Archive | May, 2013

Chocolate Sour Cream Bread

30 May

So in my infinite avoidance of any responsibility I have that is not related to East Asia, I’ve discovered some cool keyboard functions on my computer for typing in Mandarin. For example, did you know you can use the trackpad to write characters?  It takes some getting used to and isn’t very practical for writing entire e-mails or what have you, but it’s a lot of fun to play with.


I have learned how to type some important phrases as a result, such as the absolutely vital “I would like a green tea”.  I don’t remember how to write latte, but I know how to say it, which is more helpful anyway.  I am so ready to go China, you guys.  So ready.



On the subject of things you actually come to this blog to read about: I have so many baking recipes to post!  At long last!  Because I made this bread, which as you can see requires sour cream, and then I had a ton of sour cream leftover, so I had to find something to do with it… and baked more things!  I also have a couple of dinner recipes, so expect more content showing up soon. I adapted this recipe from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook (I say adapted; I was too cheap to buy some ingredients so I made some substitutions and messed around a little bit…).


  • 3 cups + 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 9 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder + 3 tbsp butter, melted OR 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 shot espresso OR 1 tbsp instant espresso + 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter
  • 2 2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup cour cream
  • a handful of slivered almonds (optional)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and ready a loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small-ish bowl and set aside.

Now here is where I messed with the recipe a bit because I didn’t have certain ingredients.  The original recipe says to put the chocolate and the espresso powder shit in a bowl and pour the boiling water on top until the ingredients melted.  What I did was melt the 3 tbsp of butter in a small pot, stir in the cocoa powder, and then dump that into a different pot with the brewed shot of espresso in it, stirring until it all melted together.

After that madness, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl for about 3 minutes before adding the eggs one at a time.  Gradually add the dry ingredients beating until just combined and smooth.  Mix in the sour cream and then gradually add the chocolate mixture as well.

Pour the batter into your loaf pan.



If you’re using almonds, sprinkle the almonds on top.


Then, bake for 70-80 minutes.  I know, that’s so long!  I think (I made it a week ago early in the morning) mine took about 70.  A cake test should come out clean.


Like I said, I’ll be posting more recipes soon, and most of them involve sour cream, so if you’re looking to get rid of the sour cream you used here, stay tuned.

I feel a little bit at a loss when it comes to today’s book recommendation.  I actually read a ton of books recently, all novels, but most of them were by Banana Yoshimoto, whom I know I’ve mentioned before.  I highly recommend anything she’s written.  I also read a couple of big-name Chinese writers, including the most recent Nobel winner Mo Yan, but I don’t actually want to recommend them…  I suppose I enjoyed Ryu Murakami’s Popular Hits of the Showa Era, which is a slim, bizarre, almost surreal novel about a war between a group of loser guys and a club of jaded housewives.  I was curious about Murakami because, as you probably know by know, I’m crazy about Haruki Murakami, and looking in bookstores and at the library I always see his books mixed in with Ryu Murakami’s.  I did enjoy it, but I’m not in love with it.  Still, it’s worth a read, and it is quite fun.


Lemon Cookies

30 May

It’s been thunderstorming for days here, which never ceases to be exciting.  I ran to the library the other night to pick up research material in the middle of the wildest storm I’ve witnessed as a sentient human being (I was a baby when I experienced a tornado down south), jumping in all of the puddles on the way back and miraculously not damaging any of the books.  And today it’s been an odd mix of forebodingly cloudy and warm and sunny.  I have a pre-occupation with weather.  Most people think of it as a painful subject of small talk, but I could talk about the weather for… a really long time.

But I won’t!  Instead I will talk about lemon cookies.  I made these cookies because I had sour cream left over from the chocolate sour cream bread I wrote about in my last post, though they only use 1/4 cup.  I got the recipe from the inestimable Chow Hound, in particular, pamd’s answer to this topic.



  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.



Add the sour cream and egg, beating until well combined.  Mix in the dry ingredients until combined, and then stir in the zest.



Drop by the teaspoonful onto greased baking sheets (or whatever you do with your baking sheets), spacing the cookies about an 1 in-1 1/2 in. apart.  The original recipe says to bake them for 20 minutes, but I found they were done in ten.  These cookies are soft and fluffy, so they’ll be done as soon as they start to brown on the edges even if they look raw in the middle.



Okay, so the reason I didn’t want to recommend any of the Chinese fiction I’ve read is because I didn’t care for it overwhelmingly.  It was good enough that I finished the books in 2 days or fewer, but they speak to this problem I have with contemporary Chinese fiction.  A lot of it is very crass and bleak and doesn’t have very strong characterization.  A lot of it is historical, as well, taking place in the Cultural Revolution most frequently.

I absolutely understand why, it’s just not something I’m really into.  Actually, Sinica, over on Pop-Up Chinese did an excellent podcast on Mo Yan that touched on the problems I have, which were shared by one of the guests on the program.  I tend to prefer more cosmopolitan fiction.  I definitely don’t want to say more “refined”… but I like books that deal more with contemporary city folk like myself rather than people in the countryside, which is what a lot of Chinese writers write about for obvious reasons.  I think writers like Yu Hua and Mo Yan are very talented and write beautiful books that I tend to tear through when I have the time, but I prefer Japanese writers on the whole because of how they write and the people they write about.

