Sunday, August 31, 2014

Purple Plum Torte-Bánh Mận Tím Nướng



This recipe was adapted from The Famous Plum Cake, originally called Fruit Torte by Marian Burros from The New Elegant but Easy Cookbook. It was published in The New York Times almost every year from 1983 to 1995.  Adapted from New York Times. My family like smaller plum pieces (Cut one plum into 8 pieces) better.  The ripe plums will keep the shape better but the overripe (soft) plums can be used in the cake too.  If you pick your plums choose the ones dark deep purple and still firm but not hard.  The flesh and skin yield slightly under your fingers when you squeeze it gently.

1/4 lb unsalted butter (1/2 cup, 1 stick), room temperature
3/4 cup plus 1-2 Tbs sugar, divided
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder (aluminum free)
2 eggs
Pinch of salt
24 halves pitted Italian (aka Prune, Purple) plums (about 1 pound)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (less or more for taste)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (optional)
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 oF with a rack at lower third position.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
  3. Use a handheld or standing electric mixer to cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until light in color at medium speed.  Add eggs, vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Add  the dry ingredients, beat at low speed until just combined.  Scrape the sides of the bowl  as necessary.
  4. Transfer the batter to a 8 or 9-inch ungreased springform pan.  Cover the top with the plums, skin side up.  Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1-2 Tbs sugar and sprinkle over the top.
  5. Put the pan in a rimmed baking tray.  Bake until the top and side light brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean about 45-50 minutes.  Remove from oven. Let it cool down on a wire rack about 10 minutes.  Use a small knife running along the side, release the side of cake pan.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature plain or with Vanilla ice cream.  Store at room temperature up to 2 days, the cake tastes best the day after. Refrigerate or freeze if desired but first wrap it in foil and place in a plastic bag and seal.  Thaw completely before warming up in 350 oF oven or toaster oven like bread. 

*Notes:
  • I think we can use our favorite yellow butter cake here but I haven't tried it yet.
  • I add vanilla extract in the cake batter and slice the plum in 8 pieces lengthwise, mix them with 1/4 cup sugar and let it sit in the fridge for three hours and take it out, drain and preserved the juice and start to cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar... and add juice into the batter at the end and mix well before transfer the batter to the ungreased springform pan without any sugar or cinnamon on the top but it tastes wonderful. 
  • The cake is very easy to be removed from the side and only need a little help with a small knife to get the bottom off the base but I think grease the pan needed if you do not have a springform pan.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Chile pepper in Vinegar and Fish Sauce-Ớt Ngâm Nước Mắm và Giấm



This is two simple condiments of Vietnamese cuisine.  In the old days, major household do not have refrigerator or freezer, fresh chile peppers are saved and available anytime this way but for some the umami in these chili is favored than fresh chili.  They last very long time at room temperature without canning process.  In these days, I keep fresh chiles in freezer and only make these in small amount occasionally.  They can  add a little heat with umami flavor to almost anything from stir fried veggie to grilled meat.

You can use any hot chile pepper, red or green, small or large.  Keep the small pepper whole and slice the large pepper as serrano, jalapeno crosswise about 1/16 inch thick.

Put chile pepper into small jars, add a few thinly sliced garlic cloves.  Pour enough fish sauce or vinegar to cover pepper and garlic.  Do not mix fish sauce with vinegar, only use one kind for each jar.  Stir well and press down occasionally, covered and store in the fridge. They will be ready to use but the flavor will be better in 1-2 two days. Check add a little more fish sauce or vinegar to keep chiles covered.  Some people can bite directly into the chiles and eat it meal or savory snack.  Some use chopsticks or a spoon to smash/cut one into small pieces first and mix with a little pure fine fish sauce or food to diffuse the heat.




Crispy chicken-Gà Nhúng Bột Chiên Dòn


I am excited to share with you this perfect batter- crisp but tender after years of searching and I am sure you should be agreed too.  It belongs to Katie Chin's late famous mother, Leeann Chin. The double frying technique help serving easy, everything can be prepared in advance and the fried chicken pieces just need to be deep fried the second time a few minutes before serving/eating.  She serves it with mango sauce. It is a good sauce but the canned coconut milk flavor dominated the mango.  I serve them with other sauces as lemon, plump, and blackberry sauce too.  Adjust the salt more or less depending on the breast weight. Chicken can be sliced in half or cut into smaller pieces about 2- finger size pieces.

