Saturday, March 28, 2015

Home-Made Herb Speck Gnocchi (makes about 3 servings)


Here is my home-made and hand-made herb gnocchi. I have not made these potato dumplings for a long time. The whole day was foggy and rainy in this part of New Hampshire and I felt a bit lazy because of the weather. However, by evening I perked up a bit and decided it was time to make these tasty morsels. I did not want to wait until the riced potatoes* are chilled in the refrigerator. In the past I had to chill them in order to get the gnocchi to form successfully. This time I added more flour to my riced potatoes and that was the only way for me to get them to bind. If I use less flour the gnocchi pieces will basically fall apart in the boiling water. I experimented initially with 1/4 cup of flour and increased by 1/4 cup increment (to 1/2 cup and finally to 3/4 cup). After adding 3/4 cup flour to the riced potatoes the dough started to hold together, and I was able to roll a piece of dough into a long rope quite easily. For me I find that once I can roll the dough to the desired shape then I know I have a good working dough. Also when I drop the cut pieces into boiling water they keep their shapes making me a very happy woman!

riced potatoes
uncooked gnocchi
Some months back I had leftover curly leaf parsley. Instead of letting them spoil from not coming up with any brilliant recipes I dried them for later use. I chopped the leaves and spread them on a cookie sheet. It took only a few days to get them completely dried (at room temperature) in my kitchen. I stored them in an air tight container and I was surprised by the intense green even when dried. I decided to crumble the dried parsley leaves into my gnocchi giving them the pretty emerald specks. There is not much of a taste to comment about but the gnocchi certainly look attractive! 

dried parsley
Ingredients:

2 lbs russet potatoes, washed well, keep whole, do not peel or cut them
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a few spoonful to help roll the gnocchi into ropes
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dried parsley, crushed with your palms

Method:

1) Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft. May test by using a fork to pierce into the largest potato. If you can easily insert a fork into the center then it is done.
2) Remove potatoes and let them slightly cool before handling and peeling the skin.
3) Use a ricer to get all of the peeled potatoes mashed.
4) Add flour (3/4 cup), salt and parsley. Mix gently until all ingredients are just incorporated. Avoid over-mixing since you want your cooked gnocchi to be soft and light.
5) Scoop a few tablespoons of the dough and gently rolled them on a cutting board until the diameter is about the width of your fingers. May use a little extra flour to help rolling easier.
5) Cut the rope into about 1 inch pieces.
6 Cook the pieces in gently boiling water (may add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to boiling water if interested) until they float, this will take about 45 seconds to a minute.  Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and put them on a platter or plate until ready to use.

cooked gnocchi
*The "riced potatoes" are made from using a potato ricer (or ricer) to force the cooked potatoes through small holes. You may use a food mill if you do not have a ricer. 
*You may use fresh parsley instead; use however much you prefer. 
*Adjust the amount of flour if needed. The less flour you use the better. Start with less flour than you think you will need since you can always add more. I used 3/4 cup for this recipe. If you can get away with less flour then you will have better gnocchi than mine.
*Here are a few gnocchi recipes that I have posted in the past but I used a dough mixer and chilled riced potatoes: Squid Ink Gnocchi and Purple Gnocchi.
*For this batch I experimented with a few gnocchi by forming my rope into a different shape other than round. Honestly it was due to being unsuccessful in rolling the dough out initially so I squeezed the dough to make a long triangular shape. They took time to form but they certainly look very interesting and unique. This gives me an idea to make these style another time but with the correct amount of flour and potato ratio. Sometimes mistakes can be a good thing!

foggy Spring day (2015)
*The photo above taken from my backyard. It was a gloomy foggy day but I thought it looked beautiful and peaceful.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Au Co (Teochew Steamed Taro Cakes)--makes three 9-inch cakes


