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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Custardy French Toast (Bánh Mì Rán)

Tower Cafe in Sacramento is known for its famous French toast. Once in a while, my husband would show off his romantic side by taking a few hours off work to take me there for breakfast. He knows I like this place best for its relaxed outdoor garden ambiance and the famous French toast, of course. I usually don't care much for French toast, but the setting sure lends itself at Tower Cafe.

Their French toast is slightly crisp on the exterior, silky, custardy, and  luscious in the center. It's addicting.  All these years, I had never bothered to figure out their "secret custard recipe" that they use for their famous French toast until I tasted Shokupan that I bought at my local Japanese bakery a couple weeks ago.  Shokupan is literally translated as "eating bread". The bread is about an inch thick, white, much fluffier, and softer yet resilient but not too chewy.  It would make really good French toast, I thought. 

So I whisked up a can of condensed milk and fresh eggs and soaked Shokupan slices in the egg custard. When thick slices of bread are soaked in sweet, creme anglais custard, fried in butter and oil, doused in syrup and served along fresh fruits, what could be better?

The French toast recipe I am sharing with you is inspired by Tower Cafe. They use French baguette for their French toast and people use a variety of different breads to make it. However, it's essential to use the right bread and the right thickness. The sandwich bread will not give you the same texture and delicious result as the bread is too soft and the size of the slice is too thin. Day old French baguette, challah, or brioche would also make delicious French toasts if you don't have Shokupan. 
RECIPE: Custardy French Toast

about 4 Shokupan slices or day old French baguette, cut at least 1-11/2 inch thick slices 
4 eggs
1/2 cup condensed milk 
1 cup hot water or milk 
1 teaspoon vanila extract, optional
whipped butter, optional
powdered sugar, optional 
Preparing Fruits

Wash fruits thoroughly. Drain and set aside.
Making Whipped Butter, optional

Beat 2 tablespoons of milk with 1/4 lb softened butter together on low speed for 1-2 minutes, or until the butter and milk combine. Then, mix on high for 2-4 minutes, or until the butter is light and fluffy.
Preparing Custard 

Whisk condensed milk and hot water or milk until combined. Add eggs and whisk until blended. Strain the mixture to remove any egg that has not been fully incorporated.

Preparing Bread 

Take your pick at cutting the bread slices into half, quarter, or leave it as whole. If used French baguette, cut bread diagonally into at least 1 1/2-inch for extra-thick slice.

Place bread slices in the custard bowl and give it time to soak, about five minutes. Flip bread slices and let soak for another five minutes until custard has been absorbed. The soaking time depends on the type, the size and the thickness of your bread slice. Extra-thick slices can be soaked overnight. 
Pan-Frying French Toast

Heat equal parts butter and vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Using both butter and oil will help prevent the butter from burning.

Fry bread until golden brown on both sides. After each batch, be sure to wipe out the pan with a paper towel, then add fresh oil and butter. Otherwise, the butter will burn and brown bits will stick to the next batch of French toast.

If your bread slice is too thick, the outside of your toast is golden brown but the inside might still cold and soggy. To get the best result, you need to finish cooking the pan-fried bread in the oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes. It results in a crispy on the outside, and luscious on the inside.

day old French bread

Sprinkle the toast with some powder sugar and serve with whipped butter, and assorted fruits.  The buttery sweetness in this toast is just right for me so I don't even need to douse it with syrup, and top with whipped butter, but you can indulge yourself.   

Eat well. Stay healthy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hai Phong, Vietnam -International Day of People with Disabilities

First, I would like to apologize for being late on updating the charity work that we had been involved with in Hải Phòng, Vietnam. This past December, The Spices Of Life teamed up with Saint Joseph Charity in Austin, Texas to bring together people with disabilities in Hải Phòng, Vietnam not just to promote the International Day of Persons with Disabilities which is observed annually on December 3rd, but also to reach out to them during the Christmas season. We appreciate the help of Caritas Hải Phòng, a local charity organization, for organizing such a wonderful event. There were 300 guests with various disabilities ranging hearing impairment, visual impairment, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophies, and disabilities resulting from motor vehicle accidents.

Many touching stories were shared at the event with the purpose of inspiring each other to thrive and grow under any circumstances so that they not only live but live beyond their physical limitations to inspire others who are in the same situation. In the case of Nguyễn Hữu Hậu who lives in Thủy Nguyên, Hải Phòng; he was paralyzed at birth due to muscular atrophy , but has risen to become the CEO of an engraving and sculpting company. This gives him the opportunity to employ many people with disabilities.

Đặng Thành Đồng is a handicapped who has strived to become a national track and field star.

Đặng Đình Thân and Vũ Thị Bính, a disabled couple - one born with a congenital condition that left him deaf-mute and the other blinded by cruel acid attacks - makes a living together by making brooms.

The event was a display of unity, love, and accomplishments, replete with stories of those who refuse to accept their fate as a disabled. We were thrilled to be a part of this phenomenal gathering.

The expenses for this event was $10,000 which included the cost of transportation for the disabled attendees, their wheelchairs, gifts, and dinner. There were approximately 93 wheelchairs given out. The Spices Of Life contributed $2000 towards 33 wheelchairs. In addition, more than 200 gifts including blankets and cash were given to the blind, deaf and those afflicted with cerebral palsy. The gifts were not of great material value, but they display a great deal of heart and love from the benefactors who make the program possible.

