Pandanus Crème Brûlée – Kem Nướng Lá Dứa

 

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Ah, crème brûlée, I remember you well. I first tasted you on a big-girl date wearing big-girl heels and blue eye shadow. We were so young (and so regrettably unfashionable) then, weren’t we? And now, that boyfriend-turned-psycho is but a distant memory and I’m no longer a size 2, yet and yet, you’re still with me, after all this time. How nice of you…

You know, I’m a self-professed vanilla custard purist. I don’t go for the lemongrass/thyme/verbeena/yuzu/sha la la la/sha la la la- infusions. I want plain, vanilla bean custard – c’est tout. But, for no apparent reason, I bucked all that and made crème brûlée with one of my favorite flavorings – pandanus (Lá Dứa.)

 

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Pandanus is a fragrant, green leaf, sometimes referred to as Asian vanilla because of its sweet, earthy perfume. Vietnamese recipes call for steeping the leaves in coconut milk, soy milk, silken tofu or sticky rice for various dessert dishes. It can also be used in savory dishes where it is steamed with jasmine or basmati rice or as a wrapper for fish, seafood or meat. I don’t know how to best describe its flavor and perfume but I know it’s one of my favorite scents. (If, by chance, anyone has the Dior or Chanel hookup, a pandanus-scented perfume would be really awesome.)

I’m very, very pleased with the flavor of this dessert and my heretical leap. The pandanus flavor was not too strong or overpowering as I was fearing but just enough to make me want to hair spray my bangs and wear a cropped, pink tank top all over again. It’s that good.

 

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PANDANUS CRÈME BRÛLÉE – KEM NỨỚNG LÁ DỨA

adapted from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book 2

INGREDIENTS (6 servings):

  • 4 cups (1 L) cream [I used Calder's]
  • 7 pandanus leaves (if fresh is not available, you can find these in the freezer — oftentimes near the frozen banana leaves at many Asian grocery stores) — tied into a knot.
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup (225 g) superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup (112 g) superfine sugar (for the topping)

STEPS:

Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Place the cream and pandanus leaf bundle in a saucepan over low heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until well combined. Slowly pour over the cream mixture to the saucepan and stir over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes or until thick enough to coat the pack of a spoon. Remove the pandanus leaves and strain the mixture into 6 x 3/4 cup (each 6 fl. oz/185ml) capacity ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking dish and pour in enough hot water to come up halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the custard is set. [You can test by gently wiggling the ramekin - the outer edge should be almost set and the center should jiggle like Jell-O]

Place the ramekins on a baking tray, sprinkle with the extra sugar and allow to stand for 2 minutes. Place ice cubes in the tray around the ramekins, place under a preheated broiler and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the sugar is melted and golden.

Check out these blog posts:

Crème brûlée with Jen’s amazing step-by-step photos at Use Real Butter

Crème brûlée from Nordljus

Crème brûlée from WhatsForLunchHoney

Bon appétit!

 

 

Weekly Salad 12: Escarole and Boudin Blanc

 

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Escarole is one of my favorite greens. I like the pale, yellow center leaves that are surrounded by lush green outer leaves. I’m not sure why, but it seems escarole does not enjoy quite the same popularity here in the States as in Europe. There, it makes its way to the table in numerous ways. You can often find it tossed into salads with other slightly bitter greens like endive, frisée and radicchio; gently braised with butter or olive oil; or cooked with beans in a soup, both allowing its slight bitterness to mellow out. And so, you’re left with a delicate green that has the sweetness of ice berg lettuce but the texture of young napa cabbage.
    To make this salad, pan-sear and cook the boudin blanc (I used German weisswurst – a similar type of sausage from Alexander Hornung). Slice the sausage and toss with escarole and toasted pine nuts. Serve with a red wine vinaigrette that is heavy on dijon mustard.

     

    Bon appétit!

     

    Cà Ri Gà – Vietnamese Chicken Curry

     

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    Cà ri gà is a staple in most Vietnamese homes. Growing up, this version was the only curry I ever knew. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I finally tried Indian, Thai and Malay curries. There were green, red, yellow – made from dry spice blends as well as “wet” curries from ground roots, stems and spices. They all are fantastic yet this curry is the one I come back to most often as it is the one I grew up eating. It is not as thick as other curries and the coconut milk’s flavor is highly pronounced here. Vietnamese like to add sweet potatoes (khoai lan), which I think is just brilliant, bah oui. The potatoes’ sweetness is a lovely contrast to the spicy heat of the curry. Generally, this is another dish that requires a healthy portion of warm, crusty bread which is then hand-torn at the table and dunked into the sauce for maximum curry enjoyment.