If you have been following my blog postings you may remember (from my previous posts) my grandmother has ill fitting dentures and she can't chew some food well, especially anything tough or hard. After I learned that my grandmother enjoys eating "au co" (a word for a type of taro cake in Teochew) I made it three times (each batch consists of 3 cakes) during my 3-month visit with her. I rarely made anything more than twice even over a 6 month period but for my grandmother I will make it 10 times if necessary! I don't get to see her often and besides she turned 95 in February and I think she should be able to eat whatever she wants or likes. I first made her au co and noticed she ate most of it but left out a few of the dried shrimp and peanuts which were a bit hard for her. By the second time I made these cakes I came up with a solution to partially grinding the dried shrimp and peanuts. Since then she ate all of the cake. She likes eating these piping hot freshly out of the steamer or lightly fried. When making these you may keep the shrimp and peanuts whole if you like. You can also make these by laying down a design made from whole shrimp and/or peanuts before pouring the contents into the pan. This way once cooked you can flip them out into a dish and the design will show on top. I also lined the cake pan with banana leaves so the cake can come out easily once cooked.

In the United States I can make the taro cake quickly as I have a large shredder and canned coconut milk. However, in Vietnam I had only a small grater and had to render for the coconut milk myself so making these took more time. Having said this I would rather use fresh ingredients because the end product tastes so much better. My grandmother tells me she prefers using garlic leaves in this recipe. However you may substitute with garlic if this is what you have available. For one batch of taro cake I managed to get some garlic shoots. These are the new growth from the garlic. I was not eating them fast enough so they started to grow! These shoots have a strong garlic smell and I used them instead of garlic.

shred the taro
shredded taro
 extracting fresh coconut milk
mixing coconut milk and flour until well blended
freshly harvested banana leaves
(must be washed and cleaned
well prior to using)

cut the banana leaves or parchment paper
to size (bottom of the pan)
(it does not matter if you use several
pieces to line the pan)
flipping the cake onto a platter or dish to remove
from the pan and peel the banana leaf layer off
(do this while the cake is still warm so it can come out of
the pan easily)
frying taro cake pieces
lightly fried taro cake pieces
(great for breakfast or a light snack)
fried taro cake for my grandmother
(she is sitting in her mini-general store)

Au Co (Teochew Steamed Taro Cakes)--makes three 9-inch cakes

Ingredients:

8 oz pork, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup (or 1 oz) dried shrimp, hydrated with water for about 4 hours, squeezed dry
1/2 cup (or 2 1/2 oz) raw peanuts, soaked in water preferably overnight and then gently boiled until soften (about 30-40 minutes)
2 lbs taro (with skin removed), shredded, washed in water, drained, and squeezed with your palms to remove the liquid**
2 scallions or about 1/3 cup, green part only, chopped
1 Tbsp of finely chopped garlic shoots or 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
2 thumb nail size ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 tsp)
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt (or according to your taste)
1 tsp sugar
3 cups rice flour
650 mL or about 2 3/4 cups coconut milk
Banana leaves or parchment papers (cut to the size of the bottom of your pans)
Oil for greasing the pans

Method:

1) Put a little pork and a little shrimp into a meat grinder, pulse a few times to grind these items. Avoid over-grinding. Remove from the grinder once done and repeat until all the meat and shrimp are gone.
2) Roughly grind the peanuts. Remove them from the grinder.
3) In a large container or bowl add the ground pork/dried shrimp, ground peanut, taro, scallions, garlic, ginger, and shallots.
2) In a separate medium size container add rice flour, coconut milk, salt and sugar and mix until blended.
3) Pour the liquid into the semi dried ingredients.
4) Mix the contents well with a spatula or whatever tool you have.
5) Prepare your steamer by boiling with plenty of water.
6) Lie the banana leaves or parchment papers in your pans.
7) Lightly grease the bottom and along the inside of the pans.
8) If you have extra whole dried shrimp and whole peanuts that you want to make a pattern then lie these down on the bottom of the pan (this step is optional).
9) Divide the mixture into the 3 pans.
10) Once the water in the steamer starts boiling add the pan (s). Cover and turn down the heat slightly if needed. Steam for about 35-40 minutes. You can poke the cake with a chopstick or fork. If it comes out clean then it is done cooking.
11) Remove and let cool. Take a silicon spatula or any non-metal spatula and slice along the edges of each pan. Use a plate (preferably larger than your cake pan) and put it on top of the pan. Flip the pan over and the contents will fall out. Peel the banana leaves or parchment paper off. May eat while hot.

