Category Archives: Cooking

Strawberry Love

This has been a great year for strawberries. Since they have come onto the scene in late spring, we have bought strawberries every chance we could. Maybe it is because we have been buying organic strawberries almost exclusively, but they have been really flavorful and sweet. The four of us can easily eat a pound in a sitting and it would probably be more, but that’s all I make available at a time. Last week, when there was a sale on organic strawberries at the store, we sorta went crazy and bought 11 quarts.

We ate a lot of them and I froze a lot of them. I also made some Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream.

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It was delicious. The balsamic is very subtle, but adds a little savoriness that compliments the strawberries perfectly.

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This is the first strawberry ice cream recipe I have tried that cooks the strawberries a bit up front. It releases the juices from the strawberries. I took it a step further by scooping out the strawberries and boiling down the juice a little to concentrate the flavors even more.

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This recipe only uses up 1 quart of strawberries. I was contemplating making another gallon of it to store up in the freezer, but jam called to me instead. I’ll show you the jam another. Today, I think you should try making this ice cream. It might change your idea of what strawberry ice cream should be.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

1 pound (quart) fresh, preferably organic strawberries, stemmed and cut up into 1 inch chunks
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

In a medium sized frying pan, warm the strawberries, sugar, and vinegar over medium heat until the sugar melts. Stir often and simmer for about 5 minutes until the strawberries are very small and there is a lot of juice in the pan. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the berries into a blender. Return the pan with its juices to the stove. Over medium low heat, simmer the juices until syrupy and reduced to 2-3tablespoons. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Then, add the strawberry juice to the blender with the strawberries and pulse a few times to blend and puree.

Transfer to a container and put in the fridge until you are ready to put the ice cream into the machine.

5 large egg yolks
2 cups (16 ounces) heavy cream
1/2 cup (4 ounces) whole milk
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Have ready: a large bowl of ice water with another, smaller bowl inside it that will hold at least a quart and a strainer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 1/4 sugar until blended.

Heat the cream, milk, salt, and remaining sugar in a medium saucepan until it is quite steamy and the sugar is all dissolved.

Whisking all the while, add the hot milk to the egg yolks one ladleful at a time until all the milk is combined with the yolks. Return the milk mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly with a spatula until slightly thickened. You should be able to draw a path through the mixture on the back of a spoon. This will take just a few minutes, so stir and check often.

Pour the cream through the strainer into the bowl inside the ice-water bath. Using a clean spatula, stir the cream every once in awhile until it is cool. Remove the bowl from the water bath, cover, and place in the fridge until thoroughly cold, at least 6 hours and up to 24.

When you are ready to make the ice cream, pour the cream mixture and the strawberry puree into the bowl of your ice cream maker. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to its directions. Transfer to a container and freeze for an hour or so to let the ice cream firm up further. Enjoy!

Sticky Rice Cones

Food memories are powerful things. One whiff or taste of something can send me to a past place and time so vividly that, if I close my eyes, I might believe I was there. A distant food memory can also send me in search of that elusive dish that I had so many moons ago that it would be difficult for me to identify it accurately, but for some instinct that assures me that I will know it when I taste it. Food memories are what causes immigrants to make specialty dishes that they would not otherwise make if they had not moved from their homelands.

I have vivid memories of my mother making these fragrant sticky rice packages when I was young. She would sit by our garage door with strings hanging from the doorknob, a bucket of soaked sticky rice in front of her, a large bowl of filling on one side of her, and a stack of meticulously cleaned and soaked bamboo leaves on the other side of her. She would spend hours making these little packages and then boil them until the smell of them filled the house.

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The smell of these alone can take me back to that house and that time. That is my most vivid food memory associated with these rice packages, though, of course, I have other, more faint ones. I know I have eaten these on the busy streets of market places in Taiwan and, occasionally, in restaurants. The sticky rice packages in restaurants invariably come wrapped in lotus leaves, which does not impart the same scent, but the flavor is still similar.

These are definitely a big project. It took me just about an entire day to make them, but really, that’s just because I chose to make a lot. I think in the end, I made somewhere around 93, but who’s counting? I am including some weights and measures here to go with my photo-recipe, but they are really just a guideline. This is one of those foods that can be whatever you want to make of it. Some people like them with peanuts and not beans. Most authentic recipes call for dried shrimp, but I have never liked their papery texture, so I chose to omit them and add some fish sauce instead. I wanted more variety in my filling, so I added some pressed, smoked tofu and some okara, that soybean pulp you have leftover when you make your own tofu.

