Friday, August 28, 2009

Bánh Tôm (Sweet Potato and Shrimp Cakes)

It seems that while I was asking my mom for bò lá lốt (beef stuffed betel leaves), my sister asked her to make bánh tôm (sweet potato and shrimp cakes); therefore, my mom made both for dinner! These are SO very, very tasty. I bet you can't eat just one! But one cannot expect less when you deep fry sweet potato and shrimp! They're also relatively easy to make if you don't mind frying. While we were eating, my mom's husband H and my sister's boyfriend D (oops, I meant fiancé...) made comments about these being Vietnamese latkes. I don't know about that! Maybe latkes are Jewish bánh tôm...

Bánh Tôm (Sweet Potato and Shrimp Cakes)
My mom used two types of sweet potatoes, but any one will do. Sweet potatoes can be easily grated and don't release water, unlike potatoes. I think grating the sweet potatoes makes for a better bánh tôm: more surface area for frying! They also cook more quickly.

* 24 shrimps, peeled and deveined
* salt and pepper, to taste
* garlic powder, to taste
* 2 sweet potatoes, grated
* ½ cup bột tôm chiên (tempura flour - available at Asian grocery stores)
* 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
* ¾ cup water
* a bit of salt, to taste
* oil

Season the shrimps with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Set aside.
Mix the two flours in a separate bowl.
Slowly add water while whisking, ensuring there are no lumps.
Add a bit of the batter to the shrimps, just to cover them.
Add the remaining batter to the grated sweet potatoes and mix.
Add add about an inch of oil in a shallow pan or pot and heat up.
Add a pile of the sweet potato mixture onto a ladle. Make a hole in the middle and place a shrimp in. Slip the sweet potato batter and shrimp onto the hot oil.
(Alternatively, use a round metal cookie cutter or use an old tuna can, to make perfectly round cakes.)
When the underside is nice and golden (this is very quick, maybe a minute), flip the cake over.
Remove when the other side is cooked.
Drain on paper towl.
Serve with bún (rice vermicelli), lettuce, cucumber, herbs and fish sauce dipping sauce. Traditionally, it is simply served to be rolled in lettuce, and dipped into the fish sauce, or on top of bánh cuốn - that was sometimes my breakfast in Vietnam!

Grated sweet potatoes and cakes being deep fried.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bò Lá Lốt (Beef Stuffed Wild Betel Leaves)

I'm home in Montréal visiting my family and also to attend a wedding. Even though I told my mom I didn't want to eat too much before the wedding, my mom had planned a nice (big!) dinner: bò lá lốt (beef stuffed betel leaves) and bánh tôm (shrimp cakes). That's on top of the bánh củ cải (turnip cake) that was awaiting me when I arrived!

I had asked my mom to teach me (after the wedding) how to make bò lá lốt (beef stuffed betel leaves). I associate bò lá lốt with summer because my mom grills it on her charcoal BBQ (although it could be done in the oven too). Ground beef () is stuffed in lá lốt, or wild betel leaf in English. I was getting confused with the term betel leaf because I thought it also referred to a leaf that gets chewed with a nut and makes the mouth go red; I saw old ladies do this in Vietnam. My mom insisted this is different and is called lá trầu in Vietnamese. Wandering Chopsticks' bò lá lốt post explains the difference between wild betel leaf and betel leaf.

Bò Lá Lốt (Beef Stuffed Wild Betel Leaves) - Makes about 60
Wild betel leaves can be found at Asian grocery stores. My mom bought 4 bags at $0.99 per bag. When she was unable to find them years ago, I remember my mom using grape leaves from our garden. While a betel leaf has its own unique fragrance, grape leaves work just as well! The ground beef can be seasoned to your taste. My mom likes the additon of sesame seeds, though I found out in Vietnam that this is not traditional.

