|Christmas baking: Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies||Posted by: Chi Anh | January 2, 2012|
(For some reason this entry posted on 18 December has mysteriously disappeared off my blog, so I’m reposting it again. In case anyone wonders why I’m posting about Christmas Baking way after Christmas…)
December is my favorite month of the year (next to my birthday month, June, of course). It gives me an excuse to bake, decorate, to listen to Christmas songs (and torturing everyone around me with screaming “All I Want For Christmas” on the top of my lungs in the shower).
This year December is especially festive and special. There is the crazy excitement of launching Kitchen Art, my lovely staffs who already feel like family, and this year we are celebrating Christmas with a new member in the family: my nephew Daniel. Even though I only see him through pictures and webcam, I already feel like I know him. I guess it’s the “Auntie-Instinct”.
To add on to the crazy baking galore this month, I decided to have a Christmas cookie photoshoot at Kitchen Art Studio this week, as part of the content for our upcoming Kitchen Art website. I made Sugar Cookies with festive royal icing decorations. It was actually my first time working with royal icing, and I was quite nervous beforehand. After all, I wouldn’t wanna screw up in front of my professional photographers (though this is much less pressure than cooking in front of cameras for our cooking show). But the cookie photoshoot turned out really fun and our cookies came out quite decent. Royal icing is not so scary, after all. I feel like I’ve conquered another mountain. That’s what I love about baking. There’s always something new to learn, but it’s never too difficult to master if you put your heart and mind to it (with the exception of Macarons… urgh). I can’t wait to showcase the photos soon. But here’s a little sneak peek:
My assistants had a lot of fun decorating the cookies with me too. Photographers snapping away while we piped icing and sang along to Christmas Radio. You know, just another day in the office. Ah… I love my job.
With Christmas spirit at all time high and quite a bit of cookie dough left from the photoshoot, I decided to make best use of it today at home. Forget about the hassle of rolling dough and cutting cookie shapes (not that it’s not fun, too), I went for thumbprint cookies. It’s one of our favorite Christmas cookies, and all I gotta do is just to pinch bits of the dough and form them into equal sized balls, before pressing “thumbprints” into them. But instead of filling the cookies with jam, I indulged in filling them with melted bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona 60% dark chocolate). Mom is going to love it. She’s a chocoholic. After the chocolate is set, it forms a nice hard, bittersweet center, while the surrounding cookie base is airy-soft and buttery. The slight saltiness in the cookie goes perfectly with dark chocolate too (just like Sea Salt Chocolate!). The cookie dough recipe is really fool-proof and delicious, adapted from Joy Of Baking. I’ve been following this recipe for the past 2 years. It makes perfect buttery, soft, airy cookies that aren’t too sweet. I don’t even know why I bought the expensive Cookie Recipe iPad app by Martha Steward because I end up never using them. I still trust Joy Of Baking most. She’s never failed me.
Aren’t these real beauties?
Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
(Cookie dough recipe adapted from Joy Of baking)
(makes 40-50 cookies, depending on cookie size, enough to give out to all your friends)
1. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda in a bowl.
2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined.
3. Add flour mixture and beat until dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Don’t overmix or the cookies will turn out hard. Refrigerate the dough for one hour until firm. Meanwhile preheat oven to 177deg C (350 deg F) and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
4. Remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Pinch equal portions of the dough to roll into little balls and line them up in the baking sheets. Use the end of a wooden spoon or your thumb to press into the dough balls, creating an indentation in the middle. Refrigerate the unbaked cookies for about 15 minutes to chill the dough before baking, to prevent the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking (if you skip this step, you will have to press the cookies again later as they will rise and lose the “thumbprints”).
5. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until edges are starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cookies cool. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate over a pot of simmering water.
6. Use a teaspoon to fill the melted chocolate into the cookie center, finish with a slight swirl on top with the tip of the spoon to create a nice circle. Refrigerate the cookies until the chocolate is set before serving.
Merry Christmas everyone! See you back in 2012!
|Posted in Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert | Tags: chocolate, Christmas, Christmas Cookies, Cookies, Thumbprint Cookies|
|Door To My Dreams||Posted by: Chi Anh | December 6, 2011|
I can’t believe I would be writing this one day. Sometimes I still find myself pinching myself, but this is my life now. I am living my dream, literally.
I remember when I first started this blog, I was seeking an outlet, an escape from my everyday life. Never would I have thought that I would be finding my true passion and open the door to my destiny. From just cooking off random recipes I found online, to cooking from my growing collection of cookbooks, to my obsession with cooking shows and food blogging, I just grew so quickly into a person who is always thinking, talking, breathing FOOD. It consumed me. For the first time in my life, I had a dream, clearer than any dream I had had before (i.e. Talk Show Host, Radio DJ, MTV VJ, Pop star etc ). I knew the one thing that would make me truly happy everyday, is to pretty much do what I do on this blog, which is to cook & write/talk about it, full time. It still sounds absurd as I say it today. My parents quickly dismissed that idea as it equals to bringing only food but not real “food” to the table (note the pun, lol). However, I never gave up on that thought and this blog helped me nurture that dream into something bigger. Much bigger than I wished for.
