When I was 19 I met a Vietnamese elder through our family restaurant who taught me 75% of what I know about Vietnamese food. Her name was cô Mai (literally auntie Mai) and she was like the Vietnamese Julia Child I’ve been waiting to meet. For patê ground this. Don’t forget to roast the fennel seeds. Exactly 3 hours. Of course it’s authentic. Where do you think I learned how to cook? She would say these things with fervor and she cooked with confidence, never apologized in the kitchen, and she had a way of reciting a recipe once and you’d remember it forever. And I loved the way she lowered her voice when she listed out a secret ingredient in a recipe as if the recipe would dissipate into the air and escape her. On one occasion she whispered the recipe for her secret springroll [gõi cuôn'] dipping sauce. I remember listening intently, resisting the urge to laugh at her unobtrusiveness. Over the years I’ve tweaked the original recipe and added my own version which I think made the sauce more palatable for people who like a spicy kick.
Friends from school would come over and Vietnamese springrolls filled with mint, cilantro, sometimes Thai basil, steamed shrimp or pork belly, rice vermicelli, lettuce, rolled in a thin tapioca sheet, would be the go-to snack or light meal. Everyone asked for the sauce recipe. It became a shared recipe amongst friends and family and eventually it found it’s way into our family restaurant.
Top Secret Secret Peanut Sauce
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili oil (with seeds)
- dash of sesame oil
- fresh roasted peanuts, chopped finely (optional)
- Sambal chili sauce (optional)
In a small sauce pan, bring water to a boil and dissolve the peanut butter. Whisk in the garlic and onion powders, then remaining ingredients. Bring to a medium boil and whisk for 5 minutes. You have the right consistency if the sauce coats the back of a spoon evenly. Now, cool completely before serving with fresh springrolls. Add roasted peanuts and dash of Sambal chili sauce if desired.
It won’t be Summer yet until a couple weeks but it’s already begun to feel like it in North Texas. Temperatures are creeping up to the 90′s and it’s been raining off and on today. The humidity of North Texas in late May early June reminds me of what little I remember about Vietnam. It makes me want to sit at an open street cafe and drink something really cold and eat something sweet.
After moving to downtown Dallas 2 months ago, the 1920s property that I moved into has slowly revealed its quirks to me. The original wooden floors creak and every sound the appliances make at night wake me up. One evening when it stormed, I thought that one of the giant oak branches was going to poke straight through the window. In exchange to the loud firetrucks and ambulance trucks passing throughout the night and the obnoxious neighbor and his incessant heavy metal music, I think the apartment is a deal for the space that I’m getting. It is so SWEET working 5 minutes away from work.
When it’s cloudy like it is today, it puts me in the mood to bake. After lunch I whipped up a very simple brownie recipe which I adapted from Alton Brown’s cocoa brownie recipe. The only twist I added was a cheesecake topping.
- Soft butter, for greasing the pan
- Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar, sifted
- 1 cup brown sugar, sifted
- 8 ounces melted butter
- 11/4 cups cocoa, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 package of cream cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter your 8 inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides.
In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch round pan.
In another mixing bowl, whipped the cream cheese frosting until fluffy. Add the 1 egg and sugar. Mix until combined and pour on top of the brownie mixture. Bake for 40 minutes then increase temperature to 350 and bake for 5 more minutes.
Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it’s done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it’s mostly cool.
Here’s a 2 tier vanilla chiffon fruit cake I made for my brother’s 16th birthday. Hooray for successfully making 2 tiers! *cheers*
Kudos to all the parents out there who go all out on their kid’s birthday. Building memories = priceless. This was one of the most pimped out birthdays I’ve ever delivered to. Wow.
My boss’s daughter turned 4 today and I had the honor of baking her bouncy house themed cupcakes. For the decor, I used royal icing and food coloring and decorated on wax paper. The royal icing decorations have to be dried for at least 6 hours before you gently remove them and place it on the cupcakes. I had a lot of fun and here they are:
Hey there! Last night I found a bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips and thought I should bake some brownies for work. These turned out incredible dense and milky. Perfect for someone who prefers less intense chocolate. I garnished half of the batch with home made caramel sauce and chopped pecans but they are great plain.
Makes 1 8×8 pan of brownies which you can cut into 16 2-inch squares
3 ounces milk chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment, extending it up two sides, or foil. Butter the parchment or foil or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, melt chocolate and butter together until only a couple unmelted bits remain. Off the heat, stir until smooth and fully melted. You can also do this in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Stir in flour with a spoon or flexible spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free.
Let cool and cut into desired size.
I love that I don’t work weekends at all since it gives me all the time in the world to sleep in on Saturdays and spend all afternoon in the kitchen baking or cooking meals that require the time limit not approved by Rachael Ray. Weekends for me are for building cakes or slow cooking stews, baking pies, molding cold butter and flour into gorgeous scones. My friend Ana requested an 8 inch tiramisu for her mom’s birthday this weekend. I had so much fun building this cake. It’s a vanilla chiffon (to replace ladyfinger cookies that traditional make a tiramisu) soaked with espresso and filled with a mascarpone/zabaglione mixture. I’m pleased with how it came out. I tried to make some henna piping patterns and that was interesting to do with whipped cream.
Ana’s mom’s cake 3/2/2012
Stef here. It’s currently 51 degrees in North Texas. I’m so confused as it was 70 degrees last week and I actually had a dress on. It’s a good day to stay at home, put on some wool socks and fix a pot of chicken tortilla soup. By the way, wool socks are amazing. I was flipping channels one night and was mesmerized by a program on the QVC channel about “the best wool socks in the world.” The guy on the screen kept rolling up his pants to show off the socks he was trying to sell and said “no seriously folks, if I didn’t work here I’d still be telling everyone about these socks.” I shamelessly admit, I’m now the proud owner of several pairs of most badass wool socks on earth. Oh, it’s the simple things that bring us joy!
