Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Garlic Noodles


It's all started when my oldest friend told me how much she loves eating garlic.  The first thing that came to mind was garlic noodles!  Luscious noodles covered in a savory butter sauce with lots of minced garlic.  I was told the noodles were so good the jumbo shrimps were not even necessary!  

Ingredients:

1-16 0z bag of lo mien noodles
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoon of finely minced garlic
3 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoon of chopped green onions
Parmesan cheese

1.  Boil the lo mein noodles in water until it's about 80% done.  I like my noodles with a firm bite, so it's important to NOT overcook the noodles
2.  Drain and set aside.
3.  Melt 1/2 stick of butter on medium heat and add the minced garlic.  Let the garlic infused in the butter and become fragrance.
4.  Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to the garlic butter.
5.  Toss in the lo mein noodles and coat the noodles with the sauce. Add the garlic powder to the noodles.
6.  Just when the noodles are about done add the chopped green onions.
7.  Serve with your choice of protein and top with rated Parmesan cheese.
8.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nuoc Cham - Vietnamese Fish Sauce/ Dipping Sauce

I secretly critique Vietnamese restaurant base on their nuoc cham.  Seriously 9/10 times it's right on the money!  If they have good nuoc cham, most likely their food will be decent as well.  The reasoning behind this theory stems from my mom.  She said "If you want to be good at Vietnamese cooking, practice making nuoc cham."  Making nuoc cham is combining and balancing different flavors; salty, sour, spicy, and sweet.  If you can learn to balance flavors then you can easily cook Vietnamese, it's really that simple.  If you know what the final product should taste like, think about what flavors are missing.  Get in the habit of tasting your food instead of relying on measurements.

I've been meaning to write an entry on nuoc cham for so long now, I can literally write a novel on it!  There are so many different ways to prepare nuoc cham. Nuoc cham for deep fried fish is not the same nuoc cham for spring rolls.  Nuoc cham for banh beo is not the same nuoc cham for banh bot loc.  Today I will share the recipe for a multi-purpose nuoc cham that you can use for many Vietnamese dishes.  Hopefully once you get the hang of making nuoc cham, you will no longer need to rely on measurements and just start making it by taste alone.  Here are a few helpful tips before you make your batch of nuoc cham.

1.  Fish Sauce:  
This is what makes the sauce so the brand does matter or I should say the concentration.  There are so many brands of fish sauce, I usually stick with the Vietnamese brand or the Squid brand (Thai) because it's what I know.   So you have the Squid Brand, Red Boat, 3 Crabs, and etc.  They all vary in prices due to how well it's filter and the purity of the product.  Squid is probably consider the worst quality and the cheapest, yet it's my only choice when I make nuoc cham.  Before you call me crazy, let me explain my reasoning (stems from mom)!  Squid brand is the most concentrated because it hasn't been filtered very much, therefore it is very salty and pungent.  It's the best to make nuoc cham because it has the most depth of flavor.  The more expensive brand are filtered and diluted for taste, therefore if you use it to make nuoc cham the flavors will get lost once you add water.  Basically you are diluting your fish sauce even more once you prepare your nuoc cham.  Don't get me wrong the expensive brand (filtered fish sauce) is good fish sauce but it's good on its own.  Once you start adding water, sugar, and lime it's going to dilute it and it will lose its flavor.  I prefer Squid brand because it's the most concentrated and salty.  I use the Squid brand when I cook as well because you don't need to use a lot of it compare to the expensive brand. 

2. Vinegar Vs Lime
Both are fine to use but I prefer lime because it just gives the nuoc cham some freshness.  

3.  Boiling the water
It's important to use boiling water so you can dissolve all the sugar so you can actually taste the sweetness.  Note that not all nuoc cham required water such as the ones for deep fried fish.  

4.  Garlic
Some nuoc cham are more syrupy (such as the one use for banh hoi and heo quay) which is made by smashing garlic together with the sugar.  If the food doesn't call for a syrupy nuoc cham you can just minced it up finely.

