Monday, December 29, 2008

Lee's Sandwiches in Rowland Heights

Honestly, I've never been a big fan of Lee's Sandwiches. Their sandwiches and che just don't taste authentic or fresh to me, and there are better places to get Vietnamese sandwiches, such as Van's or Banh Mi Che Cali's. But when you're stuck out here in the Rowland Heights/Diamond Bar area, there's really no quick place to go for a good banh mi, until now.

My friend and I have joked about opening up a Lee's for a while now, so when I found out from hubby that one actually opened up in Rowland Heights, I was pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I just have to get a good Viet sandwich, and a so-so sandwich is better than none at all.

Unfortunately, when the family went on one of the coldest nights in December, I wanted some Vietnamese dessert (che), and when I asked the girl at the counter if they had any, it seemed as if she didn't know what I was talking about. They did have the thach (agar desserts) that the kids love, but I really wanted some warm che, doggonnit! At least their cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) was familiar and just like how we drink ours at home. Don't ask me why I wanted ice coffee on one of the coldest nights in December.

Like I said, their sandwiches are so-so. And again, sometimes you just really want some banh mi. Lee's also have ham croissants and the like if you're not so into the Viet stuff.

This branch of Lee's Sandwiches is located at 18194 Colima Road, Rowland Heights, CA

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Truffles

Happy Holidays to all of ya!

After four parties, three Christmas programs, lots of shopping, a trip to Disneyland, losing my voice, and dealing with one teething and flu-sickened baby (still sick), I'm back. Apologies to my readers who have visited and have found me MIA. I hope you had a beautiful Christmas as we did.

This Christmas, I decided to make boxes of truffles for all of the kids' teachers and our local children's librarian after seeing the recipe in a Kraft Foods magazine, of all places. So easy but makes one big mess when you have kids.

Ingredients for the Truffles:
20 squares (20 ounces) of Baker's semi-sweet chocolate
8 oz. Cream Cheese

Ingredients for Decorating:
Crushed Nuts
Coconut Shavings
Powdered Sugar
Cocoa Powder
General Foods International Creme Caramel Coffee Drink Mix
2 ounces Baker's white chocolate, melted

Baker's semi-sweet chocolate comes in packages of 1 ounce squares with 8 squares to each box, so buy two and half packages. I've tried this with Nestle Toll House chocolate also, but the Baker's gave a darker, smoother color that I liked.

Microwave cream cheese on high fo 15 seconds. Melt 8 chocolate squares according to the package and mix in the cream cheese until well blended. You can use a mixer but I did it by hand and it came out fine. Chill for about 15 minutes until the mixture firms up and then shape into 3/4 inch balls. Place each ball onto a silt pad or wax paper. I got 32 balls out of this.

Melt the rest of the chocolate squares according to the package. Take each ball and dip each into the molten chocolate. The recipe called for a fork for the dipping process, but I found a toothpick was easier. Don't worry about the hole left on top, as you can cover this up with large sprinkles, nuts, or other decorations.

Make sure you put the sprinkles or nuts on before the chocolate has already re-solidified or they won't stick. I also decorated some with coconut shavings. I also drizzled on melted white chocolate with a toothpick on some of the truffles. Make sure that the dark chocolate has already solidified before drizzling it on though.

A variation I tried was to take some of the balls and roll them into the Creme Caramel Coffee Drink Mix instead of dipping them in the molten chocolate. Came out nice. The recipe also suggested rolling them in powdered sugar, nuts, or cocoa, but I didn't try that.

Box the truffles up and they make beautiful Christmas gifts. I suggest making the truffles a day or two before giving them out, keeping them in the fridge, and make a note to tell your gift recipient to put the package in the fridge once they receive it from you to prevent spoilage.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Crock Pot Rice Porridge (Congee or Jook)

There is nothing like a warm bowl of jook on a cold and rainy December evening. Cooking jook in a crock pot is so easy and satisfying. This makes for creamy jook, and you can adjust it as thick or as thin as you'd like. I have a fairly large crock pot that holds 6 quarts, so you will need to adjust your amounts and time for a smaller pot.

2.5 cups long grain rice (I use jasmine)
4 quarts water
1/2 pound chicken meat, diced
1/2 pound chicken bones
1 quart chicken broth
6 preserved duck eggs
chopped green onions for garnish
salt, white pepper, and/or fish sauce (optional for seasoning)

First, dice the chicken meat.

