LAST CHANCE TO GROW TOMATOES THIS SEASON – TRONG CA CHUA TAI NHA

LAST CHANCE TO GROW TOMATOES THIS SEASONTRONG CA CHUA TAI NHA
If you haven’t planted any tomatoes this year, this is the last chance. I cannot let you miss the tasty and juicy tomatoes that my husband and I enjoy so much. They are amazing. They are very different from tasteless store-bought tomatoes. So this is a reminder.
It takes about 45-90 days after planting until tomato plants can bear fruits. It takes about a month or less for the fruit to ripen to a bright red. Get the plants starters now. It is too late for seedlings yourselves. Stores like Lowes have tomato starter plants you can buy now. Last time I checked, some plant starters even had fruit.
You can grow tomatoes in the ground or in a pot. This year we ended up having a few in 2 garden beds and a lot of them in 30 pots. I plan to can whatever tomates we cannot eat.
When the tomato starter is strong it can protect itself from pests. The remaining maintenance is mostly watering. Once in a while, we give them some humus manure. Sometimes I grew impatient and I sprinkled a few Miracle Grow granules onto the soil. To avoid damage by pests like we suffered last year, I used a Bayer pest control, mixed with water, and poured around the roots, but not on the leaves or fruits. This technique is safer for eating.
The plants will grow tall but are not strong enough to be against strong winds or storms by themselves. Therefore, I got some strings and cut out my husband’s discarded under shirts to tie the plants for support.
Once the fruits are showy red it is the time to harvest. If you leave them to ripen on the vine, your bird friends will like them as much as you do. Your labor will be rewarded big time. So now you know what to do with them.
We always get confused whether tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, but it doesn’t matter. Let the scientists worry about that. The best thing is that tomatoes are used in so many wonderful ways. For example, in every American home I bet I can find a bottle of ketchup. For Italian friends, I cannot imagine how their lives would be without tomatoes. Who does not know meat balls in marinara sauce dish? For our Spanish amigos and amigas, they always brag about their gazpacho. And did I remind you about that Bloody Mary cocktail you drank at your last party?
If for some reason you cannot grow tomatoes at all, help yourself to my tomatoes from my photographs. Enjoy!
first tomato is growing on the plant

first tomato is growing on the plant

first cherry tomatoes are ready for harvesting

first cherry tomatoes are ready for harvesting

first tomatoes harvest

I am ready to sink my teeth into

I am ready to sink my teeth into

 

 

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SAUTE BUTTON MUSHROOM WITH ONION – NAM XAO CU HANH

SAUTE BUTTON MUSHROOM WITH ONION – NAM XAO CU HANH
When I first tasted this mushroom I felt very disappointed. It was so bland. Mostly because I have eaten flavorful fresh food which just a few minutes ago was still on the plants or vines from my parents’ garden.
Later I got to know more kinds of mushrooms. I compared button mushroom and portabella or cremini (baby portabella) mushroom. The button mushroom is obviously less tasty than others, but they are cheap. So I needed to work with them. To enhance the flavor I used very high heat so that the mushroom are caramelized and released their natural sugar. The fragrant mixture of garlic and lemon, pepper, salt seasoning helps to elevate the dish.
We eat with our eyes first. I sliced half a lemon thinly and decorated the plate. I was pleased with the taste and my husband was happy to devour.
Ingredients:
1 8oz package button mushroom, cleaned, stems separated
½ onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon lemon pepper salt seasoning
1 lemon
Instructions:
Cut the lemon into halves. Use one half to slice thinly for decoration the plate, the remaining half to zest and squeeze to get a teaspoon of juice.
Pat the mushroom dry. It is important to get nice sear and brown color on mushroom when sautéing them.
Heat a pan or skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 tablespoon oil, wait until hot. Add garlic, stir for 30” until fragrant but not burnt. Add onion, stir and cook for 3’ until translucent. Push garlic and onion around to make room for mushroom. Add mushroom, the cap side down, in a single layer, sear for 3’ or so. Check to see the brown char color. Turn to the other side, sear for another 3’ or so. When the mushroom has been brown on both sides season the pan or skillet with lemon pepper and salt seasoning. Sprinkle lemon zest and juice. Remove from heat and the mushroom ready to serve as a side dish.
1 package of mushroom

