A Case of the Mondays…and Weekly Salads No. 1

 

AVOCADO AND GRAPEFRUIT SALAD

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Every Monday, at the beginning of each work week, I tell myself that this is the day that I begin to, once and for all, eat and live right. Of course, by mid-week, I’m like, “bacon is good for you, right?”

So, to keep myself on track, I’m going to try to post a healthy salad on Mondays now. My first salad is made of red grapefruit segments, avocado (I used Hass), sliced shallots – served with a basic vinaigrette [3 parts extra virgin olive + 1 part red wine vinegar + dijon mustard + S&P].

I like the contrast of the acid and tart flavors of the grapefruit with the rich, fatty taste of avocado. When I first made this for Pierre, he declared it a Top 10 item. A man after my own heart, I tell ya. It’s simple, seasonal and sexy. The 3 s’s.

Bon appétit!

 

You Say Salad, I Say Gỏi…

 

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For Thanksgiving this year, we joined our good friends at their home just a few miles from our house for dinner. My contribution was not a savory item but a dessert – an almond dacquoise layered with hazelnut chocolate ganache and whipped cream that was laced with Poire William and topped with carmelized pear slices. With these ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong. Sure, it was yummy, though it didn’t look quite as appealing or stunning as I’d hoped. A recipe for that is forthcoming.

In the meantime, I’ve shifted my focus to preparations during the month I’ve got left before Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In truth, this doesn’t involve buying and wrapping gifts and goodies. Rather, this ritual involves stair climbers, treadmills, some rusty dumbbells and slew of swear words thrown in for good measure. For what? To get my tush into that ridiculous and saucy dress I bought on sale that didn’t fit then and might not ever fit.

Silly, you think? Uh, no. It was On Sale.

My need to purchase clothes two sizes too small seems irrelevant here. What is more salient to this discussion is a description of foods I eat following an indulgent weekend of pure, buttery gluttony. These dishes make me happy for two reasons: 1) They are delicious and full of Southeast Asian spicy, crunchy goodness and; 2) They’re quite healthy and nutritious – so much that eating them provides me the prospect of being that svelte dancer, chassé-ing across the floor and exiting with a grand jeté — all while wearing THAT DRESS.

Bon, let’s get on with it.

In Vietnamese , salad or xà lách (pronounced sa-laht) means lettuce. It’s what is used to wrap bundles of meat, fresh herbs and vegetables in Gỏi Cuốn. It’s also the essential accompaniment to Bánh Xèo, Nem Nướng, Chả Giò, as well as numerous other savory Viet dishes.

At a meal in Viet Nam, you’d be hard-pressed to find just a bowl of xà lách that’s been tossed with oil and vinegar. An otherwise simple and elegant dish, it would lack the the variety and texture that Viets crave and demand of their dishes.

Gỏi is our answer to what the Western world calls Salad. Yet, calling it a Viet version of a salad would be underestimating its true powers and abilities, like calling Bono a singer, when you and I know he’s really a living, breathing, SUPERHERO.

Gỏi can be simple but never, ever boring. How can it be? A combination that features tangy, peppery herbs; crispy, crunchy fruits/vegetables; tender, luscious meat and seafood- all spiked with a spicy, sweet, sour sauce simply commands attention. And like any true superhero, gỏi is fearless. It cares not for distinctions between fruit and vegetable, cooked food or raw food, dried food or fresh food. It embraces them all and gives them their due justice.

As a special treat, we have not one, but three different versions I hope you’ll try soon.

 

POMELO SALAD – GỎI BƯỞI

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First up is Pomelo Salad – Gỏi Bưởi. When their season arrives in Viet Nam, vendors will tempt passerbys by stacking pyramids of yellow-green Bưởi, their slightly oblong tops resembling jade mountain caps. Cut through its fragrant peel and you’ll find beautiful light yellow-green or sometimes pink segments that are slightly dry to the touch but plump and juicy when eaten. It has a subtle, sweet flavor that is less acidic and less tart than regular pink or white grapefruits sold here in the U.S.

Making Gỏi with pomelos then, just makes sense. The floral and citrus flavors of the pomelo next the sharp, peppery herbs of Vietnamese coriander (rau răm) and cilantro (rau ngò) is a combination that speaks of more balance than my yoga mat. Throw in some tasty slices of pork, plump shrimp, crunchy carrots and cucumbers to complete the dish.

