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Monday, June 29, 2015

Bánh Canh Bột Lọc (Banh Canh Tapioca Noodles)

I have always been fond of preparing food using flour since high school. I was a newcomer to America during my high school years. American food was one of the big challenges for me to take on.  So I usually skipped lunch and after getting home from school, I ran straight into my kitchen, took out a bag of flour, and started preparing dough for bánh canh (tapioca/rice noodle soup), bánh bột lọc trần (shrimp tapioca dumplings), or bánh bao (pork steamed buns), depending on my craving.

When I was in college, I hardly cooked at all. Perhaps I depended on my roommates who were older and of course wiser to feed me. We only ate out when we had to study for tests and finals.  They tell me now that they would never have imagined I would turn into a homemaker and a food blogger. :-)

A couple weeks ago, while vacationing in Hawaii, we had enjoyed great food - surrounded by the swaying palms and cool ocean breeze - and yet I couldn't resist that urge for soul food. I craved for a bowl of bánh canh (tapioca noodle soup). But I had to wait until we returned to the mainland. There is nothing like the pleasure of simple, delicious, comfort food to warm the soul. As soon as we got home, my girls and I spent our time in the kitchen making a variety of food including bánh canh to satisfy our craving.

In previous posts, I shared with you a less chewy version of banh canh noodles recipe using the old school method. In this version, I used the mixer to mix the dough, and a potato ricer to press the noodle instead of cutting the dough into noodle strips by hand. I like both methods and use either depending on my mood.

The tapioca noodles in this version have less rice flour and therefore the texture is more chewy and that's just how my girls like it. Unlike the rice noodles, the tapioca noodle strings will stick together if they are not immerse in the hot liquid. Hence, I always add the noodles straight into the boiling broth pot.
RECIPE: Banh Canh Tapioca Noodles

 1 bag (15 oz) Tapioca Flour
2 tablespoons Rice Flour
1 1/4 cups - 1 1/2 cups boiling Hot-Water

a Potato Ricer or a Cookie Press, click here to purchase it
a Mixer
Making Dough

In a mixing bowl, combine tapioca and rice flour and mix well. 

While the water is boiling, measure 1 1/4 cups of boiling hot-water and pour into the flour bowl. Mix flour using a paddle attachment at medium speed until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and turned into dough. Increase to high speed if needed.  The dough should be soft.  Dough that is relatively dry will be too thick and too difficult to press through the plate.  If the dough is dried, add a little bit more of boiling hot-water to soften the dough so it can be easy to press through the plate.  Add some extra flour if the dough is too tacky.  How much water all depends upon your brand of flour, how old it is, and the temperature and humidly of the room.

If you don't have a mixer, using your hands to knead the dough is acceptable.  My daughter is always up for kneading flour the old fashion way.  

Remove dough from the bowl and finish the kneading process by hand for a couple minutes to get a satin feel to it. The dough in the pictures below is a little bit thick and stiff, so I needed to add more boiling hot-water.

Pressing Noodles

Divide dough into 5 balls.  

Pour a little of cooking oil onto the dough balls.  The purpose of oil is to prevent dough from sticking to the potato ricer and it makes it easy to press the dough down.  

Add 1 ball of dough at a time (leave the other covered to prevent drying) into the potato ricer and press it down into the boiling broth pot.     

Repeat the process until finished.


Enjoy a bowl of bánh canh with your favorite broth and toppings. I usually serve my family this tapioca noodle soup with shrimps and crabs or fried fish patties and striped bass meat.

Ăn Ngon! Eat Well!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Xôi Cà Rốt - Carrot Sticky Rice

When dawn breaks, one can easily catch sight of xôi vendors on the city street corners in Vietnam. Xôi - served on a lush banana leaf - is a popular carb-rich Vietnamese fast-food breakfast. It's cheap, convenient, simple, delicious and more importantly filling. Due to its popularity, xôi is not only serve in the morning but throughout the day. 

Xôi or sweet sticky rice is mainly made from glutinous rice and can be served with several savory topping combo including beans, peanuts, fruits, coconut, sausage, pork ham and more. As a kid, one of my favorite xôi was black bean sticky rice topped with fresh shredded coconut and roasted crush peanut. It's a perfect blend of salt and sugar - the wonderful natural mild sweetness of the warm sticky rice mixed with  the soft and creamy cooked black bean wrapped in a lush banana leaf.

