Andalucía Calling

 

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Several weeks ago, we joined our friends Gina and Raphael, along with Gina’s parents, Ricardo and Anna Maria, for an evening at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network. That night, Valeria “La Chispa” Montes and Company performed the music and dance of flamenco. La Chispa and Company are a local flamenco group based in Detroit and were in Ann Arbor for a one-night special performance. We felt really lucky to catch this group as flamenco is something both Pierre and I love. Sometimes, I walk around the house with my arms in the air while stomping my feet, saying “Eso!!!” Actually, we both do.

La Chispa truly rocks because she embodies all the things I love about artists and dancers — the fire within, the physical strength and balletic grace. She and her company of guitar players and guest dancers will be performing this summer in Detroit’s Concert of Colors on July 19 at 2pm. You won’t regret seeing them at this great event and, who knows, you might even spot in the audience a very small Asian chick struttin’ around with castanets.

Below are photos of La Chispa and Company taken by Pierre.

 

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While watching their performance, I really felt transported to Spain, even if it were only a short while. Although I’ve never traveled to Andalucía or any part of Spain, I somehow felt a bit homesick for this part of the world I’ve only known through its food, music and dance. I was this close from booking the next flight to any city on the Iberian peninsula. Luckily, my good friend Carmen had gifted me some dried Chufa nuts (aka tigernuts) that she brought back from her last trip to her home country. I used them to make one of my favorite drinks – horchata.

 

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In Spain, chufas are used to make a lovely and refreshing drink – Horchata de Chufas, a Valencian specialty. This nutty, milky drink is just what I needed. With this hot, humid spell we had, it was an even better treat. Horchata is also made all over Latin America with various ingredients like rice, almonds, sesame seeds, to name a few. Horchata made from chufas has this unmistakable earthy scent and nutty flavor that is very different than horchata made from other ingredients. If you travel to Spain, you can purchase them at candy shops that sell frutos secos. Here, in the States, one place I’ve found selling chufa nuts is La Tienda, where you can order them online. The recipe below is from their site.

 

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HORCHATA DE CHUFAS – SPANISH TIGERNUT MILK

recipe from La Tienda

INGREDIENTS (approx. 1 liter)

  • 250 grams chufa nuts (about 7 ounces)
  • 1 quart (liter) of water
  • one cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel (optional)
  • about 1 cup of sugar (try the recipe with less the first time – you can always add more!)

STEPS:
For one liter of Horchata, soak 250 grams of chufa nuts in water for 24 hours. In a blender, grind the nuts, water, cinnamon, sugar and lemon until you have an even, smooth mixture. Let it sit in water for a half an hour. Press and strain the paste to obtain horchata. Refrigerate for at least an hour – then finish it in the freezer for 20 minutes until slightly slushy (optional).

 

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Another Spanish item that I’ve enjoyed at my friend Carmen’s home was Tortilla. Not the flat, round disks made from flour or corn but a thick potato and egg omelet. It really is amazing how a dish of three simple ingredients of potatoes, eggs and onions can be so good. Served with a plain green salad tossed with salt, olive oil and vinegar, it’s the perfect dinner. Cut into small wedges or squares, tortilla is great for parties or picnics too. The recipe I used is from Gourmet Traveller. You can get the recipe I used and watch a video on how to make Tortilla here.

 

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TORTILLA

recipe from GourmetTraveller

INGREDIENTS: (6 servings)

  • 1/3 cup (80ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 lb (½ kg) boiled potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 6 Piquillo peppers, drained

STEPS:

To make tortilla, heat 1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil in a 10-inch (25cm) non-stick frying pan over medium heat, add onion and sauté for 3-5 minutes or until softened. Using a slotted spoon transfer to a small bowl, leaving any residual oil in the frying pan.

Meanwhile, lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl and season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add potatoes, onions and paprika and combine well. Let mixture marinate for a couple of hours in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Remove tortilla mixture from refrigerator 30 minutes before planning to cook it.