 

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POMELO SALAD – GỎI BƯỞI

INGREDIENTS: (4-6 servings)

  • 1/2 lb. poached pork tenderloin [chicken breast can also be substituted]
  • 1/2 lb. fresh unpeeled, de-veined shrimp
  • 1 med. carrot, peeled and finely julienned or grated using a mandoline
  • 1 small/med. cucumber, seeds (if any) removed
  • 1 large pomelo, peel and pith removed and cut into segments
  • 2 Tbl. each, Viet. coriander (rau răm) and cilantro (rau ngò)
  • 1 Tbl. lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbl. Crispy Fried Shallots (hành phi) –
  • sweet-sour dressing – (nước chấm) –
  • freshly roasted peanuts, lightly crushed (optional)
  • shrimp chips (bánh phồng tôm) or Viet sesame rice crackers (bánh tráng mè)

STEPS:

  • Poach the pork until cooked through. The internal temperature should reach 160F. Allow to cool before thinly slicing into 1/4 inch strips. Set aside.
  • In a skillet, dry-fry the shrimp for several minutes until opaque in color. Allow to cool before removing shells. Set aside.
  • Grate the carrot. Peel the cucumber if its skin is tough or bitter. Scoop out any seeds. Cut in half lengthwise and slice into very thin “half-moons.”
  • In a large bowl, combine the pork, shrimp, carrots, cucumbers, pomelo segments with the herbs (I leave the herbs whole, but you can roughly chop them if you prefer).
  • Just before serving, toss the ingredients with 2-3 Tbl. of Nước Chấm (add more or less depending on your taste). Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Scatter sesame seeds, fried shallots and crushed peanuts over the top of the dish.
  • Serve with shrimp chips or sesame rice crackers.

 

LOTUS STEM SALAD – GỎI NGÒ SEN

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Next is a dish that I ordered almost every time we ate out during our trip to Viet Nam. The crisp, crunchy texture of lotus stems (Ngò Sen) are somehow very fun and addictive to eat. In addition, their mellow, rather bland flavor absorbs the spicy, sweet sauce, allowing the shrimp and pork flavors to really come out. This recipe generally serves four but I have eaten the whole lot in one sitting many a time.

I am reminded of a Viet film called Three Seasons (Ba Mùa), directed by Tony Bui. There’s a picturesque scene in the film, where, in the early morning, young women paddle through a misty pond full of lotus blossoms, singing folk songs as they gently pluck the stems and buds for selling later at the market. It’s where I – and you could – imagine being when eating this, and well, wearing that saucy number I keep mentioning, of course.

 

LOTUS STEM SALAD – GỎI NGÒ SEN

INGREDIENTS: (3-4 servings)

  • 1 jar of lotus stems (often labeled lotus rootlets)
  • 1 Tbl. fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbl. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. poached pork tenderloin [chicken breast can also be substituted]
  • 1/2 lb. fresh unpeeled, de-veined shrimp
  • 1 med. carrot, peeled and finely julienned or grated using a mandoline
  • 2 Tbl. each, Viet. coriander (rau răm) and cilantro (rau ngò)
  • 1 Tbl. lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbl. Crispy Fried Shallots (hành phi) –
  • sweet-sour dressing – (nước chấm) –
  • lightly crushed, freshly roasted peanuts (optional)
  • shrimp chips (bánh phồng tôm) or Viet sesame rice crackers (bánh tráng mè)

STEPS:

  • Poach the pork until cooked through. The internal temperature should reach 160F. Allow to cool before thinly slicing into 1/4 inch strips. Set aside.
  • In a skillet, dry-fry the shrimp for several minutes until opaque in color. Allow to cool before removing shells. Set aside.
  • Cut the lotus stems in half, crosswise and then cut in half lengthwise.
  • In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar, lime and salt. Once dissolved, add the cut lotus stems to the bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
  • Grate the carrot. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the pork, shrimp, carrots and lotus stems with the herbs (I leave the herbs whole, but you can roughly chop them if you prefer).
  • Just before serving, toss the ingredients with 2-3 Tbl. of Nước Chấm (add more or less depending on your taste). Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Scatter sesame seeds, fried shallots and crushed peanuts (optional) over the top of the dish.
  • Serve with shrimp chips or sesame rice crackers.
*Pickled, Sliced Pig Ears may also be added to this dish.

