Saturday, September 26, 2015

Simply Sauteed Kale (serves 2 as part of a shared meal)


I like this side dish. It's easy, quick to make, healthy and tasty. Just 2 minor ingredients and sliced kale. You can even omit the salt and oil if you want. Just saute over moderate high heat until all the liquid evaporates. Simple, nutritious and tasty!

Save the stems to make soup later. You can wash them and store them in the freezer if you are not using them right away.

Simply Sauteed Kale (serves 2 as part of a shared meal)

Ingredients:

About a tsp of oil
One bunch of kale, sliced (wash and remove the leafy portion from the stems, stack the leaves and slice into thin strips)
A pinch of salt to taste

Method:

Saute the kale in hot oil. Add salt to taste and saute until all the water evaporates (about 5 minutes).

Turkey and Chives Teochew Omelet (serves 2)

Both of my parents made many different delicious Teochew omelets to eat with plain rice soup (also known as mue in Teochew or chao trang in Vietnamese) for my brothers and me when we were little. I feel like eating omelet today so I made this dish for breakfast. It consists of ground turkey and my parents' home-grown organic Chinese chives. In my house these omelets are never eaten alone. They are always eaten with rice soup or with steamed rice. For other similar recipes please check out:

Duck Egg and Pork Omelet
Teochew Preserved Turnip Omelet

Turkey and Chives Teochew Omelet (serves 2) 

Ingredients:

4 jumbo sized chicken eggs
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp brown sugar
A large pinch of ground black or white pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
4 oz ground turkey
2 oz Chinese chives, chopped

Method:

1) In a medium sized bowl whisk gently eggs, fish sauce, sugar and pepper until everything is blended. Set aside.
2) Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium high heat.
3) Add turkey once the oil is hot. Saute about a minute or two until the turkey is somewhat cooked.
4) Add chives and saute about a minute.
5) Use a spatula to spread the contents in the pan evenly inside.
6) Pour the egg mixture evenly all over the pan. Tilt the pan if needed to get the mixture to spread evenly.
7) Cover the pan partially. Turn heat down a little if the pan gets too hot. Once the egg is cooked partially either flip the whole omelet over, fold into half, thirds or quarters whichever you prefer. Remove from heat once the omelet is cooked through. If you want multiple omelets just divide the contents.

eggs, turkey, Chinese chives
gift from Miho
*I came home exhausted after a long day of work to find a special delivery from my friend Miho. She sent me Halloween candies and a cute purse all the way from Tokyo to thank me for a photo that I took of her and her husband when we were in Seattle. She tells me she will be using it for their Christmas card this year. How sweet and thoughtful of her. Thank you Miho and Happy Halloween!!

Mackerel Rainbow Salsa on Freshly Sliced Baguette (appetizers for 2)

 
Recently my parents and their friends went ocean fishing for mackerel in Northern Maine adjacent to Canada. My mother said the fishing was very good. They caught a cooler full to take home. She cleaned them, ate some right away, gave some to friends and saved some in the freezer. My parents stopped by my home (on their way south) and gave me some frozen fish along with containers of prepared foods. They rarely visit any of their 5 children empty handed. Most of the time their vehicle is fully loaded with my mother's delicious home cooked fresh and frozen meals. It's not that we cannot cook. I think my brothers and I are quite capable of cooking decent foods. However, she thinks we are too busy to cook. I hate to admit but it's quite true...even for me. Just because I blog about food and cooking it does not mean I cook and eat well daily.

Today I am not working in the clinic and too lazy to cook. So I thawed a few fish, removed the bones with tweezers, removed the belly lining and blood vessels from each one, gently scrub them well with lots of salt inside and outside, rinsed them clean and dried each piece on clean paper towel. I keep a pair of tweezers in my kitchen mainly for this purpose--it's works wonderfully. I kept the skin on and just sliced the fillet pieces into strips. I placed these cleaned pieces in the refrigerator while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. My parents also came with some home-grown tomatoes and herbs which I incorporated into this dish. This dish is fresh, easy to prepare, and requires no cooking skills!! 

