Monday, December 28, 2009

Moke Gai

Moke Gai: Steamed Chicken in Banana Leaf
Boneless Chicken Breast
Chili Peppers
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Fish Sauce
Sweet Rice Flour
Banana Leaf

This was my first time attempting this childhood dish. My mom would make several small parcels of this dish and freeze them for future meals. She would take them out of the freezer, thaw, and then steam them. For it being my first time attempting moke gai, I was quite pleased with myself. I think I will have to adjust the amount of sweet rice flour and water next time.

The firs thing I do is take the kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, shallots, and peppers and grind them in a mortar. It would be much easier in a food processor.

I cut up 5 boneless chicken breast. To it I added the mixture from the mortar, plus the chopped up dill, grated galangal, some salt, a little fish sauce, and some sweet rice powder that had been dissolved in some water.

Then I cleaned my banana leaves by running it under water. Then I cut it into the large enough pieces for my moke gai parcels. The 5 chicken breasts yielded 6 parcels. I didn't have an exact method to folding the banana leaf. I didn't use anything to secure it once folded. I wrapped foil around the banana leaf. Then I steamed them for 20-25 minutes.

(Raw chicken mixture)

(the parcels wrapped with foil)

This is how it turned out. It tasted amazing. Not bad for my first try. I haven't had this dish in almost 4 years. So my memory wasn't exact as how it should look. The flavors were spot on. And the chicken meat was not dry (my mom had suggested using thigh meat, but I prefer breast meat). I remember when my dad would cook moke gai, he would add chicken gizzards, Thai eggplants, or bok choy. I will have to try adding vegetables next time.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Meal

Simple Non-Traditional Christmas Dinner
Okay, it was simple for me to cook. I wanted Asian this year since we had a traditional Thanksgiving, which took hours to cook. I was somewhat inspired by watching 'A Christmas Story'. Little Ralphie's Christmas dinner was ruined by the dogs and they had to go to a Chinese restaurant for duck. Loved that!

Our Menu:
Egg rolls
Deep Fried Tilapia with ginger/garlic sauce
Pan Fried Prawns
Mussels in Black Bean Sauce
Stir Fried Chinese Broccoli
Steamed White Rice
Khao Sung Ga Ya
It was not a fancy meal but it was so tasty and filling. And plenty of food to go back for thirds and fourths. I think this will be the only time I cook with a whole fish. I will stick to fillets next time. I am not a fan of fish bones. My shrimp dish came out more spicy than I wanted due to using too many chili peppers, but I still enjoyed the dish. I loved the Chinese broccoli since it wasn't 'saucy'. I only seasoned it with garlic, salt and sugar since the other dishes were strong in flavors. I have a habit of eating mussels with a chili 'paste' from a jar instead of sriracha. My khao sung ga ya tasted great but it didn't seem quite the same since I didn't have the Jell-o brand custard mix. I can't find any in this area. It's all 'flan' mixes here.

After dinner it was movie time. Christmas dinner was great, only wished I lived closer to the rest of my family.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!!

Another Christmas in San Diego
As a child I loved Christmas. I enjoyed wrapping gifts and baking. I still like doing those things, but it seems like less people to give gifts to and less people to enjoy my baked goodies as I get older. For me, it's tradition to bake Christmas cookies after Thanksgiving dinner and on Christmas day. Making home made cookies is calming and therapeutic for me, like wrapping egg rolls. This year I baked gingerbread men and sugar cookies.

To get into the Christmas spirit I attended the San Diego Bay Boat Parade of Lights. This was my first time. I was unsure about the starting time and where to park. I wasn't sure if it would be a crowded, traffic mess like during the Fourth of July. It wasn't.

I parked at Seaport Village and waited for the parade to begin. I didn't start for about an hour and a half so I had time to grab dinner. While I was eating, the parade started with fireworks. I love fireworks. The boats varied from simple to very detailed. Most of the pictures I took did not turn out.

I didn't have a very good spot. I gave up my seat to an elderly lady.

I had a good time at the parade. The weather was not cold and it was not too crowded.

