experiencing authentic vietnamese cuisine

i can’t believe it’s been about a month since i came back from the U.S.! Time does really really fly…

As my now brother-in-law’s, Donny, family is Vietnamese, the trip to Kansas for my sister’s wedding was filled with tons of real authentic Vietnamese food. I knew right from the start that I’ve always been a fan of pho – who can’t resist a hot bowl of beef noodles! Back during college days, pho was pretty much a staple for Jon and I, eating a bowl of pho at least once a week. Yet, the pho standard in Singapore has only just been okay and every time we went back to Seattle, pho is definitely on our to-eat-list. 

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Although I’ve eaten many many bowls of pho in my life thus far, my knowledge of vietnamese cuisine is as good as knowing that in typical pho restaurants, the further you go down the list of pho, the more beef parts you get. Hence, I was extremely excited to go to Kansas, not just to attend my sister’s big day, but also to get a taste of authentic vietnamese food. 

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During the stay in Kansas, we were hosted by one of Donny’s relatives, whom we call Aunt Michelle and Uncle Jimmy. As soon as we got to their house, they had started food preparation, preparing boxes of rice paper sheets so that we could start rolling them for lunch the next day. We set around the kitchen counters as we hand-rolled delicious banh uot with fried onions inside. It resembles chee chong fun we see in typical dim sum restaurants and although I’ve eaten this since young, this is definitely one of the dishes I’ve never dreamed of making just because it looks too delicate and too difficult to make. We made trays and trays of this delicious goodness and it wasn’t till lunch the next day did I see how banh uot all comes together. With bean sprouts, cucumber, spring onions, grilled pork, cha lua, a sauce made using fish sauce and a couple of other ingredients, this dish is like nothing i’ve ever tasted before! It was incredibly fresh tasting and all the different textures really came well together.

IMG_7977On a separate note, during my sister’s Singapore wedding, Donny’s parents came over to Singapore and on one of the nights, they made the rice paper sheets from scratch and recreated the same dish in Singapore. Such a pity that I was at work during the preparation and couldn’t see how it is made.

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On one of the other nights in Kansas, Aunt Michelle and Uncle Jimmy, both excellent cooks, decided to hold a competition. Aunt Michelle cooked bun rieu while Uncle Jimmy cooked pho ga. Aunt Michelle served her bun rieu first and boy was it so good! It is a vegetable broth and tastes much healthier than pho. It tasted so good that we kinda forgot all about having a second dish to try and before we knew it, we were too full to stomach anything else. The bun rieu, like the bunh uot is really light tasting, and after eating quite a bit of vietnamese food, I realised that that is actually what I love most about vietnamese food! It’s super awesome to eat great tasting food, but even more awesome to eat nutritious great tasting food :) 

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We had Uncle Jimmy’s pho for breakfast the next day but…I was too hungry and forgot to take a photo :P For now, drool once more on this other picture I took of Aunt Michelle’s bun rieu :)

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And, with a blink of an eye, we had to say goodbye to Kansas. Till the next time we go to Kansas, I’ll be missing vietnamese food big time :'( (unless i go to vietnam soon, which i’ve been dying to go!) 

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Comfort food – Jambalaya recipe

sausages, ham, scallops, prawns, spice, mmmmm….

The TAOs first cooked Jambalaya for Jon and I during one of our many visits and it definitely did not help subside our cravings given that the TAOs would try to cook it for us as often as possible. Jambalaya is certainly comfort food and it is the best feeling when you eat it during the winter months because Jamabalaya will make your stomach feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Cooking this dish requires a bit of hard work at the start but all in all, it is a pretty easy dish to make. The only challenge would be to get fresh seafood, which was in abundance all year round for us back when we were in Seattle. This dish is also highly customizable and you can put in more of the seafood you like and less or none of the seafood you don’t like.

