Perfect Half Boiled Eggs

Sometimes we open our fridge and wonder how do we run out of eggs so fast and then only to realize that of course they run out fast, we're big egg eaters. We've become smarter now by snagging two cartons each time we're at the grocery store. Given that there are only the two of us at home, we used to think a carton would certainly suffice for at least a week but that thought wasn't quite accurate. Each of us have two eggs for breakfast a few days of the week, and coupled with my baking frequency, those eggs really do disappear fast.

We enjoy our eggs in many different ways; sunny side up, over easy, or crushed with our salad. One of my very much favorite way is half boiling them. There's a fine line between half boiled and soft boiled. A soft boiled egg has the yolk still a little runny in the middle but the outer layer of the yolk is still cooked enough to hold it's shape. The egg white is soft but not runny. A half boiled egg, on the hand, is runny for both the yolk and the egg white. When you crack the egg, a perfect half boiled egg should slide right out of the shell into the bowl. And once you poke the yolk, it should burst and ooze out smoothly.

My late grandmother made the perfect half boiled eggs. As a kid I had them almost everyday for breakfast and I loved how I could slurp everything up from the little bowl without a spoon. However, I would always still use a mini spoon to eat the soft runny eggs bit by bit, just for the sake of savoring it. When I went away to college, I missed her soft runny eggs. When I went home for the holidays, I tried learning how to make it from her. It seemed so effortless on her part. She told me that all I had to do was boil some water and then pour the boiling water into a metal cup with the eggs inside. And then all I had to do was cover the metal cup with a lid for a few minutes and then keep the lid open for a few minutes. I came back to my apartment and tried and tried but failed to make the perfect half boiled eggs. They either came out too solid or still uncooked. I asked my grandmother exactly how many minutes did the lid need to be on but I never got an exact answer. The older generation does have a way of producing fantastic results with only mental recipes in the head.

My failure in producing the perfect runny half boiled eggs were getting a little frustrating and I actually stopped trying to make them at one point. Soon enough, the craving got the better of me and I was on a venture again on trying to create the perfect half boiled egg. A lot of attention was given to making it perfect and many times I felt like I was doing a science experiment. And now my successful science experiment has given me many mornings of perfect half boiled eggs. My method is different from my grandmother's but it still produces the same perfect texture. I lost my grandmother two days before Christmas but now every time I slurp up my half boiled eggs, I feel like I'm celebrating her life and legacy. Those are great memories.

2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
Freshly ground pepper

1. Take the eggs out from the fridge when ready to prepare them and place them in a deep saucepan. Fill the saucepan with water until just about covering the eggs.

2. Gradually heat the water under slightly above medium heat. For example, there are 6 levels on my stove and I use level 4. Do not cover the saucepan and be careful not to bring the water to a vigorous boil.

3. With some patience, keep watch over the saucepan. Tiny air bubbles will gradually form at the bottom of the saucepan. As the water gets more heated, once every few seconds an air bubble will float from the bottom of the saucepan all the way to the surface of the water. Gradually the air bubbles will float to the surface of the water more often one after another. When there are about 6-7 air bubbles that float up right after one another, turn off the heat. It is important that those air bubbles float up literally one after another because it means that the water has reached the right temperature to create the runny texture we want in the eggs. If an air bubble floats up a few seconds after the preceding one, this means that the water has not quite reached the right temperature yet which will result in undercooked eggs. The time from when you first turn on the heat to when you turn it off should be around 10 minutes.

4. Remove the saucepan from the burner and place on another section of the stove top that is cool and unused. Let sit for at least 2 minutes for the cooking process to complete. The eggs will not be overcooked even if you let it sit for more than 2 minutes. This works out well when you're in the kitchen and starting to work on other things.

5. Crack open the eggs into a small bowl and add freshly ground pepper over the eggs.

Note: Every stove in a household varies so it's best to have a trial and error first. When I make my eggs, I pay less attention to the number of minutes to heat the water. Instead, I always use the count-the-bubbles trick and it always works wonderfully for me.


Honey Vanilla Challah

Traditionally eaten during Sabbath meals or Jewish holidays, there are many reasons to love the taste of challah that I think many non-Jewish today have challah as part of their bread consumption. I know that at least T and I do. The sweetness from the honey and egginess (if that word even exists) of the bread makes us go mmmmm. The braids hold the bread together and yet it's soft enough to tear a section of it with our hands, if not slicing it.

We had ours with butter and fig jam in the morning. In the afternoon, they would make a perfect deli-style sandwich. Perhaps if there are some of the slices left in a few days' time, we would use them to make french toast for breakfast since bread that is a few days old always make fantastic french toast. And with maple syrup and cinnamon, who can resist?

We always have a lot of bread at home and the reason is that it is so versatile. If we're out of yogurt for breakfast, we have bread. Sometimes we just need to fix a quick lunch to bring with us to work and we have bread in the kitchen that comes in handy. The only one difference on how we like to store bread between T and I is that he always likes to refrigerate the loaf of bread while I like to keep it in room temperature. In his defense, refrigerating bread prolongs the shelf life of the bread. He also likes his bread toasted so keeping them in the fridge is not a problem at all since toasting the bread will help warm it up anyway. On the other hand, I like my bread untoasted and when suddenly there's no more bread left in the bread bin on our kitchen counter and I need to fix something quick with bread, I would have to resort to toasting the bread in the fridge.

