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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Matcha Crème Brûlée (Creme Brulee Vị Trà Xanh)

Nhã-Hân and Ân-Hy were half way through their crème brûlée when I finally had a few minutes to sit down and watch them enjoy their dessert. As Nhã-Hân dugged her spoon into the crisp caramel, it cracked open and revealed a beautiful pastel green, creamy, decadent custard. She exclaimed, "Why is this so good?". It triggered my curiosity about the history behind this wonderful crème brûlée. Though the exact origin is uncertain. France, England, and Spain all claim to be the country where crème brûlée originated. 

Crème brûlée might appear complicated to make but it's actually very simple and incredibly delicious with just a few ingredients. The top layer of crème brûlée is lightly burnt and crispy with toffee 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. I sometime use just vanilla pure extract or Grand Manier orange liqueur in crème brûlée but if you love tea like my little girl Ân-Hy, add matcha to crème brûlée to infuse an exotic flavor and subtle taste, along with a mega dose of antioxidants in every bite.

Matcha literally means Japanese green tea powder. Matcha is essentially the youngest, finest and most tender green tea leaves that have been steamed, dried, and stone-ground into a fine, delicate powder. Matcha, considered an anti-oxidant powerhouse, claims to have amazing health benefits such as burning fat, boosting your energy level naturally, cleaning your body of toxins and focusing your mind, helping your body fight infections and diseases.

There are different grades of matcha. Ceremonial grade is the highest grade which is used on special occasion and to be served straight. Premium grade is still very good and it is more of an everyday beverage. While Culinary/Ingredient grade is cheaper and is added as an ingredient to foods and beverages. This grade is mixed with older tea leaves which has a stronger flavor.

The taste of high grade Matcha is smooth and mellow, while lower quality matcha can leave a bitter taste. For this recipe, I used a ceremonial grade matcha that a friend of mine brought back from Japan.  If you're in Sacramento, Oto's Marketplace has matcha - culinary quality for about $10 per ounce. Click on my Amazon affiliate link here to purchase.
RECIPE: Crème Brûlée
make 6-8 creme servings


5 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon matcha, click here to purchase
fruits, for decoration, optional
culinary torch, click here to purchase
ramekins, click here to purchase

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Boil a pot of water.
Cooking Heavy Whipping Cream

Place heavy cream and matcha into a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir often until it's just about to boil, hot to touch but not boiled. Remove from heat and let it cool down. 

You can also cook the heavy cream without matcha. Matcha can be whisked together with the egg yolks in the next step.
Whisking Egg Yolks

Meanwhile, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and matcha, if used in this step, by hand or in a stand mixer until well blended.

Slowly add heavy cream a little at a time, while slowly whisking. Avoid pouring the heavy cream into the egg too fast as the heavy cream is still warm and it will cook the egg. Be careful not to over mix to avoid foams.  

Add vanilla extract.  Strain egg mixture through a strainer for a fine texture.

Baking Crème Brûlée

Place 6-8 ramekins, depends on your size of ramekins, into a baking pan and pour liquid into ramekins. Place the baking pan in the oven. Being careful not to splash the water into the ramekins, pour boiling water into the pan to come two-thirds up the height of the ramekins. 

Bake in preheated oven for about 35 minutes, until the custards are set when gently shaken, but still jiggly in the center. Remove ramekins from baking pan and let it cool down before refrigerating and allow to set for at least 2 hours or until chilled.
Torching Crème Brûlée

vanilla crème brûlée

When you are ready to serve matcha crème brûlée, sprinkle sugar on the top of each ramekin. Gently swirl the ramekin to create smooth layer of sugar then pour out the excess sugar. Hold the chef's torch about two inches away from ramekin and caramelize the sugar by moving the flame continuously over the sugar in a circular motion, until the sugar is melted and turns golden brown.  


It's hard to resist an enticing matcha crème brûlée with toppings of sweet and tart fruits such as strawberries, blue berries, raspberries, or bananas. The palate is quite rich yet the balance of acidity and sweetness make it ideal. 

