Thursday, July 30, 2009

Toppings for Bún (Rice Vermicelli)

After posting on how to prepare bún thịt nướng (grilled meat with rice vermicelli), I thought I should write a better post on how to dress this dish. Of course, you don't have to add all of these components to bún but I think this is the case where putting it all together is greater than the sum of its parts.

Hành Mỡ (Scallion Oil)
I already wrote a post on hành mỡ. I think it's like the equivalent of butter in Vietnamese food. So start by spreading some scallion oil onto your bún.

Roasted Crushed Peanuts
Many Vietnamese dishes will be topped with peanuts including salads, soups and bún of course! You just need roasted peanuts that you quickly process or crush with a mortar and pestle. So scatter a spoonful or two on top of your bún.

Pickled Carrots
I love pickled carrots. Vietnamese pickles are usually sweet. You can make this a few hours ahead; it does not take long. This adds a sour and sweet taste to the bún.

* 3 carrots, grated
* 1 cup vinegar
* ¼ cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together.
The mixture should be sour but also sweet. Adjust to taste.
Let it sit for a few hours.

Fresh vegetables
What makes Vietnamese food great is the addition of fresh vegetables. I like to slice lettuce, cucumber and mint thinly. Add a handful of what you like. This assure your dish is healthy!

Finally, you have to top your bún with nước chấm (Vietnamese Dipping Fish Sauce) and enjoy it with some protein, like thịt nướng (grilled meat). On this occasion, I made nem nướng (grilled pork meatballs) and kalbi, Korean short ribs.

BBQ-ing the meatballs added a nice tint of pink! I forgot to soak my skewers so take it from me, it's worth not having your skewers crumble on the BBQ!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Baked Shrimp Toasts

For my friend T's birthday, I thought I would have her and her husband (who wants to be referred to as Superfly in my blog!), as well as our friends S & J, for dinner. As a starter, I wanted to try my hand at making baked shrimp toasts. T really loves seafood!

Baked Shrimp Toasts - makes about 12-15
This dish is traditionally deep fried but since bread absorbs a lot of oil, I've always wanted to try to bake it. I think it came out very well, minus the oiliness! The shrimp paste topping is very similar to chạo tôm.

* ½ lb raw shrimp (shelled and deveined)
* ¼ small onion, minced
* ½ tsp garlic powder
* ¼ tsp salt
* ½ tsp sugar
* ½ tbsp cornstarch
* ground black pepper
* white bread slices
* oil for brushing
* black sesame seeds

Pat down the shrimps with a paper towel to make sure they’re dry.
Place into a food processor with the remaining ingredients (except bread and oil).
Blend in food processor until it becomes a paste.
You can make a little patty and fry it, to taste and adjust the seasoning if you’d like.
Using a rolling pin, roll down the bread slices if they are too thick.
Slice into whatever shapes you prefer (triangles or I used a cookie cutter for circles).
Brush one side of the bread with oil.
Spoon some of the shrimp paste on the other side.
Brush the shrimp paste with oil so it becomes golden.
Sprinkle some sesame seeds.
Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes (until the shrimp is cooked through). You can broil it if you want it more golden.

Rolled down bread and brushed with oil, then covered with shrimp.

This is a great recipe because it can be prepared in advance. Once your guests arrive, you just have to pop it in the oven and you're done!

I really like the contrast of the black sesame seeds!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fresh Corn Salad

For our last dinner together, I decided to make Barefoot Contessa's Fresh Corn Salad. It's one of the recipes I've made the most in her cookbook. It's easy and so good. I realize it's not quite corn season yet, but I couldn't resist. I solemnly swear not to buy corn until August...

Fresh Corn Salad
From Barefoot Contessa.

* 5 ears of corn, cooked and kernels sliced off
* ½ cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
* 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
* 3 tablespoons good olive oil
* ½ teaspoon kosher salt
* ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* ½ cup julienned fresh basil leaves

In a bowl with the cooked kernels, add all of the ingredients except for the basil and mix well.
Ideally, let it sit for an hour for the flavours to meld together.
Top with basil before serving.

My sister made bean burgers as our main course. I didn't pay enough attention to write down the recipe. It was very tasty. An overall healthy meal!