To make tortilla, heat the frying pan again, adding remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, over medium heat. When oil begins to smoke slightly, add tortilla mixture to pan, shaking pan vigorously so that egg mixture amalgamates in bottom of pan. Reduce heat and cook for 4-5 minutes or until mixture all but sets. Place a plate over the frying pan and carefully invert the frying pan so that tortilla is on plate uncooked side down. Return frying pan to heat, carefully slide tortilla back in and cook for a further 4-5 minutes until tortilla is firm to the touch.

Transfer to a serving plate and allow to cool before serving. Cut into wedges and serve with Piquillo peppers and alioli if desired.

¡Buen Provecho!

 

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Weekly Salad 4: Chicken with Poached Egg

 

 

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I make roast chicken EVERY week. This is because Pierre thinks if he doesn’t eat his poulet rôti regularly He. Will. Die. I’m not complaining because I do love making it and eating it as well. Although Pierre will not agree, I find it’s rather boring after a while. I always have left over chicken in the fridge and I try my best to find good, different ways to use the left over meat. I mean, a little *diversity* once in a while can’t hurt, right? Speaking of which, will Hillary prevail tomorrow?

Anyway, this is a simple salad that I make with leftover chicken. It has Bibb/butter lettuce with grated carrots and a poached egg . It’s great color-wise, texture-wise and it takes little time to prepare. Serve with a vinaigrette of [1 part wine vinegar + 3 parts olive oil + finely minced shallot + dijon mustard + S&P].

 

Bon appétit!

 

 

Foolproof Mayonnaise – There is a God!

 

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I don’t know how many times Pierre has had to listen to me wax poetic about Flo, her chicken eggs and the virtues of organic, cage-free eggs. I’m telling you – these babies are the real deal. They have beautiful brown (and sometimes pink or green) shells with crimson yolks that make the best omelette ever. Just looking at them makes me happy. I *heart* these eggs.

I wouldn’t obsess over these eggs so much if Pierre would just build me my chicken coop already.

Just about every week, my friend Flo comes to Ann Arbor and leaves me her fresh, farm eggs that she gets from the chickens she lovingly raises on her property in Hillsdale, Michigan. She keeps a separate residence near central campus in Ann Arbor. So every week or so, I’ll stop by her residence there and open the lid of a wooden box she keeps on the front porch where I’ll find my eggs all neatly packaged in cartons that she’s wrapped like precious cargo in tissue paper. I take my eggs out, leave my payment in the box and shut the lid. Life is good.

But things take a downward turn when I try to make mayonnaise. Despite my efforts to follow exactly Julia Child’s or Jaques Pepin’s recipes for mayonnaise, my numerous attempts failed miserably. You have no idea how gloomy and downright suicidal I felt after wasting yolk after yolk of Flo’s eggs. Total heartache. I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong. I did everything the recipes instructed me to do. But this is what it would always look like:

 

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As you can see, it’s not a smooth mayonnaise, but more like a thick, nastified egg drop soup. Ewww.

In my search for a reliable mayonnaise recipe, I came across expat Makiko’s food blog Just Hungry. Go there for beautiful and healthy Japanese food and stay for her knowledge, wit and overall amazing-ness. (She has detailed recipes for making soy milk and tofu!) Most notably, she also has a recipe for foolproof mayonnaise, with thorough instructions and step by step photos that you can find here. Hmmm…could she be Jen’s long-lost twin? 🙂

I followed her recipe precisely and voilà, mayonnaise. My life now has meaning. And, another bonus: it took less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Sweeeet.

Edit: I think I may have over-beat the mayonnaise a bit, I didn’t add enough lemon juice,so it was slightly stiffer than I would’ve liked.

 

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What to do with this manna from poultry heaven? How about mixing it with some chopped shallots, cornichons and a few capers to make a quick tartar sauce? We served ours with a salad of Tantré Farms baby greens and poached chicken breast.

 

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Bon appétit!

 

 

Do You Remember…

 

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It’s hard to imagine now, but several weeks ago in Ann Arbor, temperatures soared above 85F. Pierre and I biked down to Kilwin’s Chocolates in downtown to get some of their delicious Traverse City Cherry ice cream. As we were sitting outside with our ice cream, we caught a glimpse of these children gazing through the parlor window, their eyes fixed on the candy maker behind the glass. It’s rather corny, but I feel slightly wistful and nostalgic looking at that photo. (I am a person prone to reminisce a great deal and flashbacks abound here).

