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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chè Khoai Môn Bột Báng (Taro Coconut Tapioca Pudding)


Waking up I suddenly realize that the room has become much colder than the previous mornings. I shiver as the crisp chilled air penetrated my body.  A peek outside my window and just like that I realize summer is gone!

Autumn promises a rich, vibrant season. During these days, I like to sit on a warm cozy chaise in my bedroom, enjoying the bountiful beauty surrounding my backyard. As the gentle breeze blows, I can hear the soothing harmonies of the wind chime hanging in front of my kitchen bay window and making me think of something sweet and warm to go along with my cup of hot green tea.



In just under 30 minutes, I can get back to my cozy lazy chaise with a cup of warm taro coconut pudding filled with the wonderful aroma of pandan leaves and vanilla.   Taro is a purple root vegetable that is used in Asian cuisines.  I love the starchy, sweet, and mild flavor of the purplish taro and even more so when it's served with a deliciously rich flavored coconut milk and chewy tapioca pearls which is the starch extracted from cassava root. 

Taro coconut pudding is very quick and simple to prepare.  My kitchen is always filled with frozen pandan leaves, vanilla, coconut milk, tapioca pearl, and frozen taro. Anytime I have a last minute craving or guests, I know what I can do in just a short amount of time.  
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RECIPE: Taro Coconut Tapioca Pudding 
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Ingredients


1 peeled Taro, about 2-2.5 pounds
1 can Coconut Milk, about 2 cups
1/4 cup Tapioca Pearls
1 cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3-4 knots Pandan Leaves
2 tubes Vanilla
6 Pandan Leaves, tied in knots
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Directions

Cutting Taro


Cut taro into small chunks. Set aside
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Preparing Tapioca Pearls


Soak tapioca pearls in water while cooking taro.
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Cooking Taro Pudding


In a pot, add 6 cups of water, knots of pandan leaves, and taro. Bring it to a boil. 

As soon as it's boiling, reduce the heat. Drain the tapioca pearls from the soaking water then add to the pot. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes until tapioca is almost translucent. The taro should be cooked by now. Make sure to stir occasionally while cooking to prevent tapioca from sticking to the bottom of the pot. 

Add coconut milk, salt and sugar. My dessert is usually mild sweet since I don't have a much of a sweet tooth, so adjust the sugar to your liking. Continue cooking for a couple more minutes. 

Turn off heat. Add vanilla powder. Stir it well. Let it sit for about 5 minutes or until tapioca completely translucent.

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Presentation


Ladle the taro pudding into small bowls.  Serve it hot or cold and enjoy!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bánh Tráng Mè (Sesame Rice Crackers)


I often forget to appreciate the basic things in life until  I actually experience it. While making bánh tráng  (rice paper) from scratch, I realized how time consuming it is for a person to sit next to a steamer all day to produce one thin rice paper at a time. For most of us, it's not worth our time since rice paper is so inexpensive. You can get a thick stack in store for under $2. But that's what many people who live in the countryside of Vietnam still do for a living. Making rice paper is absolutely simple, but it does require many tedious hours constantly working with your hands  in repetitive mode every second. Hats off to all the people who do this kind of work day in and day out. It's simple, but not easy. Every time I munch on a rice paper cracker now, I will appreciate it so much more.

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me over for lunch. Mì Quảng gà (Quang style chicken noodle) was what she fed me. I was fascinated to see her making the noodle from scratch. What can be better than having a meal with freshly made noodle.  Yum! I had a big bowl of it and wished I had a bigger tummy for seconds. It was so delicious that I had to pack a bowl and deliver it to my husband right away so he didn't miss out anything while at work. lol.

A civil engineer who gave up her career as soon as her first daughter was born to become a "domestic engineer." She has been putting her skills to work in her own kitchen, home and garden. I had learnt from her how to create a fabric ring that fits into my steamer to make the rice paper and noodle.

Armed with this knowledge and tool, I've been cranking out rice papers, noodles, bánh cuốn (rice paper roll), and bánh ướt (literally "wet rice cake").