It was nice getting out and enjoying myself. No Christmas tree, no fancy dinner, or holiday parties to attend this year. It'll just be me and memories of past holidays.

Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cali Baguette Express

Baguete Express
5125 El Cajon Blvd.

I have not been here in a couple of years (since they opened). I can't remember why I never returned. They are in the process of renovating right now. When you walk into Baguette Express, there's a dining area and as you approach the counter there are tables of yummy goodies and gift items like bamboo plants.

I didn't really see anything I wanted on the tables. But the counter...

Look at all the yummy goodness here.

I had to get the egg rolls, they were calling to me.

I ordered the dac biet as usual.

The bread is a baguette, unlike the sandwiches at my beloved Saigon.
The filling is the usual: pickles, cucumber, jalapeno slices, cilantro, cha lau, headcheese, pate,and roast pork. With homemade mayo. I have to point out the parts that I liked and not liked. I must rave about the bread. It was amazingly light and crunchy on the outside and the inside was moist and chewy. It had a buttery flavor I think. It was very good.
Now to what I didn't like: the pickles. I guess I'm used to the ones at Saigon. The pickles here were lacking in flavor for me. The cucumber tasted off for me.

The other sandwich we ordered was the bbq pork. Same bread and filling but instead of the deli meats, it has bbq pork which wasn't dry, but was very sweet. It didn't taste like bbq pork that I'm used to. It was an ok sandwich. Again, the bread was delicious!
Overall, I would return to Baguette Express. It was clean and the gal at the counter was extremely nice and efficient. I think if I get another sandwich, I would as for extra hot peppers. But I will for sure return and get their bread.

Friday, December 11, 2009

the Greek Corner

the Greek Corner Restaurant
5841 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego, CA
I drive by this place a lot since I buy groceries often on El Cajon Blvd. Last Friday I decided to stop in and try it. I really should have read the yelp reviews first. I have a weakness for gyros and falafels.
The restaurant itself was dark and not lit very well. I could barely read the menu. I was ordering carry out. (And yes I even tipped. I'm so scared about not tipping. I might offend someone, they might spit in my food or I might get arrested.) I was too distracted by the lack of lighting that I didn't even look at the rest of the restaurant. I did notice there was an organ or piano tucked off into a hallway. There must be some big celebrations at night or weekends there.
We ordered fries, a falafel sandwich, and a combination plate. No pictures of the fries (which were the BEST thing we ate there). They were like McDonald's fries but heavily seasoned with pepper.
This is the falafel sandwich. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the cook/gal microwaving them!! Yes!! I almost wanted to cancel our order. I thought (since I've made them before) that falafels were deep fried. Look at the sandwich. Can you even tell what it is? I thought falafels were to keep their round shape even if it's in a sandwich. I even googled it to see what it should look like and this wasn't it. And the worst part, it had no flavor and the texture was all wrong. I thought about putting the sauce that came with the combination plate for more taste. But that sauce was runny and had no flavor either.

The combination plate came with pita slices, rice, a salad, gyro meat, and a beef skewer. The only thing that had flavor was the rice. And that tasted like it came from a box. Both the beef and gyro meat tasted like they weren't seasoned. How can Greek food be tasteless? And the food cost $22. I'm glad I tried it so I know to never go back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Banh Bao Throw Down

For the past few weeks I have been craving banh bao. I do all my shopping on University Street and the markets there don't seem to have any 'fresh' ones when I go. So no banh bao for me. I decided to attempt my own. I've only made it one other time, but it was the bbq pork version. They turned out yummy but that was a couple of years ago.

I had mentioned it to my brother, who is a really good cook (like my mom) and it turned out he had the same idea. So we had a Banh Bao Throw Down, which I declared him the winner. You can find his Banh Bao post here.

As a child, I only remember my mom making these once. Her advice to me was to use boiling water for the dough and to add water chestnuts to my pork filling. I wanted my buns to look pretty and I researched how to fold them. By research, I mean I watched a few youtube videos. It seemed like all the instructors were very quick in showing their technique. So I was unable to copy them, but I'm sure with more practice I will eventually make prettier buns.

This is the flour mix I used.