I wish wish wish I could turn back the clock and go to that time when I wasn’t hurrying to finish the next project; when I never looked at the calorie content on a label; when a banana seat bicycle was the BE-ALL, END-ALL; when silly phrases like team building and core values meant nothing; and when happiness meant finding all the secret levels in Super Mario Bros. If I could, I’d go there in a heartbeat.

But for now, I’ll find comfort in a bowl of ice cream. The inspiration for my recipes came from David Lebovitz‘ book, The Perfect Scoop. His helpful instructions, unique and classic flavors and lovely photos are reasons it’s the book I turn to for making ice cream.

 

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Unlike most Americans and Westerners, Vietnamese have always enjoyed Avocado as a sweet, often topped with sugar or condensed milk. So, you can imagine my delight when I found his recipe for Avocado Ice Cream. Did he know how much we Viets adore avocado? Truly, I tell you that this ice cream Rocks the Hizzay! It’s the frosty incarnation of my all-time, favorite shake – Sinh Tố Bơ (Avocado Shake). Creamy, luscious, decadent and capable of removing any desire to dwell on the past.

 

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Now I know you’re looking at the above photo. But before you say Oy Vey, please – indulge me for a moment: I found some tasty durian (Sầu Riêng) at the market and thought it’d be nice to make ice cream with it. Yes, tasty Durian, not Stinks-Like-Sulphuric Acid-Durian or What-the-Hell-is-That-Smell Durian, as my dear husband calls it. Yet, he’s not as charitable as the late R.W. Apple, Jr., who once wrote that durian’s aroma would stun a goat. And one of my Viet friends, who’s dined at some far out street joints in South America and Asia, simply will not tolerate it, as he describes its smell to be something “unholy” and “deeply violating”.

I admit that durian’s pungent aroma may be aggressive for some. However, I need not remind you that there are many delicacies which taste good, despite their initially off-putting aroma – for example: fish sauce, pickled turnip, fermented tofu, Feta, Stilton as well as most French cheeses, while we’re at it. Yeah, but Feta doesn’t smell like death warmed over.

Fine.

Consider this, though: Coming from Viet Nam, I grew up eating some crazy stuff – like fuzzy duck embryo and fresh, congealed goose blood. But the first time I smelled blue cheese, I wanted to gag. Then, after a long, long period of wanting to hate it, and then finally tasting well-made samples of it, the flavor sort of crept up on me. I still don’t like the smell at all but I’ve somehow grown extremely fond of eating it nevertheless.

I think once you try fresh or good-quality frozen durian, you can acquire a taste for durian. You might then find it’s unique, sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavor and creamy, custard-like texture as some of the reasons it’s considered the King of Fruits in Asia. I wholeheartedly love it, so much that I wanted it as the filling for my wedding cake. But alas, I was overruled by the powers that be who cited ventilation issues (puh!); and so, went with strawberries instead. C’est dommage.

 

AVOCADO ICE CREAM – KEM TRAÍ BƠ

adapted from The Perfect Scoop

INGREDIENTS: (makes 1 litre)

  • 3 med. sized ripe Hass Avocados
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
  • small pinch of salt

STEPS:

  • Slice the avocados in half and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh and with a blender, purée the avocado with the sugar, sour cream, heavy cream, lime juice and salt until smooth and the sugar is dissolved.
  • Freeze immediately in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

 

DURIAN ICE CREAM – KEM SẦU RIÊNG

INGREDIENTS: (makes 1.5 litres)

  • 1 lb. fresh durian flesh
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • small pinch of salt
  • 5 large egg yolks

STEPS:

  • Begin by making a custard: Heat the sugar, milk, cream and salt in a sauce pan until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat.
  • Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Slowly temper the egg yolks with the heated milk+cream until completely combined.
  • Next, pour the heated egg mixture back into the sauce pan (or a double-boiler) and cook on med. heat until the custard coats the back of a spoon. You now have custard.
  • Strain the custard with a metal sieve (just in case you have any cooked egg bits).
  • Immediately cool the custard over an ice bath.
  • Once the custard has cooled completely, blend the durian with the custard using an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  • Chill the durian-custard in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Churn or freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Bon appétit!

