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Hôm nay chợt nghĩ tới một điều, trong phỏng vấn trên mạng Twentine có nói, lúc viết “Hẹn Ước” còn chưa có biên tập viên.  Tức là các tác phẩm trên mạng trước đó, nếu như không bị biên tập viên chạy ngược lại sửa hoàn toàn từ A-Z, thì sẽ mang văn phong thuần tuý nhất của cô.  Tiền đề là biên tập viên hiện giờ không quá hăng hái sửa sạch sành sanh từ truyện chưa được xuất bản tới truyện đang sắp được xuất bản.  Để thử dò sách xuất bản “hẹn ước” với bản trên mạng xem sao……

Me: look, look what I’ve made for May today! Isn’t it awesome? I got bay scallops in it too!
Son: great
Me: taste it, good huh?
Son: yeah, good, yum…. What’s for us? What are we eating for dinner?
me: …uhh…I don’t know… There’s left over rice… Look around or something. Maybe there’s some Pho broth left in the freezer…. and I think some left over canh from last week…
just kidding!! We eat May’s food once the left overs are cleared.
Been busy cooking this weekend because we are moving so I need to stock up. First I made a big pot of chicken noodle soup and froze 3 pints in the freezer. Then today I made some more stocks with ribs and veggies, used part of it to make rice porridge, froze the rest. Also got a nice piece of brisket from the farmer’s market on Friday, so I simmered it and froze the stock. This is because we’ll be busy moving this next week, so I want to make sure we have nutritious food readily available for May. I’m just noting some info here for Trang, the busy super mom, in case she needs some quick ideals for the little one’s dinner:

chicken noodle soup (all ingredients organic)
– 1 small chicken
– carrots
– celery
– chayotes
– onions
– broccoli (crowns and stems)
olive oil and/or butter
pepper, salt, fish salt
pasta of choice

Chop up everything, simmer together in a big pot the following: chicken, carrots, celery, chayote with a dash of salt and a few peppercorns up to 3 hours (can be done in a slow cooker). In a pan, heat up some oil and/or butter, add the minced onion, stir, cook until translucent and then reduce heat to low and let carmelize for up to 1 hour if you have time. This process makes the onions turn really really sweet. Or if you don’t have time, just, you know, whatever. When done, stir the onions into the soup, add just a dash of fish sauce if you like. I cook the pasta by meal so that it doesn’t turn soggy in the soup.

For porridge, I simmered spare ribs (left the whole rack in tact, no need to chop) with celery, carrots, daikon radish, salted radish, onion, a few peppercorns and a small piece of rock sugar. Then I stirred in cooked rice (1 part brown 3 parts white), covered the pot and let simmer over very low heat. When finish, I took out the celery stalks, salted radish and daikon to toss, leaving just the carrots and bits of the onion. I took out most of the soup to save for later use, leaving just a bit over 1 serving in the pot. I added 5 pieces of small bay scallops – caught sustainably off the coast of Argentina (this wholesome shit costed me $9 for 3 oz!) and cooked for a bit, taking care not to overcook the scallops. With a dash of fish sauce and a sprinkle of fried shallots, I served this dish to her highness who promptly inhaled the whole bowl. It should not taste salty like the way we like our food to be salty.

May likes scallops and I prefer to serve it to her over fish, because the quality of fish here in York sucks. It’s considered a pretty healthy food.

I’ll figure out what to do with the beef broth later this week.

Also, Trang, dear, you can make your own oatmeals and that will save you lots of money, if you like. What I do is I guy the old fashioned rolled oats, cooked it in water (something like 2 tbsp to 1 cup of water) stirring every now and then for about 20 minutes. It will turn into congee – same consistency, same appearance. May doesn’t eat much fruits right now, so I typically add raisins or prunes or pear or apples into the pot. For sweeteners I use pure local maple syrup. Molasses would work too. Sometimes I spice it up with ground nutmeg or cinnamon occasionally. I’ve heard that canned pumpkin mixes well too. This would make about 2.5 servings. I save that in a glass jar and reheat in the microwave. You can store this in the fridge for up to 1 week. When you reheat and it’s too hot, just add some cold milk. This is pretty much a staple at our house. May eats it about 4x/week.

this recipe works very well, it kicks many expensive restaurants’ asses that I know around here. It’s a bit painstaking but I guess you can always make candied walnuts in place of caramelized walnuts to save time.

ingredients for salad:

1 bunch of mizuna
1 small crisp and slightly tart apple (pink lady or jazz is best, if not, try a ripe grannysmith) (sliced thin)
2 tbsp crumbled blue cheese (I use the one from Trader Joe’s, it’s very good)
~ 2 handfuls raw walnuts plus the following ingredients for caramelized spiced walnut recipe:

