Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Introducing the family to my fancy food nonsense: wd~50

My family is well aware of my penchant for great restaurants and fancy food but I don't often get to share the experience with them. When I'm with my parents, usually one of us cooks and we spend happy times cooking, prepping and eating together in the kitchen. Not everyone gets their mom to make them bún bò Huế but I do!

In December, I went to NYC with my parents and my brother to check out the city during Christmastime and to celebrate my brother finishing up his master's degree. I happily made reservations in one of my favorite foodie towns to introduce the fam to the food experiences I love.

It's been a while so I don't exactly remember what we ate at those places and some of the dishes are the family's vegetarian options. My mom did take home a menu at wd~50 but I don't have possession of it. I asked my family if they had wanted to partake in a tasting menu, knowing that this would be a special experience. To my delight, my family agreed to pulling out all of the stops there or as my dad enthusiastically exclaimed, "Let's go for it!"

Here's a photographic journey of an incredible meal.

A hamachi nigiri starter

The vegetarian starter

Sweet shrimp with chesnut, cranberry and these delightful, slightly crispy straws.

Cheese puffs... not sure what the rest is but I remembered the puffs were great!

Soup with caviar

This was awesome. I think it was mackerel with carrots.

My family's vegetarian option

Tender, delicious octopus baked with risotto

I also don't know what this is since it was the vegetarian option...

Crab toast with mint. It was crunchy and light.

Black bass with Asian flavors and root vegetables 

Vegetables, mushrooms & parsnip puree for my vegetarian family
Fish version of the dish for me!

Braised vegetables with these cheese puffs

No idea what this was... I see bok choy.

This was a palate cleanser but perhaps one of our favorite dishes of the night! A sorbet was hidden below a frozen cucumber disk. It was reminiscent of a refreshing pie in sorbet form.

A fluffy ice milk meringue and fruit presented like a fruit tart with nut crumbles.

S'mores! Recognizable but utterly and delicously different.

It was a memorable, enjoyable experience. My mother, who normally doesn't drink even had a little wine!  We had a lot of fun and I can still taste the food in my memories. Thanks Wylie!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Summery Vietnamese Noms Part 1: Chả cá

Our first meal in Hanoi
This week's 87 degree weather officially made Washington the hottest state in the nation which makes us only want to tell the weathermen to shut up so no one else moves up here and screws up traffic even further.

When it's warm, I like to eat something summery, fresh and cool. And from my last post, perhaps I have to eat something healthy.

Behold! Chả cá La Vong - also known as Vietnamese Tumeric fish with dill

We had some at the place in Hanoi where they charge at least six times as much as any other place because they are known for it. If you're in Hanoi, have some at either Chả cá La Vong or Chả cá Thanh Long which are the two most famous spots to grab this specialty.

The famous place... unassuming I know...

You cook it at your table in Vietnam

I've been making this dish a lot because it's really simple. In Ann terms, that means I can now make it without use of a measuring cup. It's a good eyeball recipe but I'll include some measurements for you.

 You need:

Fish & marinade:
  • 1 lb of white fish (traditionally, we use catfish but I've been mostly using sustainably caught cod. Any flaky white fish like cod, halibut or tilapia works)
  • 1 tablespoons of tumeric
  • 1/2 tablespoon of ginger powder (or galangal if you have it)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 clove minced shallots
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce (nuoc mam)
  • Enough olive oil to coat the fish - about 1/4 cup but use more or less, depending upon your preference

Mix the ingredients sans fish in a big bowl until you have what looks like a thick yellow, chunky oil. If you're lazy with the mincing, you can just toss everything without the fish in a food processor.
Slice the fish in smaller portions; 2-3 oz cuts. Add the fish to the marinade and make sure everything is well combined but be careful not to mush the fish. Put it in the fridge and let it sit for a minimum of one hour but you can also let it sit longer or overnight in the fridge.

Everything else:
  • One onion - either red onion or sweet onion, sliced into half moons
  • A small bunch of green onions. Whites chopped in small rings, and dark green part chopped in wide rings
  • A bunch of fresh dill, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, very slightly crushed
  • A box of vermicelli noodles (bún) - boiled and drained. (If you're eating healthy, I found brown rice maifun noodles from Whole Foods which are pretty yummy. If you're eating paleo, you can use zucchini noodles, kelp noodles or any substitute.)
  • Accompanying herbs: cilantro, mint, Thai basil, tia to
Nước chấm/dressing
  • 4 tablespoons cup nước mắm (fish sauce) but adjust to taste
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • Juice of two limes
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons of mirin or rice vinegar
  • Chili garlic sauce or Sambal Oelek, to taste (not the same as Sriracha - it's a chunky cousin but still the Huy Fong rooster brand)              
Dissolve sugar with the hot water, add the rest of the ingredients and mix. Taste it and see if you'd like it spicier or fishier or more vinergary. Set aside.