Obviously, spending time in the kitchen is one of of my joys. I can stand in the kitchen all day long if I have the luxury of doing that. Hence the reason why I greatly enjoyed making the rice papers. My first time making sesame rice paper was a success beyond my expectation. Once the rice paper is toasted, the texture turns crunchy but not hard and the wonderful aroma of roasted sesame seeds brings out the flavor of the rice paper cracker. It's all worth it when you hear the cracking sound of the rice crackers once they're off the oven and the next minute your family ask for more.

Here is the recipe for you to try. If it doesn't turn out the way you had envisioned on your first attempt, don't despair. Learning to cook means never being afraid to mess up.
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RECIPE: Sesame Rice Crackers
Ingredients


3 cups of Rice
4.5-5 cups Water, depends on the type of rice you use
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Black Sesame Seeds
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Making Ring and Cloth for the Steamer/Pot


2 pieces of Metal Straps, 6.5 in diameter, available at Home Depot
1/2 yard of 36" wide Cotton Fabric

Measure your pot for the size. 
Screw one end of the metal ring to the other with the nut provided and then bend it into a circle. Measure the diameter of the ring to ensure it's the same size as the pot. Screw the second nut on to complete the circle.

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1/2 yard of 36" wide Cotton Fabric can make 1 round cloth with double layer like this. 1 layer cloth would work too. 

Place the metal ring in the center of the damp cloth. I find it's a lot easier to stretch the cloth when it's wet.  Pull the two strings tightly until the cloth is stretched tight and smooth. Tie the strings to secure.


Instead of using the metal ring, you can also use the bamboo ring, or a large cotton cloth to cover the top of a tall pot. Use an elastic wrap to secure the cloth to the pot. Be sure to stretch the cloth really tight.

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Making Drying Mat


1/2 in Black Plastic Hardware Cloth, 3ftx15ft
2x2 Redwood, 8ft
8-10 Zip Ties
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Cut wood into two pieces the same size as the two end of the mat. Use zip ties to fasten the wood onto the mat. Wash the mat with soap thoroughly before use.

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Directions
Preparing Batter


As for rice, I used Homai California Calrose Rice.  I just happened to have this brand of rice in my pantry but you may try any type of rice you prefer. You might need to adjust the amount of water depending on the type of rice you use. 

Rinse rice a few times until water is clear. Soak overnight.  I usually soak my rice in the morning, grind it it in the evening, and use it the next morning.  

Rinse it for the last time. Drain the rice. In a Vitamix blender or a high-powered blender, add rice with 4.5 cups of water.  Let your blender run at maximum speed of 10 on high for about 30 seconds or until blended. You want to blend the rice as smoothly and finely as possible.
Strain it with a strainer to remove bubbles.


Add salt. Mix it well. Let it sit for at least half an hour or overnight to allow the batter to absorb the liquid and the air bubbles to settle before steaming.
Add sesame seeds into the batter and stir it well.

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Steaming Rice Paper


Fill the bottom steamer with 2/3 water.  Place the fabric ring inside of the top steamer.  Make sure it's straight.


Bring the steamer to a rapid boil.

Ladle about 1/3 cup of the batter onto the fabric screen. The size of the rice paper depends on the portion of the batter you pour onto the fabric screen and how big you spread the batter.
Use the bottom of the metal or coconut shell ladle like the one I used to help spread the rice batter thinly and evenly over the stretched fabric. Be sure to spread this quickly using a circular motion.  Cover it up with lid and let it steam for about 3-4 seconds.


Remove the lid and spread another layer of batter on top of the cooked one.  The rice paper for rice paper cracker needs to be thick, therefore, pouring two layers of batter is a must.


It will take a few more seconds for the steam to cook the smooth rice batter.  The rice paper will puff up when it's ready.  Use a flat and long bamboo stick to remove the rice paper, then place it directly on a drying mat.


If you have a wide roller like the one in the picture, use it to roll the rice paper up and then unroll intact onto a drying mat.  This roller simplify this process compared to the flat bamboo stick I used. This roller will be my next project.


If you don't have enough space to put the drying mat in your kitchen while making the rice paper, place the rice paper on the small rack then flip it over on the drying mat at your convenience.



Repeat the steaming process until done.
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Drying Rice Paper


Dry the rice papers on the mat or the bamboo screen like the way people do in Vietnam in full sun for a couple of hours, then move to a shaded area.  Drying too long in the full sun will cause the rice paper to warp.


