Laotian Khao Soi

Serious Eats ran an article on Laotian food and the part about the Laotian Khao Soi intrigued me and the picture had me salivating.  Laotian food is pretty uncommon so I am just kind of inferring what the soup is like.  As such this is likely not very authentic and full of substitutions.  The primary component is a particular type of chili fermented soy bean product in Laos and Thailand which I am approximating with other ingredients.

Curry Paste:
1/2 cup of fermented yellow beans, red miso or doenjang
2 tbsp of gochujang or doubanjiang
1 tbsp of shrimp paste
4 tbsp of tomato paste
12 cloves of garlic (30g), roughly chopped
2 in of ginger/galangal (40g), finely chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass (40g) finely chopped
125 g of shallots
5-10 guajillo, puya or kashmiri chiles

Process in food processor until a fine paste forms, scraping bowl as needed.

1 onion split in half
3 lb of pork shoulder
2 quarts of chicken stock

Fry the paste in oil until fragrant and dry.  Add chicken stock, pork shoulder and onion.  Pressure cook for 60 minutes with 15 minutes of natural release.  Discard onion and remove pork shoulder.

Serve broth with rice noodles, cilantro, spring onions and slices of pork.


Angel Season 2 Review

My review of season 2 of Angel will be relatively short even by my less than grandiloquent standards.  It’s a season that is of uniformly high quality, but also rarely reaches the highest strata of the show and is bogged down by a poor final arc with Pylea.

This season still rides on its excellent character development.  The humanity of the inhuman Angel is the central theme of the season, much as it was in the one prior.  Angel take the role of lone wolf for awhile, shutting down the investigation service for a time, was cliché but effective.  Angel worries about his comrades, but it also highlight a perennial character flaw.  Namely, Angel is arrogant.  He often thinks he knows best, is the only one fully capable and often makes unilateral decisions (see Season 5).  He is the chosen one, the vampire with a soul and he has a destiny to fulfill.  All that said, there is some really poor writing around Angel’s character in this season.  In particular in his interactions with Darla.  Of most cringeworthy status is the episode “Epiphany” where Angel sleeps with Darla and then has a new outlook on life that no longer has Darla in it.  It’s weird and a little sleazy.

Wesley continues to evolve this season from the weak Watcher and downtrodden pansy that came before.  This still isn’t the guns akimbo Wesley we become acquainted with later, but he stands up to the physically imposing Gunn and runs the investigation agency in Angel’s absence.  Wesley is competent and somewhat assured.

Cordelia is, somewhat predictably, the “heart” of the team.  She too has grown significantly from her role as the mean girl of Sunnydale High.  She can stake a vampire and doesn’t resort to weak snide remarks to cover her insecurity.  The anonymity of LA appears to have oriented Cordelia to her relative insignificance in the world.  Instead of jeering at her for not reaching her lofty aspirations, you instead sympathize with her.  It speaks to the strength of Angel’s writers that they salvaged such a one-note character from Buffy.

Gunn is Gunn.  This is the only season he is somewhat interesting.  But too often he is just the brash young guy that views violence as the first and last resort.  One episode they literally had him explain slavery as the only non-demonic person of color on the show.  It was not a highpoint for Angel.

Much of this season deals with Darla, Angel’s sire and former lover, and the machinations of Wolfram and Heart.  Darla gets a huge retcon as someone of huge import in Angel’s life rather than the throwaway villain of season 1 Buffy.  This prompts a lot of dramatic moments and interesting flashbacks.  Unfortunately, it never quite makes sense why Angel has so much compassion for Darla.  She is evil and Angel never disputes this fact about vampires.  Furthermore, the Buffyverse has long operated under the notion that Angel and Angelus are separate people.  It’s not really clear why Angel would love Darla as the unredeemable Angelus would.   His memories of his time with Darla would mostly include all the terrible things he did as Angelus.  It’s hard to invest yourself in this plotline when you are wondering why Angel is so concerned.  The aforementioned epiphany seems to oddly mirror this reading of the situation as if he suddenly realized he didn’t really have any attachment to Darla.

It’s also never clear what the hell Wolfram and Heart are trying to accomplish this season.  Angel and team never really set out to dismantle or impede W&H so one wonders why they continue to antagonize Angel by raising his sire and so on.  And again we learn that W&H are specifically not going to take Angel off the board for reasons shrouded in mystery and which I am sure they regret by the end of Angel.

Lastly, the Pylea arc that ends the season is cheesy LARP quality stuff.  It introduces a throwaway love interest for Cordelia that seems to appear only to derail the romance with Angel.  It also introduces Fred.  Amy Acker is great, but this was not a great introductory arc.  Mostly it just goes on for at least two episodes long.  There are some great jokes from a self-obsessed Angel, but way too much generic fantasy pap to sustain my interest.

So this is a mixed bag.  It’s I think of more even keel than season one, but misses a lot of the existential exploration of humanity that propelled a lot of the better episodes of season 1.  The new additions to the cast are mixed bag, with Lorne being my standout favorite.  The core three of Angel, Wesley and Cordelia are still the highlight of the show and the strength of the core ensemble is the primary reasons Angel is a better show than Buffy.

