Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking With BA: Learning Family Recipes - Bun Rieu

Cooking with BA

We've been learning to cook some of my favorite Vietnamese dishes with my parents, which really reminded us of this great Japanese cooking series on Youtube titled "Cooking with Dog". If you ever want to learn how to cook wonderful Japanese food, this web series is the best.

The picture above is a really good example of what cooking with my dad is like, casual, meticulous and with lots of beer for when we're waiting for the stock to come to a boil. We recently asked to learn how to cook a soupy noodle dish called Bun Rieu (a pork broth, crab/egg, tomato noodle soup that's not spicy, but tart and sour). Sounds good huh? Cooking with BA (Vietnamese for Dad) isn't like a typical cooking class. Mike was poised and ready to prep cook and help, but soon realize when you learn family recipes you simply sit back and watch because these recipes aren't ever written down, they are tinkered with and you learn simply by observing.

We started off by boiling two small racks of pork short ribs, cut into individual ribs (for easy snacking later).

Stew Pork Short Ribs

After the initial boil, we discarded the scummy water and put the ribs back into clean water where we got a clear broth without all the impurities. Next we sat back, drank our beers and watch as BA casually and skillfully cut up the tofu, tomatoes, onions, green onions, leeks and garlic.


Next he cracked 5 eggs into a bowl and added a crab paste with bean oil, which will eventually turn into the steam crab/egg mixture in the soup.

Crab Paste in Bean OilMixing the topping

Then we got to cooking, starting with sauteing garlic, onions and shallots in a pot with enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot.

Sauting Garlic, Shallots, Onions

Once the garlic/onion/shallots were tender and translucent we added a whole bunch of paprika until it was combined and starting to stick to the bottom of the pot. Then the magic happened and we deglazed with broth from the spare ribs and then just added all the broth and spare ribs to the pot, which turned into this rich red soup base.

DeglazingSoup Base

Next we seasoned with salt, sugar, tamarind soup base (for sourness) and a fermented shrimp paste (for muskiness). Once the soup was at a flavor we liked we added the garnishes of tofu, tomatoes and green onions (which BA expertly split at the ends of the whites so they'd bloom in the soup).

Colorful Soup BaseAlmost Done

At this point we thought the soup was good enough to eat, but then comes the best part and what puts the "Rieu" in the "Bun Rieu", the egg/crab-in-bean-oil mixture was gently laid on top of the soup, covered to steam and become cake-like.

Final TouchReady to Serve

That's basically it, now all that's left is to set up the bowls with garnishes and ladle in the soup. But we had to wait until later to eat our bowls because we already had dinner plans and had to wait until the next day.

HerbsFresh HerbsPrepping bowlsBun Rieu

Traditionally Bun Rieu is served with rice noodles, morning glory greens (that have been split and curled) and lemon balm herbs for a citrus aroma. Morning glory isn't in season so none of the Asian food markets had any so we improvised and used the greens from our hot pot dinner. BA kept saying Bun Rieu is a very personal dish to each person's tastes and preference. Initially I thought yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's delicious, but once we dug into our first bowl we realized we would have used less of the crab mixture and less of the fermented bean paste (it was muskier than we would have preferred). But at least now we know how to make one of the most quintessential soups in Vietnam and we're armed with a written recipe so we can start tinkering on our own. Thanks BA, again another awesome dish to add to our cooking repertoire.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter Hibernation

We were in winter hibernation mode all weekend, and by winter hibernation I mean we spent the whole weekend cooking and eating. During the winter months I love nothing more than staying up late and sleeping in, which we did plenty of, but we had early afternoon plans to meet up with my dad to learn how to cook one of my favorite soups (separate post to come soon)! Our eagerness to get going early was rewarded with a pot of soup on the stove to be eaten all week, a dinner invitation to eat another bone warming hot pot feast and making/eating one of my favorite things in the whole world - eggrolls! We also spent some time with friends, as well as lots of time in bed reading and cuddling because when it's dark and cold out, who cares what time it is.