As I have mentioned in many of my previous postings please consult with your primary care provider or general practitioner before eating raw fish! Just because I eat this does not mean that you can safely consume it too. Yes, some of the bacteria get killed off from the freezing process but it still may not be safe. Also you can become deathly ill from poor handling of any food. So eat this at your own risk. The links below are on seafood health facts and safety that may be of interest to you.

http://seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood_safety/practitioners/parasites.php
http://seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood_safety/patients/parasites.php
http://seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood_safety/doctors/parasites.php
http://seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafoodqa/18.php
http://seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood_safety/practitioners/handling.php

Mackerel Rainbow Salsa on Freshly Sliced Baguette (appetizers for 2)

Ingredients:

1 small Hass avocado or about 1 cup diced
1/2 cup chopped pineapple
1/2 cup de-seeded, chopped or 1 fresh tomato
1 clementine (about 1/2 cup cut into thirds), removed the skin and seeds from each section, cut each one into thirds
1 Tbsp chopped Chinese chives
1 Tbsp sliced mint leaves and about 5 leaves hand torn
1 tsp chopped chives
2 mackerels, filleted and bones removed, cut into strips
Juice from 1 lime
Sea salt to taste
Black lava sea salt, garnish (optional)

Method:

Gently mix the avocado, pineapple, tomato, clementine, chives, mint, mackerel, and lime juice. Add sea salt to taste. Sprinkle the lava sea salt to garnish.

*Keep the fish refrigerated while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. If you are not eating this quickly then be sure to keep the dish on ice so it will remain fresh.
 *The dish on the right (photo above) has a sauce made from dried wasabi or horse radish, a little water, mayonnaise and soy sauce. It was my experiment and I did not write the exact ingredients down. However, I used roughly 1/2 tsp of dried wasabi, 1 tsp of water, 2 tsp of mayo, and soy sauce to taste. The black specks are black lava sea salt (came from Hawaii). The sauce turns out pretty good. My husband and I really enjoyed it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How to Remove the Tough Strings on Fresh Whole Beans or Peas


It's common knowledge among my family that one must remove the tips and the tough strings along the sides of any snow peas, sweet peas, string beans or other fresh beans. Unless your beans or peas are harvested extremely young and tender I highly recommend you perform this simple step in preparing them prior to eating raw or cooked. It will make the beans or peas more tender and tasty. You can use your thumb and index finger to pinch off a tiny piece of one tip and pull the string off. Repeat for the other end. You can also use a knife for this procedure since I find this is more sanitary and it will be easier especially if you have trimmed nails.

Some of you may find this process common sense. I thought so too but after repeatedly eating out in restaurants and finding strings intact on the whole string beans I thought I should make this process a bit clear. It takes a few minutes of your time but your food will be so much more enjoyable!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Water Spinach in Black Bean Garlic Sauce (serves 2 as part of a shared meal)


 

I enjoy the taste of very tender young water spinach. It is not always available in this part of the United States. However, when they are you can be sure that I will purchase some to take home. I like it in a simple stir fry, the fewer the ingredients the better. This vegetable cooks fast so within a few minutes you can have a tasty dish.

prepared tender water spinach for cooking
Water Spinach in Black Bean Garlic Sauce (serves 2 as part of a shared meal)

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic, smashed, chopped
2 tsp black bean garlic sauce
1 1/2 lbs water spinach, washed well and pinched each stalk into 2-inch lengths (see above photo)
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

Method:

1) Heat a large pan or wok over high heat. Add oil once the pan is heated.
2) Add garlic and black bean garlic sauce. Saute about 30 seconds.
3) Add a handful of water spinach and let everything wilt slightly before adding more. Continue until all the stalks and leaves are in the pan or wok. Cook about 5 minutes or until all the leaves and stalks are completely wilted.
4) Season with fish sauce and sugar. Stir the contents to blend and turn off heat.

Sauteed Frog Legs in Ginger and Garlic Oyster Sauce (serves 2-3 as part of a shared meal)


One of the many benefits of having a second job in Boston is that I can purchase items such as frog legs easily. This morning I visited Savenor's, a market on Charles Street (Beacon Hill, Boston), and purchased 6 pairs of frozen prepared large frog legs. This batch actually did not taste as grassy as the previous purchase. As my husband reminds me, "you are what you eat"! I found some young ginger at one of the C-Mart Supermarkets (an Asian market in the South End). I like the combination of ginger, garlic and oyster sauce in this dish. You can add as little, as much or no thickener to this dish as you prefer. Check out a similar recipe, Spicy Frog and Lemongrass dish, if you have an interest in eating frogs.