L's bean burgers.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stoney Creek Dairy Bar

135 King Street East
Stoney Creek, Ontario

After having breakfast at Pancake House, we did shopping while it poured outside. We were lucky to get a break from the rain and played mini-putt. After working up an appetite (playing mini-putt is hard work!), we decided to go have ice cream at Stoney Creek Dairy Bar. Actually, the decision wasn't that casual. My sister L had been harping about having ice cream at Stoney Creek Dairy, how it had been years since she had been there,... Anything to make L happy!

Playing mini-putt at Adventure Village.

Yes, it had been years since my sister and I had visited Stoney Creek Dairy. Our favourite flavour was Dairy Milk ice cream. Unfortunately, I guess they have eliminated that flavour since we last visited. I decided to have the Peach Festival. I like fruity ice cream and thought it was unusual. We were also near Winona, where the annual Winona Peach Festival is held. My peach-flavoured ice cream was great! It was so fragrant. I just wish it had more pieces of peach!

D's ice cream was a good choice. I don't remember the name (something with monkey?). Mine doesn't look as appealing but was very enjoyable!

Ice cream is always good!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

T's Birthday Dinner

To summarize, the menu for my friend T's birthday dinner was as follows:

Baked Shrimp Toasts
Nem Nướng (Grilled Pork Meatballs) and Korean Style Short Ribs (Kalbi) served with Bún (Rice Vermicelli)
Toppings for Bún
Chocolate Pecan Cheesecake

Pancake House

1520 Main Street W
Hamilton, Ontario

Every time my sister's boyfriend D comes to visit, he gets together with a few friends and plays squash with my roommate G or our friend Superfly. This time was no different, except he also brought his twin with him. So off the boys went to play squash at 8 am; my sister and I went to meet them for breakfast afterwards.

It's funny to go to Pancake House because I haven't been there in years. I lived 5 minutes from there when I was working as a student in Hamilton, a long, long time ago, when we used to throw crazy parties with Menthos-toes (don't ask...). Pancake House is quite popular because it's in Westdale, next to McMaster University. When we got there, it was quite packed.

By the time I took this pic, the crowd had dissipated.

I'm boring. I always get the same thing for breakfast: bacon and eggs. The bacon was crispy without having to ask and the home fries were too. L said they were nearly fries in cube shape. The people who worked there seemed to be very efficient; the food came quickly and the coffee was refilled regularly.

My bacon and eggs (well done) ($4.95).

I have to say I think Pancake House definitely beats West Town Bar & Grill in the cheap breakfast category. I think it might be worth it to drive just a little farther next time for better quality breakfasts.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Grilled Pizza with Pesto and Buffalo Mozzarella

After having crispy zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta and mint as a starter, we did not downgrade for our main dish. I've always wanted to try making pizza on the BBQ and again, took advantage of my sister visiting to give it a try. She had watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen (I've never seen this show?!) where a dough was prepared specifically to hold up to grilling. We found the recipe and she got to work!

I think anyone who has a BBQ should trying making pizza on it. It's totally worthwhile and nothing like plain old regular pizza! I am personally not a dough person and usually leave pizza crust uneaten; I prefer thin crust pizzas. However, I really enjoyed this pizza crust. It was like eating pizza on naan bread! I don't even think it's necessary to make your own dough. I'm sure a store bought dough would yield similar results. One of our worries was that the dough would not hold on the grill and would just fall between the cracks. That was not an issue at all. The only area we had difficulty with was unsticking the dough to place onto the grill. Flour your rolled dough very well!

Grilled Pizza with Pesto and Buffalo Mozzarella
For the pizza dough, we followed America's Test Kitchen recipe. It went well but L had to add a lot of flour because the dough was still sticking to the food processor. We tried to go easy on the toppings because we were worried that the dough would not be able to hold much. The dough came out quite sturdy and surely would have held more. Having said this, we really enjoyed only having three but excellent toppings: pesto (homemade with basil from my garden), buffalo mozzarella and tomato. This dough would also be excellent for foccacia!

* pizza dough, divided into individual portions
* pesto
* tomato slices
* buffalo mozzarella, sliced
* chili flakes (optional)
* grated Parmesan (optional)

Roll your dough out and place on well floured parchment paper.
Grill the dough on one side until you get nice grill marks.
Spread pesto on the grilled side of the dough.
Top with tomato slices, mozzarella, chili flakes and Parmesan.
Place back on BBQ.
Remove when cheese has melted and there are nice grill marks on the underside.