An intimate dinner closed the meeting with exchanges of joy and laughter in an uplifting atmosphere. Caritas Hải Phòng hoped that more benefactors will join in to continue this work to help our friends with disabilities integrate into the community and overcome their physical disabilities so that they can lead a more productive life.

On behalf of all the people with disabilities at the event and Caritas Hải Phòng, I would like to thank my blog readers and friends for your generous assistance and support.

Click this link to the event written in Vietnamese. 
Bấm vào đây để đọc bài viết tiếng Việt.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Shrimp and Crab Vermicelli Noodle Soup (Bún Riêu Tôm Cua)

For the last few days, I woke up in the morning wanting to blog this bún riêu recipe, but it was so difficult to do so from home. Housework is endless and somehow there's too many distractions at home. I had to force myself out of my PJs and get to a place where my creativity can flow and my thoughts are clear and I can just daydream of noodle. A coffee shop always does the trick. 

Bún (noodle) Riêu (meat made of a mixture of crab, shrimps, or ground pork) is a classic Vietnamese. The common ingredients in bún riêu are shrimp and crab meatballs, thin slices of chả lụa (Vietnamese pork ham), fried tofu cubes, and an assortment of herbs and vegetables.

Most of the recipes called for canned “minced crab in spices” then mix with ground pork and eggs to make the riêu, but I prefer to prepare my food, in general, from scratch when I can. The broth of bún riêu is prepared with pork bones then seasoned with salt, sugar, fish sauce, and fermented shrimp paste. When eating bún riêu, I like to squeeze some tangy lime juice into my bowl and enjoy it with a bountiful plate of crunchy, shredded water spinach stems (rau muống), or shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, and assorted herbs. The combination makes for a mouth-water dish. 
RECIPE: Bún Riêu Tôm Cua
make 8 quarts of broth
dried vermicelli noodle
fried tofu cubes, optional
for Shrimp and Crab Balls
1 pound shrimps, shells removed and deveined 
1/2 pound crab meat
1/4 cup dried shrimps
4 eggs
about 4 green onion, white part only, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
for Broth
about 3-4 pounds pork bones, or pork neck bones, or pork ribs cut into 2-inch pieces
1 onion, peeled, cut in half
a handful of garlic
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
4-5 large tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon annatto oil, for color, optional
iceberg lettuce, shredded
bean sprouts
assorted herbs (perilla leaves, mint leaves) 
water spinach (rau muong), splitted, optional
shrimp paste
lemon or lime wedges
cilantro, coarsely chopped
green scallions, finely cut
Preparing Dried Shrimps

Wash dried shrimps then place them in the tea ball strainer. Set aside.
Cooking Pork Stock

If using pork neck bones, ask the butcher to cut it into about 3 inch chunks. If  using spare ribs, have them cut into 2 inch pieces.

Blanching pork bones: this step is to be done before boiling to remove any impurities from the bones. In a 8-quart stockpot, cover the bones with cold water, bring to a boil. Cook for a couple more minutes before draining. Remove the bones. Rinse under running cold water. Discard the blanching water.

Cooking Broth: Cover the pork bones again with water. Add onion and garlic. Drop the dried shrimps tea ball strainer in the pot with the hanger hangs from the side of the pot. This is how I soften the dried shrimps and also add a bit more depth and complexity to the flavor. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the meat is cooked through, at least 45 minutes. Frequently skimming any additional foam, and debris from the surface. Add more water if needed. You can make the stock a day ahead.

Cooking Noodle

Cook noodle according to the package instructions. Set aside.
Preparing Crab and Shrimps Paste

Remove dried shrimps tea ball straining from the broth pot.   
Place dried shrimps in a food processor and process finely. Set aside.
Place shrimps and white parts of green onion in a food processor and process finely.

In a mixing bowl, combine dried shrimps, shrimps, crab meat, eggs, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, sugar, and salt. Mix well.

Preparing Tomatoes

Cut tomatoes into wedges. If used cherry tomatoes, cut each one into half.
In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of annatto seeds (aka achiote seeds) over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the oil becomes a rich, orange-red color, about 2 minutes. Discarding the seeds. The purpose of using annatto seeds is to give the broth its distinctive red color. You can skip the annatto seeds if preferred.

garlic, shallot, annatto oil

garlic, shallots, annatto oil, tomatoes

garlic, shallots, paprika, tomatoes

Add shallot and garlic to the annatto oil and cook until fragrant. Add half of the tomatoes and cook until soft.
Cooking Bún Riêu Broth

Liquid a tablespoon of shrimp paste with a couple tablespoons of pork stock. Set aside.

Turn up the heat on the stock pot to a rolling boil. Scoop a spoonful of the crab mixture at a time and drop it into the stock. The crab balls will float to the top once cooked.

Turn the heat down to a medium. Season the pork stock with fish sauce, sugar, salt, and shrimp paste mixture. Add the cooked tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and fried tofu cubes, if used, to the stock pot. Adjust the seasoning to achieve the balance of savory, slightly salty, and natural sweet of broth. Simmer the broth for a little longer, about another 10 minutes.

color of broth without annatto oil

color of broth with annatto oil

Add noodle to a bowl. Ladle in the soup, pork, crab meatballs, and tofu cubes, if used. Garnish with chopped cilantro and green onion. Serve with shredded iceberg lettuce, or curled stem of water spinach, bean sprout, assorted herbs, and a squeeze of lime or lemon and you are ready for a slurping good time.

Eat well.  Stay healthy.