Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cooking Mama :: Thit Kho (Braised Pork Belly with Coconut Juice)

Day two of Bootcamp and we're doing another favorite of mine. I know I said the Cha Gio was my favorite, but actually it is Thit Kho (pronounced tee-et kaw). Every time I come home, I ask my mom to make it, so this is a true Vietnamese homestyle dish. My mom says this is a popular dish during the Lunar New Year because you can just let it simmer on the stove for days and eat it whenever you're hungry. The meat and eggs get better the longer you cook it.

  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon of water for the caramel sauce
  • 3 lbs of pork belly (you can do half pork belly and half pork shoulder/butt to make this more lean, but pork belly is much more flavorful)
  • 8 hard boiled eggs
  • 1/3 cup Fish Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt/rock salt
  • 2 cans of Coco Rico Soda or 7-Up (plus water)
  • Handful black peppercorns
  • 2 smashed cloves garlic
Caramello :: The first step to this dish is making a simple caramel sauce with 2:1 sugar and water. Over medium high heat, dissolve the sugar into the water in a large pot and stir occasionally until the mixture begins to smoke and turns a deep brown sugar, then remove the pot from the heat. This sauce is what makes the dish so rich.

**Although caramel is super tasty and pretty much the most awesome thing in the world, it is also very hot and dangerous. Be careful not to burn yourself.

Oink Oink :: Pork belly is apparently, not readily found in your local grocery store. From all the episodes of Top Chef I've watched, I was positive that I could get pork belly from Whole Foods. (What good product placement!) But no - this is a lie. To get the right cut, you'll have to go to an Asian or Mexican grocery store. Be sure to get a piece that has more meat than fat. Wash the meat, pat dry and dice into medium sized cubes. Toss the meat in 1 tb of course salt.

** You can use a mixture of pork belly and pork shoulder or butt, but to be honest, those cuts just aren't as tasty...but they're healthier. Your call.

Let the Braising Begin! :: Add the cubed meat into the same pot as the caramel sauce on medium high. Add the fish sauce and sear the meat in the caramel/fish sauce. There will be a lot of meat in the pan so let the pieces at the bottom brown, then mix well to get new pieces to the bottom. As you can see, I got a late start on boiling my eggs, so we did some multitasking.

Coco Rico to the Rescue :: The secret ingredient to this dish, or at least my mom's version, is the use of Coco Rico. Coco Rico is a coconut flavored soda you can get at Asian markets. The coconut flavor cuts the saltiness of the fish sauce and the carbonation helps tenderize the meat. Coco Rico can be hard to find, so you can achieve similar results with 7-Up. Once all the meat has been browned, add two cans of soda to the pot. Add enough water to the pot so that all the meat is covered by liquid. Add the crushed garlic cloves and peppercorns.

Simmer Down Now :: Peel your eggs and add them to the pot. All that is left to do is let the pot simmer for at least 2 hours. The longer it sits, the more flavorful the meat, sauce and eggs. When you're ready to eat, enjoy the dish over some white rice and cucumbers. In our house, we eat it with pickled veggies but my mom says that kimchi would be good too.

I should mention that before you eat it, you will want to spoon off a lot of the fat that rises to the surface during the cooking process. It's kind of gross, but necessary.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cooking Mama :: Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Roll)

While I am home for 2 weeks in the Bay Area, my mom is giving me daily cooking lessons. It's sad that after 25 years, I still don't know how to cook any authentic Vietnamese dishes, but that is all about to change! We started off my boot camp with a favorite of mine - Cha Gio with Bun or Vietnamese Egg Rolls with Cold Rice Noodles. From an eater's standpoint, this is a great dish for warm weather but maybe no so much for the cooker - standing in front of boiling oiling for 30 minutes can get dicey. This lesson took a total of 2.5 hours, but we did it the super long way - grinding our own meat, slicing all the veggies. If you have a food processor, this would take half the time. You can also make the rolls in advance and freeze them so they are ready to fry up for a later day.