 

Miến Xào Cua – Vietnamese Glass Noodle Stir-fry with Crab

 

My folks visited us for the first time since Pierre and I married and we moved into our new place. It was also their first visit to Ann Arbor and they were treated to some unusually warm weather and lovely fall colors.

 

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At home, my mom’s kitchen is her domain (she’s a fabulous cook with Martin Yan-like dexterity and knife skills). Thus, the prospect of me (the slowest, Asian food chopper ever) preparing and cooking food for us all was daunting, if not slightly amusing.

 

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I managed to get by fairly well, if I don’t say so myself. So I don’t have fastah-fingahs. But I can make a mean stir-fry when I want. (Pun is absolutely intended). Miến Xào Cua is a light, delicious dish that I enjoy having for lunch or as part of a dinner meal. You can purchase good-quality lump crab meat or steam a fresh crab as we did, and pick apart the meat.

I used baby leeks instead of shallots or green onions this time as I love the color and subtle onion flavor they lend to the dish.

MIẾN XÀO CUA

INGREDIENTS: (2-4 servings)

  • 2 bundles of miến (glass noodles), soaked in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes
  • 1 cup of black “wood-ear” mushrooms, soaked in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of baby leeks, thoroughly cleaned and thinly sliced on the bias (discard the tough green tops, or save it for use in making stock)
  • 1 cup of chopped red bell pepper
  • meat from 1 whole, steamed crab (approx. 1 cup)
  • crab tomalley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbl. fish sauce + more to taste
  • fresh ground pepper
  • oil, for cooking

STEPS:

  • In a colander or sieve, drain the glass noodles, set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine the egg, tomalley and fish sauce, set aside.
  • In a wok or deep skillet heated to med-high, add about 1-2 Tbl. of oil.
  • Stir in the leeks and cook until slightly translucent, approx.2-3 minutes
  • Next, add the red bell pepper and mushrooms and stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes
  • Now, add the glass noodles and stir-fry 1-2 minutes. The noodles should be translucent.
  • Pour the egg + tomalley mixture over the noodles and quickly stir fry until the eggs are cooked, between 2-4 minutes.
  • Gently fold the crab meat into the noodles and combine.
  • Serve warm.

Bon appétit!

 

Crêpes Suzanne – French Pancakes

These savory french crêpes are a traditional breakfast in Pierre’s home in France. Whenever his mother, Suzanne, makes these for him, Pierre’s eyes light up like it’s Christmas Day. So, it’s no wonder that these crêpes are also the most-requested breakfast in our own home. I love the pretty green color, which is a result of blending spinach with the crêpe batter. The filling is simple, just grated gruyère. These are delicious on their own but are even better served with a sunny-side egg on top.

 

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Pierre’s mother often uses frozen lettuce rather than spinach for the batter. In fact, she does this following a tip from her mother, who, like many in her generation, had suffered during WWII with German troops occupying her own home. The troops took what food and drink they wanted without any consideration for the home owners. Left without any food, she would gather any scraps she could find, such as potato and carrot peels and boil them down to make a soup. That soup and this frozen lettuce are examples of some of the resourceful and prudent measures this woman took to provide food for her family in those times.

Her method is easy: Keep a plastic bag or container in the freezer where you deposit any leftover lettuce – lettuce that has wilted past eating fresh but hasn’t gone bad. When you’ve got at least a cup’s worth, you can make these crêpes and relish in your impressive frugality!

 

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I already used up my frozen leftover lettuce so I made these with frozen spinach. I found that my potato ricer is also a great tool to press and squeeze out the liquid of the cooked spinach. I must confess, I purchased it right after watching Martha Stewart demonstrate it’s incredible powers to make mashed potatoes that are fluffy, airy and down-right ethereal. Unfortunately, shortly after purchasing it, I began my failed and meaningless attempt at eating “low carb.” So, this little tool sat in my drawer, neglected and unloved for some time. That is no longer, as I use it all the time now to make these crêpes as well as my beloved, high carb mashed potatoes.

