I’ve just watched last night’s episode, in which the top three contestants remained: Becky, Christine and Josh.
Becky came out the third in the last mystery box challenge. It could have been a surprise for some, even for Gordon Ramsay, because she was five times at the top spot. After seeing her fillet the fish poorly, the judges were concerned for her success. She was also concerned, and more than that she blamed herself of being raised in an average American family. What average American ever butchers and fillets a live and whole fish? It did not help even with a dead whole fish.
Josh did surprise me with his braised curried chicken. So did Christine with color-perfect seared scallops. It is difficult for many people, even not blind, to cook perfectly seasoned Asian noodles and scallops.
It really heightened the drama to watch them cook to fight for their spot in the finale.
When Josh brought his 3 balls with 3 sauces, Judge Joe said: “you chose the leg of lamb and you brought me this.” Luckily, his food was delicious enough to gain him a first spot. To me, it was a waste of ingredients to cook just that when you can obtain expensive ingredients in your hands.
Christine’s southern style chicken was remarkable enough to beat Becky’s frog legs. It was bad luck for Becky because she never ate and cooked them before. In some way, and some people feel they can be on the same weight. But the fatal factor here was Becky’s soggy and greasy potato and not cohesive dish. She hoped Christine’s too-creamy kale could be on the same scale. But the Judges have spoken and the winner was Christine.
Okay, Becky, not bad with the offer from Gordon Ramsay; she can choose to cook at his French, British or other restaurant in the world.
One more week and we will have our third Master Chef. It wouldn’t make any different to me if it was not Christine, the blind cook in the finale.
Did I mention to you she was a Vietnamese? When I watched the few first episodes and our Vietnamese media was bragging about her, I fell against her. In my mind, the casting wasted one spot; what can a blind chef do? Can she cook more than basic things? Let alone compete against many other contestants. I thought they should have picked someone like me in her spot. But the more I watched her cook the more she surprised me. I grew from surprised to adoration and pride. Now I admire her spirit and her talent. She sends a very strong message to people: you can do well if you put your heart into it, no matter your circumstances.
Good luck, Christine! Go get it. You can make history.
Vietnamese people use a lot of annatto oil in cooking. It adds a reddish attractive finish and aroma. The Hue beef and pork noodles (bun bo Hue) soup does not look good without a dash of annatto oil, or to enhance the red color of shrimp a dash of annatto oil is added.
My parents used to have one annatto tree in the backyard. The tree was not so big but it bore a lot of fruit, which opened to show their inside full of seeds. We harvested this fruit and dried the seeds. Once dry, the seeds can be stored for a long time. We normally use them to make annatto oil. In the market, people sell them in whole seeds and also in powder.
2 teaspoon annatto seeds
2 tablespoon oil
To make annatto oil, combine 2 teaspoons of seeds and 2 tablespoons of oil in a pot or skillet. Place the pot over low heat. Cook until the red color bleaches out and releases aroma. Remove from heat as soon as the seeds start popping. If you continue cooking the red color becomes orange. People often strain the seeds out but I leave them in the oil. I feel doing it that way the maximum red color is achieved. Just remember to strain out the seeds when using the oil.
One of my favorite drinks is fresh squeezed orange juice. It is so refreshing and a lot better than the stuff in the bottles. Just a little work and you get yourself a healthy homemade drink. It can satisfy the vitamin C that the doctor ordered. If the orange is not sweet enough, as it always isn’t with natural citrus fruits, simply add some simple syrup.
2-3 oranges, squeezed
1 cup simple syrup, recipe follows
To make simple syrup: bring a cup of sugar and a cup of water in a pot to a boil and simmer until the mixture slighly thickens. Let cool and store when ready to use.
Mix orange juice and maple syrup to your liking. Add more simple syrup if you like it sweeter. Fill the glass with cubed ice. Pour the orange mixture over ice. Garnish with mint leaves or orange wedge and enjoy!
