Monday, April 7, 2014

Banana Cream Pie

  The banana flavor is boosted by steeping extremely ripen bananas in milk and cream mixture ( or just whole milk, or half & half) for two hours like in Dana Cree's banana pudding.

Ingredients for one 9-inch pie:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 5  large  bananas:  3 ripe, got some brown spots, and 2 extremely ripe
  • 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup  and 2 Tbs sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbs cornstarch
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 prebaked pie shell completely cool, recipes ( Graham cracker crust or Almond crust) are followed
  • 1 cup cold heavy whip cream 
  • 2 Tbs granulate sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Peel 2 extremely ripen bananas and slice them into 1/2-inch pieces.  Place banana slices, milk and cream in a medium pot.  Split and scraps vanilla bean and add to the pot if using.  Bring it to  a boil over medium high heat.  When the mixture boils, remove from heat, cover and let it steep for 2 hours.  

After 2 hours, whisk sugar, egg yolks, salt and cornstarch in a medium bowl until smooth. Strain the banana  dairy mixture through a fine mesh sieve to the egg yolks.  Discard bananas or save for other uses like smoothie.  Whisk the egg mixture and dairy mixture until smooth.  Transfer to a clean pot.  Cook over medium heat, whisking gently and constantly.  Scraping the sided with a flexible silicon spatula until the mixture begins to bubble.  Turn the heat down to medium low, continue whisking and cook until thicken 4-6 minutes.  Then remove pastry cream from heat.  Whisk in butter and vanilla extract (if did not use vanilla bean) .  Let it cool down to luke warm (about 15 minutes)

Peel and slice 3 remaining bananas into 1/8 inch slices.  Spread 1/4 pastry cream  into a baked, cool pie shell.  Cover completely with 1/2 banana slices.  Repeat with 1/4 pastry cream and add a second layer of remaining banana slices.  Cover banana slices completely with remain pastry cream.  Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and chill in the fridge 3-4 hours up to 24 hours.

Before serve, whip cream, sugar and vanilla until silky and medium firm peaks.  Spread across and over the pie with a spoon/spatula or pipe with a 1/2-inch plain round tip. 

     1 sheet of gelatin (or 1/2 tsp of powder gelatin is bloomed in 1 Tbs water, melt) is soaked in water and add to the filling at the same time with butter and vanilla help the cuts cleaner.  
     Sprinkle banana slices with two Tbs of orange juice help to prevent banana slices turns dark as in America test kitchen's. 
     You may want to stabilize whipped cream with gelatin like in Black forest cake so the pie will still look good for a while.

Graham cracker crust for one 9-inch pie shell/crust:
   1½ cup Graham Cracker crumbs or one half of 14.4 oz box Graham Crackers ( honey maid/honey grahams of       Nabisco)
   6 Tbs unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 oF with a rack in center.  Melt butter and mix well with graham cracker crumbs.  If using whole graham crackers, pulse them in a food processor finely, then add melt butter, pulse until well combined. Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the side and bottom of a 9-inch pie dish.  Start by spreading crumb mixture into the bottom of the pie dish-more at the edge.  Then use a flexible or offset spatula and fingers, push the crumbs up and against the side about 1/4-inch thick.   Bake in preheat oven for 10 minutes.  If using a removable bottom pie dish, you need to put it in a rimmed baking sheet/tray.  Remove from oven, cool completely on a wire rack.

Almond sweet dough:  
1/4 cup almond flour
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1¼ all purpose flour
3.5 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2/3 of a large egg (slightly beaten and divide)
1/4 tsp salt

Beat butter until smooth with paddle attack at low speed.   Add powder sugar,egg, almond flour and  until just incorporated.-the dough may look curdled.  Add flour in three or four sections until no trace of white flour-the dough still look crumbled. Stop, do not overmix.  Place the mixture into center of large plastic wrap, gather the dough into a 1/2-inch thick disk.  The dough will be very soft like butter cookie dough. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour up to two days. The dough can be frozen up to a month. 