Soup! That’s what I wanted to talk about. So, I’ve been on a soup kick lately and my favorite soups are the ones that take 30 minutes or less to prepare. What I like about chicken tortilla soup is most of the ingredients are already in your pantry minus the chicken and the tortillas. Lemee tell ya how to make it:
Recipe serves 4
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 small onion, diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 15 oz can of black beans, drained
- 1 russet potato, peeled and diced
- 3 chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 1 cup of water
- 2 corn tortillas, cut into small pieces
- shredded cheddar cheese for garnish
- lime wedges for garnish
- In a medium soup pot on medium high heat, add oil. Add onions and cook until brown. Add garlic, chicken, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper, and celery. Stir until chicken is no longer pink.
- Add beans, can of fire roasted tomatoes, potatoes, chicken stock, and water. Cover with lid and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
- Ladle over soup bowls and garnish with cheese and corn tortillas. Squeeze fresh limes over soup and serve.
If you happen to ever travel to Dallas and you’re a fan of cake balls, please add Zen bakery on your list of places to visit. Zen bistro & dessert bar is a small eatery in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas with Filipino inspired tapas and to-die-for desserts. I was informed that they’re adding vegan and gluten-free items to their menu. I got a taste of all the different flavors and the gluten-free/vegan cake balls were just as delicious as their counterpart. I believe the flavors I got today were strawberry, birthday cake, chocolate, lemon, raspberry blondie, macaroon, and vanilla. All were delicious but the best was the raspberry blondie. It was dense but the texture was more custard-like than cake-y. Additionally, they have a bubble tea menu which is honestly a gem since I don’t have to drive far from work to get a bubble tea.
I was told by one of my foodie friends that I could make carnitas using pork loin. I took this idea to work and had a pulled pork debate with a technical writer and a programmer who informed me that I should use pork shoulder or pork butt instead. Well I already got all the ingredients I needed prior to this conversation so I made it using the pork loin I already bought.
So, 2 pounds of pork loin slow cooked on the stove for 4 hours later, I had amazing carnitas.
It’s pork. I pulled it. It’s legit.
Recipe makes 4 servings
- 2 pounds of pork loin roast
- 1 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 12 corn tortillas
- In a medium pot bring all ingredients to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce to a low heat for 4 hours.
- Discard liquid and use two forks and pull the pork apart. Serve with warm tortillas, guac, and salsa.
During my college days, when I was helping out at our family restaurant, my regular customers shared with me that at least 1x a week, they would trade lunches with their coworkers. I always thought it was a fun idea. After I was done with school and landed my new job with Senico, I found a coworker who loved to cook as much as I did. One day I brought up the idea and he thought it was pretty awesome. At our first lunch trade off, he made chicken tikka masala and I made him baked lemongrass chicken. His tikka masala was pretty legit and he gave me pointers on how to make it which gave me courage to start cooking Indian food again. Indian food has always been one of those cuisines that intimidated me the most. There are so many unique ingredients and unfortunately, I had a very bad experience cooking Indian food for the first time many years ago. I don’t want to share the details as it was mildly depressing.
I genuinely think if I can make this, you can too.
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 large chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
- 4 long skewers
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 gloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the marinade. Stir in chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat a grill for high heat.
- Lightly oil the grill grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, and discard marinade. Grill until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side.
- Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic for 1 minute. Season with 2 teaspoons cumin, paprika, and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Add grilled chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with fresh cilantro and sliced almonds.
The bento madness continues! This is what the this week’s lunches looked like.
- Baked quinoa & tilapia maki roll
- fruit cup
- chicken tikka masala (lunch swap with co worker)
- jasmine rice
- Stegosaurus onigiri
- baingan bartha
- chaat masala chick peas
- roasted root veggies
- bihari beef kebab and grape tomato
- cup of oranges
When I was in college, I was a full time student working 2 jobs. I would go to my classes early morning then helped manage a family restaurant in the afternoon and tend to my even dessert delivery job in the evening. I worked around food for more than half the day and sometimes, I didn’t have a chance to eat. When I did it was always on the go and at the drive-thru. The low point was when I began eating while driving, very regularly.
The good news about not being in school anymore is that I only have to focus on one job at a time which allows some stability in my day to day schedule which means I actually have time to pack lunch. When I got a job at Senico Labs in December, I got extremely lucky. I’m learning so much about programming and the creative side of web building. I have to say, when I found out they were putting a rock climbing wall in the office, I knew it was going to be a fun job to stay at. So, to save money and to implement more vegetables in my diet, I started packing bento lunches to work. I would buy beans, whole grains, pastas, and meats in bulk when they were on sale because I could freeze my meats and keep the slow perishables in the pantry for long periods and shopped for fresh vegetables and fruit 1x a week. I didn’t know how much money I actually spent dining out if I didn’t try cooking on a regular basis. My lunches have been healthier and I’ve been saving so much money! Hooray hooray. So far, preparation takes on average 30 minutes each meal. Here are some of the lunches I packed in the past few weeks.
- Bihari roast chicken
- turmeric jasmine rice
- sugar snap peas
- baby corn
- porcine mushroom frittata
- baked sweet potato fries with garlic and rosemary
- stir fried kiwi mussels
- green beans and tomato
- flower onigiri
- tangerine and blueberries