* 1 kg extra lean ground beef
* 4 tsp minced lemongrass (can be purchased frozen)
* 2 tsp salt
* 3 tbsp sugar
* 2 tsp garlic
* ¼ tsp five spice powder
* 2 tbsp sesame oil
* 2 tbsp sesame seeds (or to taste)
* approximately 60 betel leaves, washed and dried
* 5-6 bamboo skewers, pre-soaked in water if you want

Combine the meat and all of the ingredients, except the betel leaves.
Lay a betel leaf on a plate, with the tip of the leaf at the top. (Refer to pictures below.)
Spoon 2-3 teaspoons of the meat mixture at the base of the leaf, leaving an inch or so.
Shape the beef into a little log.
Fold the base of the leaf over the meat and then fold each side over (for smaller leaves, you can leave the sides open).
Roll the little package up.
Place a skewer through the tip of the leaf and through the meat.
Repeat until you fill a skewer.
Grill 2-3 minutes per side.
Serve with bún (rice vermicelli), lettuce, cucumber, herbs and fish sauce dipping sauce.

Betel leaves.

Placing ground beef mixture on the betel leaf.

Folding the sides of the leaf down.

Rolling and pinning it through with a skewer.

Ready to be grilled.

Tasty little meat parcels.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Barefoot Contessa's Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

I was heading to my friend S' baby shower and offered to bring something. I made Barefoot Contessa's Sun-Dried Tomato Dip. Ina Garten writes in her book that this is the favourite dip at her store and is similar to thousand island dressing. The feedback I got was similar; everyone really liked this dip. It's quite an easy dip to make too. You pretty much just add all the ingredients in a food processor and blend. I served it with some healthy vegetables, including cherry tomatoes from my garden!

Sun-dried Tomato Dip
From Barefoot Contessa cookbook.
I didn't measure the ingredients closely and it still turned out well. I also skipped the salt because the sun-dried tomatoes I bought provided enough saltiness to the dip. I didn't have tabasco and added hot sauce instead. I didn't really find it gave a kick but it did help add the nice reddish colour to the dip.

* ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped (8 tomatoes)
* 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
* ½ cup sour cream
* ½ cup good mayonnaise
* 10 dashes, hot red pepper sauce
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend.
Serve with vegetable or pita pockets.

All the ingredients in a food processor.

Sun-Dried Tomato Dip with veggies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cherry Mojito and Shrimp & Pesto Alfredo

Another post, another meal at my friend T's! This time, her husband Superfly was away and I invited our friend Trapezista over for dinner. I felt comfortable doing this because I offered to make dinner! We started off with cherry mojitos and dinner was pasta with shrimp & pesto.

I had some cherries that I did not enjoy too, too much. They were the last of the season. After watching Giada at Home, I decided to freeze the cherries (first pit them, then freeze them on a baking sheet before placing them in a bag so they're not all stuck together) to make Blended Cherry Mojitos. All three of us really enjoyed it. I would say it was definitely sweeter than the usual mojitos. The cherry flavour really came out and I didn't mind the mint blended instead of crushed.

Shrimp & Pesto Alfredo - Serves 3
I've been obsessed with all things pesto recently. When I saw at the corner of my eye a foodbuzz ad for a post for Shrimp & Pesto Alfredo, I couldn't resist. My creamy sauce making skills have to be practiced though. Whenever I add cheese to a liquid, it always king of curdles. Not very attractive but still tasty. I think this would also be good with just pesto.
Adapted from Cajun Chef Ryan.

