Friday, October 31, 2008

Bò Bía (Vietnamese Jicama and Carrot Rolls)

Bò bía is a Vietnamese street food. They are rolls comprised of jicama, carrot, dried shrimp, eggs and lạp xưởng (Chinese sausage). I used to buy some in Vietnam, where it is considered a street food. I used to regularly make these as a vegetarian version for my ex-roommate D. We referred them as carrot rolls even though I would say jicama plays a more important role in this dish.

My favourite type of dish again: easy, healthy and yummy! This dish can be served as an appetizer but I like it as a light main meal. I love the crunch of the jicama and the sweetness of the hoisin sauce for dipping. I also really enjoy lạp xưởng but you can skip it if you're really worried about being healthy... The first time I ate this dish was at one of my mom's friends. My mom had totally forgotten bò bía from her repertoire of Vietnamese dishes but it was quickly added as one of our favourites.

Bò Bía (Vietnamese Jicama and Carrot Rolls) - Serves 4
Traditionally, this is made with dried shrimp. I omit this but you can find a more traditional recipe on Wandering Chopsticks!

For the jicama and carrot mixture
* oil
* 1 garlic clove
* 1 jicama, julienned (cut into matchsticks)
* 3 carrots, shredded
* salt and pepper, to taste

Cook garlic in oil.
Add jicama until it has softened but still has some crunch left.
Add carrots and mix.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Jicama matchsticks.

Cooked jicama and carrot mixture for bò bía.

To Serve
At home, we serve this as "roll your own", as most dishes with bánh tráng (rice paper). This mean we serve all of the ingredients for the rolls, the rice paper and a bowl of warm water. Each person dips their rice paper, adds what they want and roll themselves. I skip the traditional fresh herbs and usually roll this with lettuce. I feel like a terrible Vietnamese person but when I was younger I used to hate herbs. Now I don't mind them but don't bother buying them when I cook for myself.

* bánh tráng (rice paper), 3-5 per person (for a meal)
* jicama and carrot mixture
* thin omelette (1 egg per person and same amount of milk - I use the broken eggshell to measure the milk)
* 1-2 lạp xưởng per person, cooked and sliced thinly
* lettuce or herb of your choice
* hoisin and chili sauce, for dipping

For omelette: Beat eggs and mix with milk, a bit of salt. Pour thin layer in hot pan and roll. Slice thinly.
For lạp xưởng: Cook lạp xưởng in a pan and slice thinly.
Mix hoisin sauce with chili sauce. (If you're lucky, you made some homemade chili sauce!)
On top of a wet rice paper, line up ingredients and roll. (There are pictures at the bottom of my bánh xèo post.)
Dip in sauce.

Thin slices of omelette.

I love the flavour of lạp xưởng (Chinese sausage).

Mix hoisin sauce with as much chili sauce as you can handle. I used to use Sriracha.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Sauce

I was shopping and noticed a pack of Thai chili's on sale for $1.00 because they were starting to go bad. I remembered that I wanted to try to make Wandering Chopsticks' Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili sauce so I picked it up. Unlike the time I bought a bunch of tomatoes to make Wandering Chopsticks' oven-dried tomatoes and let them go slightly bad, I actually used the chili's this time!

My cheap chili package had a lot of green chili's and I was worried it was going to affect the overall colour of the sauce. So I bought additional yellow, orange and red chili's to compensate. I was very happy with the sauce. The aroma was so delicious that I kept trying it even though it was very spicy. I think I might have to make some and give them as Christmas gifts to my chili-loving friends (especially family friends from Huế!).

The small chili's on the left cost me $1.00.

I was worried I would have a hard time processing the lemongrass but they came out fine.

The fumes from the chili's were tear inducing!

