December 2010


Looking for something to serve with those cinnamon rolls?  Well, Tim’s got just the thing for you.  To think, I started you off this holiday looking for broccoli and lemon (nice), and now you’ve made another run to the store for all the (naughty) typical holiday ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, cream, alcohol.  Fresh Nutmeg*.

The resulting ‘nog zings the palate with a spicy rum flavor, then mellows with rich rich cream.  Serve in mouthwash-sized cups.  This is a cooked eggnog recipe, containing no raw eggs (even though everyone knows a heavy hand with the rum will kill any bacteria lurking in your eggs).  If you have not made a custard before, do not be afraid.  I have a few hints below that will help.  If you have not licked a bowl after making a custard before, prepare yourself.

Nog (makes enough for the Christmas Party)

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1  1/2 cup fine sugar
  • 1 quart (light) cream
  • 2 1/2 cups spiced rum
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  1. Place the milk, cloves and cinnamon sticks in a pot over very low heat until it just comes to a boil.  Lower the heat to very low and steep for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and fish out the cloves and cinnamon sticks.
  2. In a separate bowl, use a mixer on the lowest speed to combine egg yolks and sugar.
  3. Make a custard while avoiding scrambled eggs: With mixer running, slowly stream in the hot milk. Return the mixture to the pan and heat over very low heat, whisking almost-vigorously and constantly until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (or the tines of a whisk) but not pudding-thick.
  4. Pour into a heat proof bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hour.  What if you notice you now have scrambled eggs.  All is not lost – pour your custard into the blender and whizz it up.  Then chill.  It will be fine.
  5. Mix cream, rum and vanilla in a separate measuring cup.  After the custard has cooled, combine these two together and chill over night.
  6. Serve cold or hot, sprinkled generously with fresh ground nutmeg.

*A rant about nutmeg:  Fresh ground nutmeg is the only way to go, ever.  It makes such a huge difference, I can’t even explain.  This is all coming from someone living in the land of nutmeg.  Seriously, it’s everywhere.  I suspect it is the colorful cousin of Penang’s official nut, the betel nut.  I got 20 whole nutmegs for 60 cents, but I think they are a little more expensive in the states.  But they are available (everything is available in the US!)  This recipe will use half of one.  Next year, you can all look for whole nutmegs in your stockings, but this year, do yourself a favor and add them to the “nice” column of your grocery shopping list, above.

Based on what is going on in the food-blogosphere this week, I have a sneaking suspicion that American Christmas morning includes the following traditions:

  1. Opening Presents (98%)
  2. Cinnamon Rolls (97%)
  3. Going to Church (40%)

Growing up, this was our routine.  We invariably opened gifts, and invariably went to church.  At one point Aunt Helen’s sticky cinnamon rolls made their way into the roster, and now I crave them for gift opening time, too.  There’s just something about baking cinnamon that is SO Christmas.

These are a labor of love, meaning that after you labor, you will be so in love that you will surely add them to your routine, too.  Don’t worry, I feel confident you can get them all ready in less than 5 hours (which is how long it took me).  Luckily, Miles allowed me 20 minutes to get it all done at the end, while he prepared a demo for his upcoming lecture “How to Amuse Yourself with only a Saucepan with Lid and 6 Various Tupperware Lids”.

Merry Christmas, enjoy.

Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls (from joythebaker – she has great step by step pics!)

