Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
It's just down the street from the San Gabriel Mission Arcangel, which was built in 1771, and in the heart of San Gabriel's downtown. In fact, Mission 261's rancho adobe architecture is authentic, having been built more than a hundred years ago as San Gabriel's city hall.
Monday, January 29, 2007
For one of my most popular recipes, it was high time I properly photographed cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls). I remember once helping cousin T wrap egg rolls at her house. I was doing such a horrible job that she asked me not to help. :P I guess my wrapping and photography skills have improved since then. Original post below the photo.
Isn't it funny how right after I eat something, I keep getting cravings for it again? And so it was that a few days after my dinner at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap, I wanted some cha gio (Vietnamese spring/egg rolls). Just imagining the crispy wrapper with the tender pork and shrimp filling dipped in sweet and sour sauce with a smidgen of Sriracha hot sauce made my mouth water.
Southern Vietnamese call egg rolls cha gio, Northerners call it nem ran. But to Southerners, nem is grilled ground pork patties. Is it any wonder sometimes it's like we're speaking two different languages?
This recipe is really intended for non-Asians. I'm assuming if you're Asian you already have your own method. After all, the Chinese have egg rolls, the Filipinos have lumpia, the Malaysians have popiah. But I shouldn't make assumptions so this is as simple a recipe as I can make it.
First off, when shopping look for spring roll or lumpia wrappers. These should be lighter and thinner looking, you don't want the thick heavy pasta-ish kind often sold in the major American grocery stores. If you want to use banh trang (Vietnamese rice paper) like they do in Vietnam, it's best to follow my recipe for Gluten-Free Cha Gio (Vietnamese Spring/Egg Rolls) to see how to work with the rice paper.
The restaurant is an awkward L-shaped configuration, with the small entrance at the tail end of the L and is easily missed unless someone gives you exact directions. The interior is bare bones basic with about a dozen utilitarian tables and chairs. But then Tran Qui Cap doesn't need any fancy embellishments, it has stayed in business for years by offering arguably the best com tam (Vietnamese broken rice) plates in town.
Com tam is traditionally peasant fare, utilizing leftover broken bits of rice that were formed during the harvest or processing. The rice is cooked slightly drier than normal, and takes on a couscous-like consistency. Or you can opt for banh hoi (Vietnamese steamed vermicelli sheets).
The menu is essentially variations of grilled meats to accompany your rice. Served with a side of Vietnamese herbs and pickled vegetables.
Your order comes with a small bowl of the obligatory nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and broth. The broth may be sipped as a light soup, or spooned over the rice if you think it's too dry.
Our order of Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls) came first with a side of Vietnamese greens - lettuce, cilantro, mint, and pickled carrots and daikon. The egg rolls are crisp, filled with pork and shrimp. You can eat these plain, or wrap them in herbs and lettuce and dip them into the nuoc cham. One order was about $5 or so if I remember correctly.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Thit heo kho voi trung (Vietnamese braised pork with hard-boiled eggs) is simply put a peasant dish. So earthy, so flavorful, so comforting. My mom used to make this fairly often when I was little and I always loved to spoon the sauce over rice and eat it plain.
The caramel sauce infuses the pork and hard-boiled eggs with a slightly sweet, deeply rich flavor that can only be achieved by braising for a long time. The fats and collagens in the pork break down into tenderness, the blandness of the albumen absorbs the caramel flavors, the yolk is smooth and rich. Spooned over rice with plenty of sauce, of course, it's perfect comfort food for a rainy day. The caramel sauce is a must for this dish to provide color and flavor to the pork. If you're not going to do this step, then skip the sugar in the recipe as the coconut juice will provide plenty of sweetness on its own. The coconut juice will mostly cook off, leaving behind a slight sweetness to add depth to the pork. If you don't want any coconut juice at all, then simply substitute with water.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
The cupcakes were just sweet enough without being overpowering. The frostings were a perfect foil for the flavor of each cake, and sweeter but not toothache sweet.
A regular-sized cupcake, which is slightly smaller than the standard muffin-tin, is $2.75. Mini size is $1.50.