Crispy Chicken 

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 large egg
2 tsp & 2 Tbs cornstarch, divided
1¼ tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp ground white  pepper (or black pepper)
1 tsp peeled & minced fresh ginger ( or grated frozen ginger)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs oil
1/4 tsp baking soda
Oil for frying

  1. Slice chicken breast into 1/2 thickness as butterfly chicken, see instruction below .  
  2. In a large shallow bowl, beating egg and 1 tsp salt, ground pepper, 2 tsp cornstarch, and ginger.  Add chicken pieces to the bowl and turn to coat all sides.  Cover and set aside on the counter 30 minutes.  Drain the chicken pieces with a large/med drainer.  Save the marinade.
  3. In a shallow dish, mix the reserved marinade, water, oil, flour, 2 Tbs cornstarch, baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt. 
  4. Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep fryer/electric skillet or deep skillet at to 350 oF.  Dip chicken pieces one by one into the batter to coat all sides. Lift it up and let excess drip off a little bit.  Careful add chicken pieces in one layer.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  Fry until light brown about 3-4 minutes, turning 2-3 times. Drain on a wire rack in a rimmed baking tray.  Raise the heat up to 375 oF and fry chicken pieces one more time until golden brown about 2-3 minutes, turning once.  Chicken pieces can stay at room temperature a few hour after the first frying and only need to be refried before serve.
  5. Pour extra batter into the hot oil about 1 tsp at a time. until golden brown. When they cool down, store in an air tight container or zip lock bag and use them as a snack or salad topping as crouton or bacon bit.  These stay crunchy a few days.
  6. Transfer the chicken pieces into a platter.  Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces about 1 inch for the large piece.  Reheat the sauce and serve it on the side or pour 1/2 on the chicken, keep 1/2 of the sauce on the side.
Mango Coconut Sauce
1 Tbs peanut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup chicken broth (canned or homemade)
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup pure mango
2 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs rice or white vinegar
2 Tbs cornstarch, mixed with 2 Tbs water
  • Heat oil into a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic and stir until light tan color and fragrant. Add all other ingredients except cornstarch, bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat down to medium and stir in cornstarch.  Cook and stir continuously until thicken.  Remove from heat, cover.
Cutting chicken
  • Put the chicken breast smooth side down on a cutting board.  Find the tender (small tender inlet) and remove it by cutting any connective tissue. 
  • Turn the smooth side up . Put the palm of  your no-dominate hand on the top and hold the chicken breast down steady.  Use a sharp knife with the edge of the knife parallel to the cutting board and the thick part of the breast toward the knife.  Find the middle and carefully slice the breast in half widthwise to the other edge.
  • Cover the chicken pieces with thin plastic layer or butcher paper.  Gently pound to flatten the thick part to even the thickness.  The chicken pieces can be cut further into half lengthwise or bite-size pieces.
  • Remember to wash the hands before and after touching raw meat.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cream Puff/Choux à la crème-Bánh Su Kem


This is one of my little boy favorite.  He love these little puffs so much that he requested me to teach his mom  in Vietnam how to make these so his sibling could enjoy them too.  They are best filled and eaten on the day was made  but they can be stored in freezer for days.  Top with powder sugar or chocolate ganache or crisp caramel glaze but they are good without any topping.  A fruit glaze/compote is best for ice cream filling in the summer.  Chouquette is small cream puffs without filling but have hailstone size sugar or chocolate bits/chips sprinkled on top before baking.  The bite size, 1 inch round dish with ice cream filling is one of my kids favorite summer parties too.

The most important part in this recipe is beating eggs "Vigorously" into the flour mixture.  If you have weak arms use a handheld mixer (or standing mixer with the paddle attached)  to mix the eggs in until the mixture (choux paste) is real smooth and shiny.  If not the puffs will not raise. It happened to me-been there, done that, you know.  If you need measurement in metric system (liter, gram, etc.) please let me know.