* 15 shrimp, peeled and deveined
* 1 clove garlic, minced
* salt, to taste
* ground black pepper, to taste
* cherry tomatoes
* olive oil
* 2 cups milk
* 1 tsp cornstarch
* water
* 100 g Parmesan cheese, ideally freshly grated
* ¼ cup pesto, or to taste
* 300 g pasta, cooked and drained

Season the shrimp with salt, pepper and garlic to taste.
Allow to marinate for an hour or so.
When you're ready for dinner, cook the past and bake the tomatoes in the oven for 10-12 min at 350F.
Meanwhile, cook the shrimp in a bit of olive oil, until it is cooked through. (Don't overcook them! Overcooked shrimp is never good!). Set aside.
In a large pan, heat up the milk.
Mix the cornstarch in water.
Add the cornstarch mixture, followed by the Parmesan cheese, to the milk while whisking. (This isn't when my sauce accidently became chunky...)
Add the pesto and also mix.
When the pasta is cooked, add the pasta to the sauce.
Throw the shrimp and tomatoes in, as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BLT with pesto mayo

What do I enjoy most about growing tomatoes? Making BLT's!! I've mentioned I like my salt and I like my bacon. There's nothing better than having a BLT with fresh tomatoes!

I realize there's nothing difficult about making a BLT. I did make mine a bit more unique by making a pesto mayo. I'm obsessed with pesto right now having basil in my garden. I've also just added basil in the sandwich instead of mixing the pesto in.

* 1 tsp pesto (preferably homemade)
* 1 tbsp mayo
* 2 slices of bread, toasted
* bacon, cooked until crips and patted dry
* tomato, sliced
* salt and pepper, to taste
* lettuce leaf

Mix pesto and mayo to make pesto mayo.
Spread over one slice of bread
Lay the bacon on top
Top with tomato slices. (optional: season with salt and pepper)
Place the lettuce on top.
Slice diagonally.

Pesto mayo and bacon.

Tomato and lettuce.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bún Thịt Heo Băm Xào (Rice Vermicelli with Ground Pork)

The best combination for a dish when you've had a long day is easy and tasty. Bún thịt heo băm xào (rice vermicelli with ground pork) fits these requirements. It can also be really quick if you have the ingredients on hand. I had some leftover bún (rice vermicelli) from making bún thịt bò xào (vermicelli with stir-fried beef). So I took out some frozen ground pork to thaw for the next day.

Pork, including ground pork, is used a lot in Vietnamese cuisine, like in nem nướng (grilled pork meatballs). I remember when I was young wondering why we didn't eat more ground beef like other people. Now I think I might even prefer ground pork over ground beef. I think its added fattiness adds more flavour.

Bún Thịt Heo Băm Xào (Rice Vermicelli with Ground Pork)
This groud pork mixture is used in many dishes, sometimes with the addition of wood ear mushrooms, like in bánh giò. It's also great cooked as little patties!

* oil
* ¼ onion, chopped small
* 100 g ground pork
* salt, to taste
* ground black pepper, to taste
* a pinch of sugar, or to taste
* a handful of bún, cooked (for cooking instructions)

Heat up oil.
Stir fry onion.
Add ground pork and break into pieces.
Add salt, sugar and pepper and mix.
Adjust seasoning to taste - I like it very peppery.
Turn off the heat.
Add the bún and mix it with the ground pork. (You don't want to cook the bún or it could get mushy. If you have leftover like meat, heat it up beforehand in the microwave.)

Leftover bún feeding me a second meal.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Garden Salad

I invited myself over to my friends T's and Superfly's. I hadn't seen their two-year old in a while and I didn't want her to forget her Auntie N! They were nice to invite me over for some grilled pizza. I can't turn down grilled pizza! I volunteered to bring a salad since I had lettuce and tomatoes from my garden.

Garden Salad
This was inspired by what was in my garden and the peas in my refrigerator. I then read a recipe for Farmers Market Salad that used peas in GOOP (Gwyneth Paltrow's weekly newsletter). I liked that she used maple syrup in the vinaigrette and decided to try it.

* lettuce, well washed and torn (I had red leaf and some peppery arugula)
* fresh green peas (from my garden and supplemented by the supermarket)
* cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
* half an avocado, cubed
* rice vinegar
* maple syrup
* honey grain Dijon mustard (that's all I had in the fridge)
* extra virgin olive oil
* salt
* pepper

Place lettuce, green peas, tomatoes and avocado in a bowl.
For the dressing, place the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl, to taste, and whisk together. (I meant to measure but forgot. I was heavy handed with the maple syrup because I liked the sweetness it provided.)
Pour on top of the salad.