As I was strolling through my backyard to look for some beautiful micro edible flowers to garnish the crème brûlée, a blossoming apricot tree and fresh mint plants caught my eyes, heralding the arrival of spring.

Eat well.  Stay healthy. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Loaves and Fishes - Serving the Homeless

As I was driving by Pleasant Grove High School, an electronic message board running the word "Valenkinds" caught my attention. I thought to myself Valentine's Day is more than a festival of romantic love, but it's also about kindness and friendship. Thinking about this reminds me of a high school friend of mine. She is smart, kind-hearted, witty and super funny. She and her two happy children live in a home that she bought a couple years ago. But things weren't always this rosy and the past was a dark and scary place.

She left her husband after a short marriage to save herself and her daughters. Surrounded by drugs and violence, she had to free herself and her two children. Her family disowned after her mixed race marriage. Without family support, she soon found herself taking shelter at Family Promise that used to be on the Loaves & Fishes campus. Her children enrolled in the Mustard Seed School which is a school for homeless children, while she enrolled at Women's Empowerment. In a short time, she got a job and left the shelter to be on her own.

Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan. Within a few months, she got laid off. It was a hard time then with the economy tanking and no one was hiring. By sheer determination and strong will, she decided that her children will have a healthy and good life. She managed to get back to school. You would think by now that she would catch a break, yet during her first year of school at a community college, her apartment was broken into and burglarized. They stole the only laptop she possessed which she needed for her graphics communication major. She lost all her work and designs she had saved and subsequently failed the entire semester.

Yet through this hardship, her resolve was not shaken. She managed to enroll into an Occupational Therapy Assistant program at school. She attended school full time, worked part time, and took care of two young babies. She had no money and little time for sleep, but she prevailed. She enrolled for county assistance, Food Stamps, the WIC program, and whatever student loans she can get her hands on. She was awarded scholarships from the MLK Fund and Women's International Soroptimist Scholarship. She finished school and was able to accomplish her goals.

Single parenting is insanely stressful but with all the hardship she endured, she became stronger. Now, she's working two jobs, and raising two smart and beautiful girls on her own. Her girls are happy, clean, fed and doing well in school. She joined in The Spices Of Life charity work to pay it forward to the people who are in the shoes she once walked in.

It was apparently difficult for her to open up to me about a past that she felt ashamed to tell anyone. But her story of perseverance through extreme adversities truly inspires me. I admired her strength and relentless optimism. It's important to know that Loaves and Fishes and their affiliated volunteers played a role in her family's recovery and success. The work that we do has real impact and there are many out there that are currently in her situation. We may never see or hear about the extent of our work, but we know there are needy hungry individuals and families that we can help feed.

So let us continue our work. Please join me on our next homeless breakfast serving scheduled on Thursday, February 16th. You can help serve by participating in one of three ways or if possible, all of the above:

- Cook 20 lbs of oatmeal - Parmjit Sandhu, Loan 
- Cook and Wrap burritos - Sandy Lombella group, Stacy Giacomini, Tamara Warren
- Boil Eggs - Dan Redfearn group

2. SERVING BREAKFAST at 7:15 am - 9:00 am - 10 volunteers (Stacy Giacomini, Sophia McAuliffe Rooney, Kristine Oclarino, Ann, Thuyet, Jenny, Kristin Nebiolini, Rinnie)

3. DONATING Food, Drink, or money to purchase food/drink to serve nearly 300 homeless guests.

Food/Other Items Needed:
1. Breakfast Burritos (meat, rice, beans, cheese) = $180 (funded by Van Thu Vo)

2. Cereal; Hot Oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar and milk = $45 (funded by Yung Huynh)

3. Tangerines = $60 (funded by Maggie and Cynthia)

4. Trail Mix Bars = $47.45 (funded by Yung Huynh)

5. 12 boxes (24 each) Cups of Instant Noodle
= $59 (donated by Cecilia Van (6 boxes); Kelly Phan (6 boxes)