Angel Season 1 Review

I should preface these reviews of the Angel TV show by stating that I watched it without viewing any significant portion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  If anything, the connection to Buffy, a show I only have negative feelings towards, had deferred any attempt at watching Angel.  How could anything come out of the teen melodrama of Buffy?  I was worried that Angel was the precursor to the supernatural romances seen in Twilight and its ilk.  However, my wife assured me it was a good show and so strode forth with a curated list of episodes to guide us.  It turns out my wife was wrong.  Angel was not a good show.  It was an excellent show especially in the period before the golden age of serial television we now live in.

Now season one of Angel gets a lot of flak, only season 4 is ever ranked below it and only occasionally.  Perhaps skipping some of the really poor episodes in the season biases my view, but I thought this was an excellent first season for the show.  It doesn’t have a season long arc, though the last few episodes have strong continuity and setup the second season.  Instead, my favorite moments were in one-off episodes that explore the contours of a supernatural detective agency with a vampiric lead investigator might operate.

Of particular note is the episode “I’ve Got You Under my Skin” about a demon that inhabits a child.  This is a haunting episode because kids are creepy, but also due to the twist that the child had actually overpowered the demon and that the cries for salvation escaping from the boy were actually the demon captured in the boy.  This episode would have slotted into Supernatural with ease and represents some of the best episodic Angel.

I also really enjoyed all the characters in this season.  Doyle’s appearance did not have much longevity, but he provided a lot of levity and despite a rather stupid character death, I was not unemotional when he kicked the bucket.  However, his death did lead to Wesley joining, the undisputed best character on Angel.  His arc from comic relief and pathetic “rogue demon hunter” to tormented bad ass in the final season is one of the primary reasons to watch Angel.  It was nice to see Cordelia evolve from her Mean Girls persona on Buffy and her interactions with Angel were almost universally excellent.  Angel himself works much better as a brooding figure in L.A. than the fling of a teenage girl in some sunny California town.  All of the characters have moments of genuine pathos and crack occasional funny and unforced jokes throughout.  Later seasons often try to cram all the humor into single less serious episodes, but season 1 does a much better job blending it into a typical episode.

What didn’t work were the crossovers with Buffy.  I may be in the minority here, but I hated every moment Buffy was on screen.  Having not watched Buffy, she came off as domineering and insensitive in almost all of her scenes.  I am not really fond of Spike as a character and his episode with the invulnerability ring was pretty dull except for the touching sunset gazing Angel did at the end.  Faith worked much better and her storyline established the essential goodness of Angel the character, which has strong interplay with a lot of the doubt the show casts on Angel’s morality later on.  I also enjoy her presence in later seasons as her persona seems more fitting for the darker edge of Angel.

Also I disliked Kate.  Not because she unceremoniously disappears, but because her interactions with Angel as a cop are trite and predictable.  First she is convinced he is a bad dude before being swayed.  That is until she finds out he is a vampire and then illogically thinks he killed her dad.  This kind of schlock is replete in the urban fantasy genre.  For instance I hated Murphy from the Dresden Files in the early books for following along a very similar arc.

Charles Gunn is introduced in the last three episodes.  He enters the main cast from season two onward but I always found him to be underdeveloped.  His episode, War Zone, was a bit inexplicable with a gang of kids roving around, post-apocalyptic style, through L.A. hunting demons.  It ends with a thoroughly overdone story of a loved one, in this case Gunn’s sister, being taken over by the vampiric demon and having to be eliminated.

The final episodes setup Wolfram and Heart and the dynamic duo of Lindsey and Lilah.  I like Lindsey as a character, but these two suffer from incompetent villain syndrome.  It particular mars Lilah who is frustratingly unaware of her ineptitude.  It’s hard to take anything W&H do seriously when Lilah is running the operation and so many evil plots feel underwhelming.  It’s even worse that the Senior Partners essentially give Angel plot armor for no well justified reason.  They are basically telling us that Lilah will fail.

In the end, I liked season one after cherry picking the good stuff, mostly for the great character interactions of the core team of Angel, Wesley and Cordelia.  Later seasons add too many characters and plot elements drive a wedge into this triangle, but in season one it remains unsullied and carries a lot of somewhat weak plots and annoying crossovers.

Mont Blanc

Chocolate Tart Crust:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tbsp (1.125 oz) cocoa powder
½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tbsp of milk or water
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Brown butter and then add milk and wait for sputtering to stop.  Add salt, vanilla, cocoa powder and espresso powder and whisk together.  Whisk in sugar and then AP flour.  Form into ball in pie pan and let rest for 10 minutes.  Press into pan and bake until set, about 25 minutes.

Chocolate Cream:
3 tbsp (1 ounce) sugar
2 tbsp (0.5 ounce) cornstarch
1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups whole milk
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk first four ingredients together in saucepan.  Add milk and whisk together.  Place over medium heat until bubbling all over, scraping constantly.  Cook 30 seconds longer; remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and fully incorporated. Whisk in vanilla. Pour filling into cooled pie crust. Press lightly greased parchment paper against surface of filling and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Refrigerate until filling is firmly set, at least 2½ hours.