Adapted from Baking and Books

1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
4 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup of warm milk (110-115 degrees F)
2 egg
4 tablespoons olive oil + 1 teaspoon for greasing the bowl
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey

1 egg
1 teaspoon olive oil

1. In the mixing bowl of the electric mixer, combine yeast, sugar, salt, and 1 cup of flour. Add in warm milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons olive oil, honey, and vanilla. Measure the olive oil first using the tablespoon followed by the honey; the honey will slide out smoothly without sticking to the tablespoon. With the dough hook attachment, mix the ingredients under medium speed until combined while scraping down the sides of the bowl. Mixture will be a little clumpy at this point. Gradually add in the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time while allowing the mixture to be almost well combined before adding the next batch of flour. Mix the dough until stiff.

2. Remove dough and place on a floured surface. Gently knead the dough for a few minutes with your hands. If the dough is sticky, add in a tablespoon of flour at a time just enough to prevent it from sticking to the surface or your hands. Continue kneading. Lightly press a finger onto the dough and it should bounce back. The dough is slightly firm dough which will make the braiding easier later on.

3. In a clean large bowl, grease the bottom and sides of the bowl with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Put the dough into the mixing bowl and turn the dough once over so that the top will be coated with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or until double in size.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently press your fingers onto the dough inside the mixing bowl to deflate it. On a separate surface also lined with parchment paper, place the dough onto this surface. Divide the dough equally into 3 portions. Roll out each portion into a smooth and thick strip about 20 inches in length, with the ends of the strips a little thinner than the middle. Lay these ropes side-by-side but not touching on the lined baking sheet.

5. Braid the lower half of the ropes first, beginning in the middle of the ropes and working towards you. Alternately move the outside ropes over the center rope: left over, right over, left over, right over, until you come to the end. Rotate the baking sheet so that the unbraided section now faces you. This time, move the outside ropes under the center rope. Braid the ropes tightly without any space between the ropes as the dough will expand and rise when baking. Crimp both ends of the braided dough and tuck the ends under.

6. Cover the baking sheet loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by whisking together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Gently brush the surface of the dough with a thick layer of the glaze. Place the dough in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the baking sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool before slicing.


Penne with Tuna and Tomato

Jamie Oliver didn't lie when he said this was a quick afternoon pasta. I put this together on a day when we were both working from home due to the notorious blizzard that hit Chicago. The blizzard of 2011 will be remembered for a very long time. Chicago is excellent in dealing with inches and inches of snow every year without the need of closure for school or work but the fact that Chicago became a ghost town after the blizzard showed the magnitude of this year's blizzard. And so there we were at home in front of our laptops at work. It wasn't very much a fun snowed-in day for T either as he spent the entire day on multiple conference calls for work from morning until the sun was starting to set. This dish was whipped up in no time. No fuss required. Before I knew it, we were eating away at our computers.

Good quality tuna is preferred for this pasta dish. The taste and flavor of this meal are light since there is no heavy sauce used here and therefore having good quality canned tuna is essential in bringing out the flavor of the pasta dish.

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Jool's favorite Saturday afternoon pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
1 red bird's eye chilli
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed from sprigs
14.5 oz canned diced tomatoes
5 oz canned good-quality tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
1/2 lb penne
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a pan and add in the onion, chilli, cinnamon, and thyme. Cook under medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the onions become soft.

2. Turn to high heat and add the tomatoes and tuna. Season with salt. Stir until well combined. Cover the pan and let simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salt water to boil and cook the penne until al dente. Drain the pasta and toss with the tomato and tuna sauce.

4. Dish into serving bowls and sprinkle a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese over the pasta.


Hawaiian Oxtail Soup

Oxtails make sudden appearances at grocery stores when I least expect them too. I made a trip to Whole Foods once in search of oxtails and thinking that Ahhh surely Whole Foods has them and came home with nothing except maybe with a tinge of disappointment. Lo and behold, the next day during a trip to our local Jewel store for another purpose altogether, there were oxtails displayed at the meat section. Of course I grabbed them right away even if it meant that they had to stay in our freezer for awhile before I got a chance to cook them since making oxtail soup does take awhile. It's not the preparation that takes time but rather the simmering which takes hours which isn't necessarily a bad thing actually since that is perfect opportunity to work on other things while the pot is sitting on the stove.

Unlike other rich and hearty oxtail stews that I've come to know, this Hawaiian oxtail soup comes in a clear light broth. Despite the broth being clear and seemingly light, the aromatic flavors are present and intensified from several hours of simmering. The meat becomes so tender it readily falls off the bone. It's welcoming when you need a non-heavy yet fulfilling dish. We ate it with steaming white rice and a side of sliced chili peppers.

Adapted from Simply Recipes:

2 - 2 1/2 lbs oxtails
1 strip dried orange peel
2 star anise
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
Salt to taste
1/2 cup shelled, skinned, and raw peanuts (or roasted unsalted peanuts)
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
Bunch of fresh mustard greens, chopped

Cilantro, chopped
Scallions, chopped

1. In a large pot, fill with water until just covering the oxtails and bring to boil. Parboil for 30 minutes. Drain water from the pot and rinse oxtails in cold water. Trim excess fat from oxtails.

2. Return the oxtails to the pot and fill water until the oxtails are fully covered with water by about an inch. Add orange peel, star anise, ginger slices, white peppercorns, and salt. You can always add more salt later to taste. Cover the pot and when water comes to boil, bring it down to a simmer for one hour. Add the peanuts and continue to simmer for 2-3 hours  until meat is tender.

3. Skim off the fat from the soup. If you plan on letting the soup sit overnight in the fridge (which I highly recommend as it will intensify the flavors), turn off the heat at this point and wait to skim off the fat until the next morning as the fat will solidify thereby making it easier to remove the fat.

4. Bring the soup to a simmer and add in the chopped mustard greens. Cook for several minutes until the mustard greens are tender.

5. Dish out into bowls and top with a handful of chopped cilantro and scallions.