*I have made similar cakes in the past posting, Steamed Malanga Cake using malanga, a root vegetable that resembles a giant taro. Since the last posting I came up with a few improvements: grinding the boiled peanuts and hydrated dried shrimp, laying down a pattern using the peanuts and shrimp onto the pan before pouring in the batter, using banana leaves or parchment papers to line the pan to easily remove the cakes after steaming, and most importantly getting the proper liquid and flour ratio that is preferred by my grandmother. After steaming the cakes should not be too hard to too soft. If you find that they are too hard then you have added too much flour. If you have soft cakes then you have added too much liquid. Just adjust the ratio (flour to liquid) after you have steamed one. 
*If you use the canned coconut milk from the United States some of the cans are 400 mL. You may add another 250 mL water to the contents. Be sure to shake the can well before opening it.
**When washing the taro shreds and squeezing the water out of it be sure to wear gloves for this procedure. The taro mixing in liquid may cause itchy skin. I learned this the hard way since I did not think that it would affect me since I do not have sensitive skin. I ended up with severe itchy hands for several hours and it was quite unpleasant. You can use cheese cloth to squeeze the liquid out but try not to squeeze it completely dry or your cake will turn out hard.
*If you wait until the next day to remove the steamed cakes from the pan it will be more difficult as it will stick to the pan more.
*You may keep the cake whole or cut into smaller portions and keep these in the freezer. Be sure to wrap each portion in plastic well before putting in the freezer. Before eating you may take it out of the freezer and keep it in the refrigerator overnight or until thawed. 
*Once cooled you may cut or slice the cake into bite size pieces and lightly fried them in a little hot oil. These make a delicious snack and my grandmother loves to eat this with her tea. My mother tells me that I can make a sauce by cooking coconut milk and a tiny bit of salt and drizzle a few spoonfuls over the cake pieces for an even tastier treat. If you add coconut milk sauce then add a drizzle of the Vietnamese dipping sauce.
*If you are using banana leaves (fresh or frozen) be sure to wipe the banana leaves well prior to using. I prefer to use a dish rag or sponge and gently wash the entire leaf with mild soapy water to clean it. I have seen how these leaves grow and so I don't want any extra bug residue on them. Some people will just wipe the leaves but not wash them with soapy water. 
*Be sure the water has come to a boil before you place the pan in to steam. My grandmother tells me  she used to burn an incense (when the water start boiling) as a timer. Once the incense burns to a certain point then she knows when certain food is ready. Those were the good old days!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easter Eggs Made with Natural Dyes and Herbs

For children, Easter is a fun event with candy and egg hunting. However my friends Christian and Cindy would make this event fun for all ages by showing us how to make beautiful and tasty Easter eggs using natural dyes and herbs. These are by far the most creative and prettiest eggs I have ever seen! Christian relocated to the United States to be with Cindy and brought this Swiss tradition with him. She tells me they have been following this tradition with family and friends for the last 15 years. Christian mentions that "the onion peel dye is just the classic, traditional (method). My mother and grandmother did it that way. We would always strive for the most intense color for a strong contrast, i.e., start collecting the onion peel a month before Easter. Cindy goes more for a tasteful, lighter color, and we found that a little peel goes a long way." They explain that dry onion skins (just the outside husks) work the best.

With Easter coming up I am excited that Christian and Cindy agreed to be my guest writers for this post. When I first looked at their write up I thought that this looked familiar. I realized it is written in a scientific style since both are PhD scientists! Both are busy with careers and raising a young son on an 84-acre farm. Cindy (who is a brain scientist/professor--I am not kidding!) later admits that she has been globe trotting to give scientific talks (with the latest trips to Morocco and England to name a few), finishing up papers for her Harvard job, working on two books (of course the subject is brains!), trimming blueberries, and performing various tasks on the farm. While chatting with her she said she has to go outside to run her tractor while the weather is still warm and should be back to talk later! Yes, that's Cindy, always multi-tasking!