Le Cupcake began in 2003 in the Washington, D.C. area by Robyn Savage who delivered them door-to-door -- the White House, the Justice Department, and a Senator's Office doors that is. Le Cupcake opened inside the Santa Monica Place Mall last fall.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Butter chicken is similar to chicken tikka masala in the yogurt- and tomato-based sauce. Legend has it that chicken tikka masala was invented by Bangladeshi chefs in the U.K. when Brits demanded a "gravy" to go with their chicken tikka. But others say, that chicken tikka masala is based on butter chicken, which originated in the Punjab region of India. Or that it was invented out of expediency as a way to use up leftover chicken tikka. Either way, there's no doubt that this is a popular offering at Indian restaurants everywhere.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
This soup is inspired by Thai curries that I've gotten in restaurants but isn't quite as thick. Not sure how much Vietnamese influence it has either, except for the addition of fish sauce. Vietnamese tend to eat curry with French bread for dipping, but rice will do as well.
Peel and devein shrimp. Add a dash or two of salt to shrimp and set aside. Saute onion, garlic, and lemongrass in olive oil until softened and fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients, except shrimp, and turn heat down to medium-low to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until pumpkin is softened. Add shrimp and stir curry. Shrimp should turn pink and cook very quickly. Spoon over rice. Now, what do you do with all those scraped out pumpkin seeds? I dried out a portion to plant next year's crop. If I'm only getting two pumpkins a plant, I may need to plant more than one...
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Months after The New York Times featured Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread recipe, it's still taking the food blogging world by storm. Last week he was on Martha Stewart. I made a whole wheat verison, which turned out so well I thought I'd make another loaf, simplify it even more, and take more photos.
This version is slightly easier because there's less handling of flour or sticky dough. No-Knead means no need to touch either. Hehe, I'm so clever. You can stir and scrape the dough with a wooden spoon. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place a towel on top, instead of letting the towel touch the dough.
No more fancy store-bought loaves for me. This bread features a crisp, crackly crust with a chewy inside reminiscent of European artisanal breads.
Even Easier No-Knead Bread
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (For wheat bread, 2 cups white, 1 cup whole wheat.)
1 1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp of yeast, the kind sold in packets and jars
You can skip this step entirely and dump all the ingredients together in a bowl. But I think this step helps the yeast activate just a little bit. In my simplified version (ie: lazy), turn on hot water tap in bathroom and when it's hot, measure out 1 1/2 cups water. (This is because I don't have a food thermometer but have found the bathroom hot tap water the perfect temperature for yeast to rise.) Add 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Swirl the mixture around a little to activate the yeast. Add 1 tsp salt (more if you want a saltier bread) and flour. Mix thoroughly but quickly. You'll get a sticky, lumpy dough that looks like this.
Cover with plastic wrap and a thick towel and leave it to rise in a warm place for at least 12 hours, ideally 18 or more. Just do it the night before and let it rise while you're asleep and at work the next day. The dough should double in size with lots of bubbles like this.
Liberally flour a cutting board and dump the dough onto the surface, dusting the top again. Cover with plastic and towel again and let it rise for a few hours. You can fold or shape your dough to make it a little more compact but you don't have to. I usually place my cutting board on the stove top where it'll be warmer once I preheat the oven for baking.
Half an hour before you're ready to bake, turn oven to 450 degrees and put your pot in to preheat also. I'm totally loving my 5-quart Dutch oven, but you can substitute with any oven-proof container with lid. A 5-quart size will create a loaf about 10 inches round and 3 to 4 inches high. After two hours, that lump now looks like this.
Take off plastic, dump it into the pot with the lid on. No need to oil the pot, the bread will pull in from the sides and won't stick. After half an hour, take the lid off and bake for another 15 minutes or so until it looks like this. Yes, it's not as pretty and round as my first attempt but looks rustic and yummy anyway.
By baking first with the lid on, steam creates these little air holes in the bread that make it like those European breads.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
My poor garden was so frozen that the flowers looked as if a drought hit. The leaves are all burnt and crispy. I've never seen the like before. This was my bougainvillea just last month. Look at the poor thing now. I have no idea how to revive it. :(
And these were very green and healthy looking cannas and bac ha plants. I'm not sure if I should cut the tops off the cannas and let them go dormant or what. The Vietnamese translation calls them banana tubers and they're edible. My grandma used to dig them up and steam them. They're starchy and taste sort of like a mild potato. I don't really eat them but these are part of the group of cannas I dug from my grandma's garden so I wanted them just to remind me of her.
My garden just looks so dry and sad.
Fortunately, the cold spared my Iceberg rose. Don't ask me how that happened. The rest of my roses have been dormant for the winter.