After moving back to Vietnam, I thought my dream would fizzle into my daily struggle to fit in and get by in this mystical and chaotic city of Hanoi. But on the contrary, it thrived. Back here in Hanoi, I found myself more inspired than ever to write about food, experience new tastes, and most of all, get to know like-minded people who are amazingly supportive of my passion. People on Twitter/FB, people at work, editors, producers, and lately, Giang, who became together with me, the co-founder of Kitchen Art – my dream come true. After only about 3 months of intense brainstorming, planning and late night chats, this was born:
I know Vietnamese can cook well, but I want them to discover new ways of cooking, experience different flavors and most of all, be happier in their own kitchen. This desire stuck with me throughout the existence of this blog and it is also the reason why we started up Kitchen Art. From now, this will be the a little haven for all foodies, cooks and bakers to grow their love and passion for cooking and baking, buy restaurant-grade tools to cook like a chef, take part in our regular events and workshops at the studio, or simply read and relax at our cookbook cafe corner. I will also star in my own cooking show at our studio to broadcast to our YouTube channel to teach people at home how to cook & bake international dishes, in friendly Vietnamese. Of course we also hope to have many chefs and food bloggers coming on board to spice up the classes and shows. Does all this sound too good to be true? It still does to me now, but everyday, we are turning it into reality, step by step. I’m loving every minute of it.
It’s been about 4 months of crazy preparations & planning, but we are getting closer and closer to opening in January 2012 (before Tet/Lunar New Year). It was originally planned to be in December, but of course, things don’t always go according to plan, renovation never finishes on time, and goods never ship as early as we hoped. Nevertheless, we are getting there!
I know I am still far from calling myself successful, but just the process of pursuing my dream everyday, feels pretty darn good. And now I know what Jessie J said in one of her concert is true: “Believe in yourself and know that you can achieve whatever that you put your mind to” (fun fact, Jessie J’s “Who You Are” was on constant replay on my iPod during the challenging days of starting up).
Lastly, to wrap this blog entry with another dose of sugar-rush, I have just discovered that Door To My Kitchen was chosen as one of the best blogs of Hanoi in 2011, by The Word magazine (Vietnam’s leading travel, culture & food magazine). Can life get any better??
It can. Just stay close to your dreams.
Thank you Mom, Dad, Sis & My Bro-in-Law, Roger.
Thank you friends and everyone else who believed in me.
|Posted in Random thoughts | Tags: Dreams, Hanoi, Kitchen Art, The Word|
|Baking Lesson (Week 2): Chocolate & Lemon Tarts||Posted by: Chi Anh | September 26, 2011|
It’s my second weekend of hectic shuffling across town to go to my baking lessons on both Saturday & Sunday, while trying to maintain a social life and also spend time at home to eat & cook with family. But truth is, this past two weekends have been my most rewarding weekends in Hanoi since I moved back. The time spent at the bakery didn’t feel like hard work as I enjoyed every second of it, talking to the students and bakers about food and pastries. What a bliss!
I do have something to complain about though. I’m starting to cramp up from all the manual mixing and whipping at the bakery. Why, oh why, can’t they invest in a stand-mixer or handheld mixer?? It feels like going to those kung fu schools where they make you do everything yourself, carry your own water back to shower etc. And as I was mixing, the instructor would go “relax the shoulders, use your wrist, don’t tense up your forearm…”. Felt like a scene in Karate Kid!
You must be thinking this bakery sounds really old school. Trust me it is. But beautifully old school and quaint. So much that I never want it to change… It’s like I’m peeking through the doors into an old Parisian bakery:
I watched how the bakers formed tiny French breads and put them aside to rise, and how it rose beautifully into the shapes of bread (after only an hour – this is questionably fast, but I guess speed is crucial at bakeries). Did you know they spray water on bread and onto the oven walls before baking, to create hot steam in the oven for brown, crisp crusts?
Over the course of my 4 sessions, I have made plenty of pastries. Among them were the Caramel Pineapple cake and Honey cakes, which are quite straight forward and I won’t be blogging about them here. But let’s admire that gorgeous cake for awhile still… (for similar recipe and method you can refer to my previous Apple Upside Down Cake):
At this week’s class, I finally ventured into the world of Tarts. I’m not sure why I have been shying away from it all this while. Probably from my bad experiences with savory tarts (I still hate them). But turns out, dessert tarts are really easy (and quick) to make, and can be really delightful tea desserts with all kinds of fillings imaginable. I opted to make Chocolate & Lemon tarts. My 2 favorite dessert flavors. The tart pastry for both are the same, so we baked an entire batch together, and filled half with chocolate and the other half with lemon curd. And finally we decorated the chocolate tarts with melted white chocolate, and the lemon tarts with melted dark chocolate. For me the cherry on top was creating those swirls into the filling using a tooth pick, just like how they do it in soups, coffee or on cookies. Basically just pipe a thin zig zag line of melted chocolate on the filling, then drag a toothpick from top to bottom with a slight curve. I’m still amazed by this trick everytime.
Lemon Tarts (Bottom)
Chocolate Tarts (Bottom)
Here is the universal tart pastry recipe. It should yield about 16-20 small tartlets, depending on the size of your tart moulds. I don’t know why the previous tart recipes I’ve seen are much longer, but apparently this one works. For my bakery at least.
Tart Pastry (Pate Sable)
1. Combine all ingredients, except the egg, together in a mixing bowl and mix/press them together with your hand, until you have a uniform crumbly mass. Add the egg, continue to press and mix with your hand, but not for too long or the batter will become tough and shrink when baked. Freeze the batter for 10 – 15′.
2. Pick out a tablespoon of batter and roll into a ball. Quickly flatten it on your hand and press into the tartlet moulds as fast and firm as possible. The slower you are, the sticker and softer they get as the butter melts, so move quick! Make sure you press the batter all the way to the bottom and the rims of the mould, then use a knife to scrape off the extra batter protuding out of the moulds.
3. Bake for 25 minutes in 200 deg C. Once done, let cool completely before filling them.
Lemon Tarts (Tarte au Citron)
1. Bring lemon juice to boil and take off the heat. Mix together egg yolks, sugar and flour until combined. Rinse Gelatin sheets in cold water until soft, then add the gelatin into the egg batter.