5.  Boiling Water > Sugar > Minced Garlic > Chilli > Lime > Fish Sauce
Remember this step if you want to start making nuoc from taste, trust me it's better than measuring!  Add boiling water to the sugar and stir so it dissolved.  Let the sugar water cool.  Add the minced garlic and fresh chili.  Add about 1/2 a lime first.  Then slowly start adding the fish sauce.  As you are adding more fish sauce, taste to see what it is missing.  More lime? More fish sauce?  More chili? Add whatever you feel is needed!

6.  For some reason when you store your prepared fish sauce in the fridge it tend to get diluted, so I usually make it a little saltier when I make them to store.  I know pickled carrots (do chua) taste really good in nuoc cham but avoid storing them together otherwise your nuoc cham will get diluted.
7.  Below is the recipe for a basic nuoc cham for spring rolls, cha gio, banh xeo, bun thit nuong, and the likes.  Usually nuoc cham for banh beo, banh uot, and banh cuon calls for a sweeter fish sauce so just use a little more sugar then the recipe below.  Good luck!

Ingredients: This will make one big container.

3 cups of boiling water
3/4-1 cup of sugar (for a sweeter nuoc cham use 1 cup)
1 lime (1/4 cup)
~ 3/4-1 cup of fish sauce (I use Squid brand, if you are using a more filtered fish sauce you will need to use more)
fresh chili (your liking)

1.  Boil your water and then add it to the sugar.  Stir the sugar to dissolved and let the sugar water cool down.

2.  Add the minced garlic and fresh chili.  If you add garlic to hot sugar water, it will turn green. 

3.  Add 1 lime. 

4.  Measure out one cup of fish sauce, you may or may not use the whole 1 cup.  Slowly add your fish sauce and taste as you add additional fish sauce.  Note:  If you are using a filtered fish sauce you may need to use more than 1 cup. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Che Chuoi - Banana Coconut Pudding

Not only am I not a huge fan of dessert, I don't even like eating bananas.  Oddly there is something so comforting and tasty about a bowl of che chuoi, and it's making me break all my rules.  My sister-in-law taught me how to make this che over the phone, so it's quite simple to make.

This che does require a specific type of banana, the short Asian bananas (looks like baby bananas).  I'm sure you can use regular bananas but it won't taste as good.  The short bananas has more starch, is more firm, and is less sweet than regular bananas.  It will hold up better during the cooking process and there will be more of a bite to it (regular bananas will get too mushy).  Make sure the bananas are ripe before making this che otherwise these short bananas will have a bitter taste. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 hand of RIPED banana (the short Asian kind if possible)
1 can of coconut
2 cups of cubed cassava roots (I use the frozen kind)
1/4 cup of tapioca pearls
sugar
salt
water

1.  Cut bananas down about 1 inch in length.  Marinate bananas with about 5 tablespoon of sugar, let it marinate overnight so you can make it the next day.
2.  Boil the cassava roots until it's about 60% done, you will finish cooking it in the coconut milk.  I like my cassava roots pretty firm otherwise it will fall apart.  Cube the cassava roots to about 1/2 inch.
3.  Wash your tapioca pearls.
4.  Pour the entire can of coconut milk in a large pot on medium heat.  Fill up that coconut milk can with water and stir it in with the coconut milk.
5.  Add the cubed cassava roots and the tapioca pearl.  Add about 4-5 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt.  More or less sugar depending on how sweet you like, don't forget the bananas were marinated with additional sugar.
6.  Let the cassava roots cook in the coconut milk until the tapioca pearl has expand.
7.  Add the marinated bananas.  Let the bananas cook until it's tender.  I like my bananas firm so it's about 10 minutes.
8.  Transfer to bowl and enjoy with roasted peanuts.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thit Heo Quay - Crispy Pork Belly

The nearest Chinatown is roughly 2 hours away from us, therefore food such as roasted pork or duck is just out of the question.  We have to travel all the way to Chicago just for some good BBQ meat.  It's such a shame because there are so many Vietnamese dishes that calls for roasted pork.

Last fall I got the chance to learn how to make roasted pork at home.  It was so incredibly easy and to be honest it was better than store bought; the skin was so incredibly crispy.  It's as easy as dumping salt on a slab of pork belly and popping it in the oven.  All you really need to do is make a rub out of salt, sugar, and whatever spices you prefer.  I usually go for a classic five spice rub to go with my Vietnamese dishes.  But be creative with your rub, crispy pork belly is such as universal dish.