1 package of mushroom

chop garlic and onion

chop garlic and onion

sear mushroom together with garlic and onion

sear mushroom together with garlic and onion

sear-mushroom-both-sides

sear-mushroom-both-sides

mushroom-is-ready-to-serve

mushroom-is-ready-to-serve

 

Posted in Side dish | Tagged | 4 Comments

BOILED CABBAGE – BAP CAI LUOC

BOILED CABBAGE – BAP CAI LUOC
Cabbage is sometime understated as it is easy to find and cheap. You might be surprised when knowing about its culinary and medicinal value.
Who does not know that cabbage is the principal ingredient in coleslaw of America and sauerkraut of Germany? The Russians are proud of their borscht. People not only from Poland but all over the world are crazy about cabbage rolls (dolma). I recently watched the show “Food Paradise in London” on the Travel Channel. London foodies are embracing a new invention dish: Bubble and Squeak which consists of potatoes and cabbage and onion, formed into a ball, breaded and fried.
In Vietnamese cuisine, cabbage is eaten raw when it accompanies a duck soup (chao vit), Quang noodles (mi Quang); cooked in soup, saute or just simply boiled dishes; pickled in salad (goi ga). We have our own version of cabbage rolls which do not have rice in the stuffing like dolma. You need to check my recipe. I will post it soon. I will also post the borscht that I learned to make from native Russians while living there. In everyday family Vietnamese meals, the quick and easy dish is boiled. By now you know a reduced component Vietnamese meal consists of 3 dishes: steamed rice, braised meat or fish and boiled vegetables.
The best reason to eat cabbage is its low calorie level that fills your belly and keeps you on your diet. It also packs a large punch of vitamin C. As a bonus, it carries a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Boiling cabbage softens the leaves and releases natural sugars, which leads to the characteristic “cabbage” aroma. Unless I bought a very fresh cabbage I normally add a teaspoon of sugar to the water when boiling. It makes all the difference.
Ingredients:
1 medium cabbage head, washed and tough leaves discarded
1teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
Instructions:
Quarter the cabbage and core. Place them in a pot. Pour water enough to cover the cabbage. Add salt and sugar. Bring to a boil. Cook for 10’ until tender. Drain. The water can be drunk to clean the palate.
Serve a quarter with steamed rice and braised pork.
small cabbage head

small cabbage head

cut cabbage into 4 and core

cut cabbage into 4 and core

boil cabbage in water

boil cabbage in water

braised pork served with rice and steamed cabbage

braised pork served with rice and steamed cabbage

Posted in Side dish | Tagged | 6 Comments

VIETNAMESE PORK BOLOGNA – CHA LUA

VIETNAMESE PORK BOLOGNA – CHA LUA

Cha lua is what the southerners of Vietnam call it. The northerners gave it different name: “gio lua.” By now, I hope all of you (including my husband) are not too dismayed by the complexity of the Vietnamese language. Even Vietnamese people themselves find it difficulty to understand each other sometimes. In the names at least they agree on something; did you notice the word “ lua” (means silk) in there? When saying that word, in your mind the image of a smooth and delicate silk pork roll should clearly appear.