Hot Pot
Hot Pot Dining Tray

We also had a reason to bust out our beloved vegetable spinner. A total steal for $12 at our favorite second hand store! We did a test and the Italian brand out-performed the Japanese one we bought years ago. At least we know where we can unload the Japanese one for some quick cash ;)

Spinning CarrotsEggroll Set Up
RollingFryingGolden Brown & Delicious

Our friends stopped by for a visit and our cat even got a visitor.

Zola & Cleo

We ended our weekend reading in bed at an insanely early hour, but was happy as can be to be toasty and warm on a rather dreary and cold winter night. Hope everyone is making the most of the winter!

Reading In Bed

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Camera Shy


The New York Times recently published an article about restaurants banning patrons from taking photographs of their food while they dine. Although I have stopped short at standing on my chair to get a picture, I have no doubts I will at some point and hope no one is offended. I am trying to become faster at capturing my plate of food just so I don't get the smack down from other diners around me, the restaurant owner or Mike because he's starving. Why do I take so many pictures of my food? I love it and it is a true passion of mine, almost to the point of obsession-compulsion. Some might even say I'm a bit camera shy, preferring to be behind the camera rather than in front, and besides it's only free publicity, what's the harm?  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Life, As of Late

The Hood
LAL, Jan 20
Cooking up Fondu
Fondu Dinner

Occasionally Portland experiences an "inversion" weather  phenomenon where cold or warm weather is trapped in the Willamette Valley and the opposite is held just above the fog or clouds. Last year we had the exact opposite of what we're experience right now with a balmy 50 degrees trapped by cold and frosty temperatures just above the clouds. This year the inversion has brought very cold temperatures, but sunny skies to the valley, whereas the coast and the mountains have been experiencing temperatures in the 50s. In typical Portlander form (when the sun shines, there's absolutely no reason to stay indoors), we made every effort to get outside by running errands via an epically long walk and busting out our beach cruisers (a slow ride through the neighborhood following streets that had more sunshine).

I absolutely love weekends like this, which start with sleeping in, leisurely (aka very slow) morning espresso drinking sessions where we talk about everything, a sudden realization it's sunny so we forgo all our plans/chores in a mad rush to get outside where we meander, frolic and simply just roam around with a somewhat vague agenda of places/errands we need to go/do. No cars, no obligations, just us. As we searched every nook & cranny of our neighborhood for sugar cubes, we decided we needed to make some fondu for dinner and some more delicious cocktails of course. If this was what winter was like all the time, I think we could get it that.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

More Winter Comfort Food: BBQ Chicken

We had some BBQ sauce left after our triumphant slow cooked BBQ Brisket. We rummaged through the freezer and found a package of chicken thigh meat and decided to use the leftover BBQ sauce to make a simple BBQ chicken dinner, this time we used our cast iron skillet and roasted the chicken in the oven. 

After the BBQ Brisket, Mike thought ahead and skimmed the fat off the remaining sauce and let it solidify in the fridge, which turned into the magic ingredient that turned our simple-left-over-let's-eat-what-we-have-around chicken dinner into another memorable winter (dreaming of summer) BBQ feast. This was another ridiculously-easy, delicious, stick-to-your-cold-bones winter meal. Hopefully with more dinners like this to come, we may just survive this recent cold snap Portland has been experiencing.

Carmelizing Onions
Marinating Chicken

{Mike utilized the last of the buns}
BBQ Chicken Sandwich

{I had mine on sour dough bread - so good}
BBQ Sandwich on Sour Dough

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winter Comfort Food: BBQ Brisket

After our terrific hot pot dinner we headed out into the cold to do our weekly grocery shopping and to get something to use with a homemade BBQ sauce a friend had given us for the holidays. Initially we thought BBQ chicken, but when we found out the BBQ sauce had a dark beer base we decided a brisket was the way to go. Our experience cooking brisket only includes a terrific Vietnamese beef noodle soup called Bún bò Huế and slow roasted in the oven for over 12 hours. We normally would fire up the grill, but it was ungodly cold out and we wanted to do something with a lot less effort. So we broke out our slow cooker and slap that brisket in it for 12 hours! The results was a delicious, tender and flavorful brisket that was maybe 30 minutes effort tops. 

