Thursday, January 31, 2008

Money Tree Plant

I haven't started gardening at my new place so there's not much to show you for this month's garden update. Afterall, I'm sure you're probably sick of seeing my geraniums. So I decided to show you the only houseplant I have -- my money tree plant. I'm too old to really get li xi (Vietnamese lucky money envelopes) for the Lunar New Year. So when I occasionally still get an envelope, I hang it on my tree. (And in today's mini-rant, it's lunar! LUNAR! Lunar New Year! The Chinese aren't the only ones who follow the lunar calendar you know.) Incidentally, if you look closely at the envelopes, you'll see they're from several different banks. Yes, folks, one of those "Sooo SoCal" things, is that not just Chinese banks but Wells Fargo and Bank of America provide complimentary red envelopes for their customers at this time of year. Better get your request in before they run out since the LUNAR New Year is only a week away! Are these available in NorCal? They weren't when I lived there a decade ago... I bought my plant on clearance at Target long ago for dirt cheap. It's easily quadrupled in size since then. If you'd like one, I've seen them sold at the Farmers' Market in Alhambra and Chinatown. Incidentally, I was chatting with a friend in Vietnam yesterday, and she was describing her house and wanted to know the Vietnamese word for houseplant. None of my dictionaries had houseplant. I came up empty on Vdict.com. I suggested cay nho o trong nha (little plant inside the house). Any of my Vietnamese readers got a better suggestion? Happy Lunar New Year everyone! ***** 1 year ago today, a repurposed vinegar bottle as a vase for some roses.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel (Valley Blvd.)

Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 1
Since it seems like Vietnamese noodles and rice dishes week in the Wandering Chopsticks test kitchen (Hah!), I figured it was about time I posted about Com Tam Thuan Kieu in San Gabriel. This is about the location on Valley Boulevard in the Hawaii Supermarket strip mall. There's another location on San Gabriel Boulevard, but I haven't eaten there in years so that'll have to be saved for another post. There's several locations in Orange County too. Click on the links to see Elmo of Monster Munching's and Chubbypanda's reviews of the Garden Grove location. Photos are from July. On this day, I met up with Henry Chan's Food Videos on one of our rare Vietnamese restaurant outings. After all, with 650 Chinese restaurants to choose from in the San Gabriel Valley, our default cuisine is usually Chinese. :P Henry was cruising Valley Boulevard (which he frequently does when trying to figure where to eat), when he called me up to help him decide. I suggested various restaurants as he passed each intersection but nothing appealed to him. Until I suggested Com Tam Thuan Kieu. Was it the thought of an icy glass of $1.75 rau ma (Vietnamese pennywort drink) on a hot day?
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 2
Or the sides of pickles and cucumbers? It was sooo hot that day and we weren't up to eating anything heavy. But what really made him want to try it was because I said no one had uploaded photos onto Biggest Menu yet. :P Com tam (Vietnamese broken rice) is rice that has been broken during the harvesting or processing. Since it was imperfect, it was cheaper. When cooked, the broken rice has an almost couscous-like quality. You can see for yourself how "broken" the grains are below.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 3
As with such things, what used to be peasant food became a beloved dish. Broken rice restaurants typically also offer bun (rice vermicelli noodles) or banh hoi (steamed vermicelli sheets) and a wide array of meats and appetizers to go with your carb of choice. I generally don't really order off the menu but just tell the waiter which items I want on my plate and the restaurant charges me accordingly. Even then, three items on a platter of broken rice, with clear broth only cost us $5.50. The first item that came out was a small bowl of clear broth. You can drink this as a light soup before your meal or save it and spoon the broth over the rice if you think it's too dry.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 4
I ordered com tam suon nuong, cha gio, tom tau hu ky (Vietnamese broken rice with grilled porkchop, egg roll, and shrimp paste wrapped in deep-fried bean curd skin). The plate also came with sides of pickled cabbage and carrots, and cucumbers. I recommend ordering the pork chop over the sliced grilled pork because I think it's much juicier. And yes, that pork chop was huge as it encompassed half my platter. Platter folks, not plate.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 5
Henry ordered com tam ga ro ti, cha, cha gio (Vietnamese Cornish game hen, omelet, and egg roll). The Cornish game hen had a lovely crispy skin. The egg rolls are also very good here because they use traditional Vietnamese rice paper instead of Chinese egg roll wrappers. So I made him order one too because while we shared everything else, one egg roll isn't enough for me. :P You can also order a $4.50 appetizer plate of egg rolls, which comes 5 to an order with lettuce and herbs for wrapping.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 6
Henry liked it so much he returned a few days later and ordered the 10 item plate, which you can see on Biggest Menu. On his subsequent visit, the broken rice wasn't as light and fluffy as the first time. So it can be a little inconsistent. What else can I say? It's yummy and cheap. While Com Tam Thuan Kieu's tom tau hu ky doesn't compare to Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap's version, I think their rice, marinated meats, and egg rolls are well-worth a visit. January 14, 2010 update: Just more pictures from subsequent visits. Bun nem nuong cha gio (Vietnamese grilled pork patties and egg rolls).
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 7
Com tam suong nuong cha gio (Vietnamese broken rice with grilled pork chop and egg rolls).
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 8
Cha gio (Vietnamese egg rolls).
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 9
See how frying rice paper has a totally different crispness?
Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel Valley Blvd 10
Other broken rice restaurants: Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap - Westminster (Little Saigon) Com Tam Thuan Kieu Vietnamese Restaurant 120 E. Valley Blvd., Unit #I & J San Gabriel, CA 91776 626-280-5660 Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. You're allowed to park in the Hawaii Supermarket lot, which I would advise. Otherwise, pay attention to the street parking signs as there's restrictions on which time you're allowed to park there. ***** 1 year ago today, dim sum at Mission 261 - San Gabriel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thit Heo Kho Dau Hu (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Tofu)