Wash the rice and put the chicken bones, chicken meat, and chicken broth in the crock pot.

Then add in water to reach the 5 quart mark on the crockpot. This gives you some room for adding in more water if needed and also the preserved eggs later. Some people like ginger in their jook, so add it if you prefer, but I am not a fan of ginger.

The preserved duck eggs often come packaged like this.

You don't need to cook them, as they're preserved. So remove the shells...

...and cut them into eighths.

It takes me 4 1/2 hours on high setting to get my jook really creamy. I stirred it every half hour for the last hour to keep it from sticking at the bottom. If your jook is too thick to your liking, add in more water and stir. If too thick, cook it a little longer.

Remove the bones if you want when the jook is done. Add in the duck eggs 5 minutes before serving. I enjoy mine with some green onion, a spoonful of fish sauce, some salt. and lots of white pepper.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Guava Butter

Several weeks ago, I had to use up the lot of my pineapple guavas from my tree before they went to the birds, and one of the ways I used up some of the smaller ones was in making this guava butter. Very easy to do, and it provided our family with a delicious spread for our breakfast breads and bagels for the next few weeks. This amount makes a small half pint jar of the butter.

About 6 pineapple guavas (enough for 1 1/2 cups of guava pulp)
1 cups sugar
1 teaspoon citrus juice

Put the guavas in a processor or blender.

Push this pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds.

Boil the sugar, citrus, and the pulp in a pot for about 10-15 minutes until the mixture thickens up.

Pour the mixture into a sterilized mason jar if you'd like to preserve it. I placed some in sterilized baby food jars since I was using it immediately.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lau Thai Lan (Vietnamese Hot Pot Thai Style)

Yes, the title is a little confusing. Just like the che thai in a recent post, Lau Thai is probably an adaptation of a Thai dish, in this case tom yum koong, and resembles more of the Vietnamese canh chua rather than the Chinese inspired Thai hot pot served in some restaurants. Hence you'll find Lau Thai in Vietnamese restaurants rather in Thai ones.

And no, this was not our Thanksgiving dinner. Can't do without turkey at Thanksgiving. My dad just called it our after Thanksgiving Vietnamese dinner. I call it social eating at its finest.

Ingredients for the soup:
3 quarts water
4 cans chicken broth, 14 oz. each
5 tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 pineapple, cut into large chunks
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 3 inch portions
8 whole kaffir lime leaves
3 bags tamarind powder, 1.4 oz. each
juice from 1 fresh coconut, about 3 cups
6 oz. rock sugar

You'll also need fish sauce and chili peppers to flavor your bowl of food.
Also, you'll need some rice vermicelli (bun). Cook the bun by bringing a pot of water to a boil, adding in the bun and then boil for about 7-8 minutes. Test to see if it's done by test tasting it. Once you remove the bun from the pot, cool it with cold water to stop the cooking process.

To prepare the hot pot soup, first bring the water to a boil with the rock sugar.
Add in all the ingredients left except the kaffir lime leaves and the tamarind powder.
Bring the pot to a boil again then lower the heat and simmer about 15 minutes.
Add in the kaffir lime leaves and the tamarind powder and simmer another 5 minutes.

Ingredients for hot pot can vary, but here's what we usually use. We often also use crab still in its shell, cut into pieces, or clams in the shell.


Rau Muon (water spinach), cut into 6 inch pieces:

Artic Surf Clams, which we get frozen and already cooked in one pound boxes. These we dip in the hot pot for about 10 seconds and remove. Do not leave them in there too long or they will be very tough.

Green mussels:

Shrimp, shelled and deveined:

A variety of meatballs which we purchased frozen and already cooked. These include the red imitation crab meat pictured below, and then from there clockwise are cooked fish balls, cooked shrimp balls, fried fish balls, and fried shrimp balls.

Fish slices. We use red snapper. These below are not yet sliced, but cut them into about 2 inch slices.