I call these rolls “bologna” because the shape is similar to Italian bologna. In many books they call them Vietnamese pork sausage. To me that name does not do them justice because the texture of sausage is rough while these rolls’ texture is smooth. Although they compare favorably to Italian bologna because of their shape and textured appearance, these rolls have nothing in common with the taste and texture of bologna. These pork rolls are rated “great” only when they are aromatic and tasty (thanks to fish sauce and banana leaves) and have a bouncing and crunchy texture (the result of labor). People in the Western world might also see them called other names like pork ham, pork roll, pork meatloaf, or pork terrine.
Where they came from:
This dish was a creation of the north, and originated from Uot Le, Ha Tay province. It is often served on special occasions like Tet celebrations and parties. Together with sticky rice, especially red sticky rice (xoi gac), it is considered prestigious enough to be the gift among other precious gifts of the groom family to the bride family. When the people fled the north to seek refuge in the south to escape the communist regime after the French colonial empire had collapsed after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they brought this wonderful dish with them.
My first date:
My high school outside Saigon was close to a resettled northern community, which was made famous by this food. Every time my class had some food-related gatherings, I was often sent to that community to buy some rolls. It amazed me when watching how they made the rolls. It was a real work of art. Can you imagine? This roll does not need 32 spices (some chefs reach the higher numbers in making their food!), just fresh pork and fish sauce. Only one essential combination: the freshest pork and the highest quality fish sauce. The lean pork fillets are from the just-killed pig. The meat is still warm to the touch and pink in appearance. The next step is extensive labor. Two strong men continuously pound the meat in a mortar until the meat becomes a sticky and smooth paste, then continue pounding and mix in the fish sauce to incorporate it into the paste. After that it is the job of the women to weigh and place the paste on banana leaves, then roll into cylinders. They tie them into rolls and boil them in water.
When the rolls come out of the steam pot they can be eaten right away by themselves, or served with steam rice flour rolls (banh cuon), sticky rice (xoi) stuffed in a sandwich, or added to other dishes like noodles and braise. They can also be stored in the fridge for later use. In the holidays seasons the producers make them in such large quantities that they need to rent cold storage. These rolls are later retrieved from the storage and reheated and sold. Not many people can see or taste any difference.
Thanks to the technology many producers now use grinding machine and home cooks can and embrace of making them at home. With the demand in bouncing and chewing texture some producers use some chemicals that are not good for health.
It is important to grind the meat in batches so that you do not overwork your food processor.
In my recipes I prefer to use pork butt. If you use pork loin or any leaner cut, it is best you add some oil to prevent dryness. My meat comes from my local ordinary supermarket so I need a little help from sugar. I grind my own meat. You can instead buy ground meat. It is preferable to use white pepper to maintain a delicate appearance, while black pepper is fine if you do not serve them to Vietnamese diners.
Ingredients:
1½ lb/700g Boston butt, cleaned and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoon cornstarch (potato starch or tapioca starch)
¼ cup plus 1-2 tablespoons ice cold water
3 large banana leaves of about 8 inches
3 smaller banana leaves of about 6 inches
Twine for tying
Plastic wraps
Instructions:
Grind the meat 2 times in batches, adding all ingredients. Remove from the food processor and knead the meat for 5’. Place the paste in a plastic bag and keep in a freezer for at least 2 hours. The paste is now returned to the food processor and ground in batches for few more minutes, adding 1-2 tablespoons of ice cold water.
Place the larger piece of banana leaf on the flat surface horizontally and the smaller one on top vertically. Put the paste across the top layer and in the center. Lift both ends of the leaves together (like you would when rolling rice rolls “banh tet” and make a grease and fold it into a cylinder. Cut off the extra leaves both side ends, leaving about 2 inches to make a neat square fold. Place the roll on top of a plastic wrap. Roll the plastic to make the very round and even roll. The plastic wrap does a good job here. Tie with twine or not, it is your choice. The twine does make it look like a Vietnamese pork roll, without distorting the shape. I tied one and not the other. They came out the same.
Traditionally, the rolls were boiled in water. If you do so wrap the leaves and tie very tightly to avoid the water slipping through to ruin the rolls. I find steaming (not in direct water) prevents this problem.
Bring a steamer to a rolling boil. Place the rolls in the steamer. The steam time varies depending on how thick the roll is. The 2-lb roll is steamed for about1 hour, the 1-lb roll about 40’ and the half-lb roll about 20′.
fresh button butt