Crispy roasted pork is good on it's own but here are some my favorite ways to eat thit heo quay.  I will eventually post recipe for each of the dish below, bare with me!

1.  Banh Hoi:  Thinly woven vermicelli noodles with sweet garlic fish sauce and plenty of fresh greens.
2.  Bun Mam Nem:  Vermicelli noodle with fermented fish paste, pickled carrots, and assorted fresh vegetables.
                
3.  Chao:  Shredded roasted pork congee with 1000 year old duck egg.
                

Ingredients:  

A slab of pork belly
vinegar

Five Spice Rub:
(This is the ratio of the rub, you want to use just enough to cover the size of your pork belly)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of salt (a little less than 1/2)
1/4 cup five spice powder
2 tablespoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon of paprika

1.  Wash your pork belly well.  Use paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.
2.  You want to use something sharp or pointy to poke holes in the surface of the skin, this pretty much allows the fat underneath to rise up and crisp up the skin.  I like using a razor or the pointy tool below (I have no idea what it is, but I found it in my dad's garage).  Razors are harder to handle especially on tough pork skin, so you might want to go with some pointy to be safe.
3.  Marinate the meat side of the pork belly with the rub.  Don't forget the rub above is a ratio.  You just want to use enough of it to cover the meat.  You can poke holes or cut into the meat so the rub will season the inside of meat better.  I usually keep it whole unless it's a thicker slab of meat.  You don't really need to a marinate the pork belly for a really long (about and hour or less for me), because once you pop it in the oven the rub is not going anywhere it's just going to form a flavorful crust.
4.  I like placing a cooking rack on top of pan and then putting it in the oven.  When cooking the fat will drip down to the pan. Try to position the cooking rack as low as you can in the oven because you will be using the broiler.  It would be better if the pork belly is not to close to the heat source otherwise it will burn too fast.
5.  Set the oven at 350 degrees on broil.  Place the pork belly meat side up and let it roast until it browns (approx. 25-30 minutes).
6.  Take pork belly out and wipe the skin dry from all the moisture.  Brush some vinegar on the skin, this will keep the skin dry and allows the skin to crisp up.  Place the pork belly back in the oven skin side up until it browns and crisp up.  Keep eye on the skin because some parts may burn faster so you might need to re-position your pork belly in the oven.  Whenever there is too much moisture on the skin, you'll want to take it out and wipe of the moisture.  Brush more vinegar on the skin and pop it back in the oven.
7.  When the skin has brown and crisp up enough, remove and let it cool.
8.  Cut up your pork belly and enjoy it however you like.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nui Xao Bo - Stir Fry Beef Rice Macaroni

This fun and delicious stir fry wasn't around when I was little but nowadays it's all over Vietnam.  It is the Vietnamese take on Western pasta, which have gain a lot of popularity amongst children and teens.  I remember trying it for the first time several years ago in Saigon, it was an awesome mix of both worlds.  You get the rich tomato flavor but then you get hints of familiar Asian seasoning.  Unlike Western pasta where the sauce is pile on top, Vietnamese pasta is more dry.  The sauce is part of the the seasoning that coat the macaroni, the sauteed beef seasoned perfectly is piled on top, and then you get some fresh veggies on the side to help cut some of the oil.  I make this almost weekly because it doesn't take a lot of time and effort.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 bag 14 oz
1 lb sliced beef
1 yellow onion (sliced)
4 stalk of green onions (cut into 1 in)
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1 teaspoon of minced shallot
cilantro (garnish)
tomato (garnish)
cucumber (garnish)
fish sauce
tomato paste
oyster sauce
sugar
soy sauce
black pepper

