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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sườn Nướng (Baked Baby Back Ribs)



Spring is one of my favorite seasons of the year minus the allergies of course.  April showers bring May flowers but also a myriad of allergens prior to the brilliant bloom. My daughters and I have allergies year round but it's significantly worse during this season. But despite the itchy and watery eyes, congestion and sneezing, spring in all of its natural glory beckons us outside into our backyard for some barbecuing and I couldn't do it because the darn allergies were so bad. That's what we get for being confined to the valley.


So yesterday I managed to create a new baked baby back rib recipe for my family to enjoy after a few weeks of eating out with much less healthy food.  The ribs were served with these beautiful, tender, and tasty roasted garlic organic baby squash and sweet peppers.  On an earlier post on my Facebook page, I alluded to carrot sticky rice with a hint of coconut fragrance, so that was incorporated as a lovely side dish.


My girls and husband thought these finger lickin' baby back ribs were so yummy. They're tender, moist and the meat falls right off the bone. The ribs were brushed with the thickened sauce - which is a mixture of the sauce from baked ribs mixed with corn starch - and left to broil for a few minutes until it's cooked on and bubbly. The recipe couldn't be any simpler. Give it a go!
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RECIPE: Sườn Nướng
Ingredients


6-7 lb Pork Loin Backribs
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Honey Barbecue Sauce
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
2 tablespoons Lime Juice
1 tablespoon Onion Powder
1/2 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 whole Garlic
2 tablespoons Corn Starch
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DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
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Preparing Ribs


Peel off tough membrane that covers the bony side of the ribs. Rinse and cut ribs into smaller portions of about 4 or 6 ribs.  Set aside. 
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Preparing Sauce


In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the corn starch.  Mix well.  
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Baking Ribs


Dip ribs into the sauce and lay ribs on two layers of foil with the bony side up.


Lay two layers of foil on top of ribs and roll and crimp edges tightly, edges facing up to seal.

Place on a baking sheet or it's best in a shallow roasting pan and bake for 2 1/2 hours or until meat is starting to shrink away from the ends of the bone.  Remove from oven. Transfer ribs onto a broiler pan.  Pour the sauce  into a sauce pan.  
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Cooking Sauce



Scoop out the fatty layer on top of the sauce and discard.


In a small bowl, add corn starch and some sauce to mix the corn starch.  Set aside.
Bring the sauce pan to a boil.  Reduce heat and add corn starch mixture.  Mix well.  The sauce should be thickened.

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Broiling Ribs or Grilling Ribs


Cut ribs into serving sized portions of 2 or 3 ribs.  Arrange on broiler pan, bony side up. Brush on sauce.


Broil for 3-4 minutes until sauce is cooked on and bubbly.  Turn ribs over. Brush sauce on the other side and broil for another 3-4 minutes.


Instead of broiling,  you can grill them in your back yard. 
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Presentation


Serve ribs with your favorite side dishes . . . and maybe a beer?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Spices Of Life Foundation - Pleiku

Chú thích tiếng Việt dưới đây...

Since our last mission in Saigon in February of this year, The Spices Of Life had planned to go deep into the villages of Pleiku where the ethic minorities reside in impoverished conditions to provide the children with warm clothes, instant noodle, cookies and candies to keep their hearts warm and hopes full.

It's unfortunate that we were not able to accomplish this due to the red taping in Vietnam. This has always been an obstacle. How sad it is to realize this irony as one of my blog readers describes the harsh reality: "làm từ thiện khó lắm Loan ơi mặc dù mình có tiền đi chăng nữa nhưng cũng không phải dễ". Translation: "Doing charity work is not easy even though you may have money". But, I am not giving up . . . and to succumb to the red tape would be even more heartbreaking.

Vspice delivering the bike 

So the work continues. . .
At last,  we were able to reach out to two orphaned brothers whose their parents passed away seven years ago. The older brother, now 23, sacrificed his dream of attending college after finishing high school to become a masonry assistant as a mean to provide for his little brother. He hopes that his 12 year-old brother can continue with school and pursue a brighter future. When the weather permits this type of work, he brings home about $150 US dollars a month which is just barely enough for them to live through the month. When it rains, which happens frequently in this region of Vietnam, he's jobless and they have trouble making ends meet. The closest living relative near them is an uncle who bears the same financial burden.



The VSpice team arrives to find a home devoid of any furnishings; there were no table or chair for sitting except an old study table sitting next to a bed where the two brothers share every night. It's lunch time and  the little brother is eating lunch and reading a book right on the floor. 


The only precious and treasured items they have are an altar table and their parents' pictures seen here.