I couldn't wait to have some chili sauce. I happened to make bò bía that night. Instead of mixing Sriracha with hoisin sauce as I usually do, I mixed the hoisin sauce with my new chili sauce. It added so many more dimensions to the dipping sauce! I think I especially liked the flavour the lemongrass added.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Montfort Restaurant

1019 King Street West
Hamilton, Ontario

My friend T invited me out for a quiet dinner for my birthday (yours truly just joined the 30+ club...). She suggested Shenai but since I just had Indian food, I suggested Montfort Restaurant in Westdale. As we walked in, all the tables were taken in the front section so we went into the back, to find a few of our friends there for a surprise. My roommate G organized it (thanks G!).

I had brought my camera to take pictures for this post. I felt rather shy though taking pictures in front of so many people. I don't think my friends are into blogs and they thought it was very funny. This explains why there are not too many pictures. I just wanted to take them quickly.

T and I shared a plate of deep fried calamari. I can never refuse calamari! The portion was quite generous and we had to share with others. The calamari was excellent!

Fried Calamari on a bed of lettuce, $10.95.

I ordered the Montfort Chicken because I am boring and I always order it. I really enjoy the pita sandwich over-stuffed with chicken and pineapple. T ordered the souvlaki plate with a side of Fatoush salad. Many of the guys went for the grilled meats dish (no picture!) and seemed to enjoy everything.

What is most special about Montfort is the garlic dip and onion curry sauces. You can ask for as much as you want and we sure took advantage of that. I pretty much added sauce to my pita after every bite. The garlic sauce is my favourite and very addictive.

Yummy garlic and onion sauce.

Montfort Chicken, $6.90.

Close-up of the chunks of chicken breast and pineapple spilling out of the pita.

Chicken Souvlaki, served with rice and Fatoush salad, $16.99.

Montfort Grill House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cá Hấp (Steamed Fish) and Cải Làn (Chinese Broccoli)

It's funny how certain foods pair up. For example, I always used to eat the green beans and eggs with shake 'n bake tofu. In this case, ever since I learned how to make cá hấp (steamed fish), I have paired it with cải làn (kai-lan or Chinese broccoli). I think it's because I had to go to the Asian market to get ingredients for the fish and would also get some cải làn.

Steamed fish is a traditional Chinese dish. My family often ordered it when we ate out. My mom has a certain way of making it. I assumed it was somewhat traditional. Until one day, I was talking to my colleague G (who is Chinese), and realized glass noodles is not a typical ingredient. I guess that's just something my mom came up with. My mom also doesn't use the traditional black beans. So this is really my mom's version of Chinese steamed fish.

As for the cải làn, it is used a lot in Chinese cuisine. It is one of the rare vegetable dishes at dim sum, served with a side of oyster sauce. It is slightly bitter, which many Asian greens seem to have in common. I really enjoy it. Which is a good thing because it's sold in such a ridiculously big package that I will be eating it for a few meals.

Cá Hấp (Steamed Fish)
Such a quick and easy recipe. I make this for myself so I do not cook a whole fish, rather I just buy one fillet. I love the glass noodles. When my mom made this dish, we would eat it with rice. I just eat the glass noodles as a side. When I smell certain ingredients like mushrooms and sesame oil, I think of this dish!

* 1 handful of glass noodles, soaked and drained
* 1 handful of dried Chinese mushrooms, soaked, drained and chopped roughly
* oil
* 2 green onions, sliced
* piece of ginger, matchsticks
* black soy sauce
* 1 filet of bassa (or white fish of your choice)
* salt and pepper, to taste
* sesame oil

Stir fry the green onion and ginger.
Add the mushroom.
When the green onion and ginger have softened, turn off the heat.
Add the glass noodles, and mix in. (You don't want to cook the glass noodles or they stick together.)
Add dark soy sauce and some salt to taste.
Add half of the mixture at the bottom of a deep dish.
Season your filet with salt and pepper. (Slice the fillet in two if it doesn't fit the dish.)
Add the fish on top of the glass noodle mixture.
Drizzle a bit of sesame oil.
Top with the second half of the glass noodles.
Steam for 5-10 minutes, until the fish is opaque.

Dried mushrooms and glass noodles.

Glass noodle and mushroom mixture.

Fish with glass noodles.

Stir-Fried Cải Làn (Chinese Broccoli)
I like to stir fry cải làn - check out Wandering Chopsticks' steamed version.