Since I was updating my recipe for Thit Kho Trung (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs), I thought it was as good a time as any to offer up another variation -- thit heo kho dau hu (Vietnamese braised pork with tofu).

Thit Kho Dau Hu (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Tofu) 1

Tofu is a great addition to this braised pork dish as it absorbs all the rich flavor of the pork and caramel sauce. While you can buy fried tofu, I prefer doing it myself. I use soft tofu, slice it 1-inch thick, deep fry it, and then cut it. The frying helps the tofu maintain its shape during braising, but then cutting it will allow the unfried part of the tofu to absorb all the sauce.

Making 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.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Bun Thit Heo Nuong, Tom, Cha Gio (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork, Shrimp, and Egg Rolls)

Bun Thit Heo Nuong, Tom, Cha Gio (Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Pork, Shrimp, and Egg Rolls) 1

After experimenting with a bunch of food lately, I've been craving Vietnamese comfort foods. Which is great because it gave me a chance to update photos of some of my more popular recipes.

One of my favorites is bun thit heo nuong, tom, cha gio (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles with grilled pork, shrimp, and egg rolls). Bun (rice vermicelli noodles) and com tam (broken rice) dishes may appear varied on restaurant menus but the key is to realize that the multiple listings are just various combos of those items. Add or subtract ingredients as you wish.

So this isn't so much a recipe, as it is an assembly list. Well, with a recipe for the grilled pork. :)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tom Xao Bo (Vietnamese Shrimp Sauteed in Butter)

Tom Xao Bo (Vietnamese Shrimp Sauteed in Butter) 1

Since the last few posts have been about shrimp, I thought this would be a good a time as any for a super quick and simple shrimp recipe. Just a light Vietnamese marinade and a quick saute in butter. Yes, butter. Mmm.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tom Rang Muoi (Vietnamese Fried Shrimp with Salt)

Tom Rang Muoi (Vietnamese Shrimp Fried with Salt) 1

Sometimes I cook based on my cravings. Sometimes, it's just a matter of what's on sale at the grocery store. For instance, yesterday I saw these head-on shrimp for only $2.99 a pound. $2.99 a pound! So, of course, I bought a pound because I immediately knew how I wanted to cook them -- lightly seasoned with salt and Chinese five-spice powder, lightly coated with rice flour, and deep-fried until crispy. And as if that wasn't yummy enough, adding some fried Thai basil leaves and dried chili pods added extra zing.

Shrimp have a natural sweetness and plenty of flavor on their own. So I like to add just a little bit of salt and Chinese five-spice powder to bring this recipe to life. With its mix of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns, Chinese five-spice powder hits sweet, salty, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy flavor notes.

I like using rice flour when frying Asian foods because it's crispier than regular all-purpose flour, but not as hard as corn starch. If you can't get rice flour, then substitute with a mixture of half all-purpose flour and half corn starch.

Choose medium-sized white shrimp with soft, edible shells. I think head-on shrimp is best for this recipe, especially if there's lots of bright red roe inside the heads. Just detach the heads and suck out the roe to eat. :) Then plop the rest of the shrimp in your mouth.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Tom Tau Hu Ky (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste Wrapped in Bean Curd Skin)

Recently, one of my readers asked about a substitute for sugarcane in my Chao Tom (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste Wrapped Sugarcane) recipe. Well, the whole point of chao tom is that the sugarcane juices will flavor the shrimp as it cooks. So if sugarcane is not readily available, and you don't want to just wrap the shrimp on skewers, might I suggest turning it into tom tau hu ky (Vietnamese shrimp paste wrapped in bean curd skin)?

Tom Tau Hu Ky (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste Wrapped in Bean Curd Skin) 1

I first encountered this dish almost a decade ago at Da Nang Com Tam Tran Quy Cap in Little Saigon. Their version is still the best in town with its succulent shrimp paste and crispy bean curd skin. A must whenever I order a plate of broken rice.