2. Add the batter into the boiled lemon juice and put back on medium heat. Stir until you can see bubbles popping in the bottom of the pot and when the pot is tilted, the mixture does not stick to the sides of the pot. Cool completely.
3. Whip the cream until stiff (the cream will not move even when the bowl is tilted), and fold into the cooled lemon curd until fully combined. Fill into the tart shells.
Chocolate Tarts (Tarte au Chocolat)
1. Melt chocolate on simmering water or in a microwave. Add cream and stir to combine until smooth and shiny. Add liqueur.
2. Fill chocolate ganache into tart shells.
|Posted in Baking Class, Chocolate, Dessert, Tarts | Tags: Baking class, Chocolate Tart, Hanoi, Le Croissant, Lemon Tart, Tart Pastry, Tartlets, Tarts|
|Baking Lesson 1: Cream Puffs & Madeleines||Posted by: Chi Anh | September 18, 2011|
Apologies again for my lack of blogging. But all the work travelling has taken a toll on my blogging routine. However, it’s all going to change from now, because I have started a Baking course at Le Croissant bakery, and will be baking at the Bakery every Saturday & Sunday from now for 6 weeks. I’m crazy excited and am eager to share each and every session with you. So stay tuned for at least 12 blog entries on my baking lessons and what I learnt from the pros.
Le Croissant is a bakery/training outlet by the Hoa Sua Culinary & Hospitality vocational school. Hoa Sua is an NGO with financing from France. It is one of the first culinary institutions in Vietnam, and provides free vocational training to disadvantaged youths in Vietnam. So by taking up this course, I will not only gain precious training in the pastry kitchen, but also contribute to a meaningful social cause. Le Croissant is known as one of the good bakeries in Hanoi for fresh French breads everyday and does a lot of events catering as well.
A hardworking Apprentice at Le Croissant bakery making egg custard.
Coming to Le Croissant for my first lesson, I was very nervous. After all, this is not one of those leisure Baking Classes where you get to have your own workstation in nice Kitchen Studios (which also costs a bomb). This is the real deal. You will bake among the bakers and students of the Hoa Sua school. And it was exactly what I had imagined, only more intense. The kitchen is incredibly small for the amount of breads and cakes they produce everyday, and the heat from the ovens make the room really hot and stuffy. Nevermind, I was determined to blend in. My instructor was a no-nonsense, fierce woman who juggles the works in the kitchen, non-stop phone orders and teaching me plus supervising the other full-time apprentices. Forget about the sweet talks you usually get from your baking class instructors. This woman tells you in the face that what you had just piped was unacceptable and wipes it right off the baking tray for you to repipe. And looking at how she shouts at the other apprentices, I am already getting the most “gentle” treatment. Oh, and forget about readily printed recipe sheets at the beginning at your class. My instructor basically reads it off her head during preparation and I have to write it down and remember myself whatever she’s saying, especially the method and tips. Exciting, no?
One good thing about this training is I get to choose my own syllabus. They showed me their entire pastry line-up at the bakery, and I just picked and choose what I wanted to learn. So in the next 6 weeks, I’ll be learning Baguettes, Pain Au Chocolate, Croissants, Apple Tarts, Chocolate Tart, Creme Brulee, Chocolate Cake, Fruit Cake, Mousse and so on. If what I make passes their standard, it will also be sold at the bakery, and I’ll get to bring the rest home to share with family and friends (beware of your diet guys!).
In my first session yesterday, I learnt Cream Puffs (Choux Pastry) and Madeleines. Honestly, all my previous knowledge of baking was put in question. Forget about Mise-En-Place, exact measurements, or flour sifting. Everything was handled with incredible speed and roughness that left me in constant state of shock. All mixings were manually done. Yet the result is nothing less than what it’s supposed to be. I guess this is based on their years of experience of producing hundreds, if not thousands, of cakes a day. Take a look yourself at my quite decent looking end-products…
The incredibly soft Cream Puffs:
And the golden, beautifully risen shell-shaped Madeleines:
Amazing, no? To de-mystify everything I said above, I shall share with you the recipe and method of these petit fours, as made by the pros by Le Croissant. Hold on tight, and just… don’t think.
1) Cream Puffs (Choux pastry and Creme Patisserie filling)
(makes 30 pcs)
Filling (Creme Patisserie):
1. Brush baking tray with melted butter or oil. Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Combine water, butter, sugar and salt in a deep skillet and put on high heat. Once boiled, take it off the heat.
2. Add flour to the hot mixture, and mix with a wooden spoon. Hold the spoon straight and mix in the same direction until well combined.
3. Add eggs one at a time, mix until combined before adding the next egg.
4. Fill the batter into piping bags and pipe 3cm-wide circles with your pastry tip holding vertically straight and steady, about 2 cm above the baking tray. Leave about 2cm space between the puffs. This was the hardest step for me as I could not pipe steadily. However, it will come with practice.
5. Bake for 25-30 min. Do not open the oven during the first 15 min to allow the puffs to fully rise. Let cool before piping the filling. While the puffs are baking, proceed to making the filling.
6. Filling: whisk the eggs and sugar in a deep skillet until combined, then add flour and mix until incorporated. Boil the milk, then add into egg mixture. Stir the mixture on medium heat until it is no longer sticking to the sides of the skillet when tilted. Add butter & vanilla and stir until all is melted. Note: Let the filling cool completely before piping into the puffs.
7. Punch a small hole at the bottom of each puff with the back of a spoon, then pipe the filling into the hole with a pastry bag. Pipe until you feel the filling fill up the entire puff. Decorate the puffs with melted chocolate.
1. Brush the Madeleine molds/pan with melted butter or oil. Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Melt butter with sugar in microwave or preheating oven. Once butter is melted, whisk heavily until the butter mixture is cooled before adding the eggs to avoid curdling.