Make about 28-30 medium puffs (1¾ inch dish)

1 cup water or 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick/4 oz)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 425 oF with one rack on top third and one on bottom third.  Line two baking sheet with silicon pak or parchment paper.  In medium saucepan, bring butter, water and salt to a boil over medium high heat.  Stir with a  stiff, heatproof or wooden spoon until butter melt.  Turn the heat down to medium, add flour all at once and stir rapidly until the dough pull away from the sides of the pan.  Continue to stir until seeing the dough start to form a thin film at the bottom of the pan.  Remove from heat.  Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition until fully incorporated before adding the next one until the mixture is smooth and shiny.  
  2. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with 1/2 inch plain tip.  Piping into 1-2 inch round dishes and about 1/2 inch thick and 1 inch apart.  Wet a finger with water and smooth the pointed tip down.  Bake now or freeze them on the baking tray until firm; then transfer them to freeze container for later. 
  3. Bake at 425 oF until deep golden brown about  30-40 minutes-they will be hollow and not gooey or eggy inside.  For  crispier shells bake at 425 oF for 15 minutes and turn the temp. down to 375 oF and bake until deep golden brown about 15-30 more minutes. The larger shells need more time. Open one to check near the end of baking time.  Do not open oven until they are raised and looked firm enough to hold the shape.  Let cool on the baking sheet.
  4. Baked puffs can be filled in two ways: split in half and put the filling on the bottom part, cover with the top or poke a hole at the side or bottom and pipe the filling through.  
Cream custard filling
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean or 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar or 1/3 cup for less sweet
5 egg yolks from large eggs
3 Tbs all purpose flour
3 Tbs cornstarch

  1. Beat egg yolk and sugar until blended and add flours.
  2. Pour milk in a medium saucepan, use a small knife, split the vanilla bean along the length and scrape the seeds out.  Add the bean and seeds into milk.  Bring it to a boil.  Remove and discard the vanilla bean or save to flavor sugar (wash, air dry and add to sugar)
  3. Whisk 1/2 of hot milk into egg mixture until well combined.  Return the egg mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium low heat, whisking continuously and vigorously until the cream thickens and makes a few bubbles burst on the surface, continuous stirring and cooking for 1 more minute.   Transfer the cream to a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap or strain it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.  Refrigerate until cool and set at least 2-3 hours up to 2 days.  If want to use cream sooner, spread it into a thin layer between plastic wrap and chill in the fridge about 30 minutes.  Whisk the cream and add vanilla extract before use.  
* I flavor the cream with some left over durian curd.  If you like to flavor with Grand Marnier, Rum, etc.  add 1 Tbs instead of vanilla before use.
*The cream is thickening and burn very easy.  Use the heavy bottom saucepan if you have one or take it off & on the heat or lower the heat down if needed.



Whipped Cream Filling
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powder sugar and extra for dusting
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk or beat all ingredients together just to blend.  Store in the fridge with the beaters/whisk until chill at least 15 minutes.  Whip until stiff peaks form.
  2. Split the shells in half, spoon or pipe the whipped cream on the bottom half and cover with the top. Sprinkle with powder sugar.  Chill in the fridge until serve but no more than 4 hours.




Monday, August 11, 2014

Macaron with blackberry curd/jam filling and blackberry ganache



.
The shells recipe is from Pierre Herme.  It is pretty close to Thomas Keller," Bouchon" which I learned in "Lemon macaron". I increase baking time to 14 minutes at 350 oF convection oven to make them drier. If you do not use convection oven bake at 300 oF for 18-20 minutes.

The filling needs time to set. It can be made the day before and store in the fridge.  I tried one blackberry curd recipe with egg yolk but did not like it both the color and taste.  Blackberry jam can be used instead of blackberry curd.

Macaron shells: made 48-50 shells (1¾ in. diameter template).
150g ground almond
150 g powder sugar
55g egg white

55 g egg white
150g granulated sugar
38g water
Purple gel food color ( about a pea size for the shell and extra for sugar )
4 Tbs Purple sparkling sugar or granulated sugar (optional)

Follow the same instruction as lemon macaron  and sprinkle color sugar atop half of the shells after piping Bake 14 minutes at 350 oF convection oven.
For the filling, use a 1/4 in. round tip pipe a circle of blackberry ganache near the edge of a plain shell (no color sugar)and pipe the blackberry curd/jam at the center.  Gently press a second shell which has color sugar down on the filling to make one macaron.

Blackberry ganache
205g white chocolate
6 Tbs blackberry curd/jam
1/2 tsp salt

Melt white chocolate on double boiler.  Remove from heat.  Warm blackberry curd/jam up a little bit and add to melt chocolate and stir until well cooperate.  Let it cool down to piping/spreading consistency.  It takes a few hours in the fridge.  Beat it well before using.  If it seems too hard, stir in more blackberry curd 1 tsp at a time and blend well.  It should spreadable, soft but not running.