One of the xôi dishes that I created recently is xôi cà rốt - carrot sticky rice with a hint of coconut fragrance. It can be served with shredded young coconut along with sweet and salty roasted peanuts as the toppings. I also like to serve with such dishes  as roasted, grilled, or deep fried poultry.

The traditional and proper tools to cook sticky rice is soaking the glutinous rice for at least two hours or overnight until the grains have absorbed enough water. Excess water needs to be drained before steaming in the bamboo basket or steamer so that the grains can remain as a whole, soft but not mushy, sticking together in a lump. But if you're going to cook just a small batch of it, a rice cooker would work just fine. Once you  have decided on these alternative methods, I'm sure you'll be sticking to it for a while.
RECIPE: Xôi Cà Rốt


4 cups Glutinous Rice
2 cups Baby Carrots
3 1/2 cups Water
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Coconut Cream
2 tablespoons Sugar
for Topping
1/2 bag Shredded Coconut
6 tablespoons Sesame Seeds or Peanuts
4 tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt

Pureeing Carrots

In a blender, puree carrots and water until smooth. Use a strainer to separate the juice from carrots residue. Use a spoon to press the carrot residue down to extract all the juice. Discard the carrot residue. Make 3 1/2 cups. Add salt and stir well. Set aside.
Preparing Coconut Cream

In a small mixing bowl, combine coconut cream and sugar.  Mix well. Set aside.
Cooking Glutinous Rice

Rinse the sweet rice a few times until the water runs clear. Drain the water completely. Transfer rice and carrot juice to a rice cooker. Stir to combine all ingredients well. Set rice cooker to ‘Cook’. Allow to cook until the button switches over to ‘Keep Warm’. Add coconut cream mixture. Stir the rice. Cover and let it cook for another 10 -15 minutes to ensure the sweet rice is cooked evenly.
Steaming Shredded Coconut

Since the shredded coconut I bought is frozen so I like to steam it before serving. If using fresh shredded coconut which you can shred it straight from a mature coconut, steaming it is not necessary. 
Preparing Sesame Seeds

In a frying pan, roast sesame seeds or peanuts on a medium low heat until golden. Let it cool down. Place sesame seeds in a ziploc and slightly crush it to release the nutty aroma of sesame seeds. 

Combine roasted sesame seeds, sugar and salt and mix well. Set aside.


Place carrot sticky rice on a plate or a banana leaf. Sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seed mixture over it. Top with shredded coconut then sprinkle a little more of sesame seeds mixture.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Eucharist Orphanage- A Refuge for the Disabled Children

Tiếng Việt dưới đây...

Juxtapose to the Duc Long bus station in the middle of Pleiku city is the Eucharist Orphanage for the disabled children. There are 70 orphaned children with various disabilities who were taken in from various parts of Vietnam and are cared for by five nuns. In addition to the care for daily living, these children also receive physiotherapy and lessons in singing and the fundamentals of being human. It's a significant challenge for these children to interact with the people around them. Most are born with cerebral palsy, other birth defects, or mental retardation leaving most to persist in a vegetative state. 

The little girl pictured below is now 10 years old; she requires a wheel chair permanently to assist with maintaining posture to help with her feeding. Half of the food would spill out of her mouth because she's unable to close her lips. She's not the only one. There are more than 20 children at this orphanage with similar disabilities. 

And while we sympathize with these children's challenges, we can only marvel at the work of these nuns. Perhaps there are no words that can fully describe the sacrifice of these selfless nuns and the volunteers who come to the orphanage on a regular basis. The V.Spice team was able to witness the hardship in providing toiletry needs and bathing for these children before their dinner. It is clearly evident that these nuns endured so much to provide complete, holistic care for these children, especially for those with no bowel or bladder control. 

Furthermore, there's the difficulty of preparing food for these children. The nuns have to blend food into purees because most of the children don't have the ability to chew. But to be able to feed those who can't sit on their own requires lots of patience and loving.  

The girl pictured below is 9 years old.  Look at her pretty face, angelic smile, and her bright eyes! Unfortunately, she's mute but is able to hear. Her body is like that of an 8-month old baby.  She's failing to thrive. 

When you can appreciate the challenges presented here, you come to the realization that this is a different world; one that is very special - a world in which the children do not speak, nor laugh, but are able to sense the love pouring in for them. 