1.  Boil rice macaroni until about 75% done, otherwise it will break when you stir fry it.  Drain water and set aside for later.
2.  Marinade beef with 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar.
3.  Heat up oil in a wok, add the garlic and shallots until fragrance. Add the sliced onions and green onions, then add the beef.  Stir fry everything until beef is cooked.  Remove and set aside.
4.  Heat up 4 tablespoon of oil in a wok, add the rice macaroni, 1/4 cup of tomato paste, 2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon of fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Make sure you coat the macaroni with all the liquid ingredients and tomato paste evenly. Stir fry macaroni until it's al dente or tender to your liking.
5.  Add the sauteed beef from earlier back in the wok.  Your stir fry is ready for eating.
6.  Transfer to a plate and garnish with chopped cilantro, cucumber, tomato, and a dash of ground pepper on top.
7.  Enjoy!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bo Vien - Vietnamese Beef Balls

I'm a huge fan of bo vien, Vietnamese beef balls, made popular by pho.  Frozen bo vien nowadays is not the same quality as before.  I get that it's processed meat but lately i'm unsure if it's meat i'm eating or just a bunch of fillers.  A year ago I decided i'm never going to buy frozen bo vien again, i'm making my own from now on!

I was fortunate to learn the basics of making bo vien from my friend's mother several years ago.  She always had homemade bo vien in the freezer.  It was so good, we would eat it by itself with Sriracha.  Unlike the frozen bo vien, you can actually taste and feel the meat.  Don't mistake dense bo vien as quality bo vien, the denseness is actually just flours mixed in with the meat.  Homemade bo vien are chewy and spongy!  

I never got the chance to write down the exact measurements but I knew exactly what goes into making bo vien. Took several tries but I came up with something i'm satisfied with.  Beware homemade bo vien is A LOT of work because the process is very time consuming. The key to making good springy bo vien is the process of stretching and binding; which require using the food processor over and over again and time in the freezer.

What kind of meat should you buy?  You can buy the mot expensive cut like shank or you can buy something more wallet friendly like ground chuck or even ground beef.  I usually wait for a sale on ground beef so I can stock up.  Go for something with more fat (I use 80/20), lean meat tends to be dry.  I like trimming the fat on beef products and save it to make bo vien.

Why is it time consuming?  Once you mix all the ingredients together, the next step is to grind it into a paste in the food processor.  You want to grind it at least 3 times, the more times you grind your meat the springier the texture of the beef balls.  That doesn't sound too bad right?  There is more!  In between using the food processor, you have to let the meat rest in the freezer so that the meat will bind together.  Basically you grind your meat, you let it rest in the freezer, and then you repeat that at least 2 more times.  After every round of grinding, the meat will get heavier and heavier.  Therefore you have to grind less at a time or you might risk breaking your processor.  Now just imagine doing all that with 4 pounds of meat, it literally take up the whole of the day.

If you are still reading this, let's go make some bo vien!

Ingredients:

4 lbs of ground beef ( 80/20)
1 bulk of garlic (finely minced)
1 teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper
5 tablespoon of fish sauce ( I used the Squid brand which is saltier than most other brand)
3 tablespoon of sugar
1 bag of alsa baking powder
3 tablespoon of tapioca starch
crushed ice
vegetable oil

1.  Combine all the ingredients except for the crushed ice and tapioca starch.  Thoroughly mix everything together.
2.  I divided the mixture into 3 batch, maybe more or less depending on the size of your food processor.
3.  Start the first round of grinding, the easiest round. Put the first batch in the food processor and start grinding.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of tapioca starch for each batch as it is grinding.  Continue to let it grind until it become paste like, see picture below.
 
 4.  Once you grind all three batch into a paste, combine in a bowl and let it rest in the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.  Make sure you wrap the bowl up well so it doesn't harden.
5.  Take the beef paste out of the freezer.  Start round 2 of grinding.  The meat should be heavier than before so you might want to grind it in smaller batches.  Adding a little bit of crushed ice will help the grinding.
6. Start the second round of resting in the freezer, don't forget to wrap it up well again.
7. Repeat the grinding and resting at least one more time.
8.  Remove from freezer.  Now you begin balling your beef paste.  It's up to you how large or small you want it to be.  I like making mind large to save time, and whenever I eat it I just cut it up.  Rub some vegetable oil on your finger and hand to help you ball more easily.
9.  Once you ball up all the beef paste, cook them in boiling water.
10.  Remove cooked beef balls and place in an ice bath.
11.  Remove from ice bath.   They are now ready to eat or for storage in the freezer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lau Thai - Thai Style Hotpot