    I cut up a whole chicken for this dish, which is something I haven’t done for some time with pre-cut chicken being so readily available and convenient. I saved the back bone for making stock. The rest got cut up and added to the curry. I like to make my own spice blend but I’ve recently come across a ready-made one that I really like — it’s the Whole Foods brand of Muchi curry powder. It has a good amount of cayenne in it so it’s just spicy enough for me. My mother normally adds a couple of bay leaves but I really like to use Kaffir lime leaves because they add an incredible fragrance. I also use Savoy brand coconut milk – see photo below for the image [provided for Jen's benefit] :) I think Chaokoh is another reliable brand, but Savoy is the creamiest, thickest and most fragrant brand I’ve found. Of course, you could use any old brand, but as Paris Hilton would say, Life is too short for mediocrity.

     

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    CÀ RI GÀ – VIETNAMESE CHICKEN CURRY

    INGREDIENTS: (4 servings)

    • 1 whole cut up chicken (approx. 3.5 lb/1.5 kg), backbone reserved for stock-making
    • 1 heaping Tbl (~ 15g) Muchi curry powder or 1 Tbl. madras curry powder + 1 tsp. red chili paste
    • 1/4 tsp.(~1g) fresh ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp. (~5g) salt
    • 2 large stalks of fresh lemongrass, green tops removed (you’ll only use the whitish, bottom 1/3 of the plant) — which is cut into roughly 2-inch pieces and bruised with the back of a knife
    • 3 large shallots, halved
    • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
    • 2 bay leaves or 2 Kaffir lime leaves
    • 2 (14oz/400mL) cans of coconut milk
    • approx. 2-3 cups of chicken broth or water
    • 1 Tbl. (~15mL) fish sauce (+ more to taste)
    • 1 tsp. (~5g) sugar
    • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes, cut into 2-inch cubes
    • 1 Tbl. cooking oil

    STEPS:

      Marinate the cut chicken with the curry powder, black pepper and salt for about 1/2 hour. Add oil to your pan and set the heat to high. Sear the marinated chicken until golden on all sides (you may want to do this in several batches to avoid steaming the chicken) — set aside on a separate platter. In the same pan, use a spoon to scoop out the top, thick and creamy part of the coconut can (not the bottom, liquidy part) and add that to the pan and cook on medium-high heat until it begins to seize and the fat begins to bead and separate. The coconut cream will be very fragrant at this point. Put all the chicken pieces back into the pan and add the lemongrass, garlic, shallots and lime leaves. Add enough chicken broth or water to cover the chicken and then add the fish sauce and sugar. Bring to a light simmer and cook on medium heat for approximately 20 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes [edit: add more water to barely cover the chicken and potatoes] and cook until they are tender (approximately 15 minutes). Just before turning off the heat, add the rest of the coconut liquid to the pot and gently stir to combine. Serve with warm baguette.

      Check out these other blog posts:

      Cà Ri Gà – Vietnamese Chicken Curry from WanderingChopsticks

      Cà Ri Gà – Vietnamese Chicken Curry from WineGuyWorld

       

      Bon appétit!

       

      Weekly Salad 11: Sauté of Watercress with Apple and Bacon

       

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      I like to order sautéed watercress or pea shoots at Chinese restaurants. When properly cooked, they seem to taste sweeter and so palatable that I can easily eat one or two bundles of watercress in one sitting. Would that keep me regular? Whatever. Today’s salad is a quickie with watercress that is quickly sautéed [I bruised a whole garlic clove and added it to the oil - and removed it after cooking it along with the watercress] and served with crispy bacon and fresh apple slices. A strong, mustardy vinaigrette was delicious drizzled over the salad. Dare I say that it’s also low carb?

       

      Bon appétit!

       

      Maple Sugaring and Oatmeal Pancakes

       

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      Last weekend, we went to Kensington Park to check out their maple sugar trees and watch how sap is collected and boiled to make maple syrup. Did you know it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup? That is a lot of sap! Our enthusiastic guide showed us how he taps the trees and collects the syrup in covered, metal tins. Afterwards, he led us the the Sugar Shack where they boil the sap. After the maple tour, we also checked out the farm area that had plenty of newborn piglets and baby goats. They also had a good-size chicken house and chickens that I coveted greatly ;) Local parks in the area are continuing to educate the public on the history and practice of collecting maple syrup this month. See below for a couple of nearby parks and their programs.

      Let us not forget the pancakes. Before we went on our tour, we enjoyed a [windy and frigid] outdoor picnic of some rather delicious oatmeal pancakes that I made and some wonderful Orange, Cinnamon and Raisin Sweet Rolls with fragrant orange butter made by the talented Warda of 64sqftkitchen. We topped our pancakes with some fresh fruit (thanks to Christina). And luckily, we were able to keep warm with some Vietnamese coffee, soy milk and Ovaltine (thanks to Bobby and Vilay).

       

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      KENSINGTON METRO PARK
      2240 W. Buno Road, Milford, MI 48380
      Phone: 248-684-8632

      Maple’s Sweet Story March weekends, Farm Learning Center. Stop in for a hot breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon, then visit the sugar bush and the sugar shack from noon to 3 p.m. to see how maple trees are tapped and the sap is collected and boiled into syrup. Continuous demonstrations will be given. School groups may make weekday appointments.