6 pairs of large frog legs
de-jointed frog legs
tender young ginger
Sauteed Frog Legs in Ginger and Garlic Oyster Sauce (serves 2-3 as part of a shared meal)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1 3/4 oz julienned young ginger (about 3 adult thumb sized knob of ginger)
6 pairs of large frog legs (about 1.1 lb) , skinned, de-jointed, washed and drained
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
Mixture of 1 Tbsp cornstarch with 1 Tbsp water (less cornstarch if you prefer a thinner consistency)
A little chopped scallions, garnish (optional)

Method:

1) Heat a medium sized pan over high heat.
2) Add oil. Once the oil is hot, add garlic and ginger. Saute about 2 minutes. May turn heat down to medium high.
3) Add frog legs. Cook about 5 minutes or until the largest part of the leg is cooked through.
4) Season with oyster sauce and sugar to taste.
5) Add cornstarch and water mixture. Stir and cook about another 30 seconds.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Mother's Bun Rieu Cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)--about 8 servings


my mother's bun rieu cua (Vietnamese crab noodle soup)
My Mother's Bun Rieu Cua (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)--about 8 servings

Most people are probably familiar with or have eaten pho (one of the more famous Vietnamese noodle soups). However, some people may not have heard of or eaten bún riêu cua. It is another favorite noodle soup among my family and relatives usually made from live crabs. Instead of crabs it can also be made from snails or a combination of both ingredients. If you go to a Vietnamese restaurant you may not find it made with as much crab as in this recipe...at least I have not come across any so far. In the old days, and still common in some villages especially those in the Mekong Delta (in Vietnam) where rice is cultivated the soup base is made from hand pounding the tiny fresh rice paddy crabs to a pulp. This is then simmered to make a broth before straining to make the soup base known as "rieu". This traditional method continues to exist but it is tedious work. 

There are many ways to make this delicious crab flavored rieu but here is how my mother prefers to make hers. She lives in Maine and has abundant access to fresh off-the-boat seafood from her fisherman friends/former co-workers. She prefers to use both Maine crab and Maine lobster shells to make the broth and then uses the crab meat that she laboriously picked out to make the delicious key ingredients that I call "soup essence" or "soup base". Some cookbooks will tell you to use tamarind for the base. However, the people I met in my grandmother's village (a few miles from Soc Trang), including my mother use tomato and never tamarind. This way the rieu will have the sour taste and red color. Some people like to use annatto seeds to add extra red shade to the rieu. Like pho and other Vietnamese noodle soups the bun rieu is eaten with lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. The typical ones are Thai basil, mint, perilla, bean sprouts, and finely split water spinach stalks. The split spinach stalks are soaked in ice cold water to create beautiful curls. In Vietnam people generally use a vegetable peeler to create strands from these stalks. The extra final topping ingredients include fried tofu, congealed cooked pork blood cubes, extra fine shrimp sauce, fish sauce and lime juice. Since not everyone in my family likes the taste or smell of the strong shrimp sauce, we omit it from the soup base. A dollop of it is only added as part of the final topping when making individual bowls. This soup is delicious and quite filling. When I was in Soctrang, Vietnam this past year I saw pureed rice paddy crab sold in a large bucket at an indoor department/supermarket called Co-Op Mart. If I did not see the label I would not have guessed what was in the contents since it looks like some sort of unappetizing gray sauce.

In recent years the invasive green crabs have made constant bad news for our ecosystem along the entire East Coast of the United States and probably up into Canada. Apparently they are multiplying rapidly and are eating and killing off other native marine life. I agreed with what some people say about us feasting on these critters instead of letting them win. Here is a good article from the Boston Globe, Green crabs are multiplying. Should we eat the enemy? You bettcha! I think these crab species would make a tasty rieu...so, I am a huge advocate to start cooking these invaders! I have not come across any despite walking along the New Hampshire shore regularly. However, if you are located in or near the Seacoast of New Hampshire, have any green crabs and want to share some with me, please email me at thai_thanh@yahoo.com!!

Seafood Broth

Ingredient:

About 1 gallon water
2 lobster shells and legs
5 crab shells and legs
1/2 medium sized onion
About 3 Tbsp fish sauce

Method:

In a large pot, add water, lobster, crab and onion. Cook over medium high heat. Once the water boils turn the heat lower to simmer. Let the liquid simmer for about an hour. Add fish sauce near the end of cooking. Strain and discard the shells and onion. Reserve the broth.