  • 1 lb ground pork or pork roast
  • 1 lb of shrimp, shelled and chopped
  • 3 carrots, julienne
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 jicama, julienne
  • 1 bundle of cellophane noodles, reconstitute in warm water
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and Pepper
The Rest
  • Menlo Wrappers
  • 1 Egg White, to seal wrappers
  • Vegetable or Olive Oil to fry
  • 1 Package of Rice Noodles
  • Cilantro and Romaine Lettuce to garnish
  • 3 Chopped Scallions plus leftover frying oil
Nuoc Mam Sauce
Mix all contents together in a bowl.
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup White Vinegar
  • 1 Cup of Water
  • 1/2 Cup of Fish Sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
  • 1 Garlic Clove, finely diced
Mix the Filling :: Mix all the contents of the filling together in a large bowl. Be sure that the veggies are not chopped too finely; you want to have the texture of the carrots and jicama in the rolls. Season lightly. Since you will be eating the rolls with Nuoc Mam, which is naturally salty, you do not want to over salt the filling but feel free to go buck wild on the pepper.

Roll the Rolls :: Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling onto the bottom center of the wrapper leaving about a half an inch at the bottom. Shape the filling so that it is a firm rectangle. This will help keep air bubbles out.

Fold the two arms over so that they are hugging the filling. It should be a firm "bear hug" squeeze over the filling, so pull tight. Any extra air pockets will let oil seep in and I am told that that is not a good thing. The roll should look like an open envelope if done right.

Here comes the tricky part - start to roll the filling forward towards the tip of the envelope. While you're rolling, use your free fingers to push the filling towards you so that you create a tight roll. Seems a little complicated, but you get used to it after a few tries. Stop rolling once you get to the tip. Dab some egg white onto the envelope tip to help seal and finish your roll.

Tada! Now do this 50 more times.

Fry Time :: Heat a skillet with about a half inch of oil on medium high heat. The oil should cover the majority of the rolls. When the oil begins to smoke, you're ready to go. Place as many rolls as you can in the pan. Let the rolls fry for about 5 minutes on each side. They should be golden brown on the outside. Once they're done, place them on a paper towel to drain. You will want to wait about 10 minutes before eating - you will burn your mouth off if you eat it any earlier. I know this from experience. You only need to fry 1 batch to feed two people. The rest you can put in Tupperware lined with wax paper. Keep it in the freezer until you're ready to eat it. They can be fried straight from the freezer on a later date.

Eat! :: Phew! Finally, eating time. You could eat the Cha Gio (pronounced chaa zaw) by itself with a little bit of Nuoc Mam sauce. Since this was our dinner, we cut the Cha Gio in half and ate it over cold rice noodles mixed with scallions, lettuce and cilantro. Another way to eat it is wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped in Nuoc Mam. So many options - it's a good thing this is a recipe for 50 rolls.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

San Francisco Treat

I'm back in the Bay Area for two weeks and while my stomach seems to want to take a break from all the eating, I'm just not sure that's going to happen. Sorry belly. College friends were in town and here is what we hit up:
  • Out The Door @ The Ferry Building
  • Yogurt Castle in Walnut Creek
  • Judy's on Chestnut
  • SPQR on Fillmore
  • Tartine Cafe
  • Bi-Rite Ice Cream
  • Bacon Donuts from Dynamo Donuts
I'd say my favorite meal was definitely Tartine. Their bread in combination with locally sourced cheese and spreads equals ultimate goodness. To be honest, I was disappointed by SPQR. I've heard such amazing things from my SF friends but it just didn't WOW me. The antipasti were very good but the pasta was just so-so. I love salty food, but this was just too much. I really have no right to make this judgement, but with all the phenomenal modern and classic Italian in New York, I'm not so sure Nate Appleman can make a splash. Maybe I'd be singing a different tune had I tried the fresh sheets of pasta with pesto, but unfortunately, they ran out of pesto by the time we ordered. Sad face.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Japanese Food in New York