fresh button butt

grind pork meat into smooth paste

grind pork meat into smooth paste

place the paste in a plastic bag to go into the freezer

place the paste in a plastic bag to go into the freezer

grind pork meatthe second time

grind pork meatthe second time

place small banana leave on top the larger one

place small banana leave on top the larger one

place the paste in the center

place the paste in the center

cut off extra leaves from both ends

cut off extra leaves from both ends

place the roll in banana leaves on top of plastic

place the roll in banana leaves on top of plastic

wrap plastic around banana leaves

wrap plastic around banana leaves

tie the twine around the roll

tie the twine around the roll

pork bologna is cooked

pork bologna is cooked

 

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Food Network star review

Last night was the final episode for the Food Network to select its new star. This time Bob and Susie do not pick the star themselves, instead giving that right to all American food fans. Americans vote for whom they want to watch. Sounds good!

I have been watching the show since it started. We have Direct TV at home. I have saved every episode to review, but I do not need to review tham any more because I agreed with all the people they sent home so far.
To make my opinion more objective, I invited my husband to join me watching the last episode. My husband was an executive for many years and he has good taste in most of everything (especially wives). After watching the 4 finalist pilots my husband asked in exasperation: “Those 4 low end characters were the best that were left?”
Yvan made terrible food of macaroni and cheese by using canned corn. Couldn’t he do better than that? If I was served his food at our family table, the theme of his show, I would be off to MacDonald instead. You must know I rarely eat at MacDonald. Americans deserve better food at least to protect themselves in the obesity war. My husband and I agree on this. Yvan is out.
Martie is a little big mouth. Her shrimp bowl looked not appetizing. How could people eat them? Does everyone stick his (her) finger into the bowl. Where is the decorator on the speed dial she promised? No presentation whatsoever. She is out.
Justin. They just hoped. So did we. We love Alton so much. My husband gave high evaluations to Alton many times. The time we read in a magazine, saying that Alton was going to retire, we were so sad. We just thought Justin proved something good to be special star like Alton. I can overlook the fact that he used lipstick. His rouge lips annoyed me. Is he gay? If yes, I have nothing against him. Gay movement is big this day. His theme sounds forcing: Rebel with Culinary cause. I can use Jacques Pepin’s words in the book “The Apprentice”: “Although invention and creativity were among its dogmas, it was never intended to shock the diner with esoteric ingredients or strange presentation.” His pilot is bad, a little confusing. The food is weird. Looked like a mess on a plate. Who would eat this? He was really successful to make people think he was different when bragging about serving fish bone. Bye-bye, Justin.
Michele stood out, just like someone lucked out from competition because all others were so bad. My husband praised her pilot. Her promo was better than anyone else’s. The dish was a classic one. She used all the right techniques. I would have voted for her but she did not prove herself special through all the episodes since the show began.
I am sad I cannot vote for anyone. Good luck to Food Network! Good luck with your new star!
Posted in Shows I've watched | Tagged | 2 Comments