Chestnut Cream:
16 ounces whole milk
12 ounces unsweetened chestnut puree
1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 whole eggs
4 ounces sugar
1 ounces cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together with the chestnuts, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla. Whisk vigorously to break up any lumps.

Continue to whisk over medium heat until the mixture becomes quite thick. Once the mixture starts to bubble (sluggishly, as it’s so thick), carry on for a full minute to thoroughly cook the starchiness out of the cornstarch.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and let it go at the lowest speed until the pastry cream has cooled.  Mound up on top of chocolate filling and chill in fridge.

Caramel Whipped Cream:
1 c heavy cream
1/4 c (50g) sugar
1/8 tsp salt

Caramelize sugar and then add heavy cream and salt.  Stir until smooth, over heat if necessary.  Chill thoroughly in fridge before whipping to stiff peaks and serve with Mont Blanc.


Sponge Cake

4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup (140 grams) sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) hot brewed espresso
1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F. Line two 9 inch cake pans with parchment. Fill a 2- or 3-quart saucier with a few inches of water; bring to a boil, then lower heat and adjust to maintain a steady supply of steam.

Combine eggs, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, using a flexible spatula to stir. Place over the steaming pot (if it touches the bottom, crumple a strip of foil into a ring to act as a booster seat) and cook, stirring and scraping constantly, until warmed to 160°F.

Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until the eggs are foamy, more than quadrupled in size, and thick enough to briefly mound up like soft serve when dropped from the whisk, from 5 to 10 minutes depending on the horsepower of your mixer.

When eggs are foamy and thick enough to briefly hold their shape when dropped from the whisk, add coffee on low speed and then sift the flour on top. Fold gently with a flexible spatula to combine in a thick batter. Split batter between pans and bake until puffed and firm to the touch, about 12 minutes.



4 large eggs (about 8 3/4 ounces; 245g)
80 g sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 ounces mascarpone
3-4 oz of bittersweet chocolate melted
2 tbsp dark rum

Fill a 2- or 3-quart saucier with a few inches of water; bring to a boil, then lower heat and adjust to maintain a steady supply of steam. Combine eggs, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, using a flexible spatula to stir. Place over the steaming pot (if the bowl touches the bottom, crumple a strip of foil into a ring to act as a booster seat) and cook, stirring and scraping constantly, until warmed to 160°F (71°C), about 5 minutes.

Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whip on high speed until eggs are foamy, more than quadrupled in size, and thick enough to briefly mound up like soft-serve ice cream when dropped from the whisk, between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the horsepower of your mixer.  Meanwhile add rum to mascarpone and beat to loosen cheese.  Reduce speed to medium and add chocolate and then begin adding mascarpone roughly 1/4 cup at a time; no need to wait between additions. Once mascarpone is incorporated, pause to scrape bowl with a flexible spatula, then resume whipping on medium-high until mixture is homogeneous and thick, about 5 to 10 seconds more.

Soaking Syrup:

1 c hot coffee
2 tsp of espresso powder
2 tbsp dark rum
1 tbsp of vanilla extract
4 tbsp of sugar
4 tbsp of cocoa powder

Pour coffee over all other ingredients and whisk together.

Soak bottom cake layer with about half a cup of syrup.  Top with about half the mascarpone filling, spread into an even layer, and dust lightly with cocoa powder.  Place other cake round on top and brush with another half cup of syrup.  Then top with remaining mascarpone filling and spread smooth before dusting another layer of cocoa powder on top.

Fried Rice and Noodle Sauces

Nasi Goreng (5 c of rice):
2 tbsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp kecap manis
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp dark brown sugar

Mee Goreng (400g fresh noodles or 200 g dry):
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp kecap manis
2 tbsp dark soy
2 tbsp sambal oelek
1 tsp curry powder (optional)

Char kuay teow:
2 tbsp light soy
2 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp oyster sauce

pad see ew or mee kao:
1/4 c oyster sauce
2 tbsp kecap manis
2 tbsp light soy or fish sauce
1 tbsp white vinegar, lime juice or tamarind water

pad thai:
1/4 c fish sauce
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp tamarind water or lime juice
peanuts. salted radish, dried shrimp



Inauthentic Claypot Rice

1 lb of boneless skinless chicken thighs. 1 in chunks
8 oz chinese sausage sliced thinly at a bias
10 shiitake mushrooms sliced thin
2 cups of rice
2.5 cups of chicken stock and mushroom juice (depends on type of rice)
1/3 c oyster sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp kecap manis
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp ground pepper
8 cloves garlic sliced
1 inch of ginger minced
12 scallions, sliced thin, green reserved

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Marinate chicken in oyster, soy and kecap manis.  Place sausage and half a cup of water in pot over medium heat.  Once water boils off, add mushrooms and turn to medium high.  Saute until mushrooms have browned.  Add garlic, ginger and scallion whites and oil if necessary and return to medium heat.  Once aromatic, add uncooked rice and sesame oil and saute for a few minutes.  Add pepper, chicken, marinade and stock and bring to a simmer.  Bake covered in oven for 40 to 45 minutes.  Remove and let rest for 15 minutes and garnish with scallion greens