Recipe: Coconut Pork

Here is another traditional Vietnamese recipe, and a staple on my family’s dinner table. Usually it’s pork cooked with coconut water and coconut meat, but since I once almost cut my fingers off trying to remove the coconut meat from its shell, we’ll make do with coconut milk.

What You Need:
3 pounds pork butt or shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 c light coconut milk
1/4 C sugar
2 C water
Salt & pepper
Optional: 5 to 6 hard-boiled eggs

1. Make the caramel sauce (I know it sounds weird, but it’s to give the pork its color. And it’s not real caramel, since it’s only cooked sugar and water): in a pot over low heat, cook the sugar until it browns. Add the water (don’t be scared if it sizzles) and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. You want something in this color:

2. Salt and pepper the pork. You can add more salt later if it’s not enough for your taste. In a large pot, sear the pork well. Add the caramel water and the coconut milk, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer until the pork is tender, about an hour.

3. If making the caramel is too daunting for you, you can use soy sauce and/or oyster sauce to achieve the color (I got this from a friend who works in a Vietnamese restaurant), but it will taste a little different. And remember to cut back on the salt if you do so.

4. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, add the peeled hard-boiled eggs (if used), make sure they’re submerged in the cooking liquid. Serve hot over rice. Enjoy!


Let’s Get Food-Drunk

Warning: heavily pictured post ahead. Most of them are of food. But it’s Thanksgiving, so you understand.

In the morning, after arriving at Debbi’s, our host, we all decided to go to our favorite diner for a light brunch/lunch.

These are my other two friends Julie and Dan. Aren’t they adorable?

Then we went home and the cooking began. Debbi had to leave for another Thanksgiving (poor girl was twice as stuffed by the end of the night!), so we cooked slowly to wait for her to get back. And remember how I said I missed Lunar New Year at home? Well, I got that homey feeling again – it was overcast outside, and we were all chilling and cooking in the warm kitchen.

Julie was in charge of the turkey (we named him Rupert) and these delicious chipotle bacon deviled eggs; Dan made green bean casserole; I made mashed sweet potatoes (also with chipotle), spring rolls and pumpkin cream cheese bread, and Debbi made pumpkin chocolate chip bread with frosting.

ETA: I totally forgot pictures of the deviled eggs, so here they are

Rupert was beautiful

You can never have too much pumpkin on Thanksgiving

There’s a vegetable in there… somewhere…

We barely made a dent before we all had to retreat to the couch and watched “Punkin Chunkin” and slowly fell into a food coma. There were four of us at Thanksgiving dinner and we made enough food for 10 people, so guess what? We’re coming back tonight to eat the leftovers.

Recipe: Vietnamese Spring Rolls

After I bragged about my spring rolls, I think I owe it to you guys to post the recipe. Mind you – everything is just estimated here, because my family rarely ever measure when cooking.

The rice papers, cellophane noodles and mushrooms you can find in the Asian aisle at the grocery store. I’ve also seen the mushrooms at the produce aisle.

What You Need:
40-50 rice paper wrappers – mine is about 8-9″ across (if you live in a dry area, also have damp towels and a spray bottle on hands)
Vegetable oil

1 pound of ground pork (you can also use chicken or turkey, but it will make the filling dryer)
A handful of cellophane noodles
5-10 dried woodear mushrooms (depending on how big they are. Mine bloom out like crazy so 5 are more than enough)
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (shallots are better if you have them)
2 shredded carrots (you can also add mung bean sprouts)
3 large eggs (if the filling is too dry you can add another egg)
Salt & pepper

1. Soak the noodles and mushrooms in warm water for 15 – 20 minutes. The shiitake takes only about 5 minutes, so I usually add them last.

2. Drain, then finely chop everything (I just put them in the food processor and give it a few pulses. Works out great.)

3. Add the chopped noodles, mushrooms, carrots, onion and eggs to the pork. Salt & pepper to taste. Mix well.

4. Note on the rice papers: it’s super dry here in LA, so I have to keep the rice papers between two damp towels and spray them with water, otherwise they will curl up and fall to pieces. Put another damp towel on your work surface. Lay a wrapper on top of the towel, spray with more water if it starts to curl, and get ready to roll.

5. Put a tablespoon of filling at the bottom of the wrapper (the side closest to you.) Roll the wrapper up halfway through, then fold the two sides in and keep rolling, tucking it in as you go. Don’t worry if the first few don’t look pretty, you’ll get the hang of it.

6. Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a large skillet or pot (I use a pot to keep the oil from splattering.) A trick to know when the oil is ready is stick the handle of a wooden spoon into it. If the oil bubbles around the handle, it’s ready. Put your spring rolls into the oil, tuck side down so that it’ll be sealed in and your filling won’t burst out. Fry until golden brown. Put the rolls on some paper towels to absorb excess oil.

7. Enjoy! I just dip these in Sriracha (the Asian hot sauce), but if you want to go really authentic, mix some fish sauce, sugar, fresh chili peppers and lime juice for a dipping sauce – no precise measurement, just mix it to your taste.

Note: Sometimes, when I’m too lazy to mess around with the rice papers, I put the filling in a loaf pan and turn it into a meatloaf. It tastes just as good!

Recipe: Chicken Tagine

Something different from a baking recipe for a change. I adapted this from a slow cooker recipe in Family Circle. I don’t like how the slow cooker makes everything so watery, so I just cook it on the stove now.

What You Need:
2 chicken breast, 3 chicken thighs (boneless or bone-in, it doesn’t matter) – I used 4 leg quarters because I like dark meat
2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 strips of lemon zest
1 1/4 ts paprika
1/2 ts cumin
1/4 each: ground ginger, ground coriander, cinnamon
1/8 ts cayenne (more if you like it spicy)
2 C chicken broth
1 TBS honey
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 C dried apricot, chopped (I never try fresh apricots, but I’m sure it will be yummy too)
1/4 C roasted almond, chopped
A handful of cilantro
Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Brown the chicken (in batches, don’t make my mistake in thinking that the pot can hold all that chicken, because you’re going to end up with steamed instead of browned chicken.) Set aside.

2. Add the onion, cook until translucent. Add the garlic, lemon zest, spices, and broth. Whisk in the honey.

3. Return chicken to pot. Add carrots (now would be a good time to add salt and pepper too). Reduce heat, let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Add the apricots and cook until the sauce thickens.

5. Sprinkle with almonds and cilantro (I was out of cilantro, so I used scallions for color, but it won’t taste the same.) Serve hot with rice.

Weekend Round-Up: My Hand-washing Business

I’m doing the Weekend Roundup today because there’s going to be an outfit post tomorrow.

It’s been kind of a weird week. Since the temperature shot up on… what, Tuesday? Wednesday? It’s been all a blur to me. A blur consisting of me blowing my nose constantly and rubbing my aching sinus. But, thank Heavens, it’s cooling down this weekend, and I can breathe again.

Lesson of the Week: Not a fashion lesson, but rather a thrifting lesson – clean all thrifted stuff as soon as you got back from the store. I guess it’s kind of gross that I wore some of my thrifted clothes right away without washing them first, but I have a few reasons. 1) I don’t have my own washer/dryer, so it’s such a hassle to do laundry; 2) I shop at Goodwill Retails, as opposed to Goodwill Outlet, where they put everything (and I mean everything) in bins for you to dig through, so I’m quite sure that the stuff I bought has been washed; and 3) I’m just plain lazy 😛

But, even if the item looks new, who knows how long it’s been hanging there and how much dust it’s accumulated, so it’s always a good idea to wash everything (I try to avoid “dry clean only” items too, but most of them can be hand-washed as long as you don’t manhandle them.) Jentine of MyEdit has some good tips for cleaning thrifted loot (her word, not mine) right here.

So in conclusion, clean thrifted stuff as soon as possible (especially when you have a lot of hand-washed things) to avoid having a room like a war zone.

I had two more loads waiting after this. And I washed them by hands.

Blog of the Week: Kendi Everyday. The Queen of 30×30 remixes (if you don’t know what that means, check out her blog.) So this is the blog that inspires me to look at my closet differently, to clean it out and build it back up again. I’ve arrived a little late in the game to participate in her current 30×30 challenge, but once I got to know my closet better (that sounds… wrong, for some reason), I can just do it on my own.

Favorite Kendi’s looks:

Book of the Week: “Cornucopia” by Paul Richardson, borrowed from Debbi. It’s about the current state of British food. While there are some parts that I really like (reading while hungry not recommended!), I don’t like it as much as other travel books I’ve read, maybe because sometimes I’m not sure what point the author is trying to make. One page he’s praising fresh oysters, the next he’s lamenting that there’s no place to eat in town. I guess that’s the point – that Britain is full of wonderful fresh products, but the British don’t know what to do with them yet.

Also, after three weeks of reading non-fiction and realistic fiction (OK, “Perfume” is not entirely realistic, but still…), I really want to get back to a good fantasy book now.

Song of the Week: “Boy with a Coin” by Iron and Wine. Gorgeous song, a simple but gorgeous video.

That’s it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a chicken pot pie 🙂

Yeah, I made it.