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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Creme Brulee

It was Father's Day and I wanted to do something special for my wonderful husband who is always a super daddy to my two girls. My husband is a seafood fanatic. He loves seafood so much that whenever I mentioned about clams, mussels, lobsters, crabs, ect...his eyes would light. 

He actually makes it so easy for me to decide what food I should cook up for Father's Day.  The menu was Shrimp Scampi Pasta, Steam King Crabs, Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa, Lotus root and Jackfruit Salad and one of my favorite desserts, Creme Brulee which is the focus of this post. I would order this dessert at any restaurant I go to that carries  on their menu. 

I found a wonderful Creme Brulee recipe from Ina Garten.  Her recipe calls for Grand Manier orange liqueur.  It took me an hour to drive to different stores just to find it as I have no clue when it comes to hard liquor.  I finally found a sample tiny bottle about 3 tablespoons of Grand Manier orange liqueur at  Bevmo for  6 bucks. 

The finished product has a smooth and creamy, velvety texture.  It just melts in your mouth. But the top is lightly burnt and crispy with a smoky flavor. The word “brulee” means “burnt”. That’s where the blow torch comes in. For the finishing touch, the top of the custard is sprinkled with sugar and subjected to very high heat. The sugar caramelizes to a crispy, brown crust...delicious and crunchy in every heavenly bite. 

This Creme Brulee is very simple and incredibly delicious. 
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RECIPE: Creme Brulee
(Making 6 servings)

1 extra-large egg
4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for each serving
3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and 1/2 cup of the sugar together on low speed until just combined. Meanwhile, scald the cream in a small saucepan until it's very hot to the touch but not boiled. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the cream to the eggs. Add the vanilla and orange liqueur and pour into 6 to 8-ounce ramekins until almost full.  I used a strainer to strain it while pouring it into the ramekins to remove all the lumps from the eggs. 

Place the ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set when gently shaken. Remove the custards from the water bath, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until firm.

To serve, spread 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on the top of each ramekin and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar carmelizes evenly.  If you don't have a kitchen blowtorch,  you can put them in the oven on the top rack under the broiler with the oven door open  and watch carefully because they can burn really fast. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute until the caramelized sugar hardens.

Bon Appetit!

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Propane Gas Torch
Propane gas torches are highly flammable and should be kept away from heat, open flame, and prolonged exposure to sunlight. They should only be used in well-ventilated areas. When lighting a propane gas torch, place the torch on a flat, steady surface, facing away from you. Light the match or lighter and then open the gas valve. Light the gas jet, and blow out the match. Always turn off the burner valve to "finger tight" when finished using the torch. Children should never use a propane gas torch.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bánh Ít Lá Gai (Gai Leaf Little Cake)

"Muốn ăn bánh ít lá gai lấy chồng Bình Định cho dài đường đi”.

As a popular Binh Dinh saying goes "If you wish to eat banh it la gai,  marry a Binh Dinh man to increase your life expectancy".

Binh Dinh is the land of  Banh It La Gai,  which is made from the five main ingredients: glutinous rice flour, gai leaf, sugar, mung bean and banana leaf.  Banh It La Gai has the sweet taste of sugar, the aroma of sweet rice, the spice of ginger, the starch of mung bean, bitter taste of gai leaf and the grassy perfume of banana leaf.  All of these ingredients bring out a refreshing flavor and a distinctive glossy deep black color that gives the cake its unique color. 

The name Banh It La Gai indicates the two common features of the cake:     “ít” means    “little” referring to the size of  a serving for it only takes a couple bites to finish off a cake, and “lá gai” refers to the pointy serration of the  leaf commonly found abundantly in the tropics of Vietnam, but can easily be grown in the warmth of the California sun as well. 

 I've always been fascinated by how banh it la gai gets its black color as I  had never seen it my entire life  untiil recently.  Sometimes in March this year, I was lucky enough to receive some Gai plants from my mother-in-law's friends. I was determined to make my first batch, but it would have to wait for three months until the first gai plants are ready for harvesting.   The Gai leaves are green but after you ground in a mortar or blend it, its green colour will turn dark green.  Once you steam the cake, the colour will turn black just like the color of  Banh It La Gai that is shown above from my first batch.  The process of making Banh It La Gai may not look appetizing but the finished product is quite pleasing to the palate. 

Pleiku, where I grew up, is very close to the province of Binh Dinh. In the mornings
, many people from Binh Dinh came to  Pleiku  to conduct their daily business.   According to the people of Binh Dinh, the ingredients in Banh It La Gai not only taste good, but are also good for you; they can prevent abdominal pain, keep your stomach warm, and the ash from gai leaves can be used to cure gas pain. 

Banh It La Gai also plays a large role in Vietnamese rituals. This cake is always offered to worship ancestors during the New Year festivals . In marriage rituals, a tray of Banh It La Gai is the gift of the bride’s family to that of the groom to show the skillfulness of the bride who has made it together with the help of other villagers. Any ladies ready to tie the knot soon?