6. Bananas = $45 (funded by Thu)

7. 2 cases (48 cans) V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)
2 cases V8 Juice = $21.5 (funded by Kristine Oclarino)

8. Bottles of Water = $40 (funded by c. Duyen)

9. Hot Chocolate Packets = $50 (funded by c. Duyen)

10. 4 boxes of eggs (5 dozens/box) = $24
5 boxes of eggs (5 dozens/box) = $30

11. Dixie Hot cups (donated by Cecilia)

12. Bus Passes (adult $7 each; children $3.50) 
      $100 funded by Kristin Nebiolini
      $100 funded by Hien Nguyen
      $100 funded by Ann

Please let me know if you need a donation receipt so I can notify Loaves and Fishes.

Below are some pictures from our December serving.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Cua Đút Lò (Garlic Butter Roasted Crab)

There's nothing quite like fresh, salty, and succulent crabs. Every year, I patiently wait for November to come because that's when crab season opens in California. When the supply swells, I would seize the opportunity to buy them at the lowest prices of the year at my local Asian markets. This year, I was able to get them for $4.29 per pound, not the cheapest by far but still pretty good for dungeness crabs.

My girls and husband are crab lovers. Their favorite crab dish is this finger-lickin-good garlic butter roasted Dungeness crabs. The sweetness of the crab basking in the myriad of spices, garlic and butter fills the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma. It will heighten your senses and fill your culinary subconsciousness if not your tummies. 
RECIPE: Garlic Butter Roasted Crab

2 Dungeness crabs
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 heads of garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 head of garlic, optional
1 teaspoon cracked peppercorns
1 lemon, sliced, optional 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. 
Roasting Garlic

I like garlic in pretty much any forms, but roasted - it's outta this world. It's something that you can never have too much of I think. My older daughter loves garlic especially roasted garlic that are soft, and creamy, so I always toss in some extra heads of garlic when making roasted crabs for extra savory boost.  
Trim the heads of garlic to expose the garlic cloves.  Drizzle olive oil over, sprinkle a bit of sea salt, and ground pepper.  Toss it in the oven and roast it while preparing crabs.  Garlic should be done in 30 mins when it's soft and creamy, and you can literally squeeze the garlic clove out of its shell. 
Preparing Crabs

To make it easy to handle crabs, put them in the sink and pour on sink hot water. Clean the crabs by using a toothbrush to brush the body, claws, and legs of crab, and rinse thoroughly.

Twist off the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside. Hold the crab upward and pull the shell away from the body. 

The liquid that will come out from the inside of the shell is called crab butter. Reserve the crab butter. Using a small spoon to scoop out the brown and corals from the inside of the crabs into a bowl. Discard the shell if you don't want to use it for presentation.

Pull the spongy, feathery inedible gills off from both sides of the body and discard them. The mandibles are the mouth parts at the front of the crab. Break them off and discard.

Using a cleaver, cut the crab into quarters and slightly crack the claws.

Cooking Crabs

In a large skillet, cook butter and garlic over medium low heat until the butter melts and garlic fragrant, but not brown.  

Add sugar, chicken bouillon powder, crab butter and cracked peppercorns, stirring occasionally, a minute or two, until the sauce has thickened slightly. 

sauce for 4 crabs

sauce for 1 crab

 Add crabs and toss them well.  I usually cook crabs in large portion and the skillet is not big enough for all the crabs, therefore, I arrange crabs in a baking tray then pour the sauce over the crabs. 

Roasting Crabs

Transfer crabs to a baking tray.  Add a few slices of lemon on the crab tray, if preferred. Remove roasted garlic from the oven and continue to cook it with the crabs.  Drizzle olive oil over the lemon slices and roast the crab tray for about 12 minutes.  

Switch from roast or bake to broil and cook for a couple more minutes until crabs have a nice golden brown crust. Make sure to keep a close eye on the crabs roasting or broiling in the oven to prevent it from burning.

It's finger-lickin-good kind of food so don't be afraid to dig in. The crab sauce can be eaten with steamed rice or a loaf of French bread. Enjoy!
Eat well.  Stay healthy.