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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bamboo Shoots with Ground Pork the Japanese Way

Besides mushrooms, one of C and J's other favorite veggie to eat are bamboo shoots. I often prepare this dish for them when I want something fast and simple. This dish is adapted from a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Japanese Cuisine for Everyone (A Quick and Easy Cookbook).

1 lb boiled bamboo shoots
1/2 lb ground pork
cooking oil

1.5 cup dashi stock
3 tablespoons mirin
1/4 cup soysauce
1 tablespoon sugar

Mirin is a sweet cooking rice wine that you can purchase in the Japanese section of your supermarket or at Japanese or most Asian supermarkets. Making dashi stock deserves a post in itself. But simply, you can make dashi stock by soaking an ounce of kelp (kombu) in 4 cups of water for an hour, bringing it to a boil and then removing the kelp from the water just as it starts to boil. Or you can do what I do, buy the instant tuna (bonito) dashi powder and follow the directions. It's much easier to buy already cooked (boiled) bamboo shoots in packages or cans, but you can get them fresh and prepare them by scoring them first, boiling them for 20 minutes, and then peeling them.

First cut the bamboo shoots into 1.5 inch chunks.

Stir-fry the ground pork in a bit of cooking oil until done, about five minutes. Remove the wok.

Put the sauce in the wok and bring to a boil. Add the pork and bamboo shoots and turn the heat down to low and continue simmering until most of the sauce is gone (about 10 minutes).

That's it! Simple, quick, and easy to make in bulk.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shau May Restaurant in Monterey Park

As fires continued to creep closer and closer to my home, I sat here making a mental list of the things I'd grab if things get any worse. Photos, video tapes, computers, essential papers. And then I looked through my food photos and reminisced about the day we went to Shau May in Monterey Park. It was a chilly day after a night of rain, and yet this was just a couple of weeks ago. What a difference a few weeks make. And although right now would be prime weather for shaved ice, it's much too smoky to be anywhere outdoors.

Cooler weather didn't stop us from getting shaved ice that day. Shau May is the best place to get it, in my opinion. It's a cheap heaping serving of goodness topped with yummy condensed milk. I always get my faves: the almond jello, black grass jelly, and pink and white glutinous rice balls. It use to be much cheaper back in the days, but I guess inflation has taken its toll. And I also remember the rice balls back then were actual balls, not irregular shaped chunks. Anyways, still good and still cheap. Hubby likes lychee in his. I don't. One serving is always good for two people, as I always get an attack of painful, frozen throats when I eat these. Our family actually heads to the Hsin Hsin Shau Mei in Rowland Heights more often for our shaved ice needs, and both locations pretty much have the same shaved ice. But for a more extensive menu of other food items, go to the Monterey Park Shau May.

The parking lot for this place is large, but I always have a hard time finding parking here, even at 3 in the afternoon as it shares its parking lot with the neighboring eateries. Inside the restaurant, it's usually packed, but I guess not so much at 3 pm.

You can order cheap combo plates of various food items at the counter, but I had a craving that day for some of Shau May's Shanghai pan-fried dumplings. These are really large fried dumpling balls sprinkled with black sesame seeds and green onions and filled on the inside with juicy pork. Be careful biting into these because you might get sprayed with hot juice. Might be my imagination, but I remember these used to be juicier a few years ago, but they still got lots of flavor packed into each bite.

What the inside of these looks like:

We also got the steamed pork dumplings which were flavorful as well, but the pan-fried ones are definitely the better of the two.

Shau May has plenty of other dishes available, including Taiwanese breakfast dishes which I will probably never get to try since I can never get myself over there that early. It's is open late for the partying crowd though, great for the younger folks in town. I still put myself in that last category, by the way.

Live life to the fullest. Don't hold on to the material stuff in life as those things can go poof in a second. Enjoy a good meal out with your family when you can because goodness knows, I'll be cooped up indoors tomorrow with the kids since the fires have closed up the schools tomorrow, wishing I could go out and get some shaved ice.

Shau May is located at 104 N Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, CA (626) 571-2727

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Food to Go in Rowland Heights

What food to go? No, just Food to Go. That's the name of the restaurant. Located next door to T S Emporium in Rowland Heights, this little shop is literally a hole in the wall. We noticed it one day looking for C's thermos options at T S Emporium and decided to try it sometime.

