Monthly Archives: March 2012

Little Saigon

Yesterday, Roger and I volunteered to give free eye exams at the “Central County Health Expo” for the homeless and indigent in Garden Grove, California. We dragged Jeffrey along to act as our Spanish interpreter, however, there weren’t nearly as many Spanish speaking patients as there were at the last free health expo we worked. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say at least  half of the people we serviced spoke only Vietnamese. While there were still some who only spoke Spanish, they were seriously outnumbered.

The health expo took place in the heart of the area known as Little Saigon (located in Westminster and Garden Grove). Many states in the US can boast of having their own Little Saigon, however, the one here in Orange County happens to be the largest and oldest in the country. Vietnamese Americans constitute  30.7% of the Westminster and Garden Grove population. There are also many Hispanic, Cambodian, and Laotian immigrants. Many of the Vietnamese residents are the families of former soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. While Little Saigon is a strongly anti-Communist community, however, many Vietnamese Americans still send money to family members in Vietnam and grocers stock imported Vietnamese merchandise.

It would have been foolish to spend time in Little Saigon and not eat at one of the MANY family-owned restaurants. After reading many reviews, etc., I decided upon “Vientiane Restaurant,” which serves Lao & Thai food which is very similar to Vietnamese cuisine. The food was all that we’d hoped it would be!

The staff was super friendly and the restaurant was obviously filled with locals as we were the only non-Asian group partaking in their delicious food. Our food began arriving about 10 minutes after we placed our order. There were a plethora of tasty condiments on the table, too.

The first thing to hit the table was Nam Kao Tod (crispy fried rice). There was crispy fried rice with sour pork, peanuts, green onions, cilantro, and min served with crisp lettuce to wrap it in. Jeffrey’s highly allergic to peanuts so we kept this dish far away from him. The rice was very crunchy and added a nice textural contrast to the soft sour pork.

Next arrivals were Pad Ke Mow (pan fried rice noodles with chicken, stir fried bean sprouts, eggs, basil leaves, bell peppers, and onions), Spicy Pad Kra Pao (minced chicken with Thai basil leaves, bell peppers, onions, and special chili sauce), Pho Lao (beef, meatballs, green onion, cilantro, sprouts, and a table salad), and finally Kao Moo Dang (oven roasted BBQ pork served over steamed rice with hard boiled egg and served with a side sauce). Each dish was amazingly complex and had provided a spicy kick. No need to add Sriracha to any of the dishes.

Jeffrey digging in to a side of sticky jasmine rice.

Kao Moo Dang

A cornucopia of options!

Pho Lao

We asked for take-home containers and packaged up the leftovers for dinner, and there were a LOT of leftovers! On the way out of the store they were selling Lao flower cookies. The cookies are made with only rice flour, egg, sugar, and black sesame.

Since we couldn’t imagine eating another thing, we decided to buy a package and give them a try later on when we’d made some room in our bellies. The cookie flavor is reminiscent of fortune cookies, however, they’re much prettier.

I would highly recommend the “Ventiane Restaurant” at 10262 Westminster Ave. in Garden Grove. As a matter of fact I’m going back to Little Saigon on Friday for some serious exploring with a friend, and maybe we’ll end up there for lunch!

 

kŏr hâi jà-rern aa-hăan! (bon appetit in Thai!)

April

Asian Dinner

Woman washing vegetables on Hang Giay St., Hanoi, Vietnam.

After a frozen chicken launched itself out of my freezer and onto my foot yesterday morning, I decided that I better start purging the meat section of the freezer and give the hen some much needed room. Since roasting a chicken always leads to the inevitable time-consuming task of making a stock (you can’t just throw those bones away!), I decided to save the bird for Sunday’s vittles.  What did happen to catch my eye, however, were two packages of chicken tenders.

The kids really enjoy Asian food, and they especially enjoy anything on a skewer. So, I decided we’d visit Asia for dinner. My husband and I have had the good fortune of traveling through Vietnam, Thailand, and China (my hubbie has been to Japan many times, too) and we adore their cuisines.  My husband was going to be home early (before 7:30 PM!!) for dinner and we’d all be home to break spring rolls together, so to speak. I decided that we’d start with Vietnamese rice paper spring rolls filled with rice noodles and vegetables, and for dinner we’d have Japanese yakitori skewers, the option of sticky rice, or a modified version of Metropole-syle fried rice.