1 tbsp molasses
3 tbsp honey (i use sage honey)
1 tbsp sugar (i use turbino, you can use granulated)
1/8 tsp salt
pinch of 5 spices powder
pinch of cayenne pepper powder

ingredients for ginger vinaigrette:

1 piece of ginger about 1″x1.5″ peeled
2 pieces of shallots (if big clove, use 1)
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar (i used the sushi rice vinegar)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 or 1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper

to make the caramelized spiced walnut, bring 2 quarts of water to boil, add walnuts, boil for 5-7 minutes, drain, set a side.
melt sugar in a small pot, then add honey, molasses, and salt. When this starts to bubble, toss in walnuts and stir so that the sugar will coat evenly. Add a pinch of 5-spices and cayenne peper. Stir continuously over medium heat until the liquid reduce and everything turn light brown. Turn off fire, carefully put each individual piece of walnut onto waxed paper on a tray, separate from each other. Put this whole tray into the freezer to cool (this process takes about 15 minutes)

while waiting for walnut to cool, start on the dressing:
combine shallot, ginger, and soysauce in a food processor or food chopper, mince, then sift through a sieve to collect the juice. Discard the pulp. Combine the rest of the ingredients with the collected juice into a blender or simply whisk everything until well-mixed. Your dressing should turn mustardy yellow.

Place mizuna into a bowl, arrange apple slices on top, then add walnut. Microwave the dressing for 10 seconds, then add to salad. Sprinkle blue cheese on top last, and serve immediately. If you like you can add a few strands of red onion to garnish, but not neccessary.

The blue cheese really brings out the light and fresh flavor of ginger. Mizuna works very well with this dressing. This dressing is taken from the recipe submitted by Julesong here, modified a bit by me.

My boss taught me this simple recipe for a delicious salad:

1 small bitter melon (chinese type, not the indian one)
3/4 lb – 1 lb ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped red sweet onions
1/2 or less tbsp fillipino shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) – it’s a funky purple color, you can’t miss it
1/2 or less tbsp rice vinegar or sushi vinegar

quarter the bitter melon, core it, and slice into thin slices, the thinner the better. Put the slices into a bowl, add a generous spoon of salt, mix and let sit for 1/2 hr. This will coax some of the bitter juice to come out. If you like your stuffs superbitter, you can skip this step

After 1/2 hour, wash the bittermelon slices in water and squeeze excess water (wring out the water). Repeat this step about 5-6 times, until you taste the melon and it’s not super salty anymore. You wanna wash as much of the salt out as possible. Don’t get impatient otherwise your salad will taste crappy.

Dice tomatoes and red onions, mix with bittermelon slices in a bowl. Add vinegar and toss. Add shrimpaste (less than 1/2 tbsp) and mix. Your salad is now ready to serve. Yum!

The name of this salad is “Ampalaya salad,” you can find an alternative recipe here. As you can see, the ratio of bitter melon to tomato is different than my version, simply because the bitterness in the bittermelon totally kicks my ass, so I have to increase the tomato ratio to save myself. If you like the bitterness, you can always double the amount of bittermelon.

canhchua

1 lb of green beans
1 lb of broccoli crowns
1/5 of a cabbage
1 tomato
2 eggs
fish sauce
Chili pepper

Boil 2 eggs in water. When water comes to a full boil, add green beans and broccoli crowns to cook until softness desired (probably just barely cooked through). Take out everything of water and let sit to cool. Measure out 2 tbsp of water used to boil the veggies, set a side to cool.

Keeping the water boiling, add tomato wedges, a bit of salt, and cabbage. Cook into a soup, turn off heat. Let cool.

Mash 2 eggs in a small bowl, then add fish sauce and 2 tbsp of reserved water. Add chili pepper if you like.

What you end up with is a fishsauce with egg dip, and lots of veggies. That’s what we had for dinner tonight. Just a big ass bowl of boiled green beans and broccoli, eaten cold, dipping in fishsauce & egg. No rice. It’s soooooo refreshing, you should try it sometimes. Whenever the weather is hot, you should give up eating starch & protein, and just kick it with a bunch of chilled boiled veggies, dipped in either fishsauce & egg dip or fishsauce+lime+chili or soysauce if you like. You’ll feel much cooler, and you’ll sleep easier at night too, inspite of the heat. Kiki Rice had her boiled cabbage with fishsauce & egg just last week, you can see her picture here. The water that I used to boil the veggies, I always add a bit of salt, then cabbage and tomato, cook into a soup. When I’m done eating my boiled veggies, I’ll pour the soup into the small bowl of dipping sauce, mixing the fishsauce and the egg into the soup as seasoning. Yum!