We started by rubbing the brisket with a mix of typical BBQ dry rub spices such as chili power, cumin and cayenne. Then we simply placed the rubbed brisket in the slow cooker, poured the BBQ sauce over the brisket, turned on the crockpot slow cooker, walked away, made a cocktail, watched the DVD Moonrise Kingdom, went to bed and woke up the next morning to the most delicious smell. It's kind of strange to smell roasted meat first thing in the morning, but something we could easily get used to. Since we started the cooker around midnight, the brisket was ready to eat by lunchtime the next day, but ended up having it for dinner, and as we finished the meal we were left wondering why we don't bust out the slow cooker more often because this terrific dinner was ridiculously easy. 

Mr Finicky's Spicy BBQ Sauce
Grinding Spice Rub
Brisket Slow Cook
Rubbing the Brisket
Marinated Brisket
Slow Cooker
12 Hours Later

Mike slapped his brisket on a bun and topped it with coleslaw, whereas I simply plated my brisket, initially thinking I won't be able to finish that plate of food, but ate it all up (slightly burnt brussel sprouts and all)!

His & Hers
Brisket Sandwich

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Memorable Meals: Hot Pot Comfort Food

Anne: When I say winter comfort food, what do you think of?
Mike: Soup.
Anne: Really? Soup? Isn't soup an all year round thing?
Mike: It's what I think of as comfort food.

Soup is Mike's comfort-go-to-food. All kinds. He's got mad soup making skills too. One of his favorite things to do is look at what's in the fridge and make a soup. Soup, to me is a several hours, mega-pot, steamy window, Sunday morning, all-in-one-meal kind of thing. So when we were invited to a Thai-Style Sate Hot Pot Dinner at my parents' house on a cold winter night, I knew this would be a meal Mike would turn to me and say "why haven't we eaten this yet?" 

Hot Pot is a group/individual build-your-own feast with a variety of proteins and lots of vegetables. The "Hot Pot" is a simmering pot of broth in the middle of the table where everyone just adds what proteins/vegetables they want, then when done to whatever consistency you prefer, scoop up your proteins/veggies into your individual bowl, add egg noodles if you like, more broth if you like and slurp away to your heart's content. Each bite/bowl can be as different or same as you like. It's a casually paced meal where we can chat/laugh/monitor each others' preferences (this time Mike really enjoyed shrimp, which isn't typical for him). There are many versions/broths of hot pot and this Thai-style sate hot pot absolutely hit the spot on this particular cold January night. The rich gravy like spicy broth was terrific with the seafood, beef, bitter frissee greens, bok choy and enoki mushrooms.

As the broth got less and less and became better and better from all the flavors building up with each additional piece of seafood or vegetable, we sat in awe as Mike finished up what seemed to be his 20th bowl. My dad on the other hand ate more greens than I have seen him eat in a long time.  And before we knew it we were slurping up the last of the broth and rubbing our bellies with delight. This was seriously a memorable winter meal. 

Table set for some Hot Pot
Hot Pot Stick
We were each given a fondu pick so we'd know who's addition to the hot pot was whose.

Hot Pot Fixings
Sate Hot Pot
You better believe I took great pains to scoop up that piece of bok choy with the sate broth suspended inside.

Hot Pot Table
Soup Ladle
These ladles were a score for only $1.50! Purchased at awesome Japanese $1.50 store Daiso during a visit to Seattle when my sis was still in college! The base keeps the ladles upright and caught all the drips of broth.

Veggie Platter
Lau Sate

As I look back on these pictures I can literally feel the meal in my mouth, throat and belly. Thanks again ME & BA for another memorable meal.