Making it is super easy. It's finding the bean curd skin that may be the hard part for some of you. Bean curd skin or tofu skin is the film that forms on top of soy milk during production. It can be found fresh, dried, or frozen so check all areas of your local Asian grocery store if you're having difficulty finding it.

I've basically taken my chao tom recipe for the filling, wrapped it in the bean curd skin and deep-fried it.  


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vote for Me! Vote for Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Milk Coffee Iced)

Dear readers, Do you love me? OK, how 'bout do you love ca phe sua da (Vietnamese milk coffee iced)?
Ca Phe Sua Da 11
Right now, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen is asking for votes for which blogger dish she'll cook on tv during her next segment. I realize my recipe faces formidable competition against Chez Pim's pad thai and Oishii Eats' summer rolls recipes. (Hey! I have a Vietnamese summer rolls recipe too! Just my photo doesn't look nearly as nice.) Wouldn't it be nice if I got a little mention on TV? Wouldn't it be nice to know you helped make it happen? What are you waiting for? Hop on over, you have until Tuesday, January 29 at 12:33 p.m. EST. And much thanks in advance! ***** 1 year ago today, I simplified ie. lazified Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe even further so my hands wouldn't get sticky.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

French Bread Pizza

French Bread Pizza 2

I'm pretty susceptible to food cravings. So after seeing various pizzas on Tastespotting and then the pizza Nikki Polani made, I had to have one right away.

I've been trying to avoid eating out, and have been using the opportunity to clean out my fridge and cupboards. I didn't want to go outside, rarely order delivery, didn't want to wait hours for pizza dough to rise, but I did have a wedge of French bread leftover...

Actually, when I was a kid, I used to do this with a regular slice of bread, ketchup, a sliced hot dog, and a slice of American cheese. Pretty ghetto, huh? Admit it, do any of you do that?

Again, this is one of those, do you really need a recipe for this? I almost always have tomato sauce in my cupboards. There was cheddar cheese in the fridge. The only acceptable meat was bacon. And my olive jar had been sitting in the fridge for a while.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Canh Chua Tom (Vietnamese Sour Shrimp Soup)

Sometimes I get a craving for Canh Chua Ca (Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup), but I don't want to actually eat the fish, I just want the sour flavor.

Canh Chua Tom (Vietnamese Sour Shrimp Soup)

And the bac ha (Vietnamese taro stem). Although bac ha may resemble elephant ears, make sure you've got the alocasia odora variety or else you'll have a very allergic reaction. I just love how the spongy stalks soak up all the flavors.

Monday, January 21, 2008

California Brewing Company - Alhambra (Closed)

California Brewing Company - Alhambra 1
My Oregon cousins were in town and the oldest '88's middle sister had a gift certificate to California Brewing Company that she wanted to use before it expired. The restaurant brews some of their own beers, but I'm not a beer drinker so I didn't have any.
California Brewing Company - Alhambra 2
We were just hanging out in the late afternoon so we got some munchies. Sliders with waffle fries.
California Brewing Company - Alhambra 3
A combo appetizer platter with fried zucchini, potato skins, wings, onion rings, and shrimp cocktail.
California Brewing Company - Alhambra 4
Nachos loaded with everything - chicken, olives, guacamole, salsa, and cheese.
California Brewing Company - Alhambra 5
What can I say? It's basic bar food. Nothing special, but not bad. Go during happy hours for drink and appetizer deals. June 2009 Update: California Brewing Company is now closed. It is now 38 Degrees Ale House and Grill. California Brewing Company (Closed) 100 W. Main St. Alhambra, CA 91804 626-943-8430 ***** 1 year ago today, I revisited an old haunt of mine, Kirala - Berkeley.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Durian - The King of Fruits

Sometimes my food cravings come in the strangest ways. After seeing Christine's post on frozen durian, I was immediately reminded of durian ice cream. And wondered why I hadn't eaten it in years. Durian, sometimes referred to as the King of Fruits. Spiky outer layer, butter-like consistency inside. But it's the smell that makes it notorious. Durian is even banned from some public places in Thailand and Singapore. It's a love or hate thing. I don't know of anyone who's indifferent to the smell of durian. How would you describe the smell? Does it smell like rot or perfume to you? The funny thing is, while I can't bear the smell of fresh or frozen durian, I love it in candy, cookies, shakes, and ... ...ice cream. Man! I literally haven't eaten durian ice cream in years. So I bought a quart for $4.29 at the San Gabriel Superstore. Ooh, doesn't that look tempting? And no, you can't smell it unless you're really close. And even then, it's a muted smell. Mmm. If you've wanted to try durian but have been afraid, I'd encourage you to start with ice cream. So if durian is the king of fruits, who, or rather what is queen? Mangosteens! San Gabriel Superstore 1635 San Gabriel Blvd. San Gabriel, CA 91776 626-280-9998 ***** 1 year ago today, juicy, crispy chicken and Belgian waffles at Merritt Bakery and Restaurant - Oakland.