The thing about making these that makes me the happiest is that my children love them as much as I loved them as a kid. Hopefully, they will have some great food memories of their own. That makes all the work and grumbling (and believe me there was plenty of grumbling during the wrapping stage) worth it in the end.

Sticky Rice Cones (Jungdz)

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Rinse, then soak about 3.5 kilos of sticky rice with 500 grams of split yellow mung beans for three hours.

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In a large bowl, combine and mix thoroughly the following:
3 pounds raw pork belly cubed
1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 package of chinese air-dried pork sausage, cubed
1.5 pounds pressed and seasoned tofu, cubed
1 pound of taro root, peeled and diced
1 cup dried mushrooms that have been re-hydrated and diced
2 bunches of green onions, cleaned and sliced thinly
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup golden mountain seasoning sauce or soy sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup scallion oil
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup okara (optional)

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Clean and rinse all bamboo leaves. Then, soak them for at least 30 minutes. Take two and form into a cone like this. Notice how the stem end of one leaf is matched up to the pointy end of the other. Also, they are offset just a little to give you a bigger cone shape.

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Fill with 1/4 cup of rice mixture, followed by 1/4 cup of meat mixture, then top off with 1/4 cup of rice. There should be some space left in the cone, about 1/2 inch or more.

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Here’s the tricky part. Pinch the sides of the cone, fold the top down the long top part of the leaves that are sticking up over the rice and fold down the sides. I really don’t have great pictures of this since I was doing the deed and my older son was the one taking pictures. There are some handy videos on Youtube, though.

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I make a bunch of strings ahead of time by taking five 2-yard pieces of string, fold them in the center and make a slip knot to make a bunch of ten strings that can hang from something. Having the strings attached to something will give you some leverage that you might need to tighten the strings around the bundles. You want to tie them tightly or else they will come unraveled in the pot and then they will be inedible.

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Boil them for about an hour. Then, fish them out carefully. Some of them came undone, so I clearly have some work to do in the wrapping and tying department.

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Unwrap and serve with soy sauce. These can be placed, still in their bamboo wrapping, in a plastic freezer bag and frozen for future snacks or meals. They reheat beautifully, which is why I made a lot. They will come in handy on those days when I just don’t have the time or inclination to cook.

Maximizing the Grill

It is hot out there. This week our highs are in the mid to upper 90s, with no clouds or rain in sight for relief. When we saw what the weather was going to be like this week, we made some plans to try to keep cool with our dinners this week. Who wants to slave over a hot stove or oven after being in an out of a car whose internal temperature is probably way over 100 degrees? Not me.

Here’s what we did.

Firstly, I asked the husband if he was willing to grill in Sunday evening. This was kind of a rhetorical question because, unless it is raining, or we have other plans, he almost always grills every Sunday during the spring, summer, and fall (I am working on extending this into the winter). Still, I asked nicely because one should never make assumptions and I don’t want him to feel he is taken for granted. He said yes.

Then, I pulled out Vietnamese Home Cooking, turned to the chapter on grilling, and picked three recipes. Yes. I said three. I figured, as long as those coals were hot, we were going to grill as much food as possible so that we could have enough for multiple meals.

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The first recipe I picked was Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Lemongrass Marinade. This was super easy. The hardest part was finding the lemongrass. None of the regular grocery stores had it, so we ended up making a trek down to the asian store 30 minutes away. It was worth it. The meat was juicy and flavorful.

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Next, we had Grilled Five-Spice Chicken. This one was a tad on the salty side. Next time, I will cut back on the fish sauce. One half cup for 1.5 pounds of chicken was a bit much. Or maybe I should just have put more chicken in the bag. Anyway, it was still tasty, especially when mixed with some rice to temper the saltiness.

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While at the asian store, the husband saw some nice looking fish and decided that he wanted to try grilling fish, which he has never done before. If you have never been to an asian store, I urge you to go. They really have the best selection and prices when it comes to fish and seafood. He chose to get two mackerel and two yellowfin tunas. We got all four of those fish for about $12. Really, you can’t beat that anywhere.

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The fish turned out to be easy to grill and beautiful, too. We will most certainly be doing grilled fish again. We did overcook them just a tad. It was our first time doing fish on the grill and we had a fear of undercooking and making everyone sick. Next time, we will be less anxious and take them off a couple minutes sooner.

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So, here is a look at out Sunday night dinner table. We have 4 thick pork chops, 1.5 pounds chicken, 4 fish, grilled corn on the cob, and rice. Yeah, I know, we were a little thin on veg, but we were a bit preoccupied by all the proteins. We made up for it the next day.