Did I tell you my parents were farmers but they were all about education? They raised 9 of us and sent everyone to school.
One summer my parents sent me to Saigon to get tutoring to be ahead of the game in preparing knowledge for the upcoming school year. My school was a suburb school. I hoped I got all the materials I needed to keep my position as a top ten student. I was boarding in my mother’s uncle’s house. My great uncle was an intelligent man who worked for a foreign company at that time. It was the first chance for me to get to know Western cuisine. In his house I first watched and tasted this desert: cream puff or choux cream pastry.
The ingredients for making choux pastry are very simple: butter, water, and eggs. It is surprising that there is no raising agent but the pastry is puffing as a result of technique. There was a time when I made this choux pastry but it did not bind into dough. To my experience, when the butter and water come to a boil, remove from heat and dump in all the flour at once, then stir constantly and the dough is formed. The next question is how many eggs one needs to incorporate. That is where practice comes in. You need to recognize the dough consistency to determine adding eggs. In short, you add the eggs until the dough can hold and keeps smooth with a little thick consistency, but it can still fall back slowly when lifted.
When baked, the choux pastry provides a hollow center which is perfectly ready to be filled with cream or any filling you like. In this recipe I use a mixture of pastry cream and baked banana.
They are a perfect ending of any meal or a sweet snack when the sweet tooth strikes.
6 tablespoon unsalted butter (you can use 8 tablespoons but 6 works so I cut calorie there)
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
3-4 large eggs
Pre-heat the oven to 425oF.
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a pot. Bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Add flour all at once. Stir constantly until it forms dough. Put the pot back on the stove, stirring for about 2’ so that some moisture evaporated. Remove from heat, let cool but still warm. Beat in 2 ½ eggs, one at a time so that the dough incorporates before adding new one. You can use the help of a mixer or hand mixer or just by hand. Just be careful when using hand mixer. Watch out to not over work the hand mixer. The best dough is glossy and a little thick but it can still fall back slowly when lifted. You need to have your judgment there: you can use 3 or 4 eggs, depending on your dough. My eggs are extra large so I used only 2 ½ eggs, the remaining half I used to brush the dough before baking.
Use a pastry bag or zip log bag with the round or star tip, pipe the dough into rounds or balls of about 1½-2 inches (or just use a spoon to scoop the dough). With this recipe I have 8 2-inch choux and 14 1½-inch choux. Brush with the egg.
Bake in 425oF pre-heated oven for 15’. Lower the oven to 375oF and bake for 10-15’ more. Turn off the oven, leaving the choux in there for 5’.
Remove from the oven, cool on the racks.
Use the round tip and piping bag, filled with the filling. Make a hole at the bottom with the tip and fill the choux with the filling.
Bake banana and pastry cream filling:
For baked bananas:
3 ripe bananas, peeled
2 tablespoon unsalted butter.
¾ cup light brown sugar
Butter a pie pan and sprinkle with brown sugar. Lay bananas on top. Sprinkle more sugar and butter. Bake in the oven of 450oF for 10-15’. Remove from the oven and let cool.
For pastry cream:
2 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 pieces cinamon barks
1 tablespoon orange zest
Beat egg yolks with sugar, vanilla extract, adding cornstarch. Bring milk with vanilla extract, cinamon and orange zest to a gentle boil. Remove cinamon. Pour some of the hot milk to the egg mixture to temper. To add some more until the mixture becomes liquid and warm. Pour all the egg mixture back to the pot. Stir and cook until thicken. Remove from heat and let cool.
Place baked bananas and pastry cream in a food processor or blender, process until smooth. The mixture is ready to use. Chill before use.
prepare to bake bananas
baked bananas look good and taste great
egg yolks and sugar
beat eggs and sugar and cornstarch
cook milk with spices
pastry cream is ready
puree the filling
choux pastry is cooling
beat eggs into choux pastry
pipe the dough into rounds
spoon the dough into balls
choux was baked
fill the piping bag with baked banana and pastry cream