Monthly Archives: March 2009

Vietnamese meat treats

nem-chuaI am fortunate to live in a city with many different ethnic neighborhoods, and an excellent restaurant “scene.”  Within walking distance of my home there is Little Italy, a Mexican neighborhood, Chinatown (long walk,) Greektown, a college neighborhood, the meat and fish wholesale district, and an area known as “restaurant row.” 

In an attempt to get to know the culinary options available just outside my own door I have started venturing out on the weekends to explore the various areas.  I’ll add some posts about those adventures later, right now I’d like to mention two food items I picked up last weekend when I went out to the Vietnamese neighborhood for a soup and sandwich lunch of pho and banh mi.

The first is called Nem Chua

 

I am pretty adventurous when it comes to what I will eat and have a tendency to leap before I look.  My shopping style is equally careless.  I see something I want, I get it, and then I ask what it is and how much it costs (much to my wife’s chagrin.  This is best demonstrated by the time she sent me to pick up a few items at Whole Foods and I returned $300 lighter, including a $25 jar of almond butter which we ate maybe 2 tablespoons of and $30 jar of powdered greens superfood, which was throw out immediately after discovering it tasted like fish food)  

Nem Chua is a bundle of fermented pork meat and skin with garlic and pepper which is eaten raw.   The ingredients listed are:pork, pork skin, garlic, Thai pepper, black pepper, sugar.  I don’t know what makes it safe or how it ferments, all of the information I’ve read contains a mysterious Nem Chua powder (powder for fermenting pork) “available at Asian grocery stores.”  I’m hoping that it contains some type of curing salt (this is a reasonable guess based on how red the meat is, if it didn’t contain curing salt wouldn’t it be gray) which would make this safe to eat, but either way it is pretty delicious and with the exception of the effect on my breath from the raw garlic I have had no adverse reactions.  

The taste of the pork is very mild and a little sour, then the raw garlic and chile hit you and the heat and spice and pork has a wonderful synergy in the mouth.  The texture is like a large piece of tuna sashimi, but has rubbery bites to it when you chew the skin pieces distributed throughout. It leaves a heat in your mouth from the Thai pepper.  Overall very good, much better than my description makes them sound, and would make a good occasional or exotic snack, maybe as an option with chicken wings while watching a game.

It’s claimed that they don’t need to be refrigerated and are therefore a good treat to pack for hiking, although I keep mine in the refrigerator.  It is also said that they are a good snack to go with beer, with this I would have to agree.   

The second thing I picked up is called Cha Lua

 

cha-lua2Apparently this translates as silk sausage.   The ingredients listed are: pork, fish sauce, water, potatoes starch, vegetable oil, sugar, MSG, baking powder, corn starch and citric acid.  For all the ingredients it has a very bland flavor.   It is basically a pork loaf of very smooth consistency, boiled in a banana leaf.  They say it is done when it bounces and it is very rubbery. The texture is identical to Oscar Meyer bologna and the taste is that of Buddig chicken.  It has a tough “skin” which I have been removing as I eat it.  I enjoy fish sauce and wish this had a fish sauce flavor but it is very taste neutral.  I’ve been using it to make sandwiches with grainy mustard, red onion and cha lua.  A good alternative sandwich meat to change things up from the usual turkey, roast beef or ham.

Blueberry Muffins

About two weeks ago I started to get a baking itch.  It started when I found the King Size Corn Muffins at ReTorte.  I didn’t yet make the corn muffins, I opted for her blueberry muffins – with my own twist. I’m not saying my “twist” was the best choice, but I wanted to give it a try.

So, here is the recipe for Blueberries Muffins (based on ReTorte’s version)

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • zest of one lemon 
  • Shaved chocolate (amount of your choice – and purely optional)

WARNING: Educational Content – “Zest” is the outer skin of the fruit.  One can obtain the zest by using a fine peeler.

 

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  • Mix the butter and sugar together until you have a fine, light, mix batter.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. 

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  • Mix in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk in 2 or 3 additions, to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. 
  • Add zest. 
     
  • Fold in blueberries. 
     
  • Scoop into muffin tins, greased or with papers, and bake at 350F for 25 – 30 minutes. 

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There is some debate around the house about the addition of the shaved chocolate.  Personally, I like the taste of the chocolate and lemon. Others may not care for the the taste.   It really depends on what your taste is.

Thoughts/tips to consider:

  1. Your oven will vary.  I baked this batch for 28 mins, but on my next go around I will keep the muffins in for only 25.
  2. You can try different ingredients in place of the lemon.  Let your imagination run wild.
  3. The addition of poppy seeds would be perfect for this.

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Roast Chicken and Potatoes

 

cooked-chickenRoasting a chicken is one of those quintessential things you are supposed to be able to do if you consider yourself a cook.  I have a confession to make.  I have been cooking for around 8 years now and I have never made a good roast chicken.  That is until now. 

One of my problems is that I refuse to use recipes.  It feels like cheating to me.  It doesn’t feel like you have learned anything, just memorized something.  Because of that, the first few chickens I roasted came out sad and flabby and I stopped roasting chickens.  Since then I have read a lot more about roasting chicken, and while this attempt still wasn’t perfect, it was a vast improvement and created the best potatoes I have ever had in my life.

Roast Chicken and Potatoes

1 chicken -unsure of weight

Potatoes -enough to create a bed for the chicken

Salt – 1 cup + 2 tablespoons

Baking Soda – 1 Tablespoon

Water – Enough to cover chicken

Pepper, Parsley, Lemon and Garlic – For stuffing the cavity and seasoning 

1.       Starting with the chicken, I buy my free range, organic chicken from a farmer.  While the chicken does taste more “chicken-y” than the grocery store variety, the main difference I have found is the amount of fat.  Farmer chicken has much more.