16 oz Bot Banh Bao flour mix
1/2 C Sugar
1 C Milk
1 T Oil
Take 1 T of flour from the package and set aside for later use (I am assuming for when I roll out the dough). Mix the sugar and flour Gradually add the milk and knead for 15 minutes. Add 1 T Oil and knead for 10 minutes. Cover the dough for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, take one piece of Chinese sausage and cut into 12 pieces.
Boil 3 large eggs and once cooled and peeled, cut into quarters.

Make other part of filling by taking 1/2 lb of ground pork and marinating it with some minced garlic, sugar, black pepper, and oyster sauce.

I wonder if the technique is to take the rolled out dough, top with the meat mixture that has the egg and the Chinese sausage inside it? That is the only way I can figure out to keep the bun a round shape.

Divide the dough into 12 parts and roll the dough thinly.
Put filling into the middle and roll sides up to form a round roll.

Boil water in a steamer, add 1 T of vinegar to help make buns white. Steam the buns for 15 minutes then take the cover off and steam for 6 more minutes.

I let the buns cool for maybe 2 minutes before eating. I like to eat them immediately. They aren't pretty but they were delicious.

Next time I'm going to make HUGE buns and go with my mom's advice to use the boiling water in the dough and fatter meat for the filling. I don't like water chestnuts so I won't be adding that to my filling. I do love the egg and the Chinese sausage in them. Reminds me of my childhood. My dad would always bring me back one from the Asian market. I remember the dough being moist, not dry and the filling so flavorful.
I had fun cooking these buns. Thank you brother for inspiring me and challenging me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Lunch

Laap Moo
Roasted Tomato-Chili Jeow
Thai Eggplant
Sticky Rice

Lately I've been calling my mom up often just to chit chat. I have been missing her very much lately, due to it being the holidays. We are both kind of in the same situation where we are geographically far away from the people we love. Every time I finish talking with my mom I am inspired to cook and eat Lao foods.
I made Laap Moo. I cooked the ground pork on the stove top and drained the fat. I prepared already cooked, shredded pork skin by soaking it in water with salt. For seasoning, I added toasted rice powder, grated galangal, ground dry chili peppers, fish sauce, and lime juice. And garnished it with sliced green onions, fresh chili peppers, cilantro, and mint. And I served it with Thai eggplants.

I also 'baked' chicken legs that have been marinated in ginger, lemon grass, sugar, and fish sauce. I am not allowed to grill where I live. We are only allowed to bbq in the park next to my house.

I also made a roasted chili pepper/tomato jeow. I roasted 2 tomatoes, shallots, and 4 chili peppers. After the tomatoes were cooked through, I let everything cool and added it to my mortar and pounded it. I added a pinch of salt and some fish sauce. Then I sliced green onions and cilantro for garnish. The jeow isn't spicy at all. There's a sweetness that comes from the roasted tomatoes. My jeow doesn't look like it's suppose to because I didn't have enough tomatoes.

I love meals like this. It's so simple but yet so filling. My only wish is that the rest of my family were here to enjoy this with me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Laotian Beef Stew: Aw

The weather has gotten colder in the evenings here. It's perfect time for soups and stews. I'll be eating a lot of pho in the coming weeks. I decided to try (my first time) to cook Laotian Beef Stew. It's called aw (I'm not sure how it's spelled. Under Wikipedia it is called Or Lam, a spicy stew. I remember my mom and dad always cooking this. Dad loved soups and stews. Almost every meal started off with broth or soup. My parents always had a garden at every house we lived in. So all the ingredients were always available to make Or Lam, such as mustard green, long beans, egg plant, chili peppers, lemon grass, and herbs.

Before cooking the stew I needed rice powder. I've never made it before. After a frantic text message to my older sibling, I was brave enough to toast my rice. I took a handful of uncooked sticky rice and placed it in a frying pan and turned my burner to medium. Now you must watch it, don't walk away or you'll have blackened rice. I recall my mom toasting it until the rice was almost black and the house filled with smoke. The rice is then put in a mortar and pounded with a pestle into a powder (picture below).

I am only going to use 2-3 Tablespoons of this.