2. Add eggs one at a time, whisk until combined before adding the next egg.
3. Add flour, salt, baking powder and lemon zest. Now this is the crucial step that decides if the madeleines will rise fully later: Whisk heavily, beating the whisk strongly against the bottom of the bowl, until bubbles appear and batter flows down smoothly when whisk is lifted.
4. Bake for 25 min. Do not open the oven during the first 15 min to allow the madeleines to fully rise.
And that’s it for 1st session. It was supposed to be the easiest lesson. Today I am going for my 2nd session, which probably is bread-making. Can’t wait. I’m travelling to Bangkok tomorrow for work the entire week. So the 2nd entry will have to wait a bit longer. Stay tuned!
|Posted in Baking Class, Dessert | Tags: Baking class, Cream Puff, Hanoi Bakery, Hoa Sua School, Le Croissant, Madeleines|
|Delicious Vietnam #16 Round Up||Posted by: Chi Anh | August 19, 2011|
I’m so excited! After participating in a few Delicious Vietnam blog events in the past, now it’s finally my turn to host one myself! It’s amazing to see how many people around the world are blogging about Vietnamese food, and it kinda makes me feel bad for not blogging about Vietnamese food more often even though I live in Hanoi. Yeah, I know, you can slap me now.
For those who don’t know yet, Delicious Vietnam is a monthly blogging event started by Anh from A Food Lover’s Journey and Kim & Hong from The Ravenous Couple. Every month, one of us food bloggers will recap Vietnamese food entries submitted from all over the world, and have people from all over the world drooling over their keyboards for Vietnamese food. Even as a Vietnamese, I have learnt so much from fellow Delicious Vietnam bloggers who have shown amazing effort at recreating traditional dishes as well as creating their very own versions of Vietnamese food based on their taste and background.
This month’s round-up has been a wonderful feast to the eye, ranging from Savory to Sweets, each with a story that connects the Author with the Vietnamese culture, cuisine and heritage. Some of them have already become good friends of mine, while others, I can’t wait to get to know better through more Delicious Vietnam entries. This community is growing and helping to raise the Vietnamese food popularity around the world. Keep it up guys!
Before I forget, if you want to take part in the next Delicious Vietnam edition, don’t forget to send your September Delicious Vietnam entries to Phuoc from Phuoc’nDelicious by 11 September!
What a mouthwatering dish by Anthony (Sydney, Australia) from Food Affair Vietnam, who added his own spin to this classic Vietnamese home dish that surely most of Vietnamese enjoy from time to time.
“Inspired by an episode on Masterchef, I came up with an idea to use flour to not only thicken the sauce but give it richness and body. I know many of you reading this post right now are probably saying ‘that’s not how you make sot ca chua’. It’s certainly not the way my mother would make it either…”
I can’t stop staring at this beautiful yet simple dessert. Though this dessert has influence from the French dessert Creme Brulee, it has become so common among Vietnamese that people here eat it like yogurt. In plastic cups. So it’s definitely refreshing to see Vietnamese Creme Caramel being made and displayed so beautifully again. Thanks to Lan (Baltimore, MD, USA) from Angry Asian Creations.
“I present this coconut crème caramel, perfect soft food, smooth & silky, sweet with a slight bitter after taste of the burnt sugar. i grew up with my grandfather’s flan. this particular recipe uses coconut milk which is much friendlier to this lactose-intolerant girl…”
Mai (Berkeley, CA, USA) from Flavor Boulevard has found the perfect Pho in her neighborhood… made by Koreans at “Kang Nam Pho”. I love the irony here. It’s like eating the best Bibimbap made by Vietnamese people who call it the “Thang Long Bibimbap”. Right?? They make supposedly good authentic Pho but are still proud to put their Korean name on it. Now that’s true racial harmony and globalization.
“This is one of the best pho I’ve ever had (mom-made pho not included). Deep and subtly sweet broth, chewy noodles, lots of tripe and tendon. A clean aftertaste and a warm broth until the last morsel.”
Avocado is called “Butter Fruit” in Vietnamese due it’s smoothness and richness. It’s also Ha Nguyen‘s favorite fruit ever. Check out this latest Melbourne based Vietnamese food blogger (www.nobutter.com), and read about her obsession with Avocado since childhood days in Vietnam.
“I love avocado. If I have to pick a fruit to create a meal base on it, I will pick avocado straight away. From appertizer to dessert, all with avocados and keep the cooking to the minimum, I will go avocado, yes!…”
The Quest for this classic Hue snack, Banh Bot Loc, is also Pauline’s quest to her culinary roots and heritage all the way from San Jose, CA, USA. Thanks to her Aunt and Grandmother, the Banh Bot Loc family recipe is now a masterpiece on Pauline’s lovely blog, The Lipstick Cafe. It’s amazing how they are able to recreate such a delicate dish.
“Once Aunt Tam finished mixing the dough, she put me to work with assembling the Banh Bot Loc pieces. It reminded me of spreading masa on tamales, except it was a lot stickier…”
This is undoubtedly my favorite Vietnamese dessert (called “Tao Pho” in Vietnamese). My Dad used to buy it for me for breakfast. I have always thought it’s impossible to make at home, and can only be made in huge Tofu containers. Apparently not. Thanks to Nam Nguyen (San Diego, CA, USA) from The Culinary Chronicles, I now know it’s just Soya Milk and Gelatine. Wow. Talk about ignorance. I’m so ashamed of myself.
“Đậu Hũ Nước Đường Gừng (also spelled as “đậu phụ” or “tàu hũ”) is surprisingly easy to make, tasty, and only uses 5 ingredients! Unsweetened soy milk is combined with agar-agar and is topped with a generous helping of syrup that has been flavored with slightly spicy & aromatic ginger…”
Dang & Oanh from Michigan and California added a modernist twist to the age-old Canh Rau Răm (Vietnamese Coriander Soup) by creating a clear concoction that has all the flavors of a typical Canh Rau Răm. If there was El Bulli in Vietnam, this would definitely make it on the Soup menu. I’m impressed.