While volunteering here, the V.Spice team acknowledged that this orphanage has only five wheelchairs to accommodate 70 disabled children. They are not cheap. The cost of each wheelchair is about $100 usd. These chairs are necessary to assist with posture control and feeding. When it's time to eat, the children with the most disability are tend to first while the rest lay waiting. 

The Spices of Life's mission is trying to raise enough money to buy at least 10 wheelchairs for these children to make their lives and the lives of those who care for them a little easier. The wheelchairs we hope will reduce transferring difficulties and alleviate stress and free up time for the nuns and caregivers to tend to other needs for the orphanage. The Spices Of Life is in the process of negotiating specific types of wheelchairs for these children to meet their needs. 

Heartfelt thanks to The Spices of Life's followers, supporters, and the team in Vietnam who have been contributing to this wonderful life changing mission. In the indelible words of Aesop, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." 

May you and your family be blessed for your generosity and kindness. Thank you!

Giữa lòng thành phố Pleiku, ngay bên cạnh bến xe Đức Long, trại trẻ mồ côi Thánh Thể tập trung khoảng 70 trẻ em mồ côi khuyết tật. Ngoài việc được 5 sơ tận tình chăm sóc, các em còn được tập vật lý trị liệu, học hát và học những bài học làm người. Các em nơi đây rất khó có được một cuộc sống hòa nhập với cộng đồng vì  đa số đều bị khuyết tật hoặc dị tật bẩm sinh, nhiều em bị thiểu năng trí não, chỉ duy trì đời sống thực vật. 

Bé gái trong hình dưới đây đã 10 tuổi nhưng cơ thể rất yếu, không ngồi được, ăn uống rất khó, một nữa thức ăn bị đổ ra ngoài vì bé hoàn toàn không chủ động đươc, bé luôn phải ngồi xe lăn cố định xương. Ở đây có hơn 20 em tương tự tình trạng như vậy.

Và trong khi chúng ta thương hại những khó khăn, thách thức của các em nhỏ, chúng ta chỉ có thể thấy được những việc làm kỳ diệu của các sơ. Có lẽ không dùng từ nào tả hết nỗi vất vả, hy sinh, đầy lòng bác ái và tình yêu thương bao la của các sơ cũng như những tình nguyện viên đã thường xuyên đến trại mồ côi chăm sóc cho các em. V.Spice đến đúng vào lúc các em được các sơ cho đi vệ sinh và tắm để ăn buổi xế chiều. Vậy mới thấy rõ sự vất vả, sự nhẫn nại đến vô cùng của các sơ khi làm vệ sinh cho các em, nhất là những em không tự chủ và vô thức. Cũng dễ hiểu vì sao có những người không thể chịu đựng nổi cảnh tượng này, giữa những mùi tanh và "một chiến trường" công việc quá cực nhọc. 

Thêm phần vất vả cho các sơ là mỗi món ăn, mỗi bữa ăn của các em đều phải xay nhuyễn vì hầu hết các em không có khả năng nhai. Rồi để bón thức ăn cho những em không ngồi được quả là một việc đòi hỏi sự kiên nhẫn, đầy tình yêu thương, đầy tình người thì mới có thể làm được.

Em bé trong hình dưới đây đã được 9 tuổi.  Nhìn gương mặt xinh xắn, nụ cười thiên thần, và đôi mắt sáng ngời của em kìa!  Thật bất hạnh cho em, em nghe được nhưng không nói được. Cơ thể chỉ nhỏ như bé lên 8 tháng. Ăn uống rất khó khăn. Em mồ côi và khuyết tật, thiểu năng trí tuệ.

Dường như, đây là một thế giới khác, vô cùng đặc biệt, một thế giới có những đứa trẻ không nói, không cười, nhưng vẫn cảm nhận được tình yêu thương.

Trong lúc làm việc tình nguyện ở đây, V.Spice thấy có 5 chiếc xe lăn dùng cho 70 trẻ em khuyết tật. Những chiếc xe lăn này ưu tiên cho các em khó ăn trước, sau đó lần lượt đến phiên các em đang nằm chờ trong phòng. Mỗi chiếc xe lăn giá khoảng $100 usd. Những chiếc xe lăn là vật dụng cần thiết và thiết thực giúp các em ngồi thẳng để ăn uống.