Here is a link to their Mercer Road Farm in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Their farm is open to the public during blueberry picking season which starts around mid July. I hear they have 2000 bushes full of delicious berries! Thank you Cindy and Christian for this post and photos! Happy Easter and start saving your onion peels!


Addendum: 9/12/15, Cindy has started her own blog, Saving Dragonflies. It's about eating sustainable organic local food. Please check it out!

Easter Eggs Made with Natural Dyes and Herbs


Ingredients and prep: 

  • Collect organic onion skins. A little goes a long way. For light eggs you will need the skins from just 2 onions for use in conjunction with a medium saucepan of water. You should experiment and add water or more onion skins to get a desirable color. We usually use one pan for a light batch and one for a dark batch (3 or more onions worth of skins). 
  • Collect organic and wild herbs that are edible. Dandelion leaves are perfect. Other good choices are organic carrots with the feathery green tops, dill, cilantro, wild partridge berry from the forest and spring violets with flowers. Wild violets flowers leave beautiful blue dye on the egg. Blueberry leaves make a blue mark on the eggs also. Only choose plants that you absolutely know are non-toxic. Many common plants are very poisonous – if you are not an expert stick to herbs from the grocery store. Taxus (yew) and wolfs bane are a few that are EXTREMELY TOXIC. The eggshell is permeable to toxins. 
  • White organic eggs 
  • Food grade string 
  • Scissors 
  • Clean sheer hosiery or some kind of fine netting that can be boiled 
  • Pins, toothpicks or skewers to arrange the herbs under the hose or stocking 
  • A bowl of clean water to use to wet the herbs/leaves 
  • A pan to boil the eggs

Instructions:

Wash the herbs, rinse the onion skins, wash the eggs with a bit of dish soap. Bacteria from eggs come most often from the shell. You will be touching the raw eggs so they should be clean first.


Boil the onion skins in water. Fill the pan about 2/3 full of water, put in the onion skins and boil for 15 minutes. You can then either take the onion skins out or leave them in for the dye to get darker as the session goes on. We usually make a lighter water bath and a darker one.

We also get organic dyes from Switzerland. One is cochineal – this turns the eggs a bright pink color. To use cochineal (cochenille in French)– add about one tablespoon in 2 quarts of water. Simmer it for 15 minutes before dying the eggs. Another is logwood (Haematoxylon campechianum), which yields blue – light when dying already cooked eggs in cold solution, but almost black if you boil the eggs in the dye.

While you are boiling your dye pot, start to prep the eggs. Place an herb or leaf onto the egg. Sometimes it helps to dip the leaf into water first. As it sticks to the egg, place the hosiery around and tie it with a string so that the leaf is held tightly to the egg. Cut off extra hosiery. This is a skill and it might be difficult at first. It helps to start out with an easy leaf such as dandelion.

If using fine leaves you might use a pointed implement to arrange the leaves under the hose and to make sure that the leaf is touching the egg as much as possible (as flat as possible). The process relies on the dye not getting to the area of the egg that is under the leaf.

Place the egg into the boiling dye water and bring back to a boil for 10 minutes – make sure that the entire egg is under water. It helps to have a plastic spoon to gently lower the eggs into the hot water. We boil several eggs at a time. After 10 minutes of boiling, take the eggs out with a slotted spoon (if you want to keep the dye for a new batch of eggs) and run eggs under cold water as you take the hose/leaf off. You should see the relief of the leaves or herbs on the eggs.