“After experimentation and taste tests, we found Canh Trà Rau Răm was best served cold. All the flavors of the original canh rau răm were there, in a presentation that accentuated the light refreshing quality of the soup…”
I totally had a heart attack just from staring at this dish made by Hong & Kim (Los Angeles, CA) from The Ravenous Couple, our dear co-founder of Delicious Vietnam. I never knew we had such sinful dishes in Vietnam! This really makes my breakfast this morning look like a joke (I had cereal and a chunk of baguette with meat floss). Hong & Kim, if you read this, please tell me where I can find this in Hanoi! I can’t stop salivating!
“Spread the pate goodness around, dip the beef in a lime, salt, and pepper sauce and wipe the mixture of butter and runny yolk with crusty french bread and you’re assured of starting the day right…”
Ah… remember this? This was the same Che Hoa Cau that we saw in the Che Cook-Off in my previous post. Anh Nguyen (Melbourne, Australia) from A Food Lover’s Journey never fails to bring even more elegant beauty to classic Vietnamese food. This simple Che (Vietnamese Sweet Soup dessert) is always such a comfort.
“The name of this dessert is utterly poetic – hoa cau means the flowers of betel nut tree. The flowers are tiny and yellow. The appearance of the cooked mung bean in sweetened tapioca texture resembles such flowers, hence the name…”
You probably would find this oddly similar to a Chinese dessert, but we Vietnamese eat it too. Most of the time with mung bean filling and coconut strips inside. Phuoc from Phuoc’n Delicious (Sydney, Australia) adapted this recipe from Alvin Quah on the Masterchef show. Yay to more Asian features on Masterchef!
“Served with a ginger syrup, these dumplings are soft and on the chewy side and filled with a sweet black sesame paste. As you eat it, you have to try get a bit of everything in each mouthful…”
Last but not least, it’s my own contribution to this month’s Delicious Vietnam. It’s probably the easiest to make among all the above dishes. But it’s such rarity, that you learn to treasure and savor it like a royal delicacy (at least to me).
“We enjoyed our Chè Cốm on this rainy Sunday afternoon, after chilling it in the fridge for at least an hour. It was a velvety smooth, fragrant syrup that tastes cooling & light. The Cốm is soft and chewy, absorbing all the sweetness from the Arrowroot Starch syrup…”
Alright that’s all for this edition of Delicious Vietnam #16. I hope you enjoyed it. And remember to drop by Phuoc’n Delicious next month for the next Delicious Vietnam! To fellow food bloggers, keep sending your entries and keep cooking Vietnamese Food
|Posted in Uncategorized, Vietnamese Recipes | Tags: A Food Lover's Journey, Blog event, Delicious Vietnam, The Ravenous Couple, Vietnamese Food|
|Vietnamese Dessert: Chè Cốm||Posted by: Chi Anh | July 31, 2011|
The past 2 months have been eventful and turbulent at the same time, which unfortunately kept me away from this little blog that normally would be a reflection of my life status. If you see entries coming up regularly, it means I’m contented, stable and happy. If you see no entries for more than 3 weeks, it means I’m stressed, traveling too much and busy. If you see no entries for more than a month, oh boy, it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.
I know I needed a strong excuse that would make me come back to this blog this month and straighten myself up once and for all. And who do I look for? Of course, my favorite Vietnamese food blogger sisters, Anh from A Food Lover’s Journey and Phuoc from Phuoc’n Delicious. We came up with the idea to do a “Chè Cook-Off” together. Each of us will make a different type of this typical Vietnamese dessert, which comes in a plethora of colors and flavors, varying from region to region in Vietnam. So Anh made this classic and simple “Chè Hoa Cau” (Mung Bean Che) and Phuoc made a Luke Nguyen’s version of “Chè Bắp” (Sweet Corn Che).
I was the last among the girls to make my Chè. I made Chè Cốm, which is a Hanoian classic dessert made with Cốm. Cốm is Vietnamese young rice kernels, only seasonal in the fall, and is a typical Hanoian snack especially during Mid-Autumn festival. I love Cốm. It’s very fragrant, chewy, sweet, nutty, and goes really well as sprinklers on top of bananas or yogurt. If you are familiar with Trang Tien Icecream in Hanoi, you should definitely try out the Cốm flavored Icecream as well. Don’t worry, the green is not dye. Cốm actually has a very nice light green color. Here is how Cốm is typically sold in Hanoi (the only place that makes Cốm in Hanoi is Vòng Village, which happens to be just behind my office. And No. My office is not in a village!):
Chè Cốm is incredibly easy to make, like most of other Che. All flavors come from the Cốm and fragrant Bột Sắn (Arrowroot Starch/Powder). The Vietnamese Bột Sắn is pre-scented with Jasmine flower, which makes the Che lightly perfumed with Jasmine smell. Heavenly. If you can’t find Arrowroot Starch in your area, you can also substitute it with Tapioca starch, and a few drops of Vanilla extract or Pomelo/Jasmine flower extract would be a bonus.
We enjoyed our Chè Cốm on this rainy Sunday afternoon, after chilling it in the fridge for at least an hour. It was a velvety smooth, fragrant syrup that tastes cooling & light. The Cốm is soft and chewy, absorbing all the sweetness from the Arrowroot Starch syrup.
My Chè Cốm will also be part of this month’s Delicious Vietnam #16 roundup, which is hosted by yours truly this round! Stay tuned for the final round up of all Delicious Vietnam entries up on my blog next month.