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Since we were back in Singapore, Jon has cooked this dish 3 times and each time, it has always been a hit! Whenever Jon suggests to cook Jambalaya at home, we usually all respond to him with a…”yesssssssss jambalayaaaaaaaaa!!!!” and throughout the day, my younger sister, Jane, would come to me grinning ear to ear saying “we’re gonna have jambalaya for dinnerrrrr!!!” Yes, it is really that good!

I took this picture from a recent Jambalaya dinner with the TAOs and I love how colourful and happy looking their plates look <3

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Just before I end this post, I just wanted to say that it really made my weekend when I received a newsletter from David Lebovitz and he has released a new book – My Paris Kitchen. So excited! *pre-ordering*

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Jamabalaya
Recipe from the TAOs
Serves 4 hungry people – 6 (normal people?)

1.5 lb smoked ham or a combination of ham and sausages
2 sausages of your choice, sliced (we like using spicy sausages!)
2 tbsp oil
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced, or 2 cups canned tomatoes crushed
1 clove of garlic crushed
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
0.5 tsp crushed dried red pepper (or more, to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 lb seafood (shrimp, large scallops, squid, etc)

Instructions:
1. Cut the smoked ham (and sausages) into small pieces and process through a blender till it looks like the picture below. The bamix works best for me. Slice the sausages and set aside.

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2. In a pan, heat the oil and fry the onion, green pepper, ham and sausages until they are beginning to brown.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients except the seafood and let it simmer until meat is cooked. If you do not find the sauce “red” enough, feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree.  At this point, the sauce can be frozen for later use or kept in the refrigerator for 2 days. Ensure that the sauce is cooked to room temperature before storing. When ready to eat, put sauce in a saucepan and simmer until very hot.

4. 10 minutes before serving, add scallops and stir the sauce all over the scallops to ensure that the scallop cooks evenly. Add in the shrimp and stir. Do not overcook.

5. Pour Jambalaya into a large serving bowl and serve with rice.

Note: Real jambalaya is usually cooked with the rice in it. However, we’ve found the jambalaya more versatile if it is cooked separately from the rice as it risks the seafood from getting cooked too well done. Also, I don’t quite like my rice too soaked through with sauce and helps with the portion control since some people like less rice while others like more.

cake design using almonds

I’ve tried decorating the sides of my cakes with nuts a number of times using a range of different methods. I would usually start by toasting the nuts and chopping them up. After which, it is up to my imagination to get them to stick.

On some days, I would try to grab as much chopped nuts as possible and moving quickly, try to press them onto the cake. But usually, no matter how fast I am, the nuts would slip off my hands before they go on the cake and I would end up touching the icing. On other days, I would use the “throwing” method where I would “throw” the nuts onto the sides of the cake. Unfortunately, it would usually lead to uneven sides and nuts all over the table.

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Last week, my mom asked me to bake a hummingbird cake for a birthday and I decided that I would, for once, spend some time and get the nuts right. Mustering up all the energy I had left, I decided to…lay the almonds one by one. I got down on my knees so that I would be on the same level as the cake on the table, put all the toasted sliced almonds next to me, and working as quickly as I could, I started from the top and laid the almonds one by one.

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sichuan hotpot recipe

Jon and I love a really good sichuan hot pot and by that, I really mean a hot pot that is adequately spicy but not too spicy, doesn’t numb the tongue so much and has a soup that is tasty and has depth. For our National Day family get together, Jon decided to take on a culinary challenge and cook the sichuan hot pot from scratch!

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Jon and I started loving sichuan hot pot during our uni days in the US. There are tons of really good hot pot places all around. Hot pot gives you that comforting and soothing feeling, especially during a cold winter. Then, we realized that our love of sichuan hot pot went more than just warming us up during winter as we started to look for good sichuan hot pot places here in Singapore. We would usually have hot pot after work, sitting out in the humid weather, sweating and dipping all our meats and vegetables into the hot pot, only to finish sweaty and satisfied.

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national day + many things to be happy about!