From the visit, the team learns that every morning, before heading to work the older brother gives his younger brother a ride to school because it's so far away. After school, the younger brother walks  4 kilometers home by himself. The Spices of Life Foundation decides to buy the little brother a bike and plans to support them with $50 per month when the funding permits.

We hope that this is a start to a brighter future for both of them.

Again, I'm grateful to the team in Vietnam for all the precious time and effort they have poured into spreading hope and love. To all my blog and Facebook readers, thank you for your kindness and generosity. Together, we can make a difference!

"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
Matthew 25:40
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Sau các hoạt động từ thiện tại Sài Gòn vào tháng Hai năm nay, The Spices Of Life (Hương Vị Cuộc Sống) đã lên kế hoạch hoạt động từ thiện cho đồng bào dân tộc thiểu số có cuộc sống khổ cực, nghèo đói ở những bản làng vùng sâu vùng xa. Dự kiến, Vspice sẽ phân phát quần áo ấm, mì ăn liền, bánh kẹo… cho trẻ em nghèo nơi đây, mong muốn được chia sẻ để mang lại ánh nắng ấm áp và một chút niềm hy vọng. 

Tuy nhiên, vì một số lý do trong đó có lý do liên quan đến chính trị, làm việc bác ái phải đăng ký với chính quyền địa phương, kế hoạch này phải dời lại vào đầu tháng Năm. Qua những trở ngại trong quá trình làm việc từ thiện, Loan nhớ đến những chia sẻ của anh Peter – là một doanh nhân kinh doanh resorts ở Phú Quốc và anh cũng là một trong những người theo dõi trang web nấu ăn: “Làm từ thiện khó lắm Loan ơi. Mặc dù mình có tiền, cũng không phải dễ”. 

Nhưng, dù nhiều khó khăn, Vspice sẽ không từ bỏ mong ước được giúp đỡ những người thiếu may mắn. Qua sự giới thiệu của một người bạn, Vspice biết đến hai anh em mồ côi cả cha lẫn mẹ từ bảy năm trước. Anh trai lớn nay đã 23 tuổi học đến lớp 12 nhưng đã quyết định nghỉ học để làm phụ hồ kiếm sống qua ngày và nuôi em trai 12 tuổi đến trường. Người anh hy vọng em mình có thể tiếp tục đến trường và có một tương lai tươi sáng hơn.

Khi trời nắng và có việc làm thường xuyên, tiền công phụ hồ cũng chỉ khoảng 3 triệu đồng một tháng, còn vào mùa mưa và công việc không ổn định thì không thể kiếm đủ tiền để chi phí cuộc sống hằng ngày. Hai em hiện giờ không còn ông bà hay người thân để nương nhờ, chỉ còn 1 người cậu thứ hai sống gần đó, nhưng cuộc sống chẳng khá hơn là mấy, nên các em cũng không nhờ vả gì được. 

Khi Vspice đến nhà hai anh em vào buổi trưa, mọi thứ trong nhà đều rất sơ sài, không có bàn ghế để ngồi trừ một bàn học cũ kỹ bên cạnh chiếc giường ngủ. Người em trai đang ăn trưa và đọc sách ngay trên sàn nhà. Đồ quý giá nhất của hai anh em là chiếc bàn thờ và hình ảnh của cha mẹ. Từ chuyến thăm này, Vspice biết thêm rằng, mỗi buổi sáng, trước khi đi làm, người anh trai chở em mình tới trường. Sau giờ học, em nhỏ phải đi bộ 4 km từ trường về nhà một mình. Vspice quyết định mua tặng em một chiếc xe đạp và có kế hoạch hỗ trợ cho hai em $50 mỗi tháng cho đến khi nào có thể. 

The Spices Of Life hy vọng việc làm nhỏ bé này sẽ là sự khởi đầu một tương lai tươi sáng hơn cho cả hai em. Một lần nữa, cảm ơn mọi người rất nhiều vì đã bỏ chút thời gian quý báu, công sức và vật chất vào việc thiện này để đem hy vọng và tình yêu đến cho những mảnh đời kém may mắn. Cùng nhau, chúng ta có thể làm nên điều khác biệt.

"Quả thật, ta nói cùng các ngươi, hễ các ngươi đã làm việc đó cho một người trong những người rất hèn mọn nầy của anh em ta, ấy là đã làm cho chính mình ta vậy".  
Ma-thi-ơ 25:40

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cá Hồi Nướng (Baked Salmon)


One of the ways I incorporate our homegrown organic herbs is by having rolls for our meals. This is usually seen with boiled pork or grilled buttered beef. But this one is a fish roll. One of my older daughter's favorite fish-actually the only fish she would eat without throwing a fit- is salmon.