Roll the dough out to 11 inch in diameter between two layers of plastic wrap. Roll from center outward and turn the dough to 45ͦ and continue rolling and turning until the diameter is large enough. If a crack appears, roll the edges from the sides together.  After a few rollings lift and detach the top plastic wraps from the dough, put it back and turn over and detach the bottom plastic wrap (now is on the top).  If the dough is getting too soft, put it back to the fridge/freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the top plastic wrap.  Turn the dough over, the bottom sheet still attacked to the dough and bring it up over  the pie disk, ease the sides down. Remove the plastic wrap. Trim excess dough around (bake them like cookies ) or fold extra dough underneath the rim and flute the edge with floured fingers, and  chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.  

Preheat oven to 350 oF with a rack in the center.  Cut a large piece of parchment paper ore foil, line the inside of the pie shell, add pie weight or bean, or rice.  Bake until the edge is light brown about 18-20 minutes. 

Remove the bean/pie weight and parchment paper and  bake until light golden brown about 8-10 more minutes.  If the edge is browning too fast, cover with foil.   Remove from oven, press down any bubbles.  Cool completely on wire rack.

Chinese Barbecued Pork #2/ Char siu- Thịt Xá Xiú

     I would like to share with you another Chinese Barbecue Pork with a pungent marinade consists of hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and red bean curd,etc. I just found a brand of oyster sauce w/o MSG from Thailand "Dragon fry" at Sunrise market.  Red bean curd is fermented tofu with ground red rice, rice wine and other seasoning.  It is good for a long time in the fridge.  Char siu can be served like an appetizer with slices of cucumber or as a garnish to other dish-rice, fried rice, stir-fried vegetable, won ton soup, etc.  It can be frozen too.  I have one simpler recipe  for pork char siu here if you do not have hoisin, oyster sauce or fermented bean curd/ ground bean sauce.
Make 6 servings:

  • 1½ lbs. pork shoulder or butt 
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger 
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 shallot , minced
  • 1 Tbs oyster sauce
  • 2 Tbs hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Five-spice powder 
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1½ Tbs soy sauce
  • 1½ Tbs red fermented bean curd  
  • 1½ Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 Tbs clear honey or Maltose, melt

Cut pork in  1"x 2" (2.5 cm x 5 cm) trips down the length of the meat.   Mix all the ingredients except honey/maltose until well blended. Place pork strips in one layer a shallow container  or a plastic bag and pour marinade over them, turn the pork so it is coated well.  Cover and let it marinate at least 6 hours or overnight in the fridge. Turn the strips/bag occasionally.

One hour before baking, take the pork out to cool down at room temperature to help even cooking.  Preheat oven to 350 oF(estimate timing that the oven reaches to 350  the end of that one hour).  Pick the pork out  and place on a rack over a roasting pan ( or use metal S shaped hooks, hang pork strips to the top rack) , reserve marinade.

Boil reserved marinade in a small pot.  Take out 3 Tbs cooked marinade and mix well with honey, set aside. Taste and adjust seasoning with soy sauce and sugar and serve a  dipping sauce.

When the oven is ready, fill the roasting pan with hot water about 1 inch height.  Bake 30 minutes, baste pork strips with honey mixture all sides. Turn over and bake for 15 minutes and baste again.  Continue baking about 10-15 more minutes until golden brown and internal temperature is at least 145 oF.

Remove from oven, baste one more time, cover with foil and let it rest 5-10 minutes.  Cut in thin slices (1/4 inch) diagonally and serve hot or cold.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mango Agar Jelly -Rau Câu Xoài


 Rau câu, or thạch or xu xoa is a jelly with agar.  Agar,a product from certain seaweeds, is also called agar-agar or Chinese gelatin or Japanese gelatin which is a substitute for gelatin specially in vegan, vegetarian diet.  They are sold as powder (off white color), dried strips, or spongy box-shaped cuboids.  Powder is easy to measure by volume.  A small package of agar powder is 0.88 oz (25 gr) about 9-10 tsp.  You can find it at oriental stores in town. It has a very long shelve life in dry, air tight container.