So after church one day, we headed over to grab some dim sum. Hubby's Chinese is almost nonexistent, but I made him order anyways because I was busy feeding R in the van. He's usually a little terrified of ordering in Chinese, but he was able to. You'll be better off telling the staff what you want, although there was one person who spoke limited English there when he went.

I had taken a peek inside the place the first time we went by, and they sell Chinese BBQ items also, like a Sam Woo's. But I was interested in the take out dim sum because I've been on the hunt for cheap places around my area to buy it.

For $11.40 ($2.80 each dish), we got 8 siu mai (pork dumplings), dan tart (egg custards), 4 har gow (shrimp dumplings), and 4 char siu baos (BBQ pork buns). I can't remember how many dan tart they gave us, but I think it was the three as shown in the photo. Yes we ate a few before I was able to take a photo. Shame on...uh the kids? Alright, I had some too.

The char siu bao filling was quite pasty and was not too great, but it wasn't that bad either. The har gow was good, and the siu mai also with its really chunky shrimps mixed in with the pork. The dan tarts were soggy but edible. Can't expect much for cheap dim sum, and I've had so much better in the Alhambra area, but I'm just happy I found something around here.

We came back on a different day and they were out of the siu mai and har gow at around one, so come early. On that day, we got chicken baos and sesame balls, and again those were just average.

Anyone know of a better cheap take out dim sum place in the Eastern SGV?

Food to Go is located at 1425 Nogales St., Rowland Heights, CA

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Che Thai (Tropical Fruit, Agar, and Tapioca Covered Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk)

I really don't know the origin of this common Vietnamese dessert, but according to my hubby, his Thai daddy had always brought this kind of dessert home to him when he was younger, and I remember at our engagement luncheon many moons ago, hubby's Thai aunt came up to me and said something like, "Oh this is Thai dessert!" So I'm thinking this exists somewhere in Thai cuisine, but I haven't found a recipe for it anywhere in my research to compare. The only thing that comes close is Thab Tim Kraap, which consists of fake pomegranate seeds (the tapioca covered water chestnuts) in coconut milk. No fruit involved here.

This recipe comes to me courtesy of my parents' close friends, who are Vietnamese, but beats me where they got it from. Che Thai is sold often in Vietnamese snack shops, so I'm thinking that this is a Vietnamese version of thab tim kraap. Someone care to enlighten me? Otherwise I'll just have to make it a point to ask hubby's cousin one of these days.

Here are the ingredients you'll need for this delicious dessert. This makes a catering sized pot of the che, large enough to serve a party of thirty or so. Be prepared to eat this for a week and gain a few pounds if you're not willing to cut down the ingredient amounts accordingly. Also, although I used canned fruits, kudos to you if you can find and afford fresh ones!

5 quarts of water
red and green food coloring, five drops each
1 package of agar agar powder (6 oz, makes six cups of agar agar)
2 cans of jackfruit (20 oz. each can)
2 cans of longan (20 oz. each can)
1 can toddy palm seed whole or sliced in syrup (20 oz.)
2 cans sliced water chestnuts (8 oz. each can)
16 oz. coconut cream (you can substitute coconut milk also)
12 oz. rock sugar
14 oz. tapioca starch

First you'll need to prepare the agar agar. Prepare it according to the package, chill, and then cut the agar into thin matchsticks. My mom usually grates these with a special wavy peeler that she got at an Asian supermarket and then cuts them up into thinner strips. Since I couldn't find my peeler, I just cut it up with a knife.

Next comes the fun part (not). Dice up the water chestnuts into centimeter sized pieces. Then the actual fun part (really!). Place half of the water chestnuts in a bowl that won't stain and add in enough water to cover them. Add in about five drops of the green food coloring. In another bowl, do the same with the other half of the water chestnuts but add in the red food coloring. Let these sit while you prepare the fruits.

Dice up the jackfruits and cut the longans into smaller pieces (halves or quarters). Rinse the toddy palm seeds to remove as much of the syrup as you can.

Now remove the water chestnuts from their food coloring, rinse them off, and then add enough tapioca starch to cover them with a nice coating.