That said, I love Guo Xiaolu, who is obviously Chinese, and I recently discovered Ying Hong, who I think is fabulous.  I read her book Summer of Betrayal, which is about a young female poet during the Tiananmen Square massacre and in the months following.  Her characters were really strong and wonderful, and her main character went through such a delicately written and beautifully paced transformation.  I really haven’t seen another writer whose characters grow so easily and naturally.  The book is very political in a lot of ways, but the characters don’t get overshadowed by events.  If you can find it (I’ve had to request her other books through WorldCat), then I highly recommend it.  I’m about to start her short story collection of gay and lesbian fiction and have high hopes indeed.

Homemade Ravioli

17 May

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?



It looks like it’s finally spring here in Chicago.  I’ve been biking and running more, and it was so nice today that my class managed to convince our professor to have class outside.



I’ve also been so busy that I’ve stayed up late enough some nights to see things like this.



Now, this recipe.  I actually forgot about this for the longest time, which is silly.  I made these for a potluck I had with some friends… oh, I don’t know, a month or two ago?  I think right after spring break…  So a while.  And I’m sorry to say I haven’t been baking much, but I expect that will change soon enough.

So here we go.  A serious word of caution: get someone to help you roll out the dough for the love of god.  My forearms were in so much pain the next day, as were the palms of my hands.  I have mad respect for Italian grandmothers after this.  Also, this is the most imprecise recipe ever, so don’t feel obliged to follow it exactly.


  • 1 egg for every 3/4 cup of flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ricotta cheese (I ended up using 2/3 container)
  • pesto (you can use any filling you want, by the way)


I ended up making 5 servings, so I think I must have used 3 cups of flour and four eggs.  So what you want to do is take your flour and dump it on your counter or table, forming a well in the center.  Put the eggs, salt, and olive oil into the well.


Then, get your hands in there.  There’s no way around this; you just have to stick your hands in and knead it.  My roommate was totally grossed out, naturally, because it’s gross, but it’s also awesome.


Knead until the ingredients are well-incorporated.  The dough should be a little bit moist and kind of tacky–it should definitely not break off in clumps.  If it does, add a wee bit more egg.  Making pasta dough is about finding a balance between wet and dry, so experiment a little first if you’re going to make this for other people.  (I learned the hard way, as usual.)

Roll out the dough until it’s super thin–we’re talking 1/8 inch.  It will take forever.  Put on a movie.  Listen to The Ring Cycle.  Recruit your friends.  Embrace the pain.


Yours will probably look nicer than this.  I rolled out little chunks one by one and wrapped the dough I wasn’t working with in plastic wrap so it wouldn’t dry out.

Then, cut out the ravioli.


This part is way more fun.  So you’re going to need a little ravioli stamper.  They make fancier objects with which to make ravioli, but a) those are expensive and b) they’re really not necessary.

For the filling, I mixed ricotta cheese with some spoonfuls of pesto and threw in some slivered almonds for a nice crunch.


Take a spoonful of the filling and plop it on the dough.  Lay another rolled-out sheet on top, pinching around the filling a little bit so it doesn’t spread out.  Then, just stamp through both sheets.


Repeat ad nauseam.


I do highly recommend doing this with friends, which I did not for the most part, because it doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking.  Just rolling and stamping and rolling and stamping and also rolling, rolling, rolling…


But look at the finished product!  Store-bought dry pasta is so prevalent that it’s easy to forget how easy it is to make yourself, and so very rewarding.

Cook these for 4-8 minutes (this is also highly variable) in gently boiling water.

I’ve read some pretty good books lately, but actually the film Tampopo, by Juzo Itami is what I really wanted to talk about.  It’s a Japanese movie from the 1980s that is often called a ramen western, because it’s sort of a satire of American spaghetti westerns.  It’s a tremendous movie, and very sweet, and it’s really funny in how it satirizes so many aspects of American and Japanese culture.  Basically, it’s about this truck driver who rolls into town at stops at a noodle stand with this apprentice truck driver (played by Ken Watanabe, who looks like a little baby in this).  The ramen they have is pretty awful, so he gives the owner–a young widow–some tips and starts to head out when she begs him to teach her the ways of ramen-making.  Cue epic quest to make the perfect ramen.  The film is interspersed with vignettes of a western etiquette class gone awry, an old woman who compulsively squeezes food in a grocery store, and, my favorite, a number of scenes about a gangster and his girlfriend.  The gangster, incidentally, is played by Koji Yakusho, who was in Memoirs of a Geisha as one of the only Japanese people along with Ken Watanabe, and is also a total babe.

It’s kind of a hard movie to get a hole of, but if you can find it, I highly recommend it.  I’m doing a presentation on it for my art history class and have also been placed in the esteemed position of “person who works DVD player” to show it in my Japanese politics class.  (My professor let me borrow the DVD, which is from the Japanese consulate, so I feel terribly fancy.)