Eggs before cooking – herbs are held around the egg
with a sheer material and secured with string.
Eggs after cooking and rinsing – herbs were dandelion leaves,
carrot tops and cilantro. Note that some herbs leave
green on the egg. Blueberry leaves and violets leave a blue relief
(sorry we do not have any pictures of those). 
Another batch of eggs after cooking and rinsing – herbs were dandelion leaves,
carrot top, dill, yarrow leaves, partridge berry (leaves and berry),
cinquefoil leaves and cilantro.
We also tried some food grade netting instead of hose
(see egg left bottom) that left (undesirable) lines on the egg. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Vietnamese Cold Cuts--makes about 2 pounds

marbled slices of the cold cuts
banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) using home-made pork liver pate,
cold cuts and pickled daikon and carrots
mini banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) appetizers
These cold cuts known as thịt nguội in Vietnamese is a popular item at banquets, Tet (Vietnamese New Year) and other special occasions. Here in the region of Soctrang and the surrounding villages it is made from pork meat, pork skin, seasonings and is then typically stuffed into a pig's bladder. It is a bit time consuming to make this. When you buy these items the skin may still have a lot of hair so you will need to use a tweezers and pull these out. Some people scrape the hair off the skin but you may still have little pieces of hair inside the skin which I find unappetizing. All the fat needs to be removed and then the entire skin surface needs to be scraped clean. The bladder needs to be scraped clean (inside and outside), extra fatty tissue removed and washed in salt and vinegar before it can be used. The bladder may appear small but after it has been pounded a little it can expand and stretch quite a bit. I was surprised myself since I did not think that I could stuff over 3 pounds of ingredients in such a small organ!

If you do not have access to pig's bladders you may use either pig's stomach or pig's leg. My aunt (by marriage) tells me her father used to make this with the pig's leg. He skillfully and carefully removed the skin but left the toe nails in so it would look pretty. If you are using the stomach be sure to properly clean it extremely well before using. Please refrain from using it if you are unsure on how to properly clean it.

Some people prefer to make this cold cuts by adding a little Chinese 5-spice. However, many of my relatives are not too fond of the strong taste so we leave this out. Ngau Y (maternal fifth aunt living in California) makes this by adding a few extra ingredients such as pig's ears and snout. If you use these items then make sure these are extremely clean. Like the pig's skin you do need to partially cook these ingredients before adding to your choice of casing.

pork meat, pork skin, and pork bladder are the main ingredients
stuff the meat and skin into the bladder
stuffed bladder
the opening is sewn closed
now this is one full bladder!
wrapping the stuffed bladder with cheese cloth
tying it up with string
cook in boiling water
all cooked
(once cooled I wrap this in plastic)
Ingredients:

2 lbs pork meat, cubed in 1/2 inch pieces
1 lb pork skin, hair removed, cleaned and cooked about 20 minutes until somewhat soft, sliced into thin strips
1/2 tsp sodium nitrite (or muối diêm in Vietnamese)***
1 tube (about 1 Tbsp) rượu áp xanh-absinthe (may substitute with rice wine)
2 tsp salt (or more according to your taste)**
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp whole peppercorn, pan roasted for about 1-2 minutes over low heat
1 pig's bladder (excess fat removed, scraped gently inside and outside to clean, washed in salt and vinegar and pounded to expand)
1 clean needle and thread
1 cheese cloth
Cotton strings to tie
A long skewer

Method:

1) In a large container (enough for all the ingredients and a little extra room for mixing them) add meat, skin, curing salt, liquor, salt, sugar, and whole peppercorns. Mix the ingredients well. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to marinade.
2) Stuff the bladder with the ingredients but try to have an even mix. This way when you cut the cooked stuffed bladder you will have a nice mixture of ingredients.
3) Use a needle and thread and carefully sew the bladder opening to seal. Try to shape the bladder to a round ball or oval shape (depending on your preference).
4) Wrap the bladder with a cheese cloth and use the string to tie it securely.
5) Carefully drop the wrapped and tied bladder in gently boiling water, cover and cook for about 2 hours. After half way done cooking (after one hour) use a sharp skewer and poke about 5-7 holes into different parts of the bladder. Be sure to turn the bladder to the other side to complete the cooking.
6) Remove after cooking and let it cool down. Once cooled cut the strings and unwrap. You may slice  or cut into strips (like French fries) what you want to eat after it has cooled or keep it whole in the refrigerate.