Chè Cốm (Vietnamese Young Rice Syrup dessert)
1. Boil a pot of 400-500ml water. Once boiled, reduce heat to medium and add sugar. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.
2. Mix Arrowroot Starch in a bowl of water (just enough to cover the powder) until evenly distributed. Add the starch solution in a steady stream into the pot, still on medium heat, while stirring, until the syrup thickens to desired consistency.
3. Add the Cốm handful by handful into the syrup, while stirring. Once all Cốm has been added, take the Che off the heat immediately. The Cốm will continue to cook in the syrup. If you leave it on the heat for too long, the Cốm will get soggy and too sticky.
The whole process takes about 10-15 minutes. It’s that simple. But like all other Hanoian desserts, it’s just as elegant. If you want to try it, you’d better try it soon, as Cốm season doesn’t last long, and dried Cốm is no comparison to freshly made, seasonal Cốm.
Lastly, don’t forget to check out the other two Chè by Anh & Phuoc:
Chè Hoa Cau (Vietnamese Mung Bean Soup Dessert) by A Food Lover’s Journey
Chè Bắp (Sweet Corn Pudding) by Phuoc’n Delicious
And for those who still can’t get enough of Che, here is my Chè Sen Long Nhãn (Longan & Lotus Seed Che).
|Posted in Dessert, Vietnamese Recipes | Tags: Arrowroot Starch, Bột Sắn, Che, Cốm, Vietnamese dessert|
|Roast Chicken Legs with Tomatoes (revisited)||Posted by: Chi Anh | May 27, 2011|
I made this classic Roast Chicken dish (a fantastic Jamie Oliver recipe) about a year ago, for an Easter dinner with friends. Back then this was the first roast chicken I had ever attempted and it succeeded in creating the impression that I knew what I was doing in the kitchen (which I hardly did back then). Little did the guests know, it’s probably the easiest dish to make, next to scrambled eggs. How simple is it to just toss chicken legs with salt and tomatoes, then dump it into the oven to roast until the meat falls off? One year and many more roast chicken meals later (Roast chicken with Apples and Leeks, Roast Chicken with Potatoes, Carrots & Leeks, Roast Chicken with Chives & Mustard sauce…), I realized, this good old Jamie Oliver recipe is still the best Roast Chicken I know. So when Dad recently overstocked on chicken legs, I knew I had to make this dish again, and make it better than before.
So I did. It was almost unrecognizably good. I gave this simple, rustic dish a major “face-lift” with a few tweaks on temperature and roasting time, plus some additional seasonal vegetables. The winning ingredient was the local cherry tomatoes that were tiny but bursting with juice and ripe sweetness, lending its flavors to the tender chicken that absorbs all this goodness like a sponge. Now it totally deserves a new blog entry, also with much better photography than its predecessor (point-and-shoot camera, eww).
PS: Thanks to Phuoc’n Delicious, I finally managed to fix my portrait image centralizing issue that I had been suffering forever! Thanks so much dear *muah muah muah*
On the side, I made French bean salad (always count on it to perk up any roast dish), and fluffy mashed potatoes (so fluffy and light – the perfect companion to savory chicken and juicy tomatoes). I made this winner meal as a post-celebration of my parents 32nd Wedding anniversary, and it instantly felt as festive as Christmas. It’s always amazing how food can instantly transform a normal, forgettable day to a nice memory that lasts a lifetime. Provided that you enjoy and share it with people you love.
Roast chicken, I love you.
Roast Chicken Legs with Tomatoes
(partially adapted from “Jamie’s Dinners” by Jamie Oliver)
Preheat oven to 170C.
1. Season chicken pieces all over with salt and pepper and put into the pan in one layer. Tuck the tomatoes, carrots and leeks under the chicken until everything is snug and tight. Scatter the basil leaves and garlic cloves on top. Drizzle over some olive oil. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the vegetables. That’s it!
2. Place the pan in the oven for 1 hour, flipping the chicken and big tomato chunks once after 30 minutes. Increase temperature to 230C and bake for another 20 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes, until the chicken is brown and crispy on the outside, but juicy and tender on the inside, with the meat easily falling off the bone if you push with a knife.
3. Serve with mashed potatoes and salad on the side. Squeeze out the garlic out of the skins before serving.
|Posted in Chicken | Tags: cherry tomatoes, Chicken, Easter, Jamie Oliver, Roast Chicken, roasted chicken legs|
|Apple Upside Down Cake||Posted by: Chi Anh | May 16, 2011|
It’s been a crazy week of work and writing/reading for my upcoming projects. My head, and my desk, are a complete mess full of scribbled ideas and notes. But I did squeeze some time to go to the Hanoi Tweet Up and got to know some wonderful Tweeps/Twitterers in Hanoi. Surprisingly quite a few of them have read my blog and actually like it. I also realized that being a local does not make me more resourceful. Thanks to some Hanoi expats, I bagged quite a bit of info on farmers markets and organic shops in Hanoi. It’s such a relief to know that they do sell Tahini in Hanoi, because I’m always craving for hummus. Especially now in the Summer.
On a totally unrelated note (or flavor), I’m also always craving for Apple related dishes.
Whenever I see or think of anything made with apple, I salivate. I blame it on my childhood in Germany where they make ridiculous Apple Streusel and Apple Strudel. Since then, I could never find anything as satisfyingly apple-y (is that a word?), which lead to the perpetual craving. Until I started cooking & baking. I was then blessed with the ability (or power) to make anything I could laid my hands on with apples: Chicken with Apple Mustard sauce, Roasted Chicken and Apples, Apple Cake etc. I even bought an Apple cookbook. But nothing really satisfies my Apple craving as much as a sticky sweet Apple Upside Down Cake.