* oil
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* cải làn, sliced
* oyster sauce

Cook the garlic slightly.
Add the cải làn.
When it is nearly cooked, add oyster sauce and a bit of water if necessary.

Raw Cải Làn (Chinese Broccoli).

Stir-Fried Cải Làn.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Before & After: My Couch

Since I mentioned my love of teak and I showed cushions on my couch, I wanted to share the before and after of my couch. I did not do this recently, but I just wanted to show the very drastic change it went through. No, my mother, nor I, did the upholstery. I bought the couch from a classified ad on a whim. I used my bonus money a few years ago to pay for the upholstery. It is totally true, upholstering will cost you as much as a new living room set, so only do it if you love it!

And I do love it. I really like the teak; my whole house would be furnished with teak if I could affort it - and it would look like a house stuck in the '60's! I also think that it is an usual piece. The wood contouring the back is quite unique. I will agree that it is not as comfortable as my sister's Skar Peppler but I like it just the same. I'm sure no one has pieces like this!

Before: picture from the classified. You have to love the yellow and brown stripes.

After: upholstered with a neutral colour, brushed cotton fabric.


After. This chair makes me laugh with its bowl shape.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Penne with Sausage and Swiss Chard

While I was wondering what to do with the leftover Swiss chard from my pasta e fagioli, I read a post on The Girl Who Ate Everything where Robin eats penne with sweet Italian sausage, garlic, and swiss chard. Sounds perfect! I often make the same dish with broccoli instead of Swiss chard and I really love it! I liked the slight bitterness of the Swiss chard and the pieces of garlic!

Penne with Sausage and Swiss Chard - for 1 serving
* ½ cup dry penne
* salt, to taste
* 1 tbsp olive oil
* 1 garlic clove, sliced thinly
* dried chili peppers, to taste
* 1 spicy Italian turkey sausage, removed from its casing
* Swiss chard, sliced in 1" sections

Bring water (with salt) in a pot to a boil.
Add pasta.
Meanwhile, heat up olive oil in a frying pan.
Brown the garlic slices.
Add the turkey sausage.
When the sausage is cooked, add the Swiss chard and mix.
Add the dried chili peppers.
Add the pasta, with a bit of the cooking water if it looks dry.
Season to taste.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Đậu Xao Trứng (Green Beans & Eggs) and Gà Rô-ti (Chicken)

Đậu xao trứng (green beans & eggs) and gà rô-ti (braised chicken) were two staples for dinner at my mom's - not together, individually. We ate both with rice, but as I like to minimize carbohydrates, I skip the rice. I make green beans and eggs on a regular basis and this was my first time making gà rô-ti. Gà rô-ti translated to chicken rô-ti, which means roasted in French. However, it's definitely not roasted; it's braised instead. I have concluded (I think) that when Vietnamese use the word rô-ti, they are referring referring to the seasoning, usually five-spice powder.

Green beans and eggs are an easy way to make green beans even tastier. As for gà rô-ti, I don't know if I like the chicken or the sauce better Until recently, my mom seemed to prefer dark meat over white meat. Now she uses breast meat because it's healthier. (She also uses olive oil in everything now while once upon a time, it was corn oil.)

I got two pieces of free-range chicken thighs. I'm trying to eat free range after seeing the abhorent conditions they live in on Oprah last week. I already knew (I did read Fast Food Nation) but seeing pictures was a good reminder. I also thought buying chicken at the farmer's market was a good opportunity to cook it right away and not save some for the freezer because I really hate freezer burn. To make up for the higher cost of the chicken, I bought chicken thighs with skin and bone, which is not my preference.

Đậu Xao Trứng (Green Beans & Eggs)
This is a really easy dish. The most time consuming part is slicing the beans horizontally. That's how my mom does it anyway; I guess it's not necessary...!

* oil
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* a bunch of green beans, sliced or not
* salt
* 1 or 2 eggs, beaten

Cook the garlic in oil.
Add in the green beans and season with salt.
When they are close to being cooked, add the eggs while mixing the beans.