This weather is so freaky. It ruins oranges with thick rinds, but doesn't damage strawberries with no covering? I decided not to chance another cold blast and picked them then and there. Don't be fooled, these strawberries were tiny - about the size of the tip of my thumb tiny. So they had to be savored s l o w l y. Mmm.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
This is sushi from Kirala in Berkeley. Looks pretty eh? I'm really bad though at identifying sushi and all I can recognize now is the salmon and some kind of eel roll and perhaps spicy tuna.
A long, long time ago when I lived in the East Bay, Kirala was my local sushi haunt. I have fond memories of many meals here, and still regard it highly, for the nostalgia factor if nothing else.
I just Googled it and lo and behold, on its website, Kirala describes itself as an excellent neighborhood restaurant. It does serve very good sushi, as well as robata and udon. It's not cheap, but what you'd expect from a solid sushi bar. Nigiri sushi is about $7 for two pieces, robata skewers about $4 and up, entrees $15 or so.
It's a small space, tables very close together, lively crowd at the sake bar. There's always a wait, even if you show up right when the restaurant opens. But it definitely has the feel of a neighborhood sushi bar, where patrons know the waiters and sushi chefs, where customers have so much fun chatting with each other at the sake bar, they decline going to their table just then. So sometimes you get their table and the wait isn't so bad after all.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
After dim sum with my friend, I went to the South Bay to hang out with some other friends. Of course, the first thing they asked me was whether I wanted something to eat. I said I just ate, and was only going to stay a few hours because my cousin's friend was making dinner for a group of us (namely me, my siblings, and assorted cousins). Nonetheless, before I headed back up north, they wanted to feed me anyway and took me to the best bun bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-style beef noodle soup) in town.
Originating from the imperial capital of Hue, bun bo Hue's, dark broth comes from long simmered beef bones, tinted red from chili and annatto seed oil, and intensely aromatic from lots and lots of lemongrass (usually at least half a dozen stalks per pot).
Bun Bo Hue An Nam's rendition was deeply flavorful without being heavy, strongly fragrant with lemongrass, just spicy enough. Although, extra chilis were brought for diners to add more. The noodles were just right -- not too chewy, not too soft. Sliced onions. Chopped mint. Loads of beef flank slices. Cha lua (steamed pork sausage) slices. Beef blood cubes. And individual side plates of sliced white and red cabbage, banana blossom, mint sprigs, and lime. No pigs feet though. And I was in the mood for gelatinous skin and tendons too.
You've got a choice of beef or pork meats. Large or small.
This is the small beef bowl.
Even though I knew I'd be eating again in an hour, the broth was so good I kept slurping anyway.
I'm not sure if there's anything else on the menu. The waiter handed us menus, my friends ordered for me without cracking it open. I looked around and all the other patrons were eating the same thing. My philosophy has always been, if a restaurant names itself after a particular dish, take in their built-in recommendation and order that dish.
Bun Bo Hue An Nam
740 Story Rd., Unit 3
San Jose, CA 95122
Apparently, the same owner has a Pho Ga An Nam nearby if that's your thing.
So after dinner #1, I sped back to my cousin's friend's place so I wouldn't miss out on dinner #2.
Here's his gorgeous new designer dining room lamp.
Crab and cashew fried rice, pad see ew with chicken, steak and shrimp salad.
Yummy shrimp tom yum.
Cousin's friend's girlfriend made a chocolate torte. Very chocolatey, not too sweet. Since cousin's friend is an honorary family member, we all strongly hinted that it would get her in good with the family if she cooked for us. We are so blatantly devious when it comes to our bellies. So worth it though.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
So we headed to Restaurant Peony in the Pacific Renaissance Plaza in Oakland's Chinatown. There was a bit of a wait. Seems like a recurring theme this weekend. The restaurant is huge though, sprawling from one end of the mall to another, so the wait wasn't too long.
Siu mai was particularly good with a whole shrimp on top and firm filling.
Can't remember what this dumpling was, shrimp with roe.
Hak gow was firm on the inside, but all of the dumpling wrappers stuck to the paper lining and the dough wasn't that chewy. I ordered two before I realized it though.
Gai lan - my only green, a little on the mushy side. I like my greens crunchy.
Ah well, it was a chance to catch up with my friend.
Pacific Renaissance Plaza, Ste. 288
388 9th St.
Oakland, CA 94607
(Man, so Cantonese, all those 8s in the address and phone number.)