The first thing I did was start with the rice paper rolls. You can purchase the rice paper wrappers at any Asian food store and you should look for the package that says “super thin” as they’re much easier to work with. Since there would only be three of us eating the rolls (I have one ridiculously picky eater, one moderately picky eater, and one who’ll eat anything!), I decided to make about six of them. The great thing about these rolls is their versatility. You can wrap any vegetable, cooked meat, herb, etc, that you want in a rice paper roll. I decided on a Vietnamese style rice paper roll, which obviously contains fresh herbs. Here’s my spin on the Vietnamese herb roll.

  • 1 cup julienned carrots
  • 2 heads of bok choy greens, julienned.
  • 3 large scallions, julienned
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 7 mint leaves
  • Rice paper rolls (super thin!)
  • 1 tsp. of minced fresh ginger
  • black sesame seeds (to taste)
  • softened rice noodles (about a handful)
  • sesame oil
  • salt and pepper
I personally like to slightly soften my vegetables in a skillet prior to rolling them in the paper. I used about a tablespoon of sesame chili oil to sauté them, which will also add some nice heat.
While you’re sautéing your veggies, you can be soaking your rice noodles in hot water to soften them up.

Remove your noodles from the water once they’re soft, squeeze any excess water out of them, and now you’re ready to wrap. Since your rice paper wrapper MUST be moist and pliable or it’ll break into shards when you attempt to bend it, you can re-use your noodle softening water in an effort to save time.

Place a bit of veg, some noodles, and a mint leave on the bottom third of your paper (the pic below shows the veg in the middle, however, after I shot the picture I moved the mound towards me), fold in the sides, roll the bottom lip up over the mound and keep rolling until you have a tight spring roll. The action is exactly the same as when you’re making a burrito with a flour tortilla.

The recipe above made seven spring rolls. We dipped our rolls in a sweet chili sauce, but you can serve these rolls with whatever dipping sauce your heart desires.

Now the yakitori.

  • 2 lbs boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 10 thick scallions, cut into approx. 1″ pieces
  • bamboo skewers
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tbsp of brown sugar
  • 2 tsp chicken stock
  • 1/2 inch of peeled raw ginger
Add all of the liquid, the sugar, and the piece of ginger to a saucepan. Simmer, stirring constantly, until liquid begins to reduce and become slightly syrupy.
Thread your chicken chunks and scallion pieces onto the bamboo skewers.

Preheat and oil your grill, or grill pan. Brush your chicken with the sauce. Once your pan (or grill) is hot, lay the skewers down. Turn them several times while continuously brushing with the sauce. To check for doneness, make a small cut in a piece of chicken in the middle of the skewer. If the chicken is no longer pink inside, remove the skewers from the heat, let them rest for 5 minutes, and then serve.

The front of the Metropole in Hanoi where the recipe below originated. It's a beautiful hotel located in the French Quarter.

The Metropole-style fried rice comes from the Sofitel Metropole Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. We stayed at the Metropole while visiting Hanoi with friends. Since I have a shellfish allergy, I’ve had to make some modifications (I deleted the shrimp from the recipe and added more chicken) to their recipe; however, I’m printing the unmodified recipe below.

  • 4 eggs
  • vegetable oil, for cooking
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 4 oz shelled cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken meat, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce or to taste
  • 1/4 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 4 cups seamed rice, cooled
  • 2 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp Asian chili sauce
  • cilantro sprigs, for garnish
  • shrimp crackers, for serving

Prepare 4 thin omelettes.

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 pinches of sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • vegetable oil for cooking

Using a fork, beat the eggs until well blended. Add water, sugar, and salt. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom. Pour beaten egg into the pan. Lift to tilt and allow egg to spread out evenly. Reduce heat to low and carefully flip the omelette over. Cook for a few more seconds on the second side. Cool omelettes slightly, roll, then cut into strips; set aside.

Now the rice!

In a large frying pan, or wok, heat the oil over high heat and stir-fry the onions until barely wilted, about 1 minute. Add shrimp and chicken, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Season with half the fish sauce, add the bell peppers, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add rice, pepper, chili sauce and remaining fish sauce to taste. Reduce heat to medium-high and stir-fry for 5 minutes.

Metropole-syle fried rice without the shrimp.