The lovely bowl of soup you see up there is what we had for dinner on Friday. The last of it was eaten in my office, by Son, at around 4:00 p.m. That thing didn’t exist at our dinner table tonight.

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dinner tonight: chinese mustard soup in pork broth, eggplant stirfried with ground pork and tía tô, plain omelet. The bowl with ume is Son’s, mine is the funky rice pyramid. I didn’t try to make it into that pyramid shape, that’s just all the rice we had left and it worked out that way. Recipe later, I’m going to bed now.

See dessert here (Why yahoo 360 would not let me post more than 1 picture is beyond me!)

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eggplant stirfry with pork and perilla leaves

another dinner
1/2 lb of ground pork (marinate for 20 minutes in ~ 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1/2 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 2 cloves of minced garlic)

3 medium chinese eggplants or 4 if small (cut in half lengthwise, then slice 2 cm thin – semi circle shape. Immediately soak the pieces into water with some lemon juice or 1 tbsp vinegar – this will prevent the eggplants from turning black. Drain eggplants before you start cooking)

1/3 – 1/2 lb. of perilla leaves (this is called tía tô in VNese, I use the purple leaf variety, also the cheapest. Pick all the leaves off the stems, wash and drain. Chiffonade)

1 medium tomato (coarsely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic, minced

fish sauce

sugar

cooking oil

1-4 chili peppers (cut into fine strips with scissors)

Direction:

Medium heat – coat bottom of pan with oil, heat up oil. Add garlic and stirfry briefly. Add ground pork, stirfry until mostly cooked.

High heat – add eggplants and 1 tbsp fish sauce. Stir to coat the pieces evenly. Let sit for 2 minutes, then add tomatoes and gently rotate top layers to the bottom so that the eggplants get cooked evenly. Let sit for 2 minutes. Check to see if the eggplants are cooked. Add fish sauce and sugar to adjust taste as needed. Turn off heat

Immediately add the perilla leaves and chili peppers. Gently mixt the herbs into the eggplants. The herbs will get cooked at this point. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

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Soup of Chinese mustard greens in pork broth

1/2 bunch of Chinese mustard greens or 1 lb (chopped into 1.5″ in length)

1/3 lb. ground pork (marinate for 15 min. in 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp pepper, 2 cloves minced garlic)

5-6 cups of water

cooking oil

fish sauce

Direction:

Bring a teakettle with about 6 cups of water to boil

In the meanwhile, heat a bit of oil in a 3 quart pot over medium heat. Add ground pork and stirfry. When the water boils, add ~5 cups of water into the pot, increase heat to medium-high. Wait until broth boils, add Chinese mustard greens. Adjust taste with fish sauce as needed. When it boils again, skim off foams if any, turn off the heat. Serve hot.

** note: If you have never purchased Chinese mustard greens before, it does resemble regular mustard greens, except the leaves are not curly. Do not mistaken it with Chinese cabbage, which is bitter. A picture of Chinese mustard greens can be found here

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grrrr… stupid computer + stupid browswer + stupid network error have erased this cursed entry 3 times ! I had to retype it 3 times !!!Image

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pho2
Currently making phở for the night. Pictures will be uploaded later, I’m only about 2.5 hours into the process, meaning I still have a good 10 hours to go.

I skipped the first bone-washing process. Some original recipes call for boiling water, blanche the bones briefly, toss out the water, wash the bones, and put them in another pot, fill it up with cold water and bring to boil. This is supposed to rid the bones of any unpleasant smells and also keep the stock clear. However, in my case, my stock smells great and it is no less clear than if I have done the bone blanching step. I suspect that people have done this in VN way back when due to the lack of refrigeration, the weather being hot and humid, so perhaps meat products over there might decompose faster than over here, therefore they have to take these precautionary steps to salvage bones? I got hold of some 12-15 lbs of wonderful nuckle bones and femur bones, extremely fresh, so I don’t see the need to “clean” them for any reason. You be your own judge when it comes to this step. You can tell fresh bones by the color and the smell – color is anywhere from white to light pink blush; smell is faint buttery (anything strong is bad).