Being limited to one main ingredient, I have to come up with various recipes to get her to eat more fish. Fortunately, she likes baked salmon. Once the salmon comes out of the oven, topped with roasted peanuts, crispy shallots, and curly green onion ribbons, we roll the salmon in rice paper with an abundance of assorted herbs, cucumbers, lettuces, and dip it in a shrimp dipping sauce. The peanut sauce, fish sauce or fermented bean curd dipping sauce would all go well.  

What makes this delicious looking baked salmon dish irresistible is the fresh aromatic scent rising from the salmon in banana leaves. My daughter thought it's the best aroma that ever came wafting out of our oven. This recipe is simple and it turns out delicious every time!
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RECIPE: Cá Hồi Nướng
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Ingredients

for Salmon
1 piece filet Salmon
1 tablespoon Chicken Bouillon Powder
2-4 cloves of Garlic, pasted
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Fried Shallot
Roasted Peanut

for Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons Shrimp Sauce 
1 piece Pineapple
1 tablespoon finely chopped Lemongrass
1 tablespoon finely chopped Garlic
1 tablespoon Shallot
1 teaspoon Ginger
Coco Rico Soda or Water
Lime juice
Sugar

Vegetables
Assorted herbs
Lettuce
Cucumbers
Green Onions
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Directions
Preheat the oven at 400 degree F 
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Preparing Shrimp Dipping Sauce


In a sauce pan, bring a tablespoon of oil on medium heat. Once it's hot, add lemongrass, ginger, shallot, and garlic.


Saute until they start to turn slightly brown. Add pineapple, shrimp sauce, coco Rico soda or water and sugar. Mix it well.


Adjust the sugar and the amount of soda to your liking. It shouldn't be too running or too thick. Once the sauce is blended well and start to boil, remove from heat. Add lime juice. Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl. Set aside.

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Preparing Lettuce, Cucumbers and Herbs


Rinse lettuce and herbs. Set aside.

Shred green onions using this tool (dụng cụ chẻ rau muống). You can find it at almost any Asian market. These shredded green onions will curl up as you soak in the water for a few minutes.  


Slice cucumbers into thin slices. Set aside

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Preparing Marinade


Placed garlic in the mortar, then crushed with the pestle to release the fresh flavor.  In the same mortar, combine chicken bouillon power and olive oil. Mix well. Set aside.
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Preparing Salmon



Place a few banana leaves on the baking tray. Set aside.
Leave the piece of salmon as is or cut into a few pieces like I did for easy transfer to the serving plate without breaking the salmon apart. 
Brush olive oil mixture over both sides of the salmon. Place the salmon on the tray and bake for about 7 minutes.
Switch to broil on high and cook for another 5 minutes until the surface of the salmon is golden brown. Salmon cooks very fast and the fish will dry out if cooking too long so be careful.


Remove salmon tray from the oven. Cut the banana leaves along the side of each piece and transfer each piece of salmon with the banana to a serving place. Top with roasted or deep fried peanuts and crispy shallots. Garnish with curly green onion ribbons. 
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Presentation


Roll salmon and vegetables in a rice paper.  Dip it in your favorite sauce and enjoy this healthy hearty meal!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Vịt Nướng Chao (Grilled Duck in Fermented Bean Curd)


It's good to be able to cook again in my own kitchen after a week of eating in Vegas, Anaheim, Solvang, and Santa Barbara. No matter how fine the food is, at the end of the day, I always crave for  a homemade meal.  For me, there is no food like homemade food!

I am very lucky that my local Costco carries quite a lot of Asian products. Most of my grocery shopping is done there. Last month, I dropped a note in the comment box at Costco and requested to bring in Three Crabs fish sauce. I will be a happy camper to see this brand of fish sauce on the shelves at Costco. 

Whenever I feel like cooking duck, you'd know where I go. I love Costco's whole duck. It's fresh and contains less fat. One of my favorite duck recipes is grilled duck marinated in fermented bean curd which is the delicacy preserved tofu immersed in brine and sesame oil.  This fermented bean curd adds a bold flavor you love to the earthy, slightly gamy flavors of the duck meat.  

Fermented bean curd is sold in jars containing small square cubes. There are three typical types of fermented bean curd: hot chili bean curd, white fermented bean curd and red fermented bean curd which incorporates red wine yeast with the brining liquor for a deep-red color and distinctively thickened flavor and aroma. 

Fermented bean curd is an acquired taste because of its complex, powerful scent, strong flavor, and smooth pasty texture.  This grilled duck in fermented bean curd is surprisingly delicious. Another way of cooking the duck is baking it in the oven.  The meat is juicy, tender, and flavorful.  If you're afraid of the gamy smell of duck, don't worry...you won't even notice it's duck.  