“To the ruler, the people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven.”
(ancient Chinese proverb)

Chúc ngon miệng (Bon Appetit in Vietnamese)

All my best,

April

Quiche: The Basics

The best quiche I have ever eaten was at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. The custard filling was velvety and the crust was crisp and buttery. Absolute perfection. This wasn’t surprising, since Bouchon is a Thomas Keller eatery. Mr. Keller is a paragon in the realm of gifted chefs. My idol.

The night before brunch at Bouchon, we had an exquisite dinner at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry, also in Yountville. It was a five-hour marathon (nine-course tasting menu) of food excess shared with special friends. The most memorable course, for me, was the Salmon Creek Farms pork belly with savoy spinach, chick peas, spicy paprika, and meyer lemon condiment. The pork belly just melted in your mouth…so yummy!

As you can see from the photo below, the restaurant is not housed in a grand estate but rather an unassuming building on busy Washington Street. However, it’s laced with character and charm inside and out.

The French Laundry

Quiche is very simple to make. Once you have the basics down (crust and custard) you can add anything your heart desires as a savory filling. It’s a great “clean out your fridge/cupboards” dish. Before getting started, you should know that your crust will take at least four hours before it’s ready to be filled with custard and contents.

Basic Quiche Crust (or Pâte Brisée)

  • 2 cups AP flour, sifted. You’ll need additional flour for rolling out dough.
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 8 ounces (two sticks) CHILLED unsalted butter cut into 1/4″ pieces. I like to use Plugra.
  • 1/4 cup ice water

Basic Quiche Batter (the ratio is one part egg to two parts liquid)

  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream
  • 6 large eggs (did you know a large egg is approx. 2 oz?)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt
  • 4 gratings of fresh nutmeg

The quiche crust is your first priority. Place 1 cup of flour and the salt into your stand mixture fitted with the paddle attachment. While the mixer’s on low, you’ll begin slowly dropping in your 1/4″ pieces of chilled butter. Continue mixing until the butter is fully blended with the flour.

Add the remaining flour, mix, and add the water until fully integrated. Your dough is ready when it begins wrapping itself around the paddle attachment. Remove the dough, which should feel smooth, and pat it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. You could make your dough up to one day in advance.

Once your dough has rested you can begin. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour. Begin rolling your dough out into a circle large enough to cover the entire surface of your quiche mold.

Once you’ve achieved the circumference you’re looking for, roll your dough around your pin so you can pick it up and move it without it breaking.

Flip the dough over so that the paper is now on top. Peel the paper off.

Then carefully lift the dough from the edges and seat it into the pan.

If you’re working with a fluted pan, use your finger to help the dough fit nicely into the grooves.

Leave the excess dough hanging over the sides of your pan and let the whole thing rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. If you skip this step, as soon as your dough heats up in the oven, it will begin to shrink and sag into the bottom of your pan.

About 30 minutes prior to removing your mold/crust from the refrigerator, preheat your oven to 375 with a baking sheet on the middle rack covered in aluminum foil (large enough to accommodate your quiche pan). You’ll be placing your quiche on this heated pan when it’s time to go into the oven.

Once your crust has rested, run your rolling pin over the top and remove any excess crust.

Make a circle out of a piece of parchment paper, line your crust with the parchment, and  add your pie-weights (used to prevent pie and tart crusts from shrinking or blistering during baking). You need to blind bake (blind baking’s necessary when using an unbaked filling or if the filling has a shorter baking time than the crust) your crust so it doesn’t become a soggy mess.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Take a peek under the parchment paper after 25 minutes to see if the bottom is becoming golden and flaky looking.

While your quiche crust is baking you can make your custard and prepare any other ingredients you wish to use.

In a large mixing bowl, add your milk, cream, salt and pepper, eggs, and nutmeg. Whisk until well combined and frothy on top.

I happened to have about 5 strips of applewood smoked bacon (already cooked) left over from breakfast the previous morning, about a 1 1/2 cups of shredded gruyere cheese, and some chives that were beginning to look soft. I minced my chives (about 2 tbsp), chopped my bacon, and set all of this aside.

Once your quiche crust is finished blind baking, you can sprinkle your contents on the bottom and fill the mold with your custard mixture.

Cook the quiche until the center is puffed and set. You can use a toothpick to check for center doneness.

Enjoy!

“I went into a McDonald’s yesterday and said, ‘I’d like some fries.’ The girl at the counter said, ‘Would you like some fries with that?” Jay Leno

Ciao!

April