Make 4 servings ( about a cup size)

  • 2 tsp agar powder
  • 2 cups water
  • 4-5 Tbs granulate sugar
  • 1 cup milk or coconut milk 
  • 1 large or two medium ripe mango
  • Maraschino cherries for garnish (optional)
  1. Peel mango, cut and save two thin slices (1/8 inch thick) to garnish and cut the rest in small chunks, discard the seeds.  Place mango chunks and milk into a blender.  Puree until smooth.  It should be at least 2 cups, if not add more milk/coconut milk.  If mango has a lot of strings, strain the mango mixture through a sieve if you want too.
  2. Add water in a medium saucepan.  Sprinkle agar into water.  Stir and bring it to a boil over medium high heat.  Add sugar, stir and turn the heat down to medium low or low.  Simmer and stir constantly until agar dissolved 2-3 minutes.  
  3. Stir mango mixture in and bring it back to boil.  Turn off the stove and remove from heat immediately.  Pour into serving glasses, cups, etc. or pour it into small molds or a large container. 
  4. Garnish with mango slices and cherries when the surface is firm to the touch (a few minutes).  Let stand until cool. Refrigerate until jelly is firm and cold few hour or overnight.  Cut into squares, rectangles or diamond shapes if using a large container. Serve chilled.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Almond Cookies-Bánh Hạnh Nhân


I forgot egg wash but they still looking good, right?  

Almond (hạnh nhân) cookies is popular in Vietnam.  When I looked it up in Vietnamese-I found some borrowers ( eva and taymayvn, etc.) use beautiful images from without giving her any credit.  I am so sad because Jennifer Yu, the creator of the blog, works really hard and uses her talent in photography giving free lessons by detail powerful images to help who willing to learn.  I am nowhere near her skill but I learn, cook, bake and take my own pictures for all my posts in this site too.

I found different versions of Almond cookies:  Lard/butter; baking soda/baking powder; with/without almond flour.  I tried Pichet Ong's which uses butter, baking soda and has the highest ratio of almond flour to all-purpose flour and Rose Cheng's which uses baking powder and less almond flour. They are all good but my daughter likes Rose Cheng's better.  Now roll your sleeves up, make and take your own pictures to share your new achievement if you want too.

This recipe adapted from Rose Cheng's almond cookies.  Make 40-44 cookies

1 cup (8 oz) butter, or lard, or shortening, cold from the fridge
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup ground almond (almond flour)
2½ cups all purpose flour, stir flour and spoon into measuring cups
1/2 tsp salt
1½ tsp baking powder
44 blanched almond halves or whole
1 egg white or yolk
1 Tbs water

  1. Sift flours, baking powder, salt and set aside.
  2. Cut butter into small cubes and place in a mixing bowl with sugar.  Beat with paddle (standing mixer) or beaters (hand held mixer) attacked on medium speed until smooth.  Add egg, almond extract, beat until well blend. Turn speed down to low, add flour mixture and mix just until no trace of flour remain. It should be a soft but not sticky dough.  Cookie dough can be wrap tightly in 1-inch disc and store in the fridge overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 oF with 2 racks at middle and upper third position.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicon.
  4. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough into a ball.  Place balls on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper or silicon pad) 2 inch apart.  Place an almond half/whole on each ball and press the ball down to make 2-inch round with your palm or fingers.  Mix an egg white or egg yolk with water in a small bowl and brush mixture over top of each cookie.  Egg yolk wash give cookies more yellow shine while egg white wash is clear shiny shine.  I like the look of egg white wash more.  
  5. Cookie can be  baked right away in preheated oven at 350 oF until lightly browned at the edge about 15 minutes.  Remove baking sheets from oven and put them on wire cooling racks.  Cool cookies in baking sheet/tray completely and store in air tight containers. If you bake two sheets at the same times, switch their positions halfway and may need to bake  a few more minutes longer.  If baking one pan at a time, put it on the center rack.  Unbaked cookies can be chilled in the fridge 30 minutes or 1 hours to prevent spreading while baking.  Remember to transfer cold unbaked cookies to another baking sheet before baking and bake until lightly brown at the edge about 20 minutes.
  • If you can not find blanched almonds, buy whole almonds with skin.  Put them in a bowl, pour boiling water to cover all almond.  Let they sit for 1 minute; drain; rinse with cold water and drain again. Squeeze and slip the skin off, pat dry.  Then hold one almond on its size and use a knife to split it in half.  
  • I like to toast them ̀ 5 minutes at 350 oF and let them cool before place them on cookies. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Espresso Macarons with Mocha Filling