To eat, we get some of the rice vermicelli (bun) and place them in our bowls. When the hot pot is nice and boiling, we'd cook whichever of the ingredients we want in there, remove them, and then add them to our bowls. Then we ladle some of the hot pot soup into the bowl, add some fish sauce and chili, and eat. Don't forget good hygiene by using separate utensils for the raw food and keeping the raw food nice and cold. This is why my mom uses frozen foods, even the shrimp, mussels, and the fish.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vietnamese Steamed Stuffed Cabbage (Bap Cai Nhoi Thit)

My very first cookbook ever was a pictureless Vietnamese cookbook I bought about 15 years ago, now considered an antique, called simply, "Vietnamese Dishes", by Duong Thi Thanh Lien, a pediatrician and professor who lived through World War II and who wrote her book after urgings from friends whom she cooked for while undertaking her medical fellowship in the US. One of the recipes I've used over and over again from her book is the Steamed Stuffed Cabbage, but over time, I started using napa cabbage (cai bac thao) instead of the usual cabbage (bap cai) because it was simply larger and easier to separate, and I changed a few other things around.

12 napa cabbage leaves
12 green onion stems, bulbs removed
1 lb ground pork
2 tablespoon onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
dash black pepper

Ingredients for the Sauce:
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon hot sauce (leave this out if you've got kids like I do)

First blanch the cabbage leaves and green onions in boiling water until they're pliable, about 10 to 20 seconds.

Prepare the stuffing ingredients by mixing the ground pork, salt, pepper, and onion.

Stuff the cabbage by placing about a tablespoon and half of the stuffing onto the cabbage leaves, tucking in the sides, and rolling it. Then tie up each roll with the green onion. I often cut up the stems of the napa cabbage before rolling if it's too stiff, although in the photo above I left it on.

Place the cabbage rolls into a shallow dish and into a steamer. Cover the steamer and steam for 30 minutes.

Prepare the sauce by placing all the sauce ingredients into a saucepan and simmering on low heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the cabbage when done (there will be lots of liquid in the dish in steamer), and spread the sauce over the rolls.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Riley's Los Rios Rancho in Oak Glen, California

At the base of the San Bernardino mountains about an hour and a half east of Los Angeles sits a small apple growing community that gives meaning to the phrase "as American as apple pie". One of these apple farms is Riley's Los Rios Rancho, a historic apple farm in SoCal, and this was our destination on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Once you start heading up the lower slopes where Los Rios Rancho is located, you start finding yourself transported into a different world, that of one of a time when things were much simpler. The air is chilly up here, the folks friendly. I wanted my kids to experience the essence of autumn, and I found it here. If you want to pick your own apples, you can come here around the end of August to mid-November, but I wanted the kids to come when the leaves have really changed color. The trees in the orchards were bare at this time, but don't fret even if you come now as the farm's shop have plenty of apples of many varieties to sample.

There's also apple butter of many, many varieties to try out. I couldn't find the white egg and jalapeno one, but I will continue looking on my return trip here. Next weekend is actually the Apple Butter Festival here, so this would be a good time to go if you're interested.

Fresh baked apple pies abound.

C and J got some caramel apples to take home. They were Granny Smiths which are not my favorites, but the kids loved them.

We sampled some cider.

And then we really wanted to press our own apple cider as this handsome hunk was demonstrating, but alas, they had already taken the last group in.

So we settled for fresh already-pressed apple cider. It was absolutely delicious and sweet.

I saw this hound sitting there at the apple cider demo area and just had to take a photo. His little owner said that he's not that bright, but just look at him. By the way, there is a petting zoo and also hayrides offered at the farm, but we didn't have time to do these.

Cooking up some tri-tip just outside of the bakery. Smelled wonderful, but the lines were too long.

Now, like I said we didn't just come here for the food. After a lovely picnic, we took a nice, two hour hike on the trails of the adjacent Oak Glen Preserve. Both this preserve and Riley's are maintained by the Wildlands Conservatory. They've done an amazing job, because look at this beautiful picnic area on the trails that is just beyond the apple orchard itself.

You'll also pass huge Sequoais, pretty ponds full of birds, one of which has this floating dock.

Then as you follow the seasonal stream, you'll enter this deciduous forest. Doesn't it look like something out of a fairy tale or Anne of Green Gables?

On the return trail, you'll walk along a boardwalk through wetlands, which I'm planning to return to in the spring because I've read that there will be butterflies then. We spent a bit of time here on the return trail.

We had our picnic under gorgeous red Japanese maples. In a nutshell, I was in heaven.

How do you and your family celebrate autumn in your neck of the woods?

Riley's at Los Rios Rancho is located at 39611 Oak Glen Rd. #13, Oak Glen, CA (909) 797-1005