The Spices of Life (Hương Vị Cuộc Sống) hiện tại đang trong quá trình tìm kiếm cụ thể các loại xe lăn để đáp ứng nhu cầu của các em và động thời cố gắng gom góp tiền để mua ít nhất 10 chiếc xe lăn nhằm giúp đỡ trẻ khuyết tật có phương tiện sinh họat, giảm bớt khó khăn trong sinh hoạt hàng ngày và thuận tiện hơn cho người chăm sóc.

Một lời cảm ơn chân thành đến mọi người đã  bỏ thời gian quý báu, công sức và vật chất vào sứ mệnh thay đổi cuộc sống tuyệt vời này. Ghi khắc lời của nhà triết học Aesop: "Lòng tốt ra sao, việc nhỏ thế nào, cũng không là lãng phí."  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cánh Gà Nướng (Grilled Chicken Wings)

Though spring is not yet over, summer appeared to be gloriously long on Memorial Day; it is the unofficial kickoff to summer. And in just one more day, my girls will be done with school and that for me is really the beginning of summer.

'Summertime, and the livin is easy. . . One of these mornings, you're gonna rise up singing' Heard of that? Nothing ushers in summer like the lyric of this song.

Lazy days on the beach, boating, biking, drive-in movies (yes, we still have this for you Apple generation), bonfires, cookouts - the list goes on.  My favorite thing to do in the summer is firing up  the backyard barbecue grill surrounded with friends and family and winding down on the hammock,  appreciating the glory that's around me.

And what better way to spend time with family and friends around the pool than eating, especially chomping down a perfectly grilled piece of chicken wing.  This delicious, tasty, and addictive chicken wing recipe that I am about to share with you will not only please your tummies and guests' palates, but elevate you to grilling greatness. Okay, maybe not greatness but I can guarantee that your guests will likely take down an entire 6-pound batch in about 5 minutes! These wings are truly  finger lickin’ good.

The key is to cook them over a moderate flame so that the fat renders out and the skin gets nice and crispy. 

This chicken wings are delectable as they are but the extra ingredients of fresh lemongrass, or kaffir lime leaves takes it to another level.  The red pepper flakes are one of the ingredients in the sauce and it's just mild enough for the kids My girls can never get enough of these wings.
RECIPE: Cánh Gà Nướng


about 6 lbs Chicken Wings 
1 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Soy Sauce
1/4 cup Fish Sauce
1 tablespoon Garlic Powder
1tablespoon Onion Powder
1 tablespoon Red Pepper Flakes 
1/4 cup Oil
3 tablespoons  finely chopped Kaffir Lime Leaves, optional 
4 tablespoons finely chopped Lemongrass, optional

Preparing the Wings

Buy the package of pre-cut wings (also called party wings).  If you buy them whole, the wings will consist of three parts: the drum, the flat/double-boned “wing” part, and the tip. To cut up a whole wing, start by cutting off the tip and discarding, then cut between the drum and the wing part.   I use my hands to break them apart at the joints, then cut them off.  It’s easy once you get the hang of it.  You can also grill the whole wing if preferred.  

Wash the chicken wings, rinse and drain.  Set aside.
Preparing the Sauce

Combine all the ingredients and the lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves,  if used.  Mix well.

Marinate the wings for at least an hour or overnight

wings with lemongrass

wings with kaffir lime leaves

I love incorporate kaffir lime leaves in my food whenever I can, therefore, it's a must to have a kaffir lime tree in my vegetable garden.

Grilling the Wings

Grill the wings just under 400 degrees F with the inside of wings down, covered until the temperature reaches up to 400 degrees, then lower the heat to maintain the temperature at about 400 degrees otherwise the wings will burn quickly.  Lift to lid as needed to release the heat and maintaining grilling temperature.

Continue to cook until the underside is golden then turn and grill other side. Keep an eye on this side as it can flame and burn easily. 

Again, you may need to adjust temperature or opening the grill lid to drop the temperature. As soon as the skin turns golden brown, flip and return the wing to original underside for about 5 minutes and remove to serve.  If not serving right away, transfer wings to the top rack to keep them warm while grilling the vegetables. 

Enjoy these tasty grilled wings with pickled cucumber, daikon, assorted grilled vegetables, and grilled sticky rice with some beer or beverage of your choice to kickoff the summer party.