  • 1 packet or 1/4 oz dry active yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup water at 115 degrees
  • 1/2 cup milk at room temp
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup 0r 4 oz) butter
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbsp real maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • One more stick of butter, divided in half, melted
  1. Combine the first set of 3 ingredients in a small bowl, stir and wait 10 minutes until foamy.
  2. Add the next 5 ingredients and whisk until well combined.
  3. Sift together salt and flour.  Slowly add to the liquid yeast mixture until fully incorporated.  It will be very sticky.
  4. Take off your wedding ring, dump it on a clean counter and knead it for 4 minutes.  Scrape it off your hands and the counter (this can be very helpful, also for cleaning under baby’s chair) and form a ball.
  5. Add the butter and knead another 6 minutes.  Still sticky?  Good.
  6. Now incorporate about 1/3 cup more flour and knead 2 more minutes.  Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
  7. Take the cream cheese out to soften, mix the filling ingredients in a separate bowl, host a playdate.
  8. Generously flour your surface, and place the dough there.  Knead it and add flour until it is no longer sticky.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  9. No rest for you!  Massage the cream cheese with knife until it is spreadable.  Roll the dough to 10″x10″.  Spread with cream cheese evenly all the way to the corners.  Now fold in thirds (like a letter), and then in thirds the other way to end up with a square.
  10. Roll out the dough to 10″x20″.  Some cream cheese might spill, that’s OK.  Put half the melted butter on the dough, then spread the sugar/nuts/raisin filling out evenly on the surface.  Roll, starting on the short end.
  11. Cut into 8 rolls and place them in a buttered pan.  At this point, I opted to freeze two pans of four rolls, one for Christmas morning, one for when our highly anticipated visitors get here.  If you do freeze, allow them to defrost in the fridge Christmas Eve, or on the counter if your room temperature is not 85 degrees.  In any case, allow to come to room temperature for at least half an hour after refrigerating.
  12. Preheat oven to 375.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Prepare the remaining melted butter.  When the rolls are done, brush immediately with melted butter and cool at least 5 minutes.
  13. If you are from the midwest, you may choose to add even more butter as you eat these rolls..  Others who may be from Colorado, for instance, may like a frosting of even more cream cheese, buttermilk and powdered sugar. Go ahead.  It is Christmas  Enjoy, and don’t forget to put your wedding ring back on!

Note: you can leave all the mixing and kneading to your Kitchenaide if you didn’t leave it at home with your other beloved appliances after moving to the land of 220V outlets.

We are amazed each day how big our baby is getting.  Tim and I creep into his room and look at how much crib is occupied by Miles.  Invariably he is on his belly, one or both arms chicken winged out to the side, palm up.  The empty space in the crib reduces it seems like daily.  Here’s some updates on his last month as a baby … I think we almost have a toddler on our hands!

  • FIRST STEPS! That’s right, folks.  Miles took 6 steps when we were visiting friends in Australia, Tim and I were right there, on our anniversary.  Wow!  And then… nothing.  Guess he got a taste of it and decided he wasn’t ready yet.  To be honest, I felt the same way.  Then about 2 days ago he got really interested in toddling around like a drunken sailor, breathing HARD out of exertion and excitement and clapping for himself afterwards.
  • Electronicals/Botanicals -> Rocks/Mulch/Dirt/Sand. To be clear, it’s not that Miles is no longer interested in plants and plugs, it’s just that his obsessive desire to put them in his mouth has been replaced by an obsessive desire to suck on landscaping supplies of the mineral variety.
  • Feed me! This boy is an eater. (And a beggar)  If he sees food, he wants to eat.  He can down a banana in 4 bites.  He loves to be in control of the spoon, and will attempt to drink the contents of his bowl if he can get his hands on it.  His appetite seems to include an astonishing array of foods (and non-foods, see previous bullet).  I know the pickiness is coming, I am relishing in giving him lots to try now.  He also learned to drink from a straw, he took right to it the first time I put one in his mouth, which opens up a whole array of beverage possibilities, including juice, shakes and fresh coconut!
  • Teasing Teeth. Miles had 2 teeth tease him this month.  They broke through, then went back, created a blood blister, then back.  Now one is out and the other is silently taunting.  Tooth count: 3.
  • Sleep. I checked the most common words on my FB updates for the year: sleep, sleeping, morning, and night were in the top 10.  Ha!  I am obsessed.  It’s going fine, in spite of the teething.
  • The chaos to order trend continues. Now, it seems much more fun to put the blocks in (after dumping them all out, of course).  He loves to put the top of the tupperware on, and has once or twice figured out that the triangle block goes in the triangle hole.  No progress on dishes or laundry, yet.
  • Coming up… We’re looking forward to Miles’ first Christmas – in just a few days!  Then we get a visit from Auntie Angel and Uncle Criag, followed by more stamps in the passport – Thailand!  No plans yet for a first birthday party, but I am itching to make him a little smash cake for a hungry tiger.