 

WATER SPINACH SALAD – GỎI RAU MUỐNG

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Last up to batter is Gỏi Rau Muống. Rau Muống also goes by common names such as Water Spinach, Ong Choy, and Water Morning Glory, just to name a few. It’s often stir-fried with garlic (Rau Muống Xào) or made into a sweet-sour soup (Canh Chua Rau Muống). Here, the crisp, hollow stems of the plant are cut into extremely thin slices which are then submerged in an ice-bath, causing them to curl into little ringlets that are slightly springy, with a delicate crunch to them . In the past, this tedious and rather tricky task was left to skillful housewives and servants. But now, there’s a handy tool that will quickly and safely split the stems into thin slices – great news for a klutz like me. You can find more info on that tool, called Dao Chẻ Rau Muống. Look for them at Asian grocery stores that stock Viet products.

Once the Rau Muống stems have been split and curled in acidulated cold water, they’re combined with juicy slices of freshly grilled flank steak, sautéed shallots, fresh tomatoes (when in season), crushed peanuts and the ever-ubiquitous Nước Chấm sauce.

 

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WATER SPINACH SALAD – GỎI RAU MUỐNG

INGREDIENTS: (4 servings)

  • 2.5 lbs. fresh water spinach (rau muống), rinsed and drained
  • 1 small lime or lemon
  • 1 lb. beef flank steak
  • 1 large or (2 medium) shallot
  • 2 Tbl. cilantro (rau ngò) optional
  • 2-3 Tbl. freshly roasted peanuts, crushed
  • sweet-sour dressing – (nước chấm) –
  • shrimp chips (bánh phồng tôm) or Viet sesame rice crackers (bánh tráng mè)

STEPS:

  • Separate the leaves of the water spinach from the stems. Reserve the leaves for stir-frying or making soup.
  • Cut the stems into approx. 3-inch segments. Next, soak them in a bowl of cold water for at least 30 min. This will allow the stems to stiffen, thus making it easier to slice.
  • Meanwhile, grill or pan-fry the flank steak to medium rare (or medium). Allow to cool before cutting into thin strips (cut on the bias). Set aside.
  • Next, slice the shallots and quickly sauté them in a pan with oil. Set aside.
  • Once the water spinach stems have stiffened, carefully use the specific tool (Dao Chẻ Rau Muống) to make the super-thin slices.
  • Soak the sliced stems in a bowl of cold water that has been acidulated with fresh lime or lemon juice for about 10-15 min. They should curl into ringlets.
  • Drain the ringlets and dry with a clean towel or in a salad spinner.
  • To assemble the salad: In a large bowl, toss the water spinach ringlets, beef slices, shallots and cilantro.
  • Just before serving, toss the ingredients with 2-3 Tbl. of Nước Chấm (add more or less depending on your taste). Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Scatter crushed peanuts over the top of the dish.
  • Serve with shrimp chips or sesame rice crackers.

 

CRISPY FRIED SHALLOTS (HÀNH PHI)

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INGREDIENTS: (makes approx. 1 1/2 cups)

  • approx. 10 small/medium shallots
  • 2 cups canola or vegetable oil

STEPS:

  • Thinly slice the shallots and blot them with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
  • In a small saucepan on med-high heat, warm the oil. Add a small slice of shallot into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough. (Make sure to not over-heat the oil to the point where it smokes).
  • Carefully add the shallots to the pan (little by little, rather than all at once).
  • Fry the shallots for about 1-2 minutes. As soon as they get light golden, transfer the fried shallots using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Allow to cool before serving. Seal any leftovers in an airtight container. The fried shallots will stay crisp for about a week.

 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS:

NƯỚC CHẤM + SHRIMP CHIPS + SESAME RICE CRACKERS

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SWEET-SOUR DRESSING – NƯỚC CHẤM

INGREDIENTS: (makes approx. 1.5-2 cups)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce (nước mắm)
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice or 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1-2 thai bird chilis, thinly sliced or 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce

STEPS:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to completely dissolve the sugar.
  • Taste and adjust according to your taste, adding more fish sauce/sugar/lime if necessary.
  • Store in a glass jar or plastic container and refrigerate. The dressing will last at least two weeks.