GROWING LEMONGRASS AT HOME – TRONG XA TAI NHA

GROWING LEMONGRASS AT HOMETRONG XA TAI NHA
I grew up eating my mother’s food flavored with lemongrass like braised chicken with lemongrass and chili (ga kho xa ot), pan-seared chicken with lemongrass (ga chay xa), fried fish with salt and lemongrass (ca muoi xa chien), curry chicken (ga nau cari) and many more.
My parents actually had 2 lush lemongrass bushes next to ginger and turmeric bushes. Every time my mother needed it she would send someone to get a few stems. As for me, in turn, in my kitchen, I use lemongrass whenever I can. It bothers me if I do not have any lemongrass to put in my braised pork like heo hon.
My Mom did not only use lemongrass in her food, but also made it into medicinal herb bundles. These bundles included grapefruit leaves and other herbs. She boiled the bundle into a pot with a lot of water for a long time to get a lot of steam. She set us who caught a cold or flu on the floor or in bed with the steaming pot between our legs and covered us with a blanket or two. She instructed us to open the lid little by little until we could handle the hot steam. If you ever sat in a sauna you could probably understand what I am saying. The only difference is the sauna takes longer time for you to sweat and in comfortable and safe condition while my mother’s creative steam sauna was instant (and we were in great danger of being burned by boiled water). Luckily, we were skillful, and no accidents happened. The reward of tolerance was great: we could breathe easier from previously being congested, and our head felt lighter from previously having a headache. Sometimes we bathed with that water which was lukewarm after the time we sat in its steam. The result; we felt cleaner and breathed easier thanks to the citrus oil from lemongrass and other herbs. I personally felt doubled rewarded as my skin was smooth to the touch.
I recently read from the news that people use the oil of lemongrass called citronella to make mosquitoes repellant.
By now I think I do not need to convince you more about growing lemongrass at home. I know I do love it as we have 2 lemongrass pots and I make sure these pots, together with marigold pots surround our tomatoes plants to protect them.
Growing lemongrass is extremely easy. The only difficulty is starting plant, but fortunately it is easy to start yourself by dipping the nice whole root in water. I suggest you make a trip to Asian market where you can find that kind of lemongrass roots. When the roots develop in water it can be transplant into pot or ground. The maintenance is super easy: just water. You need to bring it indoors during winter time. I left mine out one winter and it died. I needed to start all over again.
Happy growing and enjoy the essence of life!
lemongrass