***Sodium nitrite (or muối diêm in Vietnamese) has 6.25% nitrite. It is used to cure meat and acts as an antimicrobial agent. Here is more info on "What is the difference between Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate?" You may omit the sodium nitrite if you intend to eat this cold cuts right away. May store the cooked meat in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
**When you make this you may season it according to your taste. I prefer to make this with just a little salt since I can always use a dipping sauce if interested later. I find that if I make it too salty not everyone can eat it due to taste or health reasons.
*If you are using metric measurement you may use 1 kiloggram of pork and 500 gram of pork skin for this recipe. When you purchase the bladder be sure to let your vendor know how much of the main ingredients (pork and skin) you are planning to stuff it. The bladders do come in various sizes. You can adjust the meat and skin portions. Some people like it more chewy so they put in more skin. Try not to overcook the skin. After 15 or 20 minutes of cooking you can take a piece out and either chew it or take a fork and pierce it to check for the softness. What you do not want to do is cook it until it has become very soft or mushy.
*I blanched the skin to help softens it a little in order for me to easily pull the hair out. I then scrape the skin with a knife to clean it. Si Y (my maternal fourth aunt) tells me she cooked the skin first before pulling out the hair with tweezers. 
*Si Y tells me she grinds the pig skin instead of cutting them into thin strips. She marinades fried garlic, some roasted partially crushed black pepper, some roasted whole peppercorns, pork cubes, ground pork skin, salt, sugar, MSG, soy sauce, and some rice wine (that has been steeping in star anise for at least a week). She steams the stuffed bladder for 2 hours instead of boiling since this retain the moisture making the final product sweeter. I had a taste of her cold cuts and it was delicious. I particularly like the partially crushed black peppers and the extra flavor from the anise steeped wine.
*If the bladder opening is too small to turn it inside out to clean you may slice it open a little wider. Do not make a big slice since you do need to sew this part later!
*You may add Chinese 5-spice, pig's snout and ears if interested. Although adding cooked ears can give this an interesting texture. However, I don't know about using the snout. 
*This took a bit of work but the final result is very tasty (my opinion). I am not quite sure if you can find animal's bladder for sale in the United States. 

How to Open Up a Durian


Durian may be dubbed the "king of fruits" but I doubt that it makes it on everyone's top 10 favorite fruits. As for me I enjoy the sweet and buttery taste of these fruits. I also do not find the odor to be offensive. However, one of my High School science teachers, Mr. Harrington tells me he finds durian to be "the most repugnant fruit on earth". Here is his impression: "On my travels through India and Thailand eating everything from goat brains to jellyfish, durian was the one thing I could not eat. I tried it but it just wasn't happening for me." When I asked him to elaborate so people who have never had this fruit can understand why he does not enjoy eating it, he wrote: "(It was the) smell, texture and taste, it was the triple whammy for me. The odor was a very pungent, the nearest I can compare it to is that of butyric acid which is what gives rancid (oxidized) butter a foul smell. The texture was very sticky and gluey, while the taste was very hard for me to describe but just had no appeal to my taste buds. Perhaps because I had never encountered anything like it. Of course my experience with it was inside an enclosed vehicle on a hot humid day in Thailand..."

Years ago my husband and I rented a scooter and rode it all over the island of Koh Samui (Thailand). I was pleasantly surprised when we approached a huge durian farm along the way. Of course we had to stop and purchase a whole fruit, I can't get it as fresh as these! The seller happily opened the durian for us and we sat on top of the mountain eating the entire fruit while watching the setting sun. I think that was the best tasting durian that I had ever eaten. My husband did not grow up eating this fruit but somehow he is able to eat it and tolerate the smell. Thank goodness because I really like eating and cooking with them!

I have to admit there is a minor skill in opening a durian with your bare hands without drawing blood! However, I highly recommend that you wear good work gloves (preferably leather) when handling these spiky fruits as a prevention from injuries when prying it open (especially if you are a novice). Pick a fruit that is ripe (typically indicative by the strong smell) and one that is slightly cracked (see photo below--bottom left durian). Take a knife and pierce into one of the sections that is slightly opened. Carefully open it and scoop out the meat gently using a fork, knife, or your fingers. Remember to remove the meat from every sections of the fruit. You can eat it as is but I prefer to wrap the meaty part, chill it in the refrigerator (or even freezer if you want to eat it quickly) and eat it cold. You can also make a smoothie, ice cream, creme brulee or other interesting desserts with it. You may wrap it tightly or use a foodsaver vacuum sealer to store the durian meat and keep it in the freezer for months. If you go to the Asian markets in the United States, especially the ones located in the Northeast you will see frozen pre-packaged durian in the freezer section.