This is how I cook my phở :

Ingredients for stock

~ 10 lbs of nuckle bones  and marrow bones – big soup bones

~ 1 whole oxtail or 1/2 oxtail if you like your stock to be less rich (if you have more than 12 lbs of soup bones, you can skip the oxtail. Oxtail enriches the broth, which Son prefers, so I add oxtail, but you can definitely do without it. Usually when I don’t get as much fresh soup bones, then I substitute with oxtails to make up my 12 lbs or so of bones for the stock. In the current recipe of phở that I’m cooking, there are about 2 pieces of oxtail in there because I have lots of soup bones).

– 1 piece of beef brisket 

– 1 piece of beef drop flank.

– 2 yellow onions (broiled in the toaster oven or charred over open flame, but do not blacken)

– 3-4 shallots (broiled or charred but do not blacken – blackening will turn your stock dark)

– 1 piece of ginger about the size of a 5 year old’s hand (do not peel – broiled in toaster oven or charred over open flame)

– spices consisted of:

– 1 part white pepper corns (black ones are ok too if you don’t have white)

-1 part  of star anise

-1/4 part cloves

– 1 part coriander seeds

–  cinamon bark (chinese type, darker looking and thick). The size should be about 3″ x 1/3″ (L x W)

– black cardamom http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_cardamom  look for it in a chinese herbal store or chinese market.

(Since I make my pho in large batches to freeze, I don’t season my stock until I’m ready to eat, at which time I heat up however many servings I need for the meal, add the spices for about 7 minutes, then scoop them out and serve.).

– fish sauce (3 crabs brand or flying lion brand – these are the milder fish sauces)

– sea salt

– yellow rock sugar (as needed)

Ingredients for serving:

– 1 to 2 lbs of steak – I pick flank steak or flap meat (or flap steak). Slice thin, but london broil and sirloin or tritips work well too. 

– 1 big piece of book tripe ( soak in cold water with some vinegar or lemon juice, then rinse and boil for 5 minutes with plenty of hot water, then refrigerate before slicing)

– fresh flat rice noodles, the thin cut. 1 package will serve 4.

– 1 lb. pack of bean sprouts

– Thai basil

Sawleaf herb

– fresh chili peppers

– green onions

– cilantro

– Spiracha chili sauce

– white onion or sweet onion, thinly sliced tossed in rice vinegar and Spiracha sauce

– lime or  eureka lemon wedges, but never meyer lemon (you need something that has a bright tangy note, meyer is sweet and much more subdued, so it doesn’t brighten up the dish)

Direction for stock:

– take some kitchen twine and tie up your oxtail pieces in one long chain – do bind them nicely because cooked meat can slip out if you do a poor job.  The purpose of this is so that in 2-3 hrs you can just pull the string and fish out the entire line of oxtails without having to stir up the content of your entire stock pot to search for them.

– Wash bone and meat pieces under cold water. Place in a large stock pot (12 quart – 14 quart), cover with cold water.

– . Add 1/2 tbsp of sea salt + a piece of rock sugar the size of an xs egg + 1 tbsp black or white pepper corn (or a mix of the 2)

– Bring to boil over medium heat. Skim foams for about 15 minutes, and then put the flame on low-simmer, keeping the stock very gently boiling.  Check back from time to time to skim foam as needed, but always put the lid back to cover.  The majority of recipes swear that you need to leave the stock uncovered, but from a friend who is a great cook, I’ve learned this trick and my stocks have significantly improve.  If water depletes, you can add hotwater to replenish, always keep the bones covered.  Pull the brisket out after 45 minutes – 1 hr, basically as soon as it’s “medium” done, pull it out. The drop flank (Ranch 99 sells it, it has thin layers of meat and then some tendons in between, chinese put it in their beef noodle soup) needs to be cooked until you can run a chopstick through the entire thickness of the meat. Plunge the meats into ice cold water as soon as you take them out, and keep covered.  Once they are cooled, wrap or place in a container, seal, place in fridge.  Cold meat = easier to slice.

– Once you are done charring  yellow onion and shallots as well as the ginger knob, add them to the stock. You can skim out some of the fat at this point too, if you want, there will be a lot of fat floating to the top.

– After 3 hrs, pull out the oxtails plunge in cold water and store away.

– Stock cooking is done anywhere between 9-12 hrs.  If you have time, let it finish in 12 hours, if you need to eat ASAP, take some stock into a smaller pot and eat that, but keep the main stockpot simmering..

Let the stock cool for about 12 hours, and then scoop out more fat if you want ( I usually leave about 5% of the fat in there)  Gently laddle stock into separate tub-o-ware containers. These you can freeze and defrost to use whenever you feel like having homemade phở. Usually I freeze about seven or eight 2-cups containers of undiluted stocks from each batch that I make.