I placed my drying screen on a long table.  Another way is by suspending the mat/screen by tying the ends to the trees or chairs.

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Presentation


Place one rice paper in a microwave and cook it for 1-2 minutes until it puffs up and turns slightly brown. 


Enjoy it by itself or break into pieces and use it to scoop your favorite Vietnamese salad or cerviche.


It's definitely a must-have for Quang noodle dish as seen below.

 Have fun!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bánh Bao (Vietnamese Steamed Pork Bun)



I often make lots of bánh bao and store them in the refrigerator for my family to enjoy. I personally don't like bánh bao at the stores. First of all, I do not like green peas and carrots that are often mixed into the meat; Second I like to eat them straight from the steamer.

The first time I tried to make bánh bao was when I was in High School, but it all started with my mom.

My mom used to make delicious, tasty bánh bao; Our house would be full of them. My father helped her to kneed and roll out the dough. My sisters helped her to assemble them. They would often laugh at each other' s funny looking bao.  Every time a new batch of buns came out, we all looked at them to see what shape they would take. It was a lot of fun. 

Now, every time my daughters see me making bánh bao, they would sit next to me and help roll out the dough balls and pass out the circle papers that go under the bao. They always get to taste my first batch of fresh, steaming bánh bao.

Pork buns might look difficult to make but it's actually a piece of cake.  After volunteering my two hours weekly routine this morning at my kids' school , I came home and started working on these buns to get them ready for my girls to snack on after school. For convenience, consider making big batches of these buns for your family to munch on through out the week.

my little one watched me making bánh bao when she was 2
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a year and a half later, she and her big sister made bao with me.
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RECIPE: Steamed Pork Bun
Make: 20 buns

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Ingredients

Dough


1 bag Steamed Bun Flour
1 cup Milk or Water
2/3 cup Sugar
1 tablespoon Vegetable or Canola Oil
1 tablespoon Lime Juice 
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Filling


3/4 pound Ground Pork
3/4 -1 small Onion, chopped
1/2 cup Black Fungus (nấm mèo), soaked until soft, rinsed and chopped OR 4-5 fresh Shiitake Mushrooms, chopped
1 bunch Vermicelli Bean Threads (bún tàu), chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons Oyster Sauce
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
2 Vietnamese Sausages (Lạp Xưởng), each cut into 20 round slices
5 boiled eggs, each cut into 4 pieces
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20 Paper Circles using paper or parchment paper
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Directions

she is an expert at making buns at  5 years old
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Making Dough


Pour a bag of flour into a mixing bowl.
Mix sugar, lemon and water or milk together.  The purpose of using lime juice is to make the bun white.  Keep about 2 tablespoons of the milk mixture on a side.  Pour the remainder into the flour bowl.


Kneed flour until it forms dough. You should use the palms and heels of your hands to push forward on the dough. After 10 minutes of kneading the dough, add oil and kneed it for another minute.


The dough should be soft and should not stick to your hands.  If it sticks to your hands, that means it has too much liquid. In this case, just add a tablespoon of flour at a time to achieve a nice soft dough. If it's a little bit dry, add the remaining milk mixture just a little at a time.
Cover the mixing bowl with a cloth or towel. Leave it somewhere that is not cold (I usually warm the oven up for a few minutes then  turn the oven off and leave it in the oven) and let it rise for about 1/2 an hour to 45 minutes. Divide dough into 20 balls. While waiting for dough to rise, prepare the filling.
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Preparing Meat


Mix all the ingredients except sausages and eggs.  Divide the meat into 20 balls. 
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Assembling


Roll out each dough ball but not too thin.


Put a meat ball in the center of dough.  Add 2 pieces of sausages and 1 piece of egg.


Hold the edges of dough over the filling and start folding it into layers while using the other hand's thumb push down the filling. At the end, twist all the layers to make it stick together.  Put the completed bun on a piece of circle paper.

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Steaming


Boil 1/2 of water in a bottom layer of steamer at high heat.  Arrange buns on the other layers of steamer.  Leave space between each bun to make room for it to rise and expand.  Steam the buns when water starts boiling.  After 15-20 minutes, the buns should be puffed up and they are ready to eat.
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Presentation


Enjoy the buns and cups of hot green tea as a breakfast treat or midday snack.


Ăn Ngon!