*Gently crush the lobster and crab legs with a mallet before adding to the pot. This helps the flavor seep out into the broth. If you have more shells and legs by all mean add them. The more the better.

Crab Soup Essence or Soup Base (Rieu)

I called this important part of the bun rieu "soup essence" or "soup base". Without these key ingredients this noodle dish would be quite bland.

purchasing coolers of fresh off-the-boat
Maine crab and lobsters
(Bucksport, Maine 2015)

cooked Maine crabs
ingredients for the rieu
cooked pot of soup base (rieu)
Ingredients:

1 Tbsp oil
About 1 cup ground pork (more or less depending on your preference)
1/2 medium sized onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of black pepper
1-2 tomatoes, deseeded and peeled or unpeeled, cut in wedges
One 14.5-oz can unsalted diced tomato (or 2 large tomatoes, deseeded, peeled and diced)
One 5.6 oz can of minced crab in spices (gia vi nau bun rieu in Vietnamese)
1 cup cooked crab roe/liver
2 scallions, chopped
About 2 Tbsp fish sauce
Seafood broth (see above)
1 egg, beaten
2 cups crab meat (or meat from about 5 Maine crabs)
About 12 pieces of fried tofu

Method:

1) Add about 1 tsp of garlic and 1 Tbsp chopped onion with the pork. Add black pepper and sprinkle of sugar. Mix gently and set aside.
2) Heat a pan with oil. Once the oil is hot, add the rest of garlic. Saute about 1/2 minute.
3) Add the rest of the chopped onion. Saute for about a minute or until it is soft.
4) Add tomato. Saute about 2 minutes.
5) Add minced crab, cooked crab roe/liver and scallions. Saute about 1-2 minutes.
6) Season with fish sauce.
7) Pour the mixture into the Seafood Broth. Turn the heat up so the broth will be gently simmering.
8) Stir the pot with a spatula in gentle one way motion while slowly pouring in the egg mixture. This will make the egg strands.*
9) Add the fried tofu.
10) Add the crab meat. Avoid over stirring.
11) May add more fish sauce and sugar to taste.
12) Keep heat to low in order for the soup base to remain hot.

*The minced crab in spices come in a can or a glass jar. You can purchase them at an Asian market. This will add more flavor to your soup.
*If you can add freshly hand-picked crab meat it is preferred over the canned crab meat. There is a huge difference in taste and flavor when the meat comes from fresh crab. For convenient and access it fine to substitute canned real crab meat. Although I would avoid using imitation crab legs.
*Add as little or as much of the pork and crab as you prefer. You may substitute pork for other meat such as turkey or chicken. 
*To make beautiful egg strands you can add the whisked egg in a bag, cut a small hole in one corner. While the soup base is simmering, with one hand keep stirring the pot gently in the same motion, with the other hand pour the egg out of the hole into the pot. The one direction motion of the hot liquid will cook the egg into strings instead of lumps.
*Some people prefer to mix the crab meat, pork, and egg to form tiny dumplings and float these into the broth. Some even make the mixture into a small meatloaf and once cooked sliced the pieces to add as part of the topping.
*If you prefer more red color you can add annatto oil to the soup essence.

Herbs/Vegetables (add as little or as much according to your preference)

Water spinach (rau muong), leaves removed, finely split and soaked in ice cold water for 10 minutes, then drained
Bean sprouts (gia)
Thai basil (rau que)
Mint (rau hung)
Vietnamese balm (rau kinh gioi)
Shiso or perilla (rau tia to)
Lime wedges

*The above items are the typical herb/vegetable toppings used in bun rieu found in Soctrang (Vietnam) according to my mother and cousin Ngoc. Ngoc tells me that in Soctrang (where she resides) some people also add cilantro but the Vietnamese balm is not commonly available. In Maine this Vietnamese balm grows in abundance in my parents backyard. Some restaurants in the United States may have other vegetables such as shredded cabbage (can be either or both white and red) and shredded banana blossom. The cabbage works well as a substitute; it's accessible and economical especially if you do not live near an Asian market. However, adding it is not so authentic.

water spinach (rau muong)
water spinach (rau muong), finely split
and soaked in ice cold water 10 minutes, drained
Condiments (add as little or as much according to your preference)

Fine shrimp sauce or shrimp paste (mam ruoc in Vietnamese)
Any good fish sauce
Chili pepper
Extra crab meat

Noodles

Boil the rice stick noodles or rice vermicelli (known as bun in Vietnamese) according to the package instructions and drain. Cover the noodles with a wet towel or cover to prevent drying out.

