Archive for January 2008

Vietnamese Crispy Spring Rolls (Cha Gio)

January 30, 2008 | Chuck
Vietnamese Crispy Spring Rolls

Crispy spring rolls, egg rolls or imperial rolls, whatever you call them, it's cha gio in Vietnamese. My mom's cha gio was one of my favorite things to eat growing up. Nothing compares to my mom's crispy spring rolls. I know I say that about all of her cooking, but I really mean it. When I was younger and attended a lot of Viet gatherings and parties, I would always leave thinking my mom's cooking was better.

Cha gio comes in many different sizes and can be made with spring roll wrappers or rice paper. Traditionally, rice paper is used in Vietnam, but my mom has been using spring roll wrappers for as long as I can remember, so I'm partial to them. I grew up on pork and shrimp cha gio, but a few years ago, my dad became a pescetarian. So last month when I visited my parents, my mom made shrimp and crab rolls.

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Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

January 28, 2008 | Chuck
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

I have a lot of friends who love Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham). When they ask me for the recipe, I tell them it's a closely guarded family secret. However, I have finally received permission from my parents to disclose the formula. It took a lot of groveling on my part and even a few tears were shed, but I got their blessing.

Okay, I made the last part up, but wouldn't it be more special if it really was a secret? Anyway, every Vietnamese family has a dipping sauce recipe. The ingredients in nuoc cham are generally the same, but the proportions vary based on personal tastes and regions in Vietnam. According to Vietnamese cookbook author, Andrea Nguyen, "as you move south the sauce gets sweeter, hotter, and more garlicky."

This may explain why I don't like the nuoc cham made in San Francisco restaurants, which are generally too sweet for my tastes. My family is from the middle part of the country and I was born in Da Nang. It all makes sense now.

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Braised Chicken Curry with Yams

January 25, 2008 | Chuck
Braised Chicken Curry with Yams

After Hungry Bear made her Hawaiian marinated chicken last week, we still had three pounds of unused chicken thighs. I needed to figure out what to make with them before they went into the freezer, where they would be forgotten. We are really bad with frozen meat and don't plan ahead enough to thaw it out.

I had a craving for green chili chicken stew, but couldn't find a recipe to my liking. Hungry Bear loves sweet potatoes, so I made braised chicken curry with yams, which is based on a Ming Tsai recipe. I've been tweaking this curry over the years. The dish calls for orange-flesh sweet potatoes, a.k.a. garnet yams.

The biggest changes to the original recipe are the omission of the banana and adjustments to the curry powder. I think there is enough sweetness from the yams, so there's no need for the banana. I've also adjusted the amount of chicken stock and added peas for some color.

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Trader Joe’s One Clove Per Head Garlic

January 23, 2008 | Chuck
Trader Joe's One Clove Per Head Garlic

We love garlic and use it in just about every savory dish we make. We also cook in mass quantities and I always dread peeling the garlic. I hate it when my fingers get sticky from the garlic juice and the skins stick to my finger. It's not a difficult task. It's just mundane.

We recently discovered Trader Joe's The Emperor's New Cloves — one clove per head garlic. It's super easy to peel and doesn't have a sticky skin. I'm guesstimating one clove of this garlic is about five to six normal cloves of garlic. It's sold in a little wicker basket and contains six heads of garlic for $1.69.

As far as taste, it's a little milder than white-bulb American garlic. And it's perfect for roasting. It's so much easier and better than roasting normal heads of garlic. You don't have to deal with all the skin, squeezing and mess. The roasted one clove per head garlic is just one big lump of sweet, mellow garlic!

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Hawaiian Marinated Seared Chicken

January 21, 2008 | Chuck
Hawaiian Marinated Seared Chicken

After last month's declaration that my mom's spicy lemongrass chicken was the dish I would eat for the rest of my life if I had to choose one item, Hungry Bear was a little sad. I had told her previously that her Hawaiian marinated seared chicken was my favorite chicken dish. Doh, how do you choose between your mom's cooking and your girlfriend's? It's a no win situation.

Despite my faux pas, Hungry Bear still made her Hawaiian chicken this past week. We hadn't seen some SNDsters for awhile and had a midweek "Sunday night dinner." We served the chicken over rice with a side of stir-fried vegetables. For dessert, we made a fantastic blueberry kuchen.

The chicken is very flavorful and tender, because it's marinated overnight in a citrus marinade. The marinade is a blend of strong flavors, particularly the Chinese five spice, fresh mint and mustard. I think the best part is the sauce created by deglazing the frying pan with some reserved marinade. The sauce contains all the caramelized bits left in the pan, and it's wonderful on the chicken and rice.

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