2.       48 hrs in advance, brine the chicken.  I place the chicken in a pot, add water until chicken is covered, remove the chicken and mix in a cup (give or take) of salt, and then stir.  No need to heat it, the salt dissolved just fine, and I don’t add any other flavors because I’m not really using this as a flavoring as much as to trap moisture in the cells and give me less of a chance of over cooking.

3.       24 hours in advance, remove chicken from brine and dry thoroughly.  Once chicken is very dry create a rub of 2 Tblspns salt and 1 Tblspn baking soda.  This is to desiccate the chicken skin and really give you thin, crispy skin.  Rub this all over the chicken skin.  Return to the fridge uncovered.

4.       Preheat the oven to 375, remove the chicken from the fridge.  Using a knife cut a bunch of slits in the chickens back to allow the fat to escape as the chicken cooks. Stuff the chicken cavity with a halved lemon, a few cloves of crushed garlic and a bunch of parsley.

5.       Cut up your potatoes (I used fingerling because it is what I had) and create a bed for the chicken in your roasting pan.   Place the chicken on its back on top of the potatoes

6.       Roast chicken for 25 minutes at 375, turn up heat to 475 and roast for another 25 minutes, turn off heat and let cook for 10 more minutes or until the thigh registers 180.

7.       Move the chicken to a carving board and let rest, move the potatoes (golden and crisp on the pan side) to a serving bowl add salt if desired, pepper and chopped parsley.

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The brining plus salt rub results in a pretty salty chicken.  That’s how I like my chicken, if you don’t I would reduce or eliminate the salt rub. Yes, this recipe involves a lot of advance prep, and not all of it is worth it.  Going forward I will remove the baking soda, it left a little bit of a baking soda flavor, the skin on the back turns out soft from sitting on the potatoes, and I think that the salt plus 24 hours in the fridge uncovered will do enough to dry the skin. Finally, I’m not sure what I added by putting lemon, garlic and parsley inside, next time I’ll leave it out and see what type of difference it makes.  

Here is a close up of the chicken skin where the thigh meets the body that shows the tissue paper like consistency the skin had.chicken-skin1

Mom's Old Fashion Beef Stew

As a child, during winter, one of my favorite dinner treats was when my mother would make her been stew.  Something about the contrast of the cold outside and the thought of a warm meal was comforting.  Not only that, the carrots were soft and retained all flavors represented in the dish, the meat just fell apart with the touch of a fork and the potatoes were little bit of heaven.  It was as if all the ingredients mixed together in such a way I was unable to deny this was my comfort food of the time.

With winter waining I wanted to make Mom’s Old Fashion Beef Stew so that I may enjoy the experience once more before spring comes to town.

Ingredients

  • 2.5lbs Stew Meat (Pot roast, seven bone roast, etc.)
  • ½ onion
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 6 carrots
  • 4 potatoes (Yukon gold or Red)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 c. V-8 juice
  • 2 tlbs tapioca
  • 1 tlbs sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

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Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 250 degrees
  2. Cut meat into 1 ½ inch cubes and place in 3 or 4.4 qt oven safe Casserole
  3. Peel and slice onion
  4. Slice celery and cut potatoes and carrots into chunks
  5. Place vegetables in pan
  6. Blend salt with sugar and tapioca, Sprinkle over ingredients in pan
  7. Place cinnamon stick in dish
  8. Pour V-8 juice into pan
  9. Wrap dish in foil and Bake stew at 250 degrees for 4 hours

All said and done, it should look something like this when heading into the oven:

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As the dish cooks in the oven the moisture in the meat will add to the V-8, creating more of a “gravy” for you to enjoy.  This goes very well with Sourdough bread. I was going to make some, but didn’t plan that far ahead, so I ended up buying fresh baked instead.

A few things to note:

  1. The Tapioca can be found in the baking aisle
  2. If you cut the vegetable pieces larger, you will need to cook longer until they are tender
  3. Make sure the foil is sealed to the edge of the pan you are using so all the heat stays inside the dish while cooking

My dinner has roughly 3 ½ hours left to cook but rest assured I’ll post a picture or two once the finished product comes out of the oven.

And there is the final product, fresh from the oven.

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Additional tips/pointers/thoughts:

  • I suggest you cut the meat/veggies on the small side, allows for easier eathing and additional time in the oven is not needed
  • Depending on your taste, you may wish to remove the cinnamon stick
  • This makes for great leftovers

For me, it’s a classic! Enjoy!

Welcome to "Yes, We Cook!"

Let me give you a bit of back ground on how “Yes, We Cook!” came into existence.

For the last 8 months, my blogging efforts have taken place on my own personal site, vansantos.com, but the topics ranged from personal thoughts on life to business to entertainment. Essentially, there was no specific focus.

As my enjoyment for cooking was rekindled, I began to post more and more food related items to the blog. After Wandering Coyote @ ReTorte listed me as a site that has “yummy stuff from time to time” I decided now is the time to create an environment focused on food/cooking.

I approached a good friend of mine, JT, who also enjoys the exploration of culinary delights, about blogging our food related thoughts and he was interested.

Bam. “Yes, We Cook” was born.

Please understand we are in the infant phase today. In no way are we professionals, and in most cases we are both lucky enough to string together coherent and structured sentences, but my hope is this site grows into a platform supportive of communication and the sharing of ideas and information surrounding the culinary arts. If the enthusiasm other bloggers have for cooking is any indication, I believe that goal is possible.

Van