lemongrass

another lemongrass

another lemongrass

Posted in Gardening | Tagged | 8 Comments

VIETNAMESE FRESH SPRING ROLLS – GOI CUON

VIETNAMESE FRESH SPRING ROLLS – GOI CUON

You can find them by different names, depending on who does the translation: spring rolls, garden rolls, or summer rolls. Only one name in Vietnamese: goi cuon, means salad in a roll.
They are a very popular southern food in Vietnam. In the south, the soil, nurtured for countless centuries by rivers and a favorable climate, is rich for abundant vegetables and rice. People are clever to use them in their cuisine culture every chance they get. From rice they make rice papers, the vehicle to carry other stuffing like pork, beef, fish, seafood, eggs, and fresh vegetables. It is easy to acquire these items, often found as close as right out of the front door.
The rolls have been loved since the first time they appeared, and are carried by the people everywhere they go. They were first introduced beyond Vietnam’s borders by early Vietnamese immigrants. All of a sudden, goi cuon went global. They are now eaten as snacks, appetizers, or main courses. They are grabbed by street food lovers as well as appreciated on formal dining tables.
This dish is served with peanut sauce, which is sweet, salty, spicy and sprinkled with crushed toasted peanuts. The best part is that they are very healthy, delicious, and easy to make.This dish is rated by CNN as a healthy food, safe and easy to use.
In my family, we make them a “wrap your own”event. We lay all the ingredients down on the table. Each diner chooses vegetables of their choice and the quantity is up to them. We observe that children typically omit some vegetable early in their life, then pick up more over the years. The same is true with chili in the sauce, for a kick that one can tolerate.
INGREDIENTS:
SPRING ROLLS: Yields 16 5-inch spring rolls
8 oz pork loin 16 raw medium shrimp 8 large Romaine, red leaf or Boston lettuce leaves, thick stem ends removed and cut into 5 inch length 1 cup mint leaves, washed and drained
½ cup Thai basil leaves, washed and drained ½ bunch fresh cilantro stalks, washed and drained, cut into inch 5 inch length
½ bunch chives, washed and drained, cut into 5 inch length
2 small cucumbers, washed and sliced thinly into 5 inch length
4 radishes, washed and sliced thinly
4 ounces thin rice vermicelli or rice stick noodles (bun)
16 rounds of rice paper (banh trang), each 8 inches in diameter
PEANUT SAUCE:
1 tablespoon oil 2 garlic cloves, minced
3 stalks green onion, chopped
¼ onion, chopped 1 cup stock, reserved from cooking pork and shrimp 1 cup water 1 tablespoon sugar 1 cup peanut butter 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili sauce (like Siracha brand)
INSTRUCTIONS:
In a medium saucepan, bring several cups of water to boil. Add vermicelli and cook until just softened, 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to boil, add pork and cook for 5’. Add shrimps and cook for 3’. Remove the shrimps so that they are not overcooked. Cover the pan, leaving the pork to simmer over lowest heat for 10-15’ more until the pork is just cooked. Reserve 1cup of cooking liquid (stock) for making peanut sauce. Cut the shrimps lengthwise in half, devein and set aside.
Slice the pork thinly, set aside
MAKING THE ROLLS:
Fill a shallow 9 or 10-inch cake or pie pan with water. Use your judgment after dipping the first rice paper to see the rice paper is chewy or not. To enhance this texture you can use very hot or hot water instead of room temperature water. Working with 2 sheets of rice paper at a time, immerse the sheets and quickly remove (I do 4 at a time when I throw a big crowd parties). Spread out flat on a cutting board (everyone in my family is an expert, they never need to use a cutting board, they roll straight from his (her) palm). The rice paper will become pliable within seconds. Do not leave the rice papers too long in the water as they become soggy.
Lay one piece of lettuce over the bottom of the rice paper. Add 1 tablespoon of noodles, some mint leaves, Thai basil leaves, cucumbers and radishes. Roll the paper over from the bottom. Tuck both sides of the paper over the filling. Lay 2 shrimp halves, cut side down, across the top of rice paper. Lay 2 pork pieces before shrimps. Keep rolling the paper into a cylinder. When you reach near the end, place 1-2 piece of chives or cilantro and roll to seal. Place the rolls, seam side down, on a plate and cover with a damp towel so they will stay moist. They are best eaten right away or you can keep them under a damp towel for few hours. I make these rolls in advance sometimes and they go to the fridge for my husband take to his niece’s house the next day. However, they were not as good as freshly made rolls because the rice papers became gummy and tough.
Serve rolls with the dipping sauces, preferably in individual dipping bowls. The rolls are dipped into the sauce and eaten out of hand.
MAKING THE PEANUT SAUCE:
Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic, green onion and fry about 30 seconds until the garlic and green onion are fragrant. Add onion and cook for 5’. Add the stock, water, sugar, peanut butter, hoisin sauce and soy sauce and whisk to dissolve. Bring to a boil, then redce heat and simmer 3 minutes to not too thick and not too thin consistency. Remove from heat and serve at room temperature.
Look for picture presentations. I sometimes post them up in my blog on later days.
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CARROT AND RADISH PICKLES – CA ROT, CU CAI DO CHUA

CARROT AND RADISH PICKLES – CA ROT, CU CAI DO CHUA

This is a can not ignore component for a famous Vietnamese sandwich, noodle salads and more.

Ingredients:

4 small carrots

2 small radishes

1 sugar and vinegar recipe (see other blog)

Ingredients:

Wash and peel carrots and radishes. Cut them into matchstick shape, using a mandolin or by hand. Press them into a jar and pour over sugar and vinegar mixture. This pickle can be eaten after 4 hour sit. Keep them in the fridge to slow the pickling process and can be used up to a week.

peel carrots and white radishes

 

these craps go into our compost bin

these craps go into our compost bin

cut carrots and radishes into matchsticks

cool sugar and vinegar mixt;ure

cool sugar and vinegar mixt;ure

 

place carrots and radishes into a jar with the mixture

place carrots and radishes into a jar with the mixture

the carrots and radishes jar is ready for the fridge

the carrots and radishes jar is ready for the fridge