--pick one that has a strong smell and is slightly cracked (note the one on left)
--you can see the section clearly on this fruit
--take a knife and pierce into one of the section to pry it open
--wear thick work gloves when opening this
or just be very careful using bare hands
--the spikes are very deadly!!
scoop out the meat gently using a fork or knife
--remember to take out all the meat in the fruit!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cracking the Cheese

The east side of the South End of Boston has undergone a major transformation in recent years, the old warehouses in this district have been newly converted into luxury apartment buildings. To make the transformation complete, a new Whole Foods market just opened in January. My husband and I walked to the new location in the former Boston Herald building. While I was in Vietnam they had the grand opening. The place is quite impressive with a huge selection of fresh produce, wine and cheese. While shopping we heard the overhead announcement about a "Cracking the Cheese" contest. I told my husband that he should go and have a look while I explored. He found me and told me about it. We learned this contest is an annual event on how fast the cheesemongers will cut this 85-pound wheel of parmigiano-reggiano (cheese) in half. When I got to the contest area there was a crowd already gathered around this event. Since the cheese is soft I did not think that any of these guys would take minutes to cut it. I guessed 45 seconds. I guess great minds do think alike at times because my husband told me he just wrote down 44 seconds. He thought 45 was too close to his number, so I put in 50 seconds. The contest started, the two men worked quickly to score and stab at the cheese. The man on the right looked like he was not getting as far as the other, who had more experience, having previously cut 10 cheese wheels, but then he did something that split his cheese in half. My husband saw that the stopwatch of the coordinator, Claire, had stopped right at 43.9 seconds, and he ended up being the winner of this contest and took home a gift basket including a pound of the tasty cheese. We stayed for some wine and cheese tasting. Thank you Whole Foods Market for this interesting event and gift!

To learn more about this event you can check out their site: "Whey to go: Whole Foods Market cracks Parmigiano Reggiano Guinness World Records Title"


How to Prevent Jet Lag--my way

photo taken from one of my flights to Maui

What does jet lag have anything to do with food you may ask? Well, there may not be any obvious link between these two subjects. However, for me if I am feeling extreme fatigue with day time sleepiness then I may not be enjoying or appreciating any meals put in front of me. I also find jet lag to be a huge waste of time. Instead of being productive you end up sleeping and feeling tired most of the day with some restless and sleepless nights.

Recently I flew back to Boston from Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) just in time to celebrate my husband's birthday. The entire trip took nearly 40 hours of travel time including sitting around at different airports. Because of the ice storm causing days of delay in Texas my husband's plane landed a few hours after me. I ended up waiting for him at Logan (airport). I was not properly dressed for the cold weather but luckily my husband had his thick sweater and wool hat to lend me. Once outside of the airport we also had to be in this unusually long line of people waiting for a taxi. Even after midnight there must have been over a hundred people waiting patiently in the frigid cold. Once home I tried to adjust to the current time zone quickly. I slept for the night and woke up the next morning at around 7 am. 

Fortunately for me I have had jet lag only twice in my life (once from traveling for the first time on a plane to the United States--35 years ago, and also my first trip to Europe--20 years ago) and I must tell you that it was not the most pleasant feeling. Some people like my husband deal with jet lag by taking melatonin (over-the-counter supplement) at bedtime to help his body regulate sleep and wake cycles. My flight attendant/professional traveler/neighbor, Inge finds that adjusting one hour per day gets her body acclimated to the current time zone. My friend and nurse practitioner colleague, Deb tells me she stays up all night packing for her trip and ends up being so tired that she would sleep off her jet lag. By the time she gets to her destination she has already fooled her body into adjusting to the local time.