I like to serve the duck with sticky rice cooked in fresh spinach juice or carrot juice, and a side dish of baked assorted vegetables. In the hot summer day, I also like to serve this dish with the combination of fresh cubed mango, kernel, cilantro, jicama, lime juice, salt and fresh ground pepper.  
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RECIPE:  Vịt Nướng Chao
Printable Recipe

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Ingredients

1 fresh whole Duck, about 6 pounds 
10 cubes Red Fermented Bean Curd
10 cubes White Fermented Bean Curd
1 tablespoon White Fermented Bean Curd Sauce
1 tablespoon Red Fermented Bean Curd Sauce
4 tablespoons Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons pounded Ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped Lemongrass
2 tablespoons Sesame Oil
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Directions

Preparing Duck


Rinse the duck and the inside of the duck’s body cavity with cold water. Massage the duck with salt and rinse again.  If you don't like the gamy smell of duck, mix smashed ginger and white wine then rub all over the duck. Rinse again.  Pat the duck dry inside and out with paper towels to prevent it from slipping when chopping. Place the duck breast-side down on a cutting board. Remove the duck’s wings by twisting them in the sockets to disjoin them then cut the skin and finish removing the wings from the duck with a knife or a kitchen scissors. 

Use the scissors to cut alongside the backbone from the tail end to the neck. Repeat this cut on the other side of the duck’s spine, then remove the spine from the body. 

Turn the duck over so that the breasts are facing up. Spread the legs out on either side of the body.

Use a knife to cut along the intersection of each thigh and the body. Remove the legs from the body.

Locate the bone between the breasts, called the keel bone. Cut from the neck along the keel bone, following the curve of the breast. Use the tip of the knife to cut down the breast in short increments and slowly separate the breast meat from the ribs.

Now, you will have two duck breasts along with the legs. Cut each duck breast into 3 pieces. Cut off any excess fat and save it for later used. 

The organs, neck, spine, ribs, and wings can be used to make a stock for duck porridge or soup.
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Marinating the Duck


Preparing ginger - peel and roughly chop the ginger and pound the pieces in a mortar and pestle until you have a paste.  Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine ginger, lemongrass, white and red fermented bean curd and sauce, sesame oil, and sugar.  Smash the bean curd by pressing with the back of the spoon then mix well. You can also process these ingredients in the food processor if preferred.  


Coat the duck pieces with the marinate sauce and marinate for at least an hour or overnight.

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Cooking Duck


Grill and rotate the duck over charcoal or gas grill on medium heat until cooked. Duck breast is usually served medium rare. The texture is so much better when it retains some of its color.  It gets tough and unappealing when cooked more but be done to your liking. The duck legs and thighs can tolerate more cooking and are often served more well done.


Another way to cook the duck is by baking it. Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F. Bring a pan on a medium-high heat. Add a little bit of duck fat in a pan. Place the duck in the pan with skin side down and fry until it's golden brown. Flip, and transfer duck to a broiler pan rack. Be sure to cover the bottom pan with foil then place the pan rack on top to catch the drips. When the oven heat reaches 400 degrees, place the duck in the oven and cook for about 8 minutes. 

I forgot to sear the duck skin before cooking in the oven
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Roasting Vegetables


If you plan to serve duck with vegetables, try the roasted vegetables. It's one of my favorite way to eat and make vegetables. It's simple and brings out the natural sweetness and subtle flavors infused in the heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil.

In another baking pan, toss vegetables such as brussel sprouts, asparagus, king oyster mushroom, eggplant or the combination of cubed butternut squash, red bell peppers, sweet potato, Yukon Gold potato, and red onion with a generous amount of extra vigrin olive oil, and some kosher salt. Place the vegetable tray in the oven the same time with the duck. 


Stirring every 10 minutes. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked throughly and browned.
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Cooking Spinach Sticky Rice


I love to incorporate fresh vegetable juice such as carrot juice, spinach juice, pandan juice, beet juice, etc...into my rice for two reasons: one,  for whatever antioxidants I can get and two, for the visual appeal.

Ingredients: 2 cups sweet rice, 2 cups spinach, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions: in a blender, puree spinach and water until smooth. Use a strainer to strain the juice and make 1 3/4 cups.  Add water if it's not enough. Set aside.


Rinse sweet rice a few times until the water is clear. Drain the water completely. Transfer sweet rice and spinach juice to a rice cooker and cook until it switches to warm mode. Stir the rice up and let it sit at the warm mode until the rice is cooked thoroughly.
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Presentation


Serve duck with spinach sticky rice with a side of roasted vegetables along with a glass of Pinot Noir.

This duck dish also pairs well with a side dish of fresh cubed mango, corn, cilantro, jicama tossed with lime juice, and a dash of fresh ground pepper, and kosher salt.


Bon Appetite!