star for the Rebels in order to enact its destruction.  Not so here, the First Order leaves the same vulnerability and the Resistance knows exactly how to exploit it.  There is no feeling of dread around this weapon like the original Death Star.  It’s just another checkbox on the list of things they need to copy from the OT.

The new weapon makes even less sense.  It is built in a planet (why?) and it needs to eat suns to power itself.  The original Death Star was quite capable of destroying planets without eating suns, so what is the point of this new one?  Also eating suns seems like a pretty horrific superweapon by itself.  They should just have left it at that.

Apart from the Death Star, there are other examples of inept handling of familiar plot events.  For instance, once again Han Solo leads a team to disable shield generators on the Death Planet’s surface (ANH and RotJ).  In the OT these are tense sequences in the heart of the enemy stronghold.  Here, the heroes literally just waltz in with little fuss.  In fact the entire place is very empty, until just after Han’s death where Stormtroopers suddenly appear out of thin air.

Speaking of Han’s death, this was a pale imitation of the power of the Kenobi and Vader meeting in ANH.  There the meeting is pregnant with all the shared history of master who feels he failed his apprentice.  Here we have a father meeting his fallen son, which is not a terrible premise.  However, Kylo Ren is a terrible whiny character and we know of no fathomable reason why he is on the Dark Side (since, again, this movie eschews all exposition).  Second, what is Han hoping to accomplish here?  At best, Kylo relents and is then executed for his previous crimes?  Why does this take place on a catway over a bottomless pit except as a nod to Empire Strike Back?  The encounter of father and son is a potentially good one but the movie has given it no emotional heft.  The reaction from the audience is not at a son killing his father, but of Han Solo, beloved character, dying.  This means you did it wrong.

Before I move on to the new characters, I want to point out the piss poor plot.  Essentially everyone wants a map that Luke Skywalker left as to his whereabouts (reminds me of the search for Yoda).  Why did Luke leave anyway?  Why did he leave a map to his location?  Has he been waiting on the same planet for years looking forlornly out to sea in solitude on a rocky island?  Why do they need him anyway?  I feel like he is going to be an imitation of old Kenobi, because we needed another carbon copy of a character from ANH.  Of  course all of that is sidetracked for the last 1/3 of the film when a Death Star appears out of nowhere that the heroes need to blow up.  Again everything just feels shoehorned in because the movie must retread every previous plot point.

I have also seen a lot of love for the new characters introduced.  I don’t get it.  Poe is barely in the film, so why the adoration?  Finn has potential as a man fighting back against years of indoctrination by a horrible regime, but none of that is on display in the film.  Mostly he sounds stupid a lot of the time, yelling obvious comments or inane questions and generally being fairly inept.  If he is in Sanitation for the Death Planet then why was he with the soldiers massacring innocents at the beginning of the movie? Also he brings up a lot of inconsistencies about Stormtroopers.  If they are clones of an elite bounty hunter and trained and indoctrinated from birth then why are they so ineffective?

The worst new characters are the two force users.  Kylo Ren is so poorly drawn that nothing he does makes any sense.  His temper tantrums are ridiculous shows of adolescent whining and are actually used for a slapstick moment.  Filmmakers take note, don’t make your villains into the butt of jokes.  Joss Whedon did it in Avengers to Loki and it undermined his effectiveness.  Finally he shows himself to be woefully incompetent at every turn, even losing to Finn (a non-Jedi) and Rey (untrained force user) in the final battle with a terrible sloppy fighting style.  All of this despite apparently besting Luke Skywalker and his Jedi already.

Finally, we come to the main character who will draw obvious comparison to Luke Skywalker.  Rey has no personality. Luke Skywalker who is a cliche of the naive, ignorant boy pining for adventure and awed by much of what he sees at first.  It is cliche, but it is an inherently enjoyable one.  Rey in contrast, is already competent, is rarely surprised (some throwaway comment about a forest planet is about all we get) and has an inexplicable reclusive nature such that she wants to get back to Jakku. Rey is accused of being a Mary Sue because she is so damn good at everything.  The problem is there is no explanation of where she acquired these skills.  She appears to have been living alone eeking out a subsistence life from scavenging parts on a frontier world.  Yet she knows advanced engineering and is highly proficient in spaceship piloting and melee combat.  She knows the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo after a few minutes.  Somehow, she speaks a bunch of languages, including Wookie and droid.  It takes her literally no training to use advanced force powers like Jedi mind tricks and she bests Kylo Ren in sword combat despite never wielding a lightsaber before.

Many concede she is a Mary Sue, but then point out that Star Wars is always full of Mary Sues.  Strangely they use Luke to show this despite being a complete contrast. Luke is pretty incompetent for most of the first movie, even Stormtroopers are dangerous.  When he gets some skills he gets a bit puffed up before Vader brings him low in the second movie.  Even in the third movie he is the weakest of the known force users, triumphing not because of his skills alone.  Yes he does defeat the Death Star in the first movie despite little piloting experience, but he did use the Force.  Hitting a target accurately is a far more believable “use of the Force” than Rey using it to defeat Kylo Ren, who is also a Force user.  The better example would be Anakin in The Phantom Menace who as a little boy is also an engineering and piloting genius like Rey.  Except that I and almost everyone else hated him in the first movie for these very Mary Sue like qualities.  I am sure Rey will develop more as Anakin did, but here she is boring.

A few other minor things bothered me about the film.  The comedy almost always failed.  The action scenes were pretty poor in general and further degraded by how similar they were to scenes in past Star Wars films.  The final and only lightsaber battle in the film was a travesty with Kylo Ren lazily swinging around against untrained combatants.  The makers of the film boasted about how they were using real props rather than CGI for many things, but the film looks pretty shoddy in places and the visuals have none of the imagination of the previous films and the prequels, despite their age, seem to be of better technical quality.

Finally, for whatever reason the Star Wars setting annoyed me far more in this movie than in prior movies or games.  Everything from droids that don’t speak to the incongruity of desert hovel worlds with easy space travel bothered me.  Nobody writes anything down apparently because Jedis are myths despite being a prominent organization for millenia up until very recently.  I was always aware of the shoddiness of the Star Wars settings , but I could always excuse it in the face of a good movie.  However, the Force Awakens is not a good movie.  Apart from the above criticisms, it is hard to convey just how bad the movie is from moment.  Almost nothing works here, from the utterly predictable plot to the vapid character interactions to the inert action sequences.

J.J. Abrams is a good director and a dedicated fan of Star Wars and yet in my opinion has tarnished the film franchise in way George Lucas could never have dreamed of.