Over the years I have come up with a solution that works for me on how to prevent jet lag. At least it worked everytime for the last 20 years of traveling. My secret for combating jet lag is that during the flight I would sleep at every possible moment and hydrate with plenty of fluid, preferably decaf liquid. Lucky for me I usually sleep even before take-off. I normally wake up when the flight attendants make their way by me with food or drinks. It is as though I have this instinct to just know when it is feeding time even while deeply asleep! I once sat (on the plane) next to a retired Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist who told me the cabin (of the plane) may lack oxygen causing me to sleep easily. Now that is one interesting theory I had not considered until I met him. Once home I try to adjust to the local time. If I land during the day time then I stay awake without taking any naps (which can be quite difficult at times). If it is night time then I sleep. It's that simple for me.  

Here is an interesting article about artificial light and disruption of circadian rhythms,"Screens May Be Terrible for You, and Now We Know Why". This article makes me ponder if watching airline movies/shows and using your own personal screens (kindle, ipad, laptop, and etc) during those long flights increase your risk of circadian rhythm disruption and cause your jet lag to worsen.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Smooth Luffa With Eggs (serves 2-3 as part of shared meal)


I came across these smooth luffa at An Trach Market. These taste similar to the angled luffa except the skin is smooth (hence its name) making it easier to peel. They were so fresh and cheap that I bought 4 of them which came to about 2 pounds. My 3 year old niece came to visit and she ate rice with just the luffa broth. When asked if the food is tasty she responded "yes" and showed me her empty bowl requesting for more rice and broth!

My cousin Khiem tells me that this luffa also goes great with straw mushrooms. I guess I will have to make that dish another time! Check out the link to learn more about luffa: Growing Luffa.

smooth luffa
angled luffa
peeled and sliced smooth luffa
Ingredients:

2 tsp oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed (not minced)
4 luffa or about 2 lbs, peeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 scallions, green parts only, cut into 2 inch lengths
1/4 cup water
2 small (chicken) or 1 large egg
A few squirts of fish sauce
A few squirts of soy sauce
A large pinch of sugar

Method:

1) Heat a pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot add oil.
2) Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds to a minute.
3) Add the luffa and scallions. Saute about 2-3 minutes. Add water. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.
4) Crack the eggs and stir a few times. Let it cook for about a minute.
5) Season with fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Cook for about another minute.

*Add more or less fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar according to your taste. You may add less water if you want less liquid in this dish. May add a little cornstarch (about 2 teaspoons) and cold water (about 1-2 teaspoons) mixture to thicken the broth/sauce on step 5.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Goi Mit Non (Young Jackfruit Salad)--serves 4-5 as part of a shared meal


Gỏi mít non is a Vietnamese term for young jackfruit salad. I had never eaten this prior to this trip (to Vietnam) but I have always wanted to taste it. Since I have access to the young fruits from my grandmother's backyard this was my opportunity to make it. Once boiled the young jackfruit does not taste anything like the ripe sweet ones. It is bland with a taste similar to cooked breadfruit. It takes on any flavor you add to this salad. Also the sap is gone once it has been cooked. Please see my previous post on How to Prepare a Fresh Young Jackfruit for Cooking

This salad is simple to make and delicious. I hope you get a chance to make this. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

1 young jackfruit, boiled, peeled, cored and thinly shredded
1 lb shrimp, steamed or boiled and peeled (more or less depending on your preference)
6-8 oz pork, steamed or boiled and thinly sliced (more or less depending on your preference)
About 2-3 Tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
Herbs (such as mint, Thai basil, culantro or whatever herb you prefer)
Vietnamese chili and garlic dipping sauce

Method:

Arrange the young jackfruit, shrimp, and pork into a plate or platter. Scatter peanuts and herbs on top. Drizzle the sauce prior to eating.

*You may use other seafood or meat if interested.

shred the jackfruit meat thinly by cutting (with a knife) into the yellow flesh
and pulling down on the string-like fiber to tear it apart
shredded young jackfruit
my ultimate jackfruit salad
(tasty and pretty too!)

mix it well and enjoy!