SESAME RICE CRACKERS – BÁNH TRÁNG MÈ

At Asian grocery stores here in the U.S., Viet Sesame Rice Crackers (Bánh Tráng Mè) are often found alongside similarly-packaged Viet Rice Paper Rolls (Bánh Tráng). In Viet Nam, these round disks are traditionally toasted over a charcoal brazier. Here, you can try toasting them over a gas burner but I’ve found that the microwave also produces good results. To do so, place one disk on the rotating plate of your microwave and cook on high for about 2-3 minutes. Keep an eye on it, making sure it doesn’t burn. Initially translucent, it should turn opaque and puff up considerably. Break into large pieces and serve alongside your Gỏi.

SHRIMP CRACKERS – BÁNH PHỒNG TÔM

These small, flat round disks are traditionally deep-fried. Again, following a tip from my mother, I microwave these. Place several disks on the rotating plate of your microwave and cook on high for about 20 seconds (this may vary a bit). Like the Sesame Rice Crackers, they will puff and curl up considerably. Again, keep an eye on them, as they can burn easily. Serve alongside your Gỏi.

Some final notes:

  • The herbs are more than mere garnishes – they’re an integral part of these dishes. Use them with reckless abandon!
  • Freshly toasted peanuts and sesame seeds make a big difference.
  • Store-bought fried shallots aren’t worth your dollar. They really aren’t.
  • A box-grater, while perfectly acceptable, will produce shreds that lack the sharp, crisp edge that a mandoline will produce.

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!

 

Apple-a-Pickin’

 

ERWIN ORCHARDS, SOUTH LYON, MICHIGAN

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On the last day of their visit here in Michigan, we took my parents to a local orchard run by the Erwin family in South Lyon. Erwin Orchards is a third-generation family farm located about 16 miles north of Ann Arbor with approximately 200 acres of fruit, including apples, raspberries, cherries and pumpkins. We tried some of their fresh-pressed, unpasteurized cider and we could see why it won the award for Best Apple Cider from the Michigan Horticultural Society four years in a row. And, according to their website, they are an environmentally friendly orchard, practicing Integrated Pest Management.

We arrived at the orchard less than two hours before closing time. Our friend John met up with us and we approached the window to purchase our 1/2 bushel bag to pick our own apples. I was looking forward to having my parents ride in the big wagon to the picking site. Sure, you may find it somewhat kitschy, but I think it’s fun nevertheless. Moreover, cider mills, wagons and tractors are not at all mundane to city dwellers like my parents and me.

 

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Alas, at this point in the season, the trees that still had fruit were within walking distance from the entrance; there was no need to take the wagon. Without me asking, an orchard employee, Dave, offered to drive us in the wagon anyway. Before taking us to the apple picking trees, he drove us all around the entire orchard first. It was like a private tour of their scenic orchard! I’m pleased to include his photo above; his gentle smile reminding me of our happy outing.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas soon approaching, there is a plethora of apple pie and apple tart recipes saturating our magazine, book and online media. Don’t you love that word – plethora? If you say it with a lisp, it’s even more fun – plethhhhhora.

Anyhow, it seems most recipes come with lofty guarantees – that it’s the best apple-baked-thing-you’ll-ever-taste; that it has a flaky, buttery crust that is both easy and practically effortless to make (ha!); and that upon eating it, you’ll find you’ve actually gone to pie heaven.

I can’t promise you this recipe for Normandy Apple Tart will result in any sort of earth-shaking, religious experience. But you can bet your Euro that it is delicious in a comforting, warm-blanket-and-toasty fireplace-way with its crumbly pâte sablée crust, topped with a rosy, homemade applesauce and buttery slices of Golden Delicious apples. As a bonus, I added some crème de marrons (chestnut cream) to the applesauce that my good friend Mrs. Ellen G. gifted to me. I’ve had this in my cupboard for a while now and I’m happy to have found a great way to use it. It added a nutty, sweet taste to the slightly tart applesauce.

The recipe I used comes from Dorie Greenspan’s latest book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. In France, these tarts are often made with Reinette or Boskoop apples, to which ground almonds or custard may be added. In her variation, Ms. Greenspan suggests making the tart with common American varieties like Golden Delcious, Cortland or Empire. She also suggests making the pâte sablée in a food processor. I prefer to use my good ol’ pastry cutter to prepare the crust. It takes me just as long to clean the food processor afterwards than to simply use the pastry cutter and blend the dough with my own hands. Do what you prefer.