Don't the grill marks look just great?

Grilling our pizzas.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Crispy Zucchini Flowers stuffed with Ricotta and Mint

Every time I see a recipe for deep fried zucchini flowers I’ve wanted to try my hand at it. What can I say? I just can’t resist deep fried food! Having said that, I really don’t often make deep fried food. Since I had noticed a few zucchini flowers in my garden, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try this dish while my sister and co. were visiting.

Among the many zucchini flower recipes that are out there, we decided to make Jamie Oliver’s from his cookbook Jamie at Home. It’s quite easy. We also really liked the filling and I want to try in other recipes. In his cookbook, Jamie recommends buying good quality crumbly ricotta cheese (not supermarket, best bought from specialty shop). We ended up buying the ricotta from an Italian lady’s cheese stall at the food market and I really liked her ricotta!

We found we did not need as much batter because I’m assuming my zucchini flowers were smaller than Jamie's. One note is to carefully clean the flowers if you got them from your garden. While washing them, we found a bug trying to get out of the flower (it reminded me of the scene in Alien or in Spaceball, but I digress...). While trying to cut it out, we realized it was a wasp! My sister and I screamed like school girls while her boyfriend took care of removing the wasp.

Wasps in a zucchini flower.

Crispy Zucchini Flowers stuffed with Ricotta and Mint
Adapted from Jamie at Home.

* 100 g good quality crumbly ricotta
* freshly grated parmesan
* grated zest of 1 lemon
* small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
* salt and pepper
* ½ cup white wine
* ½ cup flour
* sparkling water (mine was lime flavoured, leftover from making mojitos!)
* 8 zucchini flowers, washed and patted dry
* vegetable oil
* 1 lemon, halved

Mix the ricotta in a bowl with the parmesan, lemon zest and chopped mint.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon the ricotta into the corner of a sandwich bag.
Snip ½" off the corner and use this as a piping bag.
Squeeze the filling into each flower, until just full.
Carefully press the flowers back together around the mixture to seal it in.
For the batter, put the flour and wine in a bowl and whisk until thick and smooth.
Add some sparkling water as required.
Dip a zucchini flower into the batter and gently let any excess drip off.
In a pot of hot oil, deep fry the flower until golden and crisp all over.
Remove to a plate or board and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt.
Serve with half a lemon to squeeze over.

Stuffing the zucchini's. My sister L did a good job!

I took a lots of pics because I find they're so pretty!

I was assigned to deep frying!

Not as pretty before frying but definitely tasty!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Staropolskie Delikatesy

711 Barton Street East
Hamilton, Ontario

My sister lived in Hamilton for a little over a year. While she was here, she would often go grab a sandwich at Staropolskie Delikatesy with her Polish colleague. Staropolskie does brisk business at lunch time with all the steel workers around. Their sandwiches cost around $4, which actually includes two sandwiches. What a steal!

My sister also introduced me to kielbasa from Staropolskie. I had never had kielbasa before! Kielbasa are Polish sausages that are very flavoured with with garlic and pepper (you whole fridge will smell like kielbasa if you buy some). We try to stick to the leaner ones and one of our favourites is Staropolska kielbasa.

For my sister (and co.)'s second day in Hamilton, we decided to go on a hike up to Dundas Peak. Beforehand, we went to grab sandwiches for lunch. While the twins shared a turkey sandwich and my sister got a ham sandwich, I debated between getting the breaded chicken and what they called hamburger (which was also breaded). I decided on the chicken sandwich but the Polish lady gave me the hamburger instead. I'm glad she made the mistake because I really liked my sandwich. The ground meat was well flavoured but did not taste like a hamburger at all! The sandwiches are made with rye bread and a piece of cheese is added. They also come with a complimentary piece of sausage.

This is half of a half-sandwich. Does that make sense?

After our hiking effort, we got to eat!

We enjoyed the Staropolska kielbasa at home later on. It's embarrassing how much kielbasa I can eat. I can just start slicing and never stop! This kielbasa, studded with flakes of black pepper, was very good indeed!

Staropolska kielbasa.