      HUDSON MILLS METRO PARK

      8801 N. Territorial Road, Dexter, MI 48130
      Phone: 734-426-8211

      Maple Sugaring: Journey to the Sugar Bush Saturdays and Sundays, March 1, 2, 8, 9, 22, 29 and 30, at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon, Activity Center. Take a guided tour to the sugar bush. Travel back in time and experience how maple syrup has been made over the years. All-you-can-eat pancake and sausage breakfasts will be served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fees: $2 per person/guided tour; $5 per adult/$3.50 per child/pancake breakfast. Pre-registration required for the guided tour.

       

      OATMEAL PANCAKES WITH MICHIGAN PURE MAPLE SYRUP

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      DEE’S OATMEAL PANCAKES
      from Simply Recipes

      INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

      • 2 cups oats (the regular kind – Old Fashioned or Quick, not steel-cut and not instant)
      • 3 cups buttermilk
      • 3 eggs, well beaten
      • 1/2 cup flour
      • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
      • Dash salt
      • 1 Tbsp peanut oil
      • Butter or extra vegetable oil for the griddle

      STEPS:

      Put oats into a large bowl, add the buttermilk. Let the oats soak in the buttermilk overnight.

      Mix in the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, and peanut oil.

      Then proceed as with any pancake recipe. Heat a flat iron surface – griddle or large pan – to medium high heat. Oil the pan with either a Tbsp of butter or vegetable oil. Ladle [I used a 1/3 cup-size measuring cup] the pancake batter onto the griddle to the desired size, usually about 5 or 6 inches wide. When air bubbles start to bubble up to the surface at the center of the pancakes (about 2-3 minutes), use a flat spatula to flip them over. After a minute, peak under one for doneness. When golden or darker golden brown, they are done. Note that cooking the second side takes only about half as long as the first side. Also, the second side doesn’t brown as evenly as the first side. Serve immediately or keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.

      Serve with butter and locally-made maple syrup.

       

      Bon appétit!

       

       

      Weekly Salad 10: Pan-Seared Baby Octopus with Meyer Lemon Tempura

       

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      Goodness, is it Wednesday already? With Easter just around the corner, I’ve been busy getting things together (i.e., vacuuming the house — for once and doing *gasp* laundry) and have become rather delinquent with these weekly salads. Here’s a salad that is full of bright, seasonal flavors. It’s not exactly a diet salad, but in these parts, fried goodness is allowed and encouraged every once in a while.

      Recently, Jim M. commented on my post on Moules Marinière and mentioned having tried Meyer lemons as part of a seafood tempura dish at Highlands in Birmingham, Michigan. I have yet to make it out to Birmingham to try out the restaurant but I’ve been itchin’ to try that meyer lemon tempura. So, I made them recently and added them to a salad of red leaf and pan-seared baby octopus. After thinly slicing the meyer lemons, I coated them with cornstarch (and lightly shook them to remove excess cornstarch) before dipping them into the tempura batter. The recipe for that can be found here. I served the salad with a quick dressing of [1 part meyer lemon juice + 3 parts olive oil + S&P]. The meyer lemon tempura added a nice, crispy and refreshing contrast to the salad. I would suggest serving one lemon tempura for each salad.

       

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      Bon appétit!

       

       

      Wintertime Views of the Grand Canyon and the West

       

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      After Joshua Tree, we stopped in Kingman, Arizona and had breakfast at Silver Spoon Family Restaurant. Unlike some of the diners that we had visited along Route 66, this seemed a bit more…authentic. I didn’t get the feeling that they had re-painted or re-furnished the place to give it a “retro” look. It seemed like a regular, neighborhood diner. We were the only tourists there, I think. The wait staff were friendly, down-to-earth and efficient. I normally don’t dig on being called ‘honey’ or ‘sugah’ but I didn’t mind it at all when our waitress did so because she said so naturally, without the saccharine tone that I otherwise would scoff at. I ordered the heart-attack-on-a-plate dish of biscuits ‘n gravy (lots of gravy) and Pierre had a really delicious Monte Cristo sandwich. We enjoyed our meal and time there and would love to come back there.

      The next place we went to was a surprise for me from Pierre. We drove a couple of hours from Kingman to Grand Canyon West. We went on the newly-built Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that is suspended more than 4,000 feet above the Colorado River on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s West Rim. Stepping onto the glass bridge was somthing else, for sure. I could feel my heart beating as I looked down to see the bottom of the canyon. Unless you take a helicopter tour, there is no other way to look down into the canyon like this. We stayed on the bridge for about an hour looking and photographing. We even copied the little children we saw and lay belly-down on the bridge – and gazed straight down into the canyon. Pretty freakin’ awesome.

      Afterwards, we continued onward to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge. Our cabin was right next to the rim. We could look outside and see the snow-capped edges of the canyon. The weather went from cloudy, overcast to fairly sunny and then back to full snow storm on the days we were there. It was a great time to be there because we could enjoy the scenery with less crowds and less noise. Below are some photos from our trip. Grand Canyon photos are courtesy of Pierre. Merci!

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