Blackberry Curd without egg
4 cup blackberry, washed and drained well
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch (increase to 4 Tbs if not using agar.)
2 tsp agar powder
4 oz unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Puree blackberries in a blender or food processor.  Press berries through a medium sieve to remove the seeds.  Return the seeds back to the blender, add 1/2 cup water and repeat puree/press again until having 2 cups sieved berries.  In a small saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup sugar, agar and cornstarch.  Add sieved berries.  Stir constantly and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Taste and add more sugar to suit your taste but keep it slightly tart to balance the sweetness of the shells.  Turn the heat down to medium or med low.  Cook and keep stirring until thick and bubble. Turn the heat down to low and continue stirring 2-3 minutes more. Remove from heat.  Let it cool down to room temperature and let it set in the fridge  The curd will be thicker when cool down due to agar.  Store in the fridge if not using right away.

*Berries can be cooked until very soft about 5 minutes before puree/sieve
  Puree/ sieve the solid berry waste with water to flavor lemonade if you want too.
  Use leftover blackberry curd as jam with bread, pancake, or cake filling.
  I did not have purple color sugar so I add some purple gel color to white sparkling sugar.
  There are popular tricks in making macaron is use old egg white (separated egg white one or a few days       before then store in the fridge, bring it out to room temperature to use) and let them sit until the surfaces is  tacky about 20-30 minutes before baking.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hà Nội Style Rice Vermicelli and Grilled Pork-Bún Chả Hà Nội


This is one of  Northern Vietnam most famous street dishes. Bun cha basically is rice vermicelli with slivers and patties of charcoal-grilled pork. I haven't eaten this dish at its Northern famous spot "Bún Hàng Mành" but per my brother in-law who was born and grown up in the Northern area, stated the Northern People do not like sweet  as the Southern Vietnamese. He also told the marinade consist of garlic, shallot, and five-spices powder.  I did not use five-spices powder though.

Fatty and fresh pork is needed to make good pork patties.  If you grind your own pork, make sure keep the pork cold like in making pork sausage and do not grind it too fine ( I like the ratio of 1/2 coarse/medium size and 1/2 fine/smallest size).  However the real fresh pork will produce a shiny reddish coat if being grilled on hot charcoal.  Some use food color, caramel or dark soy sauce to imitate that color.  Sliced pork and pork patties can be grilled in a metal basket or on bamboo/metal skewers or pan seared. but pork patties can be grilled directed on the grill like hamburger meat.

We only need a small portion of a green papaya for this recipe.  You can omit it or use the rest to make a papaya salad or stew with broth to make a soup like squash.   A yellow firm papaya can be used too.

Serve 6-8
1 lb pork shoulder butt (Boston butt)  or belly,cut into 1/4 in thick and 1 in. wide slices
1 lb ground pork
2 Tbs fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/4 cup minced shallot (small asian shallots)
2 Tbs minced garlic
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
1 large head of lettuce: red, or butter, leaves detached and washed
1/2 cucumber, julienned or thinly sliced in moon or semi-moon shape.
1/2 lb bean sprout, washed
A couple handful of Vietnamese herbs: cilantro, basil, perilla, mint, etc, washed
3/4 lb. fine dried rice vermicelli (same size as angel hair noodles)

Papaya and carrot pickles
A small piece of green papaya and carrot
White vinegar, sugar and water (with the ratio 1:1:4 volume )

Dipping Sauce
1 cup water
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tbs lime juice
2 garlic clove, finely minced
1-2 red hot chilli, seeded or not, coarsely chopped
Extra minced garlic, thinly sliced red chili, and lime wedges for serving (optional)
  1. Combine fish sauce, sugar, green onion, shallot, garlic, salt,black pepper, and oil in a bowl. Stir to blend well and divide it into two equal portions in two bowls.   Add sliced pork in one bowl and ground pork, onions to other, stir to coat the meat evenly with marinade.  Shape ground pork into 2-in. wide and 1/2 in. thick patties.  Set aside at least 30 minutes to 2 hours or overnight in the fridge
  2. Make dipping sauce:  mix all ingredients together. Set aside until serve.  
  3. Peel papaya skin, cut in halves lengthwise.  Remove the seeds and white stringy inside.  Cut a small chunk into thinly slices about 1/16 inch thick about 1/2 cup.  Peel and thinly slice carrot. Put them in a bowl and cover with vinegar, sugar and water per the ratio 1:1:4 volume. Set aside.
  4. Cook vermicelli:  boil water in a large pot.  Add vermicelli, stir, bring it back to boil.  Turn the heat off, and cover about 5 minutes.  Check until they are soft but still have some bites.  May need to wait a few more minutes longer.  Rinse with cold water, drain.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking together. 
  5. Preheat the grill to medium high. Grill pork slices  until cook through and slightly charred 2-4  minutes each side. Grill pork patties until firm up and cook through about 4-6 minutes each side. Transfer cooked pork to a platter. 
  6. Place vermicelli, herbs and veggies and meat in separate platters in the middle of the table.  Divide the dipping sauce in 4-6 medium bowls and add a few slices of pickled green papaya and carrot.  
  7. Each guest will have their own dipping bowl.  To eat, place a few slices of  pork and pork patties into the dipping sauce and let them marinade for a few minutes.  Then place a small amount of  vermicelli and veggies into the bowl. Use chopsticks and pick up a mixture of vermicelli, veggie and meat, alternate with papaya/carrot.  Each guest may have put vermicelli, veggies in a different bowl; then add meat, pickles and drizzle some of their sauce on top.  Another way to enjoy the dish is using a lettuce leaf  as a wrapper to make a roll and fill it with herbs, vermicelle, meat then dip into the sauce.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rhubard and strawberry Pie-