CRÊPES SUZANNE

INGREDIENTS: (10 large crêpes or 15 small crêpes)

  • 1 pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. melted butter
  • gruyère, for the filling

STEPS:

  • With a microwave or steamer, completely defrost the frozen spinach or lettuce.
  • With your hands or a potato ricer, press and squeeze out all the excess liquid. Set aside.
  • In a blender, add the flour, eggs, milk, salt, butter and spinach.
  • With the pulse button, blend the ingredients a bit at a time.
  • After a few seconds of pulsing it, you can blend away for about 30 seconds or until the batter is completely mixed. Scrape down the sides in between blending to ensure that all the ingredients are incorporated.
  • Let the batter rest for at least 1/2 hour*.
  • In a non-stick skillet or crêpe pan on medium heat, rub a little butter on the entire surface.
  • Pour about 1/2 cup – up to 2/3 cup of batter (depending on the size of your pan) and quickly tilt the pan to spread the batter evenly in a thin layer.
  • Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom side is light golden.
  • With a thin spatula or your amazing fingers, flip the crêpe over and cook until that side is golden (about 2 min).
  • When the 2nd side is golden, flip the crêpe AGAIN (so that the prettier side will show) and quickly scatter 2 Tbl. of gruyère over the entire crêpe. Fold it in half and then, fold in half again. Transfer to a platter.
  • Repeat until all the batter is used.

*You can make the batter up to one day ahead and keep it overnight in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.

Bon Appétit!

You like Kabocha, dontcha?

 

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I think a lot of people like to press the Shuffle button on their MP3 player to mix things up and hear a variety of songs. Not me. If I like a song, I’ll put in on Replay for-ev-er. Sometimes, I’ll listen to the same dang song like, 100 times before I move on to another.

Am I obsessive? Compulsive? My answer to that fluctuates. What is constant is my attachment to a good thing once I find it. This is how I am now with Kabocha pumpkin. Kabocha muffins for breakfast. Kabocha soup for lunch. Kabocha-stuffed pasta for dinner. How ’bout Kabocha pumpkin pie, anyone?

It was the same with Butternut squash a while back. And there was that winter-long fling with Meyer lemons – which, late at night, I still think of. Oh, and let’s not forget my fixation with pomelos.

Nowadays, my fancy turns to Kabocha. Can you blame me? Kabocha, with its deep, emerald skin flushed against this intense, orange flesh is like Butternut’s sexier, curvier, non-surgically altered and intellectually superior cousin. And, it doesn’t need a ton of makeup to look good, either. I mean, who would you rather go home with???

That’s what I thought. So next time you’re at the market, look out for Kabocha. Cook responsibly.

 

Soupe au Potiron – Kabocha pumpkin bisque

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INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

  • 1 medium-sized Kabocha pumpkin (approx 3-4lbs)
  • 1 Tbl. of canola oil + more for coating pumpkin
  • 3 medium shallots, finely diced
  • chubby piece of ginger (approx 1 inch length), peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground star anise + a tiny pinch for sprinkling
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly ground cassia cinnamon + a tiny pinch for sprinkling
  • 1 quart of homemade or quality store-bought chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup half & half or whole cream
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper

STEPS:

  • Cut the Kabocha pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Rub the cut sides with oil and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of the star anise and cinnamon. Place the pumpkin, cut-side down on a foil/parchment-lined cookie sheet.
  • In an oven preheated to 350F, roast the pumpkin for about 35 minutes (or until a knife can be inserted with little resistance).
  • Set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. Then scoop out the flesh.
  • Meanwhile, set a large saucepan to med heat, add the oil.
  • Next, add the shallot and ginger. Cook (sweat) the shallots and ginger until the shallots are softened and translucent, being careful not to add too much color.
  • Add the cooked pumpkin and spices and cook for another minute.
  • Add the chicken stock and stir to combine and heated through.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Using an immersion blender or regular blender, purée the soup until smooth.*
  • Stir the cream into the soup.
  • Check seasoning again and add more S+P if necessary. Serve warm.

*If you use a regular blender, please use extreme caution as the hot liquid will explode everywhere if you try to blend too much at a time. Fill only up to 1/3 of the blender at a time. Bon appétit!

 

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