As for the homemade applesauce, it’s not too much work as long as you have a good food mill. You can toss the cooked, quartered apples into the mill and it will purée the apples, while it also separates the peel and pits. If you don’t use a food mill, you’ll need to peel and core the apples before cooking them down to form an applesauce.

 

NORMANDY APPLE TART – LA TARTE NORMANDE

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

 

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FOR THE APPLESAUCE:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lbs. apples (in this case, Red and Golden Delicious)
  • 1/3 cup of water + more, if necessary
  • 1 small lump of rock sugar or 1 tsp. raw sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • crème de marrons

STEPS:

  • Cut and quarter the apples. Place them in a 2-3 qt. heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the water, sugar and salt. Cover with a lid.
  • Cook over med-low heat, stirring from time to time, for approximately 20-25 minutes. Apples should be soft enough to be mashed with a spoon.
  • Pass the apples through the food mill, into a bowl.
  • Add about 2 Tbl. of crème de marrons and stir to combine. Set aside to cool slightly.

 

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FOR THE PÂTE SABLÉE:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 9 Tbl. very cold, (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 9-inch tart pan

STEPS:

  • In a mixing bowl (preferably glass, ceramic or metal), thoroughly combine the flour, sugar and salt.
  • Using a pastry cutter, blend the butter pieces with the flour mixture. Blend until you get pea-sized bits.
  • Add the egg yolk and blend with a spoon or your hands until just combined, being careful not to overwork the dough.
  • Reserve a small piece of dough for patching up the tart crust, if needed.
  • Pour the dough onto the tart pan and press the dough into the pan and up the sides. (The crumbly nature of this dough makes it difficult to roll, but you can try if you like).
  • Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, butter side down, tightly against the crust.
  • Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and partially bake the crust (on the center rack) for about 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil and patch the crust with the reserved dough, if necessary.
  • Transfer the tart pan onto a cooling rack.

 

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(AND NOW FINALLY) FOR THE TOPPING:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium apples (preferably Golden Delicious)
  • homemade applesauce [see above recipe]
  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1/2 tsp. water, for egg wash
  • 1/4 cup of apple jelly + 1 tsp. water, for the glaze (optional)

STEPS:

  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Peel the apples. Quarter them and remove the cores.
  • Cut thin slices from each of the quarters (about 7 slices).
  • Next, top the cooled tart crust with the applesauce and spread out in an even layer.
  • Top the applesauce with the apple slices – you can use whatever configuration fancies you. Perhaps a rosette pattern?
  • Brush the apples with the egg wash and bake for approx. 45-50 minutes. The apples should be golden, their edges slightly browned and soft enough to be pierced easily with a tip of a knife.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack.
  • Heat the apple jelly and water in a small sauce pan until liquefied. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the tart with the glaze.
  • Serve the tart warm or at room temperature.

 

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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!

 

Tương Ớt Tỏi – Vietnamese Chili-Garlic Sauce

 

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Many of you are probably familiar with the ubiquitous green-lidded bottle of chili-garlic sauce that is sold at most Asian grocery stores. With its trademark rooster image stamped on the front, it’s a common sight in many Vietnamese (and non-Vietnamese) homes. Our family always had a jar of this sitting in our refrigerator door, right next to the ketchup and mustard bottles.

Combined with lime, sugar and fish sauce, it made for an easy nước chắm (Vietnanese dipping sauce) or a quick topping to stir-fried noodles and soups whenever fresh chilies were out. Up until recently, I had not considered making my own. The stuff in the bottle was not quite as good as fresh chilis but it was convenient and handy to have around.

I came across a method for a raw version and a cooked version online and it seemed easy enough. Also, I had purchased a 3lb crate of fresh cayenne at the farmer’s market. Three pounds of cayenne . Well, it was a moment of weakness. They called to me with their red siren song. And so here I am, chopping up more chilies than any Sri Lankan mama!

Just kidding. Anyway, with that ample supply, I decided to make both versions. It was actually pretty easy and quick to put together. Most of the work was cutting up the chilis and peeling the garlic. From there, adding the rest of the ingredients into the food processor took little time.