The light, fluffy butter cake topped with juicy Apple slices glazed in shiny and sweet butter caramel with subtle hint of cinnamon is a comfort heaven I create for myself every now and then. Every bite brings me right back to the 10-year old me gobbling down an “Apfel Kuchen” (Apple Cake) in Berlin the moment I step out of a neighborhood bakery. So when my relatives decided to drop by for lunch the other weekend (on a really short notice), I shared this little heaven with them too, because it’s not fun to be enjoying it alone.
Apple Upside Down Cake
1. Butter the sides of a 9-inch cake pan and line with a 10-inch round parchment paper (use the cake pan to outline a circle on the parchment paper). Butter the parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a non stick pan on medium heat. Add sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and turns golden brown. Watch the caramel closely as caramel burns easily. Add the apple slices to the pan and stir to coat them with the caramel. Sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until the apples release their juices. Uncover and cook until the caramel thickens, while stirring to distribute the caramel evenly (and melt some hardened lumps), about 13-15 minutes. Remove apples and caramel sauce from heat and place in the prepared cake pan.
3. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy: Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the paddle attachment, beat the butter at low, then medium speed for about 1 minute until smooth and plastic-like consistency, but not too soft. Still at medium speed, add in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. While mixing, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Once the beaters form ridges in the butter, and the mixture is pale and fluffy, stop creaming.
4. Beat in the vanilla extract. With Mixer on low, add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (about 20 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often. With mixer still on low, add the flour mixture (in 3 additions), alternately with the milk (in two additions), ending with the dry ingredients. Mix just until combined (don’t over-mix or you will end up with a tough and dry batter).
5. In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with cream of tartar until the whites form firm peaks (I always stop awhile to admire the cloud-like snow-white egg whites). Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter with a spatula, in 2 additions, to lighten the batter. Pour the batter into the pan, and smoothen the top.
6. Bake at 350F or 177C for 30-40 minutes, until the top of the cake has browned, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto your serving plate. I would advise you to peel off the parchment paper only before serving, to preserve that shiny glaze on the Apple topping.
|Posted in Cakes, Dessert | Tags: Apple, Apple cake, Apple Upside Down cake, caramel, Upside Down cake|
|Pasta Alla Vodka with Porcini Mushrooms||Posted by: Chi Anh | May 5, 2011|
I love cooking with wine. I get high just thinking about tossing wine into a bubbling sauce and hear the alcohol sizzle madly into a mesmerizing steam, which I would inhale deeply with my eyes closed, and go: “Mmmm… wine!”
Don’t even get me started on the excitement (and jitter) I get from flambé-ing alcohol on the stove.
Now comes my second confession. I almost NEVER have wine at hand for cooking. It’s not exactly a staple ingredient I could get any day from the market in my alley, and the only times my wine purchases are justified is when we have guests over. To most families in Vietnam, wine is a luxury. My family included. Why spend so much on a bottle of wine when you can have so much Hanoi Beer instead?
But guess what we always have available on the shelf?
Funny how people here don’t generally spend on wine, but love to give Vodka or other hard liquor like Whisky, Cognac as a respectable gift to one another. Fortunately for me, my Dad doesn’t drink. So all the alcoholic gifts he’s received, are just lined up in our wall cabinet as display. My 21-year old self would scream “House party!!” the moment I see such abundant collection of liquor, but the food-obsessed me today immediately sees it as boozy food! YUM.
I knew what I wanted to make. A very boozy pasta. If most tomato sauces go with dry white wine, it can’t go wrong with Vodka right? After a few Google searches, it turns out the Italians have done that long ago. It’s called “Pasta Alla Vodka”. And The Pioneer Woman has made a kick butt version of it too.
The Pioneer Woman’s recipe calls for 3/4 – 1 cup Vodka. When I poured all that vodka into the pan, I almost spaced out from the stingingly intense alcohol steam that evaporated quickly on the heat. What is left after the alcohol has cooked off, is a very crisp, wine-y flavor without the acidity you would taste when cooking with white wine. What a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure if I want to go back to cooking with white wine anymore. Dad better save up all his Vodka for me.
I also added dried porcini mushrooms, which gave a very deep, earthy taste to the rich tomato-cream-vodka sauce. All those flavors in one dish really makes you forget that there is no meat in there at all. Throw in a couple of basil leaves, peel a few strips of Parmesan strips on top, and you have a wholesome meal plus a much lighter bottle of Vodka.
Pasta Alla Vodka with Porcini Mushrooms
(adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks)
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. In a large skillet, add olive oil and butter. Let the butter melt over medium heat. Once melted, add in chopped onion and garlic. Stir and cook for a few minutes, until the onions are slightly translucent.
2. Pour in vodka, then stir and cook for 3 minutes, letting the alcohol evaporate completely on the heat. Once the alcohol smell is greatly reduced, add in tomatoes and stir. Let simmer over medium low heat until the sauce is slightly reduced.
3. Reduce heat to low and stir in cream. Simmer at low heat until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Do not overheat and burn the cream. Season with salt, pepper and a small pinch of red pepper flakes or paprika powder. Throw in the basil leaves. Squeeze the porcini mushrooms dry, rinse under running water until clean (so you don’t color the cream sauce later), and toss into the sauce.
4. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water for the sauce. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. If it’s too dry, add a little pasta water. Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Mix until the cheese has coated the pasta. Serve with a few strips of Parmesan cheese on top.
Enjoy. No hangover guaranteed.
|Posted in Pasta, Vegetarian | Tags: cream, Pasta, porcini mushroom, Tomato sauce, vodka, white wine|
|Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes (made with Vietnamese Chocolate)||Posted by: Chi Anh | April 23, 2011|
If you are like me and occasionally spend a lot of time and money to bake for family, friends and colleagues JUST to satisfy their cravings (and more often than that, your own but you just use them as an excuse), you will know their answer to the question: “What flavor do you feel like having?”