One of the hardest things about being an expat is being away from home for the holidays.  It is double hard when it’s Miles’ first Christmas.  Triple hard when we won’t have any family here on the BIG DAY (pain eased by plans of family visitors next week!!!).  Quadruple hard (you get the point) when there is no chance of snow, cold, or even a cool enough breeze to make us think about wearing a long sleeved cover up over the bikini, let alone a fuzzy sweater.  But we’ll get through it.

This could have been a great picture if the rickshaw driver was also a good photographer.

We improvise.  Our “tree” is a tropical houseplant.  Santa will arrive in a rickshaw being pulled by 8 monitor lizards.  And on the night before Christmas, (hopefully) not a creature will be stirring, not even a sewer rat or a drunk-off-shift-Bollywood-blaring security guard who likes to hang out 7 floors below our bedroom window in the very wee hours with his buddies, Johnnie Walker and his Honda.  On Christmas day, we plan to have lunch at one of Tim’s colleague’s home followed by a playdate in the park for the other displaced expats and their little ones.

Miles and Santa did NOT get along

It should be a good time.  But not good enough to take the place of Christmas at home, snow, Pearl Street, Pasta Jay’s or Bill Knapp’s (RIP), snowmobiles, fire in the fireplace, cinnamon rolls, a REAL pine tree, and no where near replacing the thing we miss most: family.  It’s a homesick holiday this year.  We miss you!

I got a beautiful new cookbook as an anniversary gift from my parents-in-law.  Ottolenghi is a trendy chef in London, and his recipes are innovative.  So innovative that I can’t tell on first read what the flavors will be like.  Of the 5 or so dishes I have tried, all prove to be delicious and surprising.  His theme (which is so common these days) is simple, fresh fare that utilizes the best possible ingredients.  He uses a heavy hand with fresh herbs, garlic, lemon and chilis, but he doesn’t go overboard insisting on local and seasonal, which is a breath of fresh air in these times.

What he may go overboard on is exactness.  The recipes are written in the European style, with weights instead of measures (grams and milliliters vs. tsp and cups).  This recipe, for instance, called for 115ml of olive oil.  Even armed with my fancy beaker measuring cup (with dL!) and digital kitchen scale, this can be a little tedious.  For Tim, who performed this recipe the first time, it was a lot tedious.  He said several times how he prefers to cook out of the Bittman cookbook I have (also from Linda – thanks!!), where the recipes offer a more free hand in the ingredients used.  So this is for Tim, Ottolenghi’s broccoli recipe, that transforms broccoli to something you will fantasize over, Bittman-ized.

I realize I am posting this close to Christmas and this recipe has none of the requisite seasonal ingredients: butter, sugar, or butter.  It is, however, red and green.  Festive enough for me.




Ottolenghi’s Broccoli, Bittmanized (adapted from Ottolenghi, the Cookbook)

For each serving, you need a medium-sized crown of broccoli, a couple cloves of garlic and a spicy red pepper.  Break the broccoli into spears, throw into boiling water briefly (2 min set-a-timer, says otto), blanch in ice water and drain (completely dry – no water, says otto).  Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and sear on a piping hot grill pan for a couple minutes per side until charred in spots.  Meanwhile, slice peppers and garlic.  Heat in a sauce pan with a generous amount of oil, you are essentially making chili-garlic oil.  When the garlic has browned and softened, toss with the broccoli, season to taste and serve with paper thin slices of lemon.  Eat at least one bite with a lemon slice, chili, garlic and broccoli, and tell me you aren’t totally transformed.

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