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RECIPE: Banh It La Gai
1 cup of palm or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1  bag of glutinous rice flour (bột nếp)

about 1/2 pound of Gai leaves
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon of pomelo flavour or vanilla extract

1/2 bag of mung bean, soaked for a couple of hours or overnight
1  cup of sugar
1 bag or 1 cup of frozen or fresh shredded young coconut
1 teaspoons of pomelo flavour  or vanilla extract

1 bag of frozen banana leaf, trimmed of any brown edges, washed, and wiped.
Cut into 40 pieces of about 5 x 10

Making Dough
Boil 2 and 1/4 cups of water with brown sugar and salt to make syrup. Remove it from heat and let it cool down.
Wash Gai leaves and removed the hard line in the middle of each leaf.  Bring it to boil for about 15 minutes.  Drain it and squeeze out the water.  Put gai leaves and ginger in a blender and blend it with a little bit of disolved sugar until the texture is super smooth.  Set it aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix well together  flour, gai paste, syrup and vanilla extract.  Kneed if for about 10 minutes until dough is soft and it doesn't stick to your hands or the mixing bowl. If during the kneeding process, dough is still dry, add a little bit more of water in the dough and kneed it again.  Divide dough into 40 balls.

Making Filling
Soak mung beans overnight or a few hours, so it is quicker to cook them. Drain the beans. In a pot, add water about 1/2 inch above the beans and bring it to boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir it and cook with lid on for about 15 minutes or until soft. Mash it.  Add sugar, shredded coconut and vanilla extract. Mix it up well. If it's too dry, add a little more of hot water. Cool off the mixture in room temperature. Divide beans paste into balls equally to the dough balls

Prepare Pastry Ball

Flatten a ball of dough
Take a bean paste ball, put in the middle of the round flat dough.
Close the dough and roll it with your palms to make a ball. Brush oil all over the ball before wrapping it up, so that the cake will not stick on the banana leave after steaming it.


Fold a piece of banana left into a cone shape. Drop the ball dough into it.  Fold in four sides.

Steam banh gio over boiling water at medium-high heat for about 20 minutes.


* If your banh it la gai  is not as black as it's supposed to be, you probably didn't use enough gai leaves. 
* I was a little bit nervous when my dough turned out to be dark green instead of black. But after I steamed it, the color turned out black as I expected. 
* To keep the banh it la gai's wrapping banana leaves lush green, steam banh it la gai without wrapping it first.  After it's cooked, then wrap it with banana leaves and steam it for about 5 or less.  Remove it from the steamer.  I didn't do it this way, that's why my banana leaves turned yellow instead. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sữa Chua Yaourt (Vietnamese Yogurt)

After having two kids, I began to feel old, at least in the back of my mind.   My skin seems to wrinkle around my eyes and those fine lines suddenly are magnified 10 times over. My mind went on the offensive and I had to come up with a recipe to combat these evil lines. A weekly massage is costly; eating yogurt which I heard is not only good for your skin but it also decreases the risk of colon cancer, improve digestion, help protect
against cardiovascular disease and it's supposed to help reverse lactose-intolerance, sounds like a better idea.  So, it's been a couple weeks and my two darlings and I have been making and eating our own yogurt, hoping that in a few months, I will have soften those wrinkles. 

I always like the taste of Vietnamese yogurt. It's simple, smooth, sweet, creamy and slightly tart.  I like to freeze it and  let it thaw for about a few minutes or microwave for about 10 seconds before eating it.  In the picture above, I made 3 kinds of yogurt: Vietnamese-style yogurt drink, fruity yogurt and just plain yogurt.  My oldest daughter's favorite one is the yogurt drink;  I just poured a jar of plain yogurt in a tall glass, add some crushed ice, squeezed some lemon and lime, and added a teaspoon of sweetened condensed milk.  Then mixed them up.  She just loves the sweet-tart and wonderful aroma of the yogurt drink. 

My husband's favorite one is fruity yogurt which I combined just fresh fruits into the yogurt.  He likes the fresh taste of fruits incorporated with the tangy taste of yogurt.  It looks absolutely delicious, fresh and healthy.

RECIPE: Sữa Chua Yaourt

1 can (14oz.) Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 can*  just-boil water (bring water to just about to boil.  Turn off heat and and wait for the bubble to subside before use)
1 1/2 can* whole milk
6 oz-1 cup Vietnamese yogurt or plain yogurt

*use the empty can of condensed milk to measure
Making yogurt

In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and hot water. Stir until homogeneous.
Pour whole milk into the mixture bowl.  Mix it.  The mixture should be lukewarm. Add yogurt and mix it until the mixture is smooth. 
Using a strainer or cheesecloth to strain the mixture to make sure there isn't any lumps. 
Use a ladle to pour mixture into the jars or cups. Put lids on yogurt jars.
Put the yogurt jars or cups in a large pot.  Heat up  water to near boil (not boiling).  If your water is boiling, just turn the heat off and wait for the bubble to settle down.  Then pour hot water carefully into the pot or container for water bath until the water has reached almost to the top of your yogurt jars or cups.   You might want to use a funnel to pour water into the pot so water won't get into the yogurt.   

Cover the pot with a towel and set it aside at room temperture for about 6 - 7 hours.  The yogurt should thicken and tart.  If you prefer it a little more tart, just let it sit in the water bath for a little bit longer.  The longer you leave the yogurt in the pot, the more sour it will be. Remove from bath, wipe each jar dry and store in fridge until ready to serve. 

If you live in a humid, hot place, another method to ferment yogurt is after pouring yogurt in the jars, put them on a big tray and leave it outside for a few hour.  If you make it in the moring, it should be ready to use in the evening. 

Note: If you use boiling water for water bath, the yogurt will be sweet and will not thicken. If this happened to you, don't toss it away. You can make yogurt drink out of it. Just pour a jar of yogurt in a glass of ice. Squeeze some lime juice and lemon juice. Add a teaspoon of condense milk and mix it up. The drink should be sweet and tart.

The yogurt glass cups are tealight glass cups from Ikea. The plastic lids for these glass cups can be purchased at any restaurant supply stores such as Smart and Final, etc...