It will be “Chocolate.”
Or “Something chocolaty. Something rich, and moist, but very chocolaty.”
Something like… this?
Truth is, one can never have enough chocolate. It’s easy to understand why. We are all deprived of good chocolate desserts. How often do you actually get the kick out of a cheap, store-bought milk chocolate bar that gives you more meaningless calories than happiness? And when was the last time you had an out-of-body experience from a Chocolate Lava Cake that oozes shiny, gooey chocolate onto your plate? Probably not yesterday, or even last week. Especially not in Vietnam.
If you are living in Hanoi, like me, you probably are on an even higher level of Chocolate deprivation. Lindt is not available in every supermarket, if then overpriced. And don’t even think about the likes of Valrhona. But there’s hope! I recently discovered that Vietnam has its own cocoa bean plantation, currently used exclusively by a Belgium chocolate manufacturing company called Grand-Place. They produce chocolate mainly for professionals in Restaurants, Bakeries and Hotels. My excitement grew even bigger when they released the world’s first “Single Vietnam Origin Chocolate” for professionals. This is a dream come true. I get to satisfy my intense craving for gourmet chocolate, AND I’m helping the Vietnamese Economy.
I set off to hunt for these new treasures of Vietnam. But nobody seems to be selling these in the local baking stores I know. I googled countless times. All I got was useless postings about these chocolates being available for export on Alibaba.com, or some people selling it by bulk orders over suspicious looking forums. I almost gave up, until I found out that a Hanoi bakery, Kokotaru Coffee & Cakes, uses this chocolate for baking too. I posted the question on the shop’s facebook page and they kindly directed me to Hang Buom, a street in the Hanoi old quarter. Finding the chocolate in that street was another hunt in a maze , but I did find it eventually in a small shop selling 1kg of Grand Palace Confectioner’s Coating Chocolate for only VND100,000 (USD5). I could hardly believe the price, is it too good to be true?
First thing I did when I got home was to break a piece of my newly acquired chocolate treasure and slipped it into my mouth. It was creamy and smooth against the tongue, with a hint of cinnamon, citrus and coffee. Then I knew. My cupcakes are going to be awesome.
The Chocolate Ganache Cupcake recipe was adapted from Georgetown Cupcakes (featured in the awesome TV show DC Cupcakes). I am planning on baking the cupcakes on their menu one by one, which seems much easier than booking a ticket to Washington DC and stand in a long line to buy from the Georgetown Cupcakes shop.
Did I mention I had no idea how to melt & temper chocolate before I made this? The last few times I tried to melt chocolate were disastrous, with the chocolate separated and seized into a thick, dull, gooey paste. After a full day researching on melting and tempering chocolate, I finally realized I had been doing it all wrong. It’s never as simple as just “putting the chocolate over simmering water until it melts”. A tiny air bubble or water droplet could seize and lump the chocolate, and you end up with a useless, dull mass again. Thank you Baking 911 for saving me from another chocolate disaster.
The intense and velvety chocolate ganache frosting with the moist and rich cake create a chocolate explosion in your mouth, leaving you craving for another bite, and another, and another… Then finish off with licking those ganache off your fingers. Yes, it was a very messy affair to eat them, but as long as no one sees it, I don’t care.
I still had quite a bit of Chocolate Ganache leftover, which I transformed into Chocolate Truffles with Walnut bits, following the recipe from Joyofbaking.com:
These 2 desserts in one day made us very happy people. Perhaps a little bit high. Knowing that luscious chocolate desserts are now within my reach made me feel like a winner, and relieved. My chocolate deprivation is officially over.
Georgetown Cupcake’s Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
(adapted from The Washington Post)
INGREDIENTS (yields 18 cupcakes at least)
For the cupcakes
For the ganache frosting
*Preheat oven to 180C (350F) or 160C (325F) if you are using a convection oven. Line cupcake pan with baking cups.
1. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into a big mixing bowl.
2. Cream butter & sugar together: Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the paddle attachment, beat the butter at low, then medium speed for about 1 minute until smooth and plastic-like consistency, but not too soft. Still at medium speed, add in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. While mixing, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Once the beaters form ridges in the butter, and the mixture is pale and fluffy, stop creaming.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, for about 20 seconds each. Combine vanilla extract and milk in a cup.
4. Reduce speed to low, add 1 quarter of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, then one-third of the milk mixture, alternating wet and dry ingredients until you finish off with the flour, mixing well after each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl as needed. Beat only until just combined (overbeaten flour can cause the cake to be stiff).
5. Add the cocoa powder, beating at low speed until just incorporated. Use an ice-cream scoop to fill each cupcake paper with batter until 2/3 full. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until toothpick inserted into center of a cupcake comes out clean (but not too clean, we want the cakes to be moist). Start checking from 15 minutes onwards. Leave the cupcakes to cool on a cooling rack.
6. Make the ganache: Heat the cream and butter in a saucepan at medium high heat, stirring often to prevent the cream from burning at the bottom. Once boiled, pour the cream over the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and let stand without stirring for a few minutes. Stir gently with a dry spoon from center outwards and avoid any air or water to incorporate into the mixture (or the chocolate will seize and lose its shine).
7. Dip each cupcake into the chocolate ganache and twist so that the top is completely coated with ganache. Place on wax paper or cooling rack on top of wax paper. Put a walnut half on top of each cupcake. Allow the ganache to set for at least 5 minutes before serving.
|Posted in Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert | Tags: chocolate ganache cupcakes, cupcakes, dark chocolate, dc cupcakes, ganache, georgetown cupcakes, grand-place chocolate, truffles, valrhona|
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