Sliced green beans.

Green Beans and Eggs.

Gà Rô-ti (Chicken)
This works well with chicken breast too because the sauce keeps the chicken moist.

* 2 chicken thighs
* ½ tsp dark soy sauce
* 1 Tbsp sugar
* ½ tsp salt
* ⅛ tsp five spice
* ¼ tsp garlic powder
* oil
* water

In a bowl, add all the ingredients (up to the the oil) to the chicken.
Let it marinate 2-3 hours, or overnight.
In a pan, add the oil and cook the garlic a bit.
Remove the meat but save the marinating liquid.
Add the meat and cook on both sides.
Add the marinating liquid and just a bit of water.
Cook for 20-30 minutes.
Adjust seasoning to taste.

Marinating chicken.

For the second piece of chicken, I had it with cucumbers. I love dipping cold and crunchy pieces of cucumber in the sauce. It seems my mom's dark soy sauce-based recipes never look appealing but they are good!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Roasted Chickpeas

I obviously like eating, being a food blogger. I run so I can eat more but that's not sufficient. Therefore, I also try to eat healthy during the week. Weekends are for splurging! (I used to be on Weight Watchers and I still retain some of the things I learned there.) I really like snacking and if I could eat anything it would be potato chips (or cheesies), eaten alternatively with chocolate and cookies. For a post on a healthy recipe, this is not a good start...

A healthy snack that addresses my salty and crunchy cravings is Roasted Chickpeas that I got from Shape magazine. Not only will it help with your craving, but it’s also a great source of protein and fibre.

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas (from Shape magazine)
The key to having crunchy chickpeas is to dry each chickpea very well beforehand and baking them sufficiently. The seasoning is just a suggestion. You could pretty much put anything you like.

* 1 can of chick peas, drained and patted dry
* salt
* garlic powder
* cayenne pepper
* dry oregano (or whatever spices you like)
* olive oil (ideally sprayed)

Drain and rinse chickpeas.
Pat them dry with a towel. (I used to use paper towel but am trying to reduce my paper usage and a dish towel works perfectly without any waste!)
Bake in the oven at 400F on parchment paper for about 40 minutes or until crisp. (Parchment paper can also be re-used if you're trying to reduce paper usage.)
Take them out while they're hot and place in a bowl.
Spray with olive oil (so the seasoning sticks), add all of the spices and mix well.

Note: These can be saved in a container for up to a week, IF they last that long!!

Drying chickpeas on a dish towel

Nicely roasted chickpeas.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sinh Tố Bơ (Avocado Shake)

I regularly ate sinh tố bơ (avocado shake) growing up. It may seem odd to eat avocado as a dessert but this dessert/drink is very common in Vietnam. Sinh tố is a shake but I like it thicker. The rich consistency of avocado make it creamy, like eating pudding. I eat this with a spoon. Perfect on a hot summer day (or a cold, fall Canadian evening...).

Sinh Tố Bơ (Avocado Shake) - for 1
This is such an easy recipe. You can add ice or more milk to make it more of a liquid texture. Sometimes, I don't even use the food processor. I just crush the avocado with a fork for a more chunky texture.

* 1 avocado
* ¼ cup of milk
* 1-2 Tbsp sugar, to taste

Scoop out the avocado.
Add it with the milk and sugar into a food processor.

It's as simple as putting everything in a food processor.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Before & After: My Kitchen Chairs II

I have already written about two of the chairs reupholstered with the help of my mom (or by my mom with a little bit of my help). While she was here for a visit, I got her to help me with three more. Two were run-of-the mill, no big deal. I purchased them new at Winners seven years ago, when I finished school. There were only two available; this seemed to be the start of my mis-matched chair collection. I wasn't sure if I should cover them to match the rest since they look quite modern. However, the seating looked a bit dirty and I can always remove the fabric if I want.

The other one, with the original green vinyl upholstering, comes with a story. First of all, I love any retro-looking teak furniture. I spotted this chair while walking around one Saturday morning last year. I decided to buy it (for $10!!) and it had to be carried home.