I’m very pleased with the results. They of course, have a fresh taste that is far better than the store-bought jar. Both sauces have a heady aroma and a heck of a kick to them. I thought that the cooked version would be slightly tamer but I find the chili flavor to be even sharper and the garlic a bit more pronounced in that one. The raw chili sauce, however, has an earthy quality and less of a sweet edge than the cooked sauce (it had less sugar added).

I’m sure this is something I’ll be able to do from now on. So, adieu, little rooster!

 

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TƯƠNG ỚT TỎI – VIETNAMESE CHILI-GARLIC SAUCE

adapted from Chuck of SundayNitedinner 

INGREDIENTS: (raw version)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. red, hot chilis (cayenne, thai, serrano, jalapeño, etc), roughly chopped with stems removed & discarded
  • 12 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbl. sugar
  • 6 Tbl. white vinegar

STEPS:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly blended but still coarse in texture.
  • Taste the sauce and add salt/sugar if needed.
  • Transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate.
  • Makes approx. 2 cups.

INGREDIENTS: (cooked version)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. red, hot chilis (cayenne, thai, serrano, jalapeño, etc), roughly chopped with stems removed & discarded
  • 15 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbl. sugar
  • 6 Tbl. white vinegar

STEPS:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly blended but still coarse in texture.
  • Transfer the mixture to a sauce pan on med. heat and bring to a rolling boil. Then, adjust the heat to low and simmer for approximately 5 minutes – or until the sauce loses its raw smell. Taste the sauce and add salt/sugar if needed.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
  • Transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate.
  • Makes approx. 2 cups.

Bon appétit!

 

Pork Tenderloin with Five Spices and a Simple Salad

 

I’m always impressed with the versatility of pork. With so many ways to cook it, I never tire of it. I like cooking Pork Tenderloin because it cooks relatively quick and is generally more moist and tender than the center cut of pork loin. This time, I used a dry rub of Five Spice Powder. This spice mix can be easily found at your local Asian grocery store. However, I prefer to make my own as I can be sure of the quality of the individual spices.

I like simple salads. I do love to add color but I don’t necessarily want an edible rainbow either. This salad is simple, elegant, and has a pop of color coming from the pomegranate seeds. Here, the only dressing you need is olive oil and lemon juice.

 

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I like eating something soft and creamy with pork so these Yukon Gold mashed potatoes definitely fit the bill. I plated them on a bed of sauteéd swiss chard. Swiss chard isn’t as commonly used as spinach, but its taste is very similar to me. Like spinach, it’s also chock full of vitamins and nutrients. And in the world of vegetables, it’s quite the looker with it’s sexy, red stem and lush, green leaves.

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PORK TENDERLOIN WITH FIVE SPICES –

SERVED WITH YUKON GOLD MASHED POTATOES, SWISS CHARD AND A SIMPLE SALAD:

INGREDIENTS: (6 servings)

  • Pork Tenderloin (approx. 2.5 lbs)
  • 1 Tbl. five spice powder*
  • 1 tsp. of sea salt
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 1.5 lb Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 Tbl. butter
  • S & P
  • 1 large bundle of swiss chard, cut into thin strips
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • S & P
  • 1 med. head of butter or bibb lettuce, washed and drained
  • 2-3 Asian pears, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds
  • salad dressing (3 parts olive oil + 1 part lemon juice + S & P)

STEPS:

  • Preheat the oven to 375F. Rub the pork tenderloin with the spices, salt and pepper.
  • Place it in a shallow pan or casserole and tent with foil.
  • Roast the pork for about 35-30 min – or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 160F (medium-done).
  • Before slicing and serving, let the pork rest for at least 15 minutes.
  • Peel and boil the potatoes in salted water until tender – when a knife can be inserted into the potato’s center with little resistance.
  • Drain the potatoes and mash them with crème fraîche, butter and S & P.
  • In a skillet or large frying pan set on med-high heat, add the oil, garlic and swiss chard and S & P. Cook and stir until the swiss chard is tender, but not mushy.
  • To make the salad, place the lettuce, pears and pomegranate seeds in a bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss until lightly coated.

 

*To make your own Five Spice Powder, lightly toast until fragrant equal amounts of these whole spices:

  • red Sichuan peppercorn
  • star anise
  • Vietnamese cassia
  • cloves
  • fennel

Once they become fragrant, remove from heat and let cool. Once cooled, grind the spices using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Keep in an airtight container.

Bon Appétit!