Ingredients and instruction same as Matcha Macarons- just replace matcha powder with espresso powder and add 2 tsp instant coffee powder plus 1 oz dark chocolate in the filling.  Make sure you deflate the air out of meringue well while folding the dry ingredients and wait about 30 minutes to 1 hour after piping until the surface of the shell tacky.  That waiting time before baking help me to get rid of the crack problem.  These taste best after 24 hours.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chicken Thighs Baked with Lemon and Fresh Herbs- Đùi Gà Nướng Chanh


     This is one of the most flavorful chicken dish I have made for my kids.  Have you tried Sticky Lemon Chicken that I adapted from Gordon Ramsay?  It is delicious too.
     The flavor comes from a combination of sage, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and lemon. I found this recipe in Fine Cooking magazine and it is also published in The Best 50 America Recipes.
     Honestly, you need to restrain yourself from adding extra ingredients in it at the first attempt and acquire a taste for a simple food because it is so simple.  Leftover herbs can be frozen in its own containers for a few months.

Make 3 servings
2 large garlic cloves, finely crushed or mashed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbs olive oil
6 chicken thighs with skin, bone-in or boneless.
1 large lemon and 1 Tbs lemon juice
A few sprigs of thyme, rosemary, and sage

  1. Trim excess fat, wash and wipe the chicken dry, remove feather roots if seeing any.  Mix garlic, salt , pepper and 2 tsp oil together and rub on chicken including underneath skin.  Cover  for at least two hours or over night in the fridge.  Take it out about 1 hour before baking. 
  2. Preheat oven to 425 oF with a rack on middle position.  
  3. Save 6 pieces (1-1½ inches long) of each rosemary and thyme) and 6  sage leaves.  Coarsely chop 3 large sage leaves.  Remove rosemary needles from 1 sprig by hold it at the top and slide fingers down to the bottom.  Hold the needles together and chop them coarsely to make 1 Tbs  .  Remove leaves from thyme sprigs to get a tsp lightly packed.  Mix herbs and 1 Tbs lemon juice together and rub all over chicken pieces.  
  4. Roll a lemon on the counter a few times to make it soft.   Trim and discard both ends, slice into 6 slices. In a large skillet or ovenproof baking dish ( need just large enough to arrange chicken pieces in a layer). Place lemons slices and top each with a sage leaf and a piece of thyme, rosemary. Arrange one chicken thigh atop of a lemon slice with skin side up.  Mix 1 tsp oil with 6 small sage leaves and small pieces of thyme and a few rosemary needles.  Divide oil herbs evenly on tops. 
  5. Bake uncover until skin golden crisp and juice runs clear when being poked with a knife or folk  (about 35-40 minutes).  Internal temperature should register at 165-170 oF.  Remove from heat, transfer chicken with herb, lemon slices to a platter.  Cover and let it rest.  Taste and season pan juice with salt pepper if needed and spoon around the chicken pieces (not on the skin) to keep the skin crisp or serve on the side.  If you want thicker sauce, bring the pan juice to a boil and stir constantly until reduce to a thicker sauce.
  6. It is served with cooked rice at my home with other side dish.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Matcha Macarons with White Chocolate Filling

    A macaron is the pride of France made by two round  meringue-based thin cookies held together with a sweet filling, such as jam, ganache, buttercream.   They are not too hard to make but very hard to make them perfectly.  After three attempts, I am still not sure how to make them right but I learn  a little bit more each times.  
     You will get a good training from Bravetart  and EatLiveTravelWrite  as me. 
      My very first matcha macarons are perfect color for St. Patrick day but they cracked horrible because undermixed macaron batter as you can see those dimples.