Little P is already learning how took work a stove at her age!

P played while her dad barbecued dinner.

Nothings beats grilled pizza!

A side of salad makes it healthy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vegetarian Stuffed Inari

I volunteer as an English tutor at the public library, as part of a program to help new immigrants. My "student" C is a Korean woman whose English is actually quite good. Sometimes when we meet around lunch time, she makes us treats! Last time she made kimbap (Korean sushi), which differs from Japanese sushi; its filling had ground beef and fish cake. This time C brought us rice stuffed inari's.

I've had inari before but not quite like this. The rice tasted like sushi rice, seasoned with rice vinegar. C used brown rice because she is very health conscious. She also added some finely diced carrots and red peppers. Finally the filling was dotted with black sesame seeds. It was quite a filling treat! C tells me you can buy inari (hollowed out tofu pockets) at the Korean grocery store. C promised me to go for a stroll at the nearby Korean grocery store to show me all the treats!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dark Chocolate Truffle Cupcakes

It seems I've been stretching these posts on my friend T's birthday. That's because I've been lazy writing I guess. On T's actual birthday, I went over to her and Superfly's place for some takeout Indian food. It was the birthday girl's request. I decided to make chocolate cupcakes. I was imagining a cupcake that was reminiscent of truffles and googled "truffle cupcakes". I found a dark chocolate truffle cupcake recipe. The cupcakes were good, but nothing spectacular.

I thought I would share this recipe not for what went well, but for what went wrong. Most food blogs always seem so perfect. Food is shown at its best. However, I'm not perfect; I make mistakes in the kitchen. Sometimes, they're disastrous ones, like when I dropped the flourless chocolate torte and had to make a second one. Sometimes, I don't learn my lesson the first time around and go on repeating the same mistake. This happened when I tried making Giada De Laurentiis' almond and chocolate clusters. The first time I forgot to spray the mini muffin tin and ended up scraping caramel off for a very long time with nothing to show. I thought I had wisened up the second time and sprayed the tin. I still had to scrape off caramel with nothing to show. I learned to read the comment section of online recipe where everyone complained about the same problem. Stoopid, stoopid, stoopid!

This time, the cupcake making was going well. Before dropping the batter into the muffin tin, I actually tasted the batter and thought it was not very sweet. I remembered weighing the sugar, so I continued on with my task and placed the cupcakes in the oven. Two minutes into baking, I noticed the sugar on the scale... and not in the cupcakes! I couldn't bear wasting all that butter and eggs. So I took out the cupcakes, added sugar to each individual one and stirred in the sugar (chopsticks are so useful for all sorts of uses!).

Trying to fix my mistake!

The cupcakes came out fine. It was worth the rescue. Maybe the experience tainted my enjoyment of the cupcakes. I don't think I'll be making this recipe again...!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fresh Green Peas & Mushrooms

Some foods just go together, like ice cream & fries... and peas & mushrooms! I discovered this combination at a big Italian Sunday dinner. I couldn't resist making it when I found fresh green peas.

Prepping fresh green peas takes a bit of effort, but it is well worth the time removing the peas from their pods. I found it very hard to resist not eating them all raw. The smaller peas are best eaten raw because they're still sweet. The bigger ones are a bit starchier and not as good.

Fresh Green Peas & Mushrooms
The basics for the recipe are peas and mushrooms. Otherwise, you can add whatever you want!

* oil
* ½ onion, sliced small
* 2-3 handfuls of fresh green peas
* 1-2 handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
* salt and pepper, to taste
* fresh thyme, optional
* dried chili flakes, optional

Heat up a bit of oil in a pan.
Cook the onion until softened.
Add the mushrooms and cook until also softend.
Add fresh green peas.
Season with salt, pepper, thyme and chili flakes, to taste.

Fresh green peas and mushrooms.