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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sichuan Green Beans

Sichuan Green Beans 1

My first job after I graduated from college was in the San Francisco Bay Area. The pay was awful, the job was miserable, and the commute was hellish. I had a few friends in the area and cousin Q's older brother had just started college so I had, at least, one family member nearby.

Each week, I picked him up from school and either took him out to eat or took him back to my place and cooked. While I cooked, he hooked up my VCR, assembled a bookcase, put together my canopy bed, and any other odd chores. At the very least, whenever I filled up my gas tank, he cleaned my windshield.

Once, I even made him help me bleach streaks in my hair. Not with a brush, but with that teeny-tiny crochet hook through a plastic net. He freaked out, worried that he'd poke my head, but he still did it. Ah, I love my cousin.

When we were little (I'm talking single digit age), whenever our ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother) assigned me chores, I'd threaten to "de-cousin" him if he wouldn't help me. That only worked a few times though. I was evil, he said recently. Because that set a precedent for other cousins to threaten to "de-cousin" him too, and he was so afraid none of us would play with him that he did whatever we asked.

My culinary repertoire was pretty limited back then. Once, he remarked that my pork dishes tasted like my chicken dishes. Was that a complaint? No, no, he quickly reassured me. Probably worried that I'd stop feeding him. They didn't taste baaad, just that they both tasted the same.

One of the dishes that I used to cook was ground beef with green string beans. I'm sure I must have seasoned them, but it's been so long that I really don't remember. Come to think of it, the last time I can remember cooking this dish was my winter up north.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pickled / Preserved Turnips

Pickled turnips add saltiness and crunch to to stir-fried and braised dishes. I keep two sizes in my pantry.

Preserved Turnips 1

The preserved turnip strips are excellent in braised pork dishes. The turnip retains its crunch and the saltiness is mellowed from a long braise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Turkey and Cranberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Yes, it's a lazy recipe. As I was making this, lil' sis made a face. Turkey and grilled cheese is fine, but a turkey, grilled cheese, and cranberry sandwich?

I let her take a bite.

Then she wanted another.

And another.

Turkey and Cranberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Turkey Vegetable Soup

Turkey Vegetable Soup

Since the only time of year I eat turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce is when Thanksgiving comes around, I rather look forward to the leftovers. I eat them as is.

But when the meat has been stripped from the turkey and all I have left is the carcass, it's time for some soup. Not that you need a recipe for this...

Although I do have to say, for a flavorful, but light broth, I like to start at a roiling boil to extract all the impurities and flavor from the bones, then simmer on low for a clear broth.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nearly Wild Rose

Nearly Wild rose is an old-fashioned single petal variety.

Nearly Wild Rose 1

Friday, December 26, 2008

Heirloom Rose

Heirloom rose was one of the bare root roses I bought for $1.97 Just thorny stems in a bag with sawdust. I got lucky and the rose ended up as lovely as its description.

Heirloom Rose 1

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Dinner

Just some photos of the Christmas dinner at my oldest uncle's house.

Christmas Dinner 1

Christmas Dinner 2

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chicken Piccata

We love our Baked Lemon Chicken, but sometimes lil' sis and I need a quick and easy dinner. As in, ready in less than half an hour quick and easy. Chicken piccata with its lemony caper sauce easily satisfies that requirement. Butterflying the chicken breasts help them cook quickly.

Chicken Piccata

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Duet Rose

Duet rose has always been one of my least favorite in my collection because the petals seem rather sparse when fully opened. But it's lovely when it's only partially bloomed.

Duet Rose

Monday, December 22, 2008

Double Delight Rose

Double Delight rose always amazes me because it blooms differently every time.

Double Delight Rose

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chicago Peace and Peace Roses

The Peace rose, according to Wikipedia, is the most famous and most successful rose of all time. More than 100 million plants have been sold by 1992.

Peace Rose

Formally called Madame A. Meilland, after its creator French horticulturist Francis Meilland. When Germany invaded France in 1939, he sent cuttings to Italy, Turkey, Germany, and the United States in order to protect it. After World War II ended, Peace roses were sent to each delegation at the inaugural United Nations meeting in San Francisco.

Friday, December 19, 2008

African Violets

More flowers on my front porch. Again, African violets used to do really well in my old house with lots of indirect sunlight. Now, I get excited if I see a few blooms.

African Violets 1

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I really love bleeding hearts, but my mother forbids me from growing them because they're unlucky. Not that that would stop me, but bleeding hearts grow better in cooler environments. These begonias, I think they're angel wings, almost look like bleeding hearts.

Begonias 1

They're so easy to grow. Propagated from cuttings. They make fabulous house plants. In my old house, with lots of indirect sunlight, they grew and flowered like crazy. I haven't any room at all in my current house for indoor plants, so they've been relegated to my front porch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jungle Red Hibiscus

This is the jungle red hibiscus that I received in a plant swap with a reader. I used the tart leaves in an hibiscus leaf and pomegranate mixed greens salad and the petals for jamaica (hibiscus punch).