French Macarons,  adapted from Bravetart,
4 ounces (115 g) blanched almond or almond flour 
8 ounces (230) powder sugar
5 ounces (144 g) egg white, about 4 large egg whites (or 5 small) at room temperature
2½ ounces (7.2 g) granulate sugar
1/2 tsp (2 g) kosher 
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract 
1 Tbs matcha powder
Green color gel or liquid (optional)

White chocolate ganache filling
5 ounces white chocolate
3 ounces (6 Tbs ) heavy whipped cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon pad.  A paper template (drawing) of 1.5 in circles with 1 inch interval is helpful but not necessary.
  2. Pulse powder sugar, matcha and almond flour together in a processor a few minutes until really fine or use a flour sieve/sifter and sift them together. Reserving chunky bits and add them back to the dry ingredients if no more than 2 Tbs. If use almond nuts, grind them separately first or mix nuts with powder sugar and grind them at the same time.  Sift and regrind the chunky bits until no more than 2 Tbs remain.
  3. Place egg white, granulate sugar, salt and vanilla scrapping (use a knife and split the bean along the length, then scrap the seeds, save the peel) but not vanilla extract in a large, clean, dry bowl.  Beat until a very firm/stiff peak.  If you use a Kitchen Aid mixer, timing per Bravetart: whip in 3 minutes at medium speed #4, and 3 minutes at medium high #7 ( I do not have #7 so I use #6 ), and 3 minutes at #8. Turn off the machine add vanilla extract and color if you want a vivid color but I got a beautiful green shade from matcha.  Turn the machine on highest speed for 1 minute.  The meringue should stiff enough to stay inside the whisk if not beat 1 or 2 more minutes.  
  4. Add mixed dry ingredients into whipped egg white at once and start to fold them together with a flexible rubber spatula.  Use the spatula to press  the meringue against the sides of the bowl to deflate it and fold the dry ingredients in.  Hold the spatula in one hand, cut down in the center of the batter to the bottom.  Sweep the spatula under the batter toward you and run it along the  bottom, then up to the side to the top.  Loosen your fingers and flip the spatula over completely  across the top of the batter and  cut into the center again.  It is called one turn.  When you start the next turn, turn the bowl slowly with other hand. 
  5. The batter will start thinning out and smooth after 40-50 turns. Slowing down and pay attention to the batter consistency carefully. After a few turns, stop and check:  the batter should be thick like lava, able to form a thick ribbon and melt down after 20 seconds. Undermixed macaron batter will be stiff and made macarons cracks when baking.  Overmixed batter will be running like pancake batter, hard to pipe nicely and make macarons flat.
  6. Put a round large 1/2 inch tip down inside a large pastry bag (16-18 inches), make a twist near the end and push it down to the tip (to stop the batter running). Put the pastry bag over a tall large glass, and scrap 1/2 the batter into the bag.  Fold the end of pastry bag.  Put the template underneath the silicon pad or parchment paper and start to pipe into the circles.  Hold the tip at an angle, touch down near one side of a circle, put the pressure down from the top.  Stop when the batter nearly fill the whole circle, lift the tip up and make a quick circle movement of the tip.  You can hold the tip above the center of a circle and start to pipe down.  Repeat until finish piping.  Carefully remove the template. Grasp the pan firmly with both hands and hit it down hard on the counter,  Rotate and bang it down all four sides. It is called "rap",  Let them rest  at least 30 minutes or over hours until the macarons' surface dry and tacky. 
  7. Preheat oven to 300 oF with a rack in middle toward the end of resting time.  Bake  18-20 minutes, until a macaron can be separated from the parchment or silicon by gently peel the parchment paper or silicon pad. Remove from oven and let macarons cool completely on  the pan.  Remove macarons from parchment paper or silicon pad, use spatula if needed.  
  8. Make the filling while unbaked macarons resting.  Bring heavy cream, salt and vanilla to a boil, remove from heat.  Add white  chocolate, stir to coat well, cover and let stand for 2 minutes.  Then stir/whisk mixture until smooth.  Let it set in the fridge or freeze to a spreading consistency stirring often.  Checking every 5 minutes if using freezer. Whisk to lighten up a little bit then fill a pastry bag and pipe a small amount of chocolate ganache into half of the shells and sandwich them with others.  These can be eaten immediately but best after 24 hours.
  9. Put them in air tight containers in the fridge at least overnight or 24 hours.  Bring them out to room temperature about 30 minutes to 1 hours before serving.  
If you use a thin baking pan, need to double pans to prevent browning too much underneath the shells. 
If you do not have plain tip and pastry bag just use a plastic bag and cut a corner to pipe the batter/filling out.
Resting after piping help making those beautiful legs but macarons shells can be baked right after rapping just remember to preheat oven earlier if you want to bake them right away.
I just found a video of making macarons by a French Chef.