Direction for serving:

– heat up pho stock.  4 cups of stock will serve 2.  Dilute the 4 cups of stock with 1 cup of water.   add a dash of salt and then add fish sauce to taste – about 1/2 – 2/3 tsp.  Add 3-4 star anise, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, 2 cloves, 1 small piece of cinnamon, a black cardamom.  Bring to a gentle boil, keep covered.  Scoop out the spices after 5 minutes of steeping.   Add slices of tripe, brisket, and drop flanks and oxtail pieces into the broth to heat them up.

– In a separate pot, boil 2 quarts of water, use this water to flash boil the rice noodles and beansprout.  You can blanch the beansprouts first, and then keep the noodles in there for 3 seconds if you have already presoaked the noodles, 5 seconds if you have not.  I suggest you do 1 serving of noodle at a time.

– Immediately place noodles into a warm bowl, add green onions, cilantro, raw beef slices,  pieces of cooked meats from the stock pot, and then ladle hot broth over the entire bowl, add a dash of ground pepper.  Serve immediately with beansprouts, culantro, thai basil, lime wedge, vinegared onion, chili pepper, Spiracha sauce.

– Repeat the steps for next bowl.

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A few words about…

… hoisin sauce: My family did not eat much of this sauce. In the north, phở is not served with hoisin sauce. I would recommend that you add no more than 1 tsp of this sauce. If more is needed, probably the stock itself needs to be reexamined.

… clarity of broth: quite a few phở-fans lamented that their homemade stock is not appearing as clear as restaurants’ stocks. I want to emphasize that it’s one of the differences between homemade food and restaurant food. Restaurants simply dilute the stock more than we do at home, and make short cuts with ingredients with the goal of minimizing capital and maximizing profits. If you dilute your stock to something like 1 part mainstock to 2 parts water, then add MSG and salt, you will get something that’s pretty close to restaurant clear broth. Hence I get my horrible MSG and sodium attacks everytime I eat out. So don’t beat yourself over how it should look, your homemade stock is pretty clear to begin with, but it’s thicker and richer than restaurant-made, and after you’re done with adding all sorts of condiments, it’ll be thicker and murky-looking, which is fine. Want to take a good picture? Take it before you add the raw steak, or make sure your raw steak is not bloody in anyway by presoaking them in ice cold water for 10 minutes.

… flavoring the stock: I always make my stock slightly bland, and people can add fish sauce or salt directly into their bowl when they eat. Also with the spices, the 3 main spices that you must have are: cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Everything else is optional, family secret, regional, whatever. Some people like to add more star anises, others add more cloves.  If you happen to have more star anises in the stock than any other spices, then that’s when you need to add rock sugar like I do, because star anises have a sweet aroma, so you need to adjust the broth to be slightly sweeter to match the aroma. If you like your broth to be more subtle, then you might not need to add as much rock sugar.

… noodles:  There are now 2 types of noodles, the good old padthai noodles are that semi dry, and the fresh rice noodles labeled Banh Pho made by Rice Valley.  The Rice Valley noodles are completely fresh and should be consumed within 2 days, they just needed to be blanched in hot water for about 2-3 seconds out of the fridge.  Here’s a link to very complete and nicely illustrated post about rice noodles.

… bones.  I used to get my soup bones from Ranch99 and Korean markets.  The bones are fresh but it’s not consistent – sometimes the aroma came out buttery and wonderful, other times it was just flat.  I didn’t gain insights into “classes of bones” until I got to York, PA, the land of heavenly beef.  The local butcher shop in York mostly got their livestocks from local farmers, cows I saw grazing on grassy hills 8/12 months/year.  The butcher shop would slaughter every Tuesday, I call in to reserve my bones, and pick them up by Friday.  Not organic or anything, but everyone who has ever made a trip out to my house could swear that my pho, if not delicious, was at least extremely aromatic and rich with beef flavor.  The meats and especially briskets out there were to die for.  The prices were very decent, sometimes cheaper than grocery stores.  When I got back to CA, the closest I got to some good bones were from “Local Butcher Shop,” which sells bones for $4/lb – because they are local and from organic sustainable grassfed farms.  Once in a great while, I got some bones from Berkeley Bowl that are from Harris Ranch, and would luck out with good quality, but never consistent quality.  Briskets, I have not found any good ones.  Berkeley Bowl has brisket from Harris Ranch – very mediocre quality, no aroma whatsoever, lacks flavor too.  I’ll have to try some from “Local Butcher Shop,” probably $10-14/ lb.  A good piece of brisket also makes a big difference to the aroma and flavor of my stock.

I suck at take photos of food to show that it’s actually pipping hot.  Really need to capture the rising steams next time …

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happenings right now

Later!

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