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The great thing about grilled meats is that they taste great cold, especially in a salad kind of thing. On Monday, with the leftovers, we had Vietnamese Vermicelli (Bun) Bowls.

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This is basically a bowl of cold rice noodles with a variety of grilled meats, some chopped herbs and lettuce, lightly picked veg, and a nice sauce made from fish sauce and lime juice. It was beautiful and refreshing, and, best of all, required minimal cooking.

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The next day, we still had some leftover meats, so I tried my hand at making summer rolls.

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These have almost the same ingredients as Bun bowls, but they are wrapped in rice paper. They were much easier to make than I anticipated and made me wonder why I hadn’t tried them before. Instead of the traditional shrimp, I used some leftover fish, and, while good, we all did miss the shrimp. Well, except for the older son who does not like shrimp.

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I did not make the peanut sauce recipe in the book since I was missing an ingredient or two, but made a recipe from The Best International Recipe published by the Cook’s Illustrated people.

So far, our Sunday grill-a-thon has given us three dinners and two lunches for four people. We still have some left which we will probably eat simply with some rice and a stir fried veggie. I highly recommend this method of summer meal making. It maximizes your grilling time and minimizes the time you spend slaving over a hot stove during the week. Vietnamese food is wonderful summer food with lots of fresh textures and flavors, but you could also do this with Mexican or American. Any grilled meats would be good in sandwiches, tacos, burritos, salads, pastas, etc. There are endless possibilities.

Pulled Pork to Feed a Crowd

Every summer in recent memory, we have been making pulled pork. It’s a relatively simple thing to do and it makes enough to feed at least 30 people for one meal or a family of four for 6-8 meals or a vacation house full of framily for 2-3 meals.

It can be cooked the day before a party, or weeks before a vacation and frozen. This week, we made it, even though we had no party or framily vacation coming up because it just didn’t seem like summer without pulled pork.

We froze some, ate some right away, and gave some away.

The recipe is so simple, it’s hardly wirth writing it out, so how about I just give it to you in pictures?

First, get a large piece of bone-in pork butt or shoulder. Ours was the biggest one at the store at 10 pounds. Rub it all over with your favorite meat rub. We use a recipe by Emeril Lagasse called Rustic Rub, recipe can be found here. The amount is up to you. For our hunk-o-pork, we probably used a generous half cup.

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Second, get your grill ready. Light up your coals in a chimney starter and let them get all grey and ashy. Then, dump them all on one side of your grill. If you have a gas grill, I don’t know how to advise you. Maybe light one set of burners and not the other? Place your hunk-o-pork on the side with no coals. Put the lid on with the vents over the meat.

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Roast for about an hour. Then turn the hunk.

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Roast for another hour. At this point, you can either keep turning the meat every hour until the coals burn out or, if, like us, you waited until after sunset when it was cooler to light up the grill, it will probably be dark now, and you’ll want to finish the pork in the oven. If you keep grilling, just do it for one or two more hours or you might dry it out too much. Take your hunk off the grill and put it in the largest pot you have that will fit in the oven, preferably a dutch oven.

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Cover the pot with foil and a lid. Then, put it into a 200 degree oven for 6-8 hours, or overnight, if you’ve started late.

In the morning, turn the oven off, remove the pot and let it cool for awhile until you can handle it comfortably. This will be at least an hour or two. I waited several hours until it was room temperature, but only because I had to go off to VBS for the morning. Take out all of the meat and pile it into a big bowl, leaving the bones and juice behind.

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With your hands, shred the meat and mix it up well with at least a cup of juice/drippings from the pot until your are satisfied with the texture. It should not be wet, but should be moist. At this point, we divided out our portions to freeze and eat.

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When you are ready to eat, toast some buns, heat up the meat (we just use the microwave, nothing fancy here), pile it on a bun, add your favorite bbq sauce or not, and top with coleslaw or, new for us this time, a yummy shredded veggie pickle. Eat over a disposable plate if your dishwasher is broken or if you just want to. It’s summer on a plate.

Snapshots

My mind is a bit scattered and distracted right now, but I am still taking photos, so that’s what I am offering today.

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Yesterday, I took photos of the father’s day dinner we had. Maple orange glazed salmon, steak, quinoa (which we all decided was just ok, would be better mixed with other things), and grilled asparagus.

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And, I took pictures of dessert. Apricot raspberry upside down cake using this recipe by David Lebovitz.

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Unfortunately, this is the only picture of the father. These are the Sign of Four socks by Knitspot that i was able to finish in time to give as a father’s day present. Hope you had a great weekend!