Jungle Red Hibiscus 1

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin Butter 1

My cousin's cousin bought mini pumpkins for kids to carve and had some left over. I told her they were sugar or pie pumpkins and she could cook with them. She had no patience for such things so she gave them to me. :)

I baked one into a Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices and turned the other into pumpkin butter.

Pumpkin butter, like apple butter, actually like all jams, is made by simmering the ingredients with spices and sugar until thickened to your liking. I cheated and microwaved the pumpkin to cook and soften it faster, then baked it for the roasted flavor.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices

I love pumpkin pie. And even though the color of my pumpkin pie isn't as dark as the store-bought kind, don't be fooled. The pie was packed with flavor. The redolent fragrance of cardamom gave a subtle nuance to the normal pumpkin pie spices.

Pumpkin Pie with Chai Spices 2

Did you know the proper way to serve pie or pizza is to have the pointy end facing the person you're serving? That's because that's the first part people dig into. Or does anyone eat the crust first?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Apple Crumble Pie

The oldest '87 requested an apple crumble pie for Thanksgiving dinner. I told her to bring one, but then remembered I had a bag of apples in the fridge that really needed to be eaten. So then I told her to come peel the apples and I would make a pie. Ha! She overslept and her middle sister came over and did it instead.

Apple Crumble Pie 1

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry) Pot Pie

I've been wanting to try a fusion pot pie for a while. It seemed a natural thing to do since using milk to create the creamy gravy in a regular American pot pie was the same as using coconut milk to create a creamy curry. Since I eat Vietnamese French bread with my Vietnamese chicken curry, the flaky pie crust seemed like the perfect foil for the creamy onions, potatoes, and carrots.

Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Curry Chicken) Pot Pie 1

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ca Ri Ni An Do (Vietnamese Madras Indian Curry Powder)

Vietnamese Curry Powder

I know there's some Indian influence on Vietnamese cuisine, but don't really know enough about when or how that came about. Does anyone out there know? Does it go back as far as when Buddhism came to Vietnam? Because I know several Vietnamese who are also part Indian, so there must be some more recent history?

Unlike Indian or Thai curries, in which I try to make my own curry paste, I only know one Vietnamese curry recipe - Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry). And I only know one type of curry powder - Ca Ri Ni An Do (Vietnamese Indian Curry). In English, it's labeled as Madras Curry Powder, which hails from Southern India.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Prince Seafood Restaurant (Wedding Banquet) - Cerritos

Prince Seafood Restaurant (Wedding Banquet) - Cerritos 1

A few weeks after my third-cousin got married at Regent West Restaurant - Santa Ana, another third-cousin (the groom, who's first-cousins with the previous bride) got married at Prince Seafood Restaurant in Cerritos. Are you confused? The groom's paternal grandfather was first-cousins with my ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother). So his dad and my dad are second-cousins. Hence, the groom and I are third-cousins.

The groom's father is also one of the siblings of the mother of the Regent West bride. My cousins and I, though, are closer to this set of third-cousins. Their father (my dad's second-cousin) lived with my grandmother for a while after his father passed away. Plus, they lived closer to us than the other cousins, so we saw them more growing up. Which really makes little difference to you, but to me, meant that I attended this wedding with a bunch of the cousins, as opposed to sitting at a table with just my aunts and uncles. More fun!

In fact, the groom and my brother were born on the exact same day.

Another random anecdote. A decade ago, I attended a wedding reception at this same restaurant with my grandmother. The wedding was on Halloween. They had a live band with a Vietnamese guy dressed up as Zorro. (The Mask of Zorro had just come out that year.) "We don't have Antonio Banderas here tonight but we have Antonio...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Larb/Larp/Laab/Laap (Lao/Thai Ground Meat Salad)

Larb (Lao Thai Ground Meat Salad) 1

Larb, also spelled larp, laab, laap, is a Laotian ground meat salad that is also popular in Thailand. Isan, the northeast region of Thailand, is heavily influenced by Laos. In fact, the language of this region is similar to Laotian, although some people consider it another dialect of Laotian, but written in the Thai alphabet. Consequently, there are some cross-cultural influences with the two cuisines. This dish is one of them.

The Kao Kua (Thai Ground Roasted Rice Powder), which you can see in the picture below, is an important part of the salad as it helps to absorb excess moisture from the meat, and also adds a nutty fragrance and flavor.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce)

Nuoc Mam Cham 1

I've said before that I hardly ever make my own fish dipping sauces. After all, even though we split it up, my brother and I still haven't made much headway into the 56-oz jar of fish sauce that my mom brought down last year.

Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce) is a vital part of most Vietnamese dishes. Most Vietnamese just say nuoc mam to refer to all fish dipping sauces, but there are distinctions. There aren't hard and fasts rules, as it depends on your personal preference, so I'm grouping both of these fish dipping sauces together in case you prefer one or the other.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bot Thinh/Kao Kua (Vietnamese/Thai Ground Roasted Rice Powder)

Bot Thinh (Vietnamese Ground Roasted Rice) 1

Bot Thinh/Kao Kua (Vietnamese/Thai Ground Roasted Rice Powder) is something I've only seen my family use a few times. Once, when my oldest uncle's wife made a vegetarian salad and sprinkled a lot of roasted rice powder. Again, when my mom made be thui (Vietnamese beef with roasted rice powder and bean curd). Ground roasted rice powder adds a nutty flavor and fragrance to salads, while helping to absorb excess moisture.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Kiki Bakery - San Gabriel (Closed)

I only go to Kiki Bakery for one item. Sure they make cute and delicious little cakes, which you can see on my Kiki Bakery - Alhambra post.

Kiki Bakery - San Gabriel 1

But for this post, I'm just concentrating on their breads.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Taro Dinner Rolls

Taro Dinner Rolls 1

Taro in the dessert at my third-cousin's wedding reception at Regent West Restaurant, segues into taro dinner rolls. I know, so lame. What can I say? Trying to make my Thanksgiving posts still relevant weeks later?

Anyway, I was inspired to make this after eating the taro mochi bun at Kiki Bakery, and thinking along the lines of slightly sweet Hawaiian dinner rolls. I figured it should be simple enough to adapt a potato dinner roll recipe. Of course, I probably should have done a test run first, but where's the fun in that?

Luckily, the rolls ended up very soft, slightly sweet, but only slightly taro-y. I didn't want to add too much taro or sweet potato because I was afraid it would affect the texture of the roll. I added in about half of an Okinawan purple sweet potato for color. I boiled the purple sweet potato together with the taro before mashing.

The rolls need several hours to rise, then shaped, then another rise before baking, so make sure you don't wait until the last minute if you plan to make these.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Regent West Restaurant (Wedding Banquet) - Santa Ana (Little Saigon)

I know I tend to blog thematically, now I wonder if I'm starting to blog by color? Is it too much of a segue to say that the cranberry posts reminded me of a recent wedding reception?

Regent West Restaurant (Wedding Banquet) - Santa Ana (Little Saigon) 1

A few weeks ago, one of my third-cousins got married. What's a third-cousin? Her maternal grandfather was first-cousins with my ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother). So her mom and my dad are second-cousins. Hence, she and I are third-cousins.

The wedding reception was held at Regent West Restaurant in Santa Ana. It's located on First Street, right after it changes from Bolsa Avenue as you cross the border from Westminster. So still in the heart of Little Saigon.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce 1

Even though hardly anyone eats it, I always make fresh cranberry sauce to go with the roast turkey for Thanksgiving. Cranberries are low-lying shrubs or vines that grow in acidic bogs throughout the Northeastern U.S. (and Oregon!) and Canada.

Cranberries are tart, with a spongy interior. There's not much to my recipe, I just boil them in apple or orange juice for at least half an hour or longer until the berries all burst. It's so simple that there's really no excuse to serve the stuff in a can.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Mashed Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes

Remembering how much fun it was when I made Purple Aloo Gobi (Indian Potatoes and Cauliflower), I decided to use Okinawan purple sweet potatoes again as a side dish. The almost purple-black color of the sweet potatoes became this glorious purple after mashing with butter, milk, and sour cream.

Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato 1

Despite its appearance, the Okinawan sweet potato is not related to ube, the popular Filipino yam used in many desserts. What's the difference? Well, one is a yam and the other is a sweet potato. :P Americans use the words interchangeably, but in fact, a sweet potato is not a yam, a yam is not a sweet potato. They belong to two different scientific families.

Monday, December 01, 2008

On Glamour's "Engagement Chicken" and Who I Cook For

Common sense would dictate that I get up early on Thanksgiving to begin cooking for 18 people. But where's the fun in that? The day before, I bought an organic chicken from the San Gabriel Superstore for $6.99. The only reason I bought an organic chicken was because I intended to make com ga Hai Nam (Hainanese chicken rice) since lil' sis was home. But whole chickens have been just as expensive lately, so I decided to make my salt, pepper, lemon basic baked chicken and update the pictures in my original post instead. Lil' sis and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch of baked chicken before running around like chickens with our heads cut off from cooking all day.

Look at that fabulously crispy skin.

Salt, Pepper, Lemon Basic Baked Organic Chicken 1

And moist breast meat. Normally I don't like white meat, but this recipe turns out juicy breast meat every time. Too bad the organic chicken was rather flat-chested or there'd be a lot more breast meat to enjoy.