I think this chair is very nice. I like the lines. I found out from the tag that it was made in Canada, about 40 years ago. It required some creative re-upholstering because of the top part. My mom totally came to the rescue. I could not have done it without her! You can see some staples in the back, but they are very subtle. To be fair, we could also see nails in the back on the green vinyl cover.

Now, I have a (nearly) perfect set of 5 chairs. When is the dinner party?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pasta E Fagioli

I have already mentioned that I have a vegetarian recipe repertoire from living with my ex-roommie D for 5 years. This recipe for pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) was in the rotation when the weather got cold. We both enjoyed it very much. Not only is it tasty, but it is oh-so-healthy that there is no guilt if you want a second bowl!

I thought this soup would be a good entry as a "hearty vegetarian soup" for the food blogging event No Croutons Required, hosted by Lisa's Kitchen this month. I have been looking at Lisa's blog for a while now.

This recipe came from a cookbook I had, All About Pasta & Noodles, which was part of a Joy of Cooking book series. Notice I used the past tense because I have lost the book (I don't know how one loses a cookbook...). I tried to remember the ingredients and I think I got it right. I wasn't sure whether there were tomatoes in the recipe but now I am pretty sure there were. I also remembered lima beans. I was so excited to find fresh lima beans, or so I thought. The beans were really big, so I am not so sure anymore what kind of beans they were...

From searching recipes online, pasta e fagioli seems to be typically salted meat, beans over pasta. No vegetables really. However, I do remember once making this soup while our window was being repaired (break-in #1 out of 2 at my old place) and the repairman commenting on how it smelled exactly like a soup his mother used to make. Nice compliment!

Pasta E Fagioli (serves 12)
Adapted from Pasta e Fagioli in joy of Cooking: All About Pasta & Noodles.

For the vegetable broth
I made a vegetable broth because I had celery I wanted to use up. However, it's not necessary. I've used the powdered stuff for this soup.

* 2 carrots, sliced
* 2 celery stalks, sliced
* 2 potatoes, sliced
* 1 onion, sliced in two
* 1 garlic clove
* 2 bay leaves
* 3-4 peppercorns
* ½ tsp dried thyme

Place all vegetables and spices in a pot.
Add water.
Bring to a boil.
Simmer for about 45 minutes and turn off.
Strain the broth through a sieve.

For the pasta
I have no idea what type of beans the original recipe called for. My guess would be cannellini beans. I only had dry black eyed peas and I really like them! I prefer dry beans because I find the canned ones are too mushy, but they would be fine for this soup too. I remember the cookbook stating that this was between a soup and pasta, so it is supposed to be pretty thick!

* ½ cup dry blacked eye peas, soaked in water for a few hours (or from a can)
* olive oil
* 1 onion, diced small
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 2 carrots, diced small
* 1 celery, diced small
* 1 zucchini, diced small (not sure if this was in the original recipe)
* dried herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, parsley)
* 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
* 2 cups vegetable broth
* 1 cup small pasta
* handful of green beans, sliced in 1" sections
* ½ bunch Swiss chard, sliced in 1" sections
* lima beans, fresh or frozen
* salt and pepper, to taste
* ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Stir fry onion, garlic, carrot and celery until softened in a big pot.
Add zucchini and tomatoes.
Season with salt, pepper and dried herbs.
Add the vegetable broth, followed by the black eyed peas.
Turn up the heat.
Once the blacked eyed peas are cooked, add the pasta and lima beans.
When the noodles are cooked, add the green beans and Swiss chard.
Turn off the heat.
Add the Parmesan cheese.
Adjust seasoning to taste.

Tip: If the soup portion seems to big, do not add the pasta. Freeze some of the soup without the pasta, then add pasta for the remaining portion.

Celery and carrots, diced small.

Lima beans or...?

Close-up of the mystery beans.

I think I cooked (and ate) Swiss chard for the first time for this recipe.

Final product, pre-cheese. You can omit the cheese and easily make this vegan.

Pasta e Fagioli
Dig in!