Saute the onions in a large pan until they're soft and throw in the whites and the light green parts of the green onions. Add the fish and gently sear according to the thickness of the fish until you get a nice sear and the fish is cooked through but be careful not to overcook the fish. You want it to have a nice sear on the outside but still be soft on the inside. This is about 2-3 minutes on the first side and another 2 minutes once you flip the fish if you're using small portions of cod. Once you plate the fish, sprinkle generously with the dill, sprinkle the remaining green onion and roasted peanuts. Serve with noodles, herbs on the side and nước chấm. People can add as many herbs and sprinkle as much dressing as they'd like.

The finished product
  • I like freshly roasting the peanuts a bit because you get better flavor from the nuts. You can just stick them in the oven for a bit or move them around in a hot pan for a few seconds.
  • Some places (like Cha Ca La Vong) serves the fish cooked in the oil at the table or on a sizzling plate. This recipe uses a fajita platter so the dish is sizzling when it comes to you. I don't have a fajita platter or else I would have done the same.
  • You can also serve this dish and the nước chấm with quick pickled shredded carrots and daikon (or use jicama if you can't find daikon).
  • If you're eating paleo or trying to forgo sugar, you can skip it in the marinade. You might be able to use a little bit of sugar alternative like an agave syrup in the nuoc cham or splenda but try it out first to see if it tastes metallic or not. You can add additional rice vinegar and it might taste fine without any sweetener.
  • Traditionally this dish is served with a fermented shrimp paste but it's incredibly pungent and most people cannot take it. See this recipe if you want to try the shrimpy version.
  • I also made the dish and wrapped them in rice paper wrappers for a summer roll version of the dish. It was super delicious!
Cooked @ your table in Hanoi

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

So I guess we're supposed to eat better now...

I guess I have to stuff myself into a wedding dress at some point so I started boot camp, hot yoga and running again. All of that work is nullified if you aren't eating healthy foods either. Damn.

But I swear this blog won't get boring.

I made a super simple and refreshing dish last night for dinner that can be tasty, healthy and for you crazy people, gluten free and paleo.

Zucchini Noodles

This is so ridiculous easy to make, you'll have no excuses not to cook at home.

Bring a pot of water to a boil; salt it if you'd like.

Take a zucchini and simply strip it with a vegetable peeler or a mandolin lengthwise until you get thin strips of zucchini. It's easy to peel on one side, then flip it over, peel the other side and simply switch back and forth until you can't peel anymore. It will look like this:

You might not be able to peel all of the zucchini when it gets too thin in the middle; it's ok. Just leave the center bit for now.

Add to the pot of water like you would pasta but only cook it for 1-2 minutes so it's only a little tender. Drain and rinse in cold water to prevent the zucchini from continuing to cook. You can also do the same with orange sweet potatoes but sweet potatoes tend to break down more quickly and get soggy/mushier a little more easily.

If you want to be fancy, you can get a spiral vegetable cutter like this one but a vegetable peeler works well too.

You can serve the zucchini with any sauce you'd like or dress it up with a pesto:

Pesto, chimichurri or stuff you throw into a food processor

Pesto is ridiculously easy to make and I don't use a recipe or measure anything. You sort of throw things into a food processor and taste it.

If you buy a big package of basil, just throw the leaves in a food processor along with some extra virgin olive oil, a clove or two or garlic, a dash of salt and pepper and a handful of nuts. Traditionally, pesto is made with pinenuts but you can also use walnuts or almonds or whatever is on hand. If you're not eating paleo, shave a bunch of parmesan or romano in as well.

Let it go in the food processor until it resembles pesto. Taste it and see if it needs a little more salt or nuts or garlic you'd like a nuttier or more garlicky pesto.

You can even throw in the zucchini centers you couldn't slice and make a zucchini pesto.

A chimichurri is essentially an Argentinean pesto. Instead of basil, you'd blend parsley, garlic, oregano, olive oil, a dash of vinegar, salt and pepper and red chili flakes.

Play around with whatever herbs and veggies you have in your house to make your own pesto. I'll next try an Asian-inspired one with cilantro, peanuts, a dash of fish sauce and chili flakes.

I tossed the zucchini noodles with a pesto I made with basil and almonds. It would have been paleo if I didn't shave parmesan in as well. This can be used as a pasta replacement for a main dish along with a protein or you can use it as a good picnic side dish or even a starter salad.

Happy healthy eating!