*I don't have access to fresh rice stick so I purchase dried packages from the Asian markets. Each package is about 0.88 lb. You can use about 2 packages for this pot.

To Assemble A Bowl of Bun Rieu (Vietnamese Crab Noodle Soup)

There are many ways to put together a bowl of bun rieu. Here is my way. Take a large bowl, add some cooked rice noodles. Add bean sprouts (this way they will be partially cooked) and pour the crab soup essence with broth on top. Remove some of the broth from the bowl back into the pot and pour in new hot broth back into the bowl. This will warm up the rice noodles nicely. Next garnish the bowl with a few pieces of fried tofu, torn herbs, finely shredded water spinach, a dollop of fine shrimp sauce, a few drizzle of fish sauce, chili pepper, extra crab meat and a squeeze of lime.

addendum:
As you can see from this post that there can be a little delay for me in making the food to writing and finally to publishing the recipe! This particular batch was made back in July. My parents, husband and I ate half (in Maine) on the day we made it and I took the other half home (to New Hampshire) in a large container and kept it in the freezer. Exactly 2 months later I removed it from the freezer. Try submerging the frozen container in water for quick and easy removal of the ice block. I slowly simmer the whole thing, ice and all in a large pot over medium low heat. After all this time in the freezer this soup base is still amazingly tasty. At first I thought the crab would have a strong odor or taste after sitting in the freezer. Yet I was surprised it has not noticeably altered the taste. I had few of the typical herbs/vegetables (see Herbs section from above) used in bun rieu so I added what I had in my kitchen; finely sliced cabbage, red perilla leaves, mint, Chinese chives and lime. These substituted items are not ideal for this type of noodle soup but the result was still filling and delicious.

mint, perilla, cabbage, lime, Chinese chives
bun rieu with substituted vegetables and herbs found in my kitchen
with a dollop of chili sauce and shrimp sauce

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stuffed Maine Crabs (makes 5 stuffed crabs & 7 crab cakes)

 
My mother would often purchase a huge cooler full of Maine crabs and hand-pick the meat out of them herself. She regularly gives me bags of the meat, sometimes I forget how time consuming it is to pick the meat out of each individual crab. Although she is quite speedy it is still a cumbersome task. One day, after seeing a full load of patients at work, and attending a 2 hour meeting in another city, I drove nearly an hour to return home and picked meat out of the 5 cooked Maine crabs that my parents had given me. It took roughly 20 minutes to pick each crab clean. I got a tiny bit faster by the 5th crab...thank goodness! The sad part is that it took much less time to eat the meal.

I was inspired by the crab cakes so I made the filling with similar ingredients. I take the filling and stuff some of them back into the crab shells. For the leftover filling I used an  ice cream scooper and scooped out 2-inch equal sized balls. I put these in the refrigerator to chill and lightly fried them in a pan the next day. The stuffed crabs were baked in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. After they were done I added some sliced truffles with oil on top for garnish. These are full of meat but very tasty!

stuffed crabs
crab cakes
crab cake salad
Stuffed Maine Crabs (makes 5 stuffed crabs & 7 crab cakes)

Ingredients

Meat and roe from 5 Maine crabs (yields about 4 cups or 1 lb, 4 1/2 oz of meat and roe)
Save the crab shells, cleaned, washed and dripped dry
1 cup panko (bread crumbs)
2/3 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 egg
1 Tbsp truffle
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
Truffle with oil, garnish
More chopped chives, garnish
 
Method

1) Mix crab meat and roe, panko, mayonnaise, chives, egg, truffle, olive oil, mustard and black pepper together gently until just mixed.
2) Stuff the filling loosely into the crab shells.
3) Add extra chives if interested.
4) Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees F for about 10-12 minutes.
5) Remove from oven and add truffle with oil.

*For the remaining filling there is enough to make seven crab cake balls. Sprinkle with extra panko over the cakes. Lightly pan fry in a little oil until golden brown. These are delicious on mixed greens drizzled with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce and hot chili.