This past year, I've done quite a bit of Japanese food sampling both in Japan and in New York. New York has a ton of great Japanese restaurants. Everything from expensive sushi to cheap izakaya style food. There are two places in Manhattan where you can find a plethora of Japanese cuisine - Midtown East (East 40's and 50's) and the East Village (E 10th aka "Little Osaka" and St. Mark's Place). Both areas boast not only fantastic ramen, izakayas and Japanese style curry, but also authentic Japanese grocery stores. Here's a list of some of my favorite spots. I'm guessing I'll find comparable if not better versions once I move to Tokyo:

Midtown East
Cafe Zaiya :: 42st btw 5th and Madison
- Cheap lunch to-go and a sweet bakery. I've written about Zaiya's black sesame soft serve before, but their savory food is great too. You can get a hearty and tasty meal for under $6 which is unheard of in NY. I like the spicy chicken sandwich, the mabo tofu and the salmon onigiri.

Dainobu :: 47th btw 2nd and 3rd - The closest thing I've seen to a Japanese "kombini" or convenience store. There are some groceries, candies and some hot/cold food to go. I used to stop here on my way home from The Japan Society twice a week for an easy dinner. I prefer their Ebi Tempura Onigiri but it is on the salty side.

Menchenko Tei :: 45th btw 3rd and Lex - Simple Japanese restaurant with a modern design. Great soups and noodles.

East Village
Sunrise Mart :: 10th Street and 3rd - This is probably the best place for Japanese restaurants. They have authentic products from Japan plus all the fresh ingredients you would need to make a traditional Japanese meal. There is another Sunrise Mart in SoHo.

Yakitori Taisho/Oh! Taisho :: St. Marks btw 2nd and 3rd - I don't think there is a different between the two restaurants, but there is a thai lounge separating them which is weird. The wait can be long as this is a pretty popular place amongst J-Expats and NYU students. It is worth the wait - grilled meats (yakitori) and wonderful small plates to share. I highly reccommend the Saikoro Steak which is buttery and melt-in-your-mouth good and the Potatos w/Roe Mayonaise. Kewpie Mayo is up there with Sriracha in terms of awesome condiments from Asia.

Curry-Ya :: 10th Street btw 1st and 2nd - Okay, so actually, Go Go Curry is my favorite curry place in NY but it is on 36th and 8th Avenue which would totally debunk my "East Side" theory. Curry-Ya is on the expensive side for a food that is typically pretty cheap in Japan. They do it well and jazz it up so you feel like you're eating something refined, but at the end of the day, it's just curry and rice.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eating on the Go

I saw a woman eating a Dunkin' Donuts Breakfast Sandwich on the subway this morning. First of all, Dunkin' Donuts for breakfast?! Gross. (PS - America does not run on Dunkin) Equally as unacceptable is throwing your greasy wrapper at my feet after you've finished. This breaks two golden rules of mine - No eating on Mass Transit and No Littering EVER. I really wanted to punch this lady in the face but I didn't want to risk getting Dunkin grease on my new shirt.

As annoying as it was, this morning's Muffingate still doesn't beat the "Chicken Wings on the Downtown E" fiasco of 2008.

A Week with the Not-So-Five-Foot-Eater

My very first friend from college, The Dish, came to town for a week and I have the distended belly to prove it! I'll do some individual posts on the places we ate, but here is what we accomplished:

Sunday Night Dinner :: The Spotted Pig (Gastropub a la Bloomfield, Batali & Co.)
Monday Night Dinner :: Kefi (Modern day Greek God Michael Psilakis' UWS spot)
Tuesday Night Dinner :: The Standard Grill (Newly opened Andre Balazs restaurant)
Wednesday :: The Dish in Brooklyn, hence I ate hot water for dinner and went running
Thursday :: Momofuku Ko (Ko2 - Electric Bugaloo)
Friday Failed Breakfast turned Lunch :: Locanda Verde (Robert DeNiro's Italien joint in TriBeCa)

Since The Dish has left, I've seriously taken a break from eating. I don't believe in doing The Master Cleanse, but I have been making frequent trips to Jamba Juice for wheatgrass shots and Kombucha. Don't you worry, I'll be back up and running soon!