Rhubarb or "pie plant" is sold in a bunch or by weight. One pound about 3-5 stalks depending on the sizes.  Pick the fresh, crisp stalks. Before use, trim ends and discard leaves but no need to peel thick stringy skin. Wash and cut into small pieces 1/4-1/2 inch long.  Rhubarb is extremely tartness, add more sugar if more rhubarb is used. Agar powder helps thickening and gives a nice body to the juicy liquid.

Make one 9-inch pie
   One 2-crust pie recipe
   4 cups chopped rhubarb (about 1 lb)
   10 oz  strawberry, quarter if large, half if small (about 2 cups)
   1 cup sugar
   1/4 cup tapioca or cornstarch
   1/4 tsp salt
   1 tsp agar powder mixed in 1 Tbs of orange juice or water (optional)
   2 Tbs unsalted butter
   1 large egg yolk lightly beaten for glaze
   1 Tbs sanding sugar or sugar for sprinkling (optional)
  1. Mix  flour, sugar and salt together in a large mixing bowl and toss in rhubarb,strawberry, and agar mixture if use.  Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie crust. Dot with butter.  Cover with the lattice crust.  Refrigerate 30 minutes. Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle sugar.  Put the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
  2.  Bake in preheated oven 425 oF on the lowest rack about 20 minutes.  Turn the temp down to 375 oF. Continue baking until vigorously bubble, rhubarb is tender, and pie crust is golden brown about 45-50 minutes. Cover the rim/top if it is browning too quickly.
  3. Transfer the pie to the wire rack and cool for at least 2 hours.  Store leftover pie in the fridge and warm it up in toaster oven. 

Pie shells:

  2.5 cups all purpose flour
  2 sticks (1 cup/8oz) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 in pieces
  1 Tbs sugar
  1 tsp salt
  1/3 to 2/3 cup Ice cold water

  1. Put all ingredients into a food processor except water.  Pulse until the mixture resembles like coarse meal about 10 seconds.  Sprinkle 1/3 cup water evenly over the flour.  Pulse a few times.  The dough should hold together between fingers and should not look sticky wet but it should not too crumble either.  Add more water by 1 table at a time if needed. 
  2. Shape the dough into two flat balls (about 1/2 in thick) and wrap in plastic bag/wrap.  Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight. 
  3. Roll each ball into a round thin disk ( about 12-inch diameter) on a lightly floured surface or between 2 layers of plastic/or wax/ or parchment paper.  Transfer the dough into a 9-inch pie pan by rolling it over the roller or fold it in quarters.  Refrigerate it while making the 2o disk.
  4. Roll the second ball into a flat dish which is slightly larger than the pie pan diameter.  Cut into 1/2-inch strips with a pizza cutter or a knife, or a fluted pastry cutter.
  5. Pour filling into the pastry lined pie pan, dot with butter.  Arrange a half of the strips over the filling in a direction and 1/2 inch apart.  Fold back every other strips in half. Lay a long strip at the center of the pie at 90 o to other strips.  Repeat folding and unfolding strips to weave a lattice pattern.  Repeat on the other side of the pie.  
  6. Trim the top and bottom crusts 1/2 to 1 inch overhang with kitchen shears and press together to seal around the edge. Fold the edges under and crimp as desired.  If your pie pan has a flat rim, you can trim the dough flush to the edge and use excess dough to roll into a rope and press it gently around the pie edge and crimp as desired.  Put the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch juices.