I don't have an exact recipe. I was trying to copy my mom's dish. I think I came close.
Or Lam:

1/2 lb. Beef
Beef Tendon (I have never seen raw beef tendon before I purchased them last weekend at the Asian market. I brought them home and washed them and wasn't sure how to 'clean them'. I took 2 pieces and cooked them on medium low heat with salt, ginger, lemon grass, and kiffir lime leaves for 2 hours.)

Flavoring: Chili peppers, garlic, lemon grass, kiffir lime leaves, red onion, and green onions. Fish sauce and toasted rice powder.
Vegetables: Mustard green, Thai eggplant, and ngo om (rice paddy herb).
Cooking: Ideally I would've wanted to take the first 6 flavoring ingredients and run them through a food processor. I don't have one so I used my mortar and pestle.
1. I heated up my pot. To it I added cooking oil and the mixture from the mortar. Then I added the beef and let it brown.
2. I then added a pinch of salt and 2.5 tablespoons of the toasted rice powder.
3. Then I added 1.5 C of water and covered the pot with a lid.
4. I let it cook for 5 minutes and then added my eggplant which has been quartered and the beef tendon. I let it cook uncovered until the stew got thick and the eggplant got soft. I was so excited about my stew turning out so good that I totally forgot about my greens and the herb. I had to add another 1/2 C of water because the stew had thickened too much and I worried my greens wouldn't cook down. So my finished stew is not thick like I normally like it to be.
5. I added the greens and the herbs and let the stew cook for a couple more minutes with the lid on.
I served the stew with steamed white rice.
Things I would've done differently: add more rice powder, not add more water. My stew tasted almost as good as my mom's. With more pratice I will get there.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Huynh Hoa Tuu

Huynh Hoa Tuu
4660 El Cajon Blvd.
San Diego

I needed to go to the Asian market to pick up some vegetables and beef tendon. While out, I decided to get some lunch on El Cajon Blvd. My first choice, which was next to the market didn't work out so I drove down the street and remembered the funny named restaurant near one of my sandwich shops (A-Chau). The name of the restaurant escapes me right now, but I want to say it was something like O-yea. I remembered it because when we parked in front of it one day, I noticed their menu was written all over the window. I had always wanted to try it for fun. To my surprise it was now a different restaurant.

As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by a nice gentleman. I think you are suppose to seat yourself and then the host/server brings menus and water to your table. I picked a booth. The restaurant itself was not 'brand new' inside. The tables were clean. No sticky booth seats or table tops. There were several flat screen televisions on the walls playing the Eagles game. There were only 2 other tables occupied when we first arrived but then business picked up during the middle of our meal.

As for the food, I wanted to try dishes I have never ordered before. The server was very nice and gave a few recommendations. We will be back to try the other dishes. His friendliness and polite manner was enough to get me to return again. We started off with the fresh rolls filled with bbq pork meat, vermicelli noodle, lettuce, and mint. It was served with a very tasty dipping sauce. The sauce was topped with peanuts and fried shallots.

Here is an inside picture of the fresh rolls.

Next we ordered the Crab noodle soup. I don't remember the names of the dishes. And I didn't see a take out menu to grab. This soup was wonderful. I loved the crab/seafood flavors, just the right amount of seasoning. The broth was thick (sort of like hot and sour soup). It had crab claw meat, straw mushroom, some kind of deep fried tofu/seafood, thick rice noodles and it was topped with green onion and more fried shallots.

The last dish was braised beef short ribs. This dish tasted like something my mom would cook for us when I was a kid. I think it was cooked with ginger, other than that I can't say what was used to season it with. I was expecting the meat to be more 'fall off the bones'. It was a little bit chewy. We ordered steamed rice to go with this dish. I thought it was a lot of food for $23 and we didn't even finish all of the soup, even though that was our favorite dish.

I will go back again to try more new dishes. I want to try the claypot dishes and the rice paper dishes. There is a private lot in the back, but we parked out on the street. There was a unisex bathroom (I think). I didn't look too closely at the menu but it seemed their prices for entrees ranged from $6.99-8.99 and there were whole sections of the menu that were $15 or $25.