It seems like for every occasion my family always rely on hotpot. Not only is it delicious and easy to eat, it is also fun and interactive for gathering.  We love eating all kinds of hotpot; there is lau mam (fermented fish hotpot), lau nam (mushrom hotpot), lau cua (crab hotpot), lau hai san (seafood hotpot), and lau Thai (Thai style hotpot).  Our favorite has to be Thai style hotpot because it's salty, sweet, spicy, and sour; a little bit of everything.  If you are a fan of Thai Tom Yum soup, you will love this hotpot!  It is eaten with rice vermicelli noodle and a varieties of meats, seafood, and vegetables.

Hotpot is pretty easy to make as well, it's just a lot preparation.  The thing I love about eating hotpot is you can eat it all day!  We usually eat hotpot for lunch, again for dinner, and then if we have some leftover we'll have it again the next day.  For that reason I usually make a huge pot of broth and after every eating session I replace the old broth with new broth.  If you are planning to have a hotpot marathon make sure you buy a lot vegetables and meat.

My Thai style hotpot is made very similar to Thai tom yum soup.  I actually use a store brought paste that is labeled as seasoning paste for Canh Chua (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup) but it taste more like Tom Yum to me.  There are a lot of these paste at all Asian grocery stores but Golden Boy brand (picture below) is my favorite.  I sauteed this paste with lots of minced shallots and lemongrass which helps fragrance the broth.   There is one other secret ingredients that nobody every gets after eating my broth but I will happily share it with all of you.  I also add mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste) with the seasoning paste, which give the broth its saltiness.  I basically make my broth very similar to Bun Bo Hue but without the beef broth.  The broth is made with canned chicken broth, pineapple juice, lemongrass, tamarind pulp, kaffir lime leave, and my seasoning paste.  I also add one can of coco rico soda for sweetness and also as a tenderizer for meats.  Last but certainly not least, it has to be spicy.  I add a special hot chili oil to the broth for spiciness (picture below).
Now onto the meats and vegetables!  No hotpot can be without meats and vegetables; there should always be an abundant amount for both.  Thai hotpot is the most versatile because almost any meats and vegetables will be great with the broth.  Most common ingredients are mushrooms, water spinach, banana blossom, beef, shrimp, squit, clams, mussels, tomatoes, tofu, and the list goes on.  Since I have limited access to Asian vegetables I usually go with watercress, enoki mushrom, oyster mushroom, and nappa cabbage.  As for as meat you litterally can you any type of sliced beef and seafood.  Today I felt like only using seafood.  Happy eating!

Ingredients:  I won't be listing amounts for the vegetables, meats, and seafood because it really depends on how much you want to eat.  Make sure you get plenty because it would be a damper if you run out!  Prepare the ingredients below for eating.

Napa Cabbage
Watercress
Enoki Mushroom
Oyster Mushroom
Tilapia filet
Shrimp
Cuttlefish
Rice Vermicelli Noodle
Broth:  

6 cups of canned chicken broth
2 cups of pineapple juice
1 can of coco rico
6 cups of water
1 cup of Golden Boy brand paste (or similar seasoning)
1/4 cup of mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste)
1/4 cup of sugar
4 lemongrass stalk
2 kaffir lime leave
1/4 cup of minced lemon grass
3 tablespoon of minced shallot
4 tablespoon of cooking oil

1.  Combine chicken broth, pineapple juice, water, lemongrass stalk, and kaffir lime leaves in a pot.   Let everything cook for about 30 minutes on medium heat.
2.  Heat up oil in a sauce pan.  Add the minced lemongrass and shallots and let it cook in the oil until fragrance.  Then add the Golden Boy paste, mam ruoc, and sugar.  Sauteed everything on low heat.   I usually make extra of this paste so that I can add more to the broth, because as you eat and put in more ingredients the broth will get diluted.  Unless you want to keep replacing the broth.
3.  Transfer to the broth. Let the paste cook into the broth.  
4.  Broth is ready for eating, transfer broth to a hotpot.  Add the hot chili oil to your liking.
5.  Once the hotpot comes to a boil add the fresh ingredients to cook and enjoy everything with vermicelli noodle.