Bring the pot of five quarts of water to a boil and then add the rock sugar and the tapioca balls in. Once the tapioca balls start floating to the top, you can start adding in all the fruits and the coconut cream. Stir well and then refrigerate until chilled.

When I'm ready to serve, I will usually add in some ice cubes to keep it really cold. So you see this is a very time consuming dessert to make, so I don't do it often. I'm filing this under Vietnamese until I find out more about its origin (if I ever do).

Andrea at Viet World Kitchen also has a version of Che Thai that employs real pomegranate seeds. Yum!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Foo-Foo Tei in Hacienda Heights

Two weeks ago, a couple of friends of mine came into town for a conference, and we had to schedule dinner together so that we could catch up and give them an opportunity to meet R. One of my friends, who I envy because while I'm busy at home raising three kids, she's summited Mount Rainier up north, and her tales of her conquest brought back all those years of hiking I use to do as a single and free student. But while she has Mt. Rainier, she tells me that there are no good ramen places in her metro, so I am glad I'm able to take her to Foo-Foo Tei to get her ramen kick.

Foo-Foo Tei was introduced to me by my cousin when I was in search of a ramen place in my area after my favorite one closed down. Her husband used to work together with the owner of the place and actually tried getting him to work for them to introduce Vietnamese pho' into the restaurant. Luckily they've decided to focus on Japanese because they've got something good going on there.

Most first-timers to Foo-Foo Tei like my friends alway point out that it's located in the strangest location. Driving to Foo-Foo Tei takes you down a street that has nothing but industrial and residential buildings, leading you to think that you've made a seriously wrong turn somewhere. The rent must be seriously low here. Once you get there, there is usually a long wait since the restaurant is quite small, but no worries because you can read the racks of manga inside the doorway while you're waiting. Luckily today since my buddies had to leave early, we had dinner at 4:45 pm, and there was hardly a soul there.

I usually order the seafood ramen in really spicy miso soup, but since I was sharing today with the kids, I ordered the plain, non-spicy Miso Ramen. It was still good, as I really like their delicious, creamy miso broth. The noodles were as slurpible as always, although I realize some people like their noodles al dente.

My friends both ordered the Pork and Miso Ramen, and they both really liked it. My friend from Washington said she'd be coming back here again when she's in the area.

The appetizers we ordered today were awesome. The fried tofu were a hit with my kids, and they ate most of it. These were fried and salted just perfectly and were so light.

My favorite of the whole dinner was the broiled squid. It was perfect in every way. Fresh, crunchy, just yummy.

After coming home from Foo-Foo Tei, I started going into my Japanese food binge. You can see that from my recent previous posts, can't you? By the way, they have a second branch in Monterey Park under a different owner, but from what I've read, that one is not as good as this original one.

Foo-Foo Tei is located at 15018 Clark Ave., Hacienda Heights, CA (626) 937-6585

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Seaweed (Kelp) and Bean Sprout Salad

Having a bunch of mom friends who have to continuously come up with fresh ideas for their kids really help to keep the inspiration flowing. One of my friends made this dish one day for a playgroup gathering, and she got the recipe from her friend, so I don't know where this recipe originated, nor is this the original recipe because I just replicated it on taste alone. I'll probably play around more with the seasoning in the future.

The seaweed in this dish is kelp, commonly called konbu or kombu in Japanese, or haidai in Chinese. The ones I got are in the form of fresh, unsalted strands and are slightly crunchy in texture. You can purchase them dried also.

If you buy them fresh, you will need to rinse them many times to get rid of that slimy feel. Cut them into six inch strips. Remove the ends of the mung bean sprouts. Add both the bean sprouts to the marinade for at least an hour minimum, but I always do it overnight because the "spiciness" of the garlic really comes out and it lessens the sea smell of the seaweed. If you have kids who can't eat spice, you might prepare some of the seaweed omitting the garlic.

For 2/3 pounds of seaweed and 1/2 cup bean sprouts, you'll need for the marinade:

1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup water
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup sugar

It's a different taste than that of wakame salad. I've tried adding sesame oil to this once but it didn't taste right in this combination. My kids love this salad because they find it different, but it provides another source of calcium for them, which I love.