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Yesterday was Singapore’s 48th birthday. For my immediate and extended family, it is a day where we get together, have a feast and watch the national day parade on television. It is actually pretty exciting because from where I stay, we can hear a little of the activities going on, such as the helicopters and when the F16s flown by the Singapore Air Force flies by the house. Year on year, the sequence of the national day parade is somewhat predictable, which in my opinion makes it quite fun. We’ll always ask questions like “has the contingent marched out?” “is the President out yet?” just to ensure we don’t miss out on anything.

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cannelloni stuffed minced beef recipe

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Annabel (aka Bel) and I were at the supermarket quite a while ago and as we walked through the pasta section, she pointed out Barilla’s Cannelloni, asking me if I had seen such a pasta shape before. Despite being quite a pasta fan, I have never noticed nor tried it before. We decided to get it. Bel is a really awesome cook and one day, we were surprised with cannelloni stuffed with minced beef for dinner – it was heavenly!

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mint truffles recipe

The first time I made truffles was when I was in Seattle. I’ve always been a big fan of dark chocolates. I’m not a milk chocolate kind of person, and definitely not a white chocolate kind of person – I love my cocoa!

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Getting to eat a chocolate truffle is a real treat since it is really decadent, but also really expensive. The first time I made champagne truffles, I was mesmerized at how easy and decadent it is. Unfortunately, I’ve to say that while it is easy to make truffles in the US, it is tough to do it back in Singapore. Since moving back, I’ve always had trouble sourcing for chocolate. They are either mediocre chocolate, or really really expensive. Once, when I decided to make Pierre Herme’s Riviera for my mom’s birthday, his recipe suggested to use a particular type of Valrhona chocolate. In an attempt to make it perfect, I went to the store to see how much it would cost. After some calculations, the cost of chocolate alone for a 9-inch cake would be more than a whopping SGD$100 (USD$78) – absolutely ridiculous and crazy. From then on, my siblings, whenever they go in and out of the US, would carry 10lb blocks of chocolate for me. I would in turn bake them awesome goodies :)

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gâteau diane recipe

To me, birthday cakes are an integral part to any birthday celebration. I am quite sticky about this, and maybe a tad too opinionated. I always feel that no matter how great a birthday celebration is, something is always missing when there is no birthday cake.

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Just as I am thinking a little more about why I feel this way, I guess what makes a birthday really special is during that couple minutes where the whole group, as one, dedicates a birthday song to that person. It is really that couple of minutes that everyone comes as one, and focuses on wanting to give joy to someone else. In a society where we many a time take things for granted and move too quickly, stopping for a couple of minutes to appreciate someone’s life really makes a difference.

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happy 26th birthday to Jon!

In my family, celebrating the day you’re born is really more like celebrating the week you’re born :P

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Due to busy work schedules, we usually find it hard to arrange an actual birthday dinner and end up celebrating birthdays all through the week. It is actually pretty awesome since you get to have many nice dinner treats and get to have many birthday cakes. It’s even more awesome for Jon and I, since we treat the “birthday week” (maybe it should be birthweek, haha) like a special week for that individual. This means that since last week was Jon’s birthday week, he got to tell me things like “help me go get a glass of water. It’s my birthday week!” And I’ll just have to do it. I can’t wait for my turn in November! *sinister laugh*

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gianduja gelato recipe

For the longest time, I had been struggling with my cuisinart ice cream machine. It worked well when I was in US but since I brought it home, it has been giving me a multitude of problems. At home, we have quite a few american appliances and due to different voltage, we have a huge voltage transformer. My kitchenaid, and many other american appliances have worked great but the cuisinart was a different story. Sometimes, nothing would be wrong and I would churn out ice cream fine. Sometimes, it would run for 15 minutes and switch off by itself and not be able to turn on again. At other times, the same thing would happen for 10 minutes. One day, it decided to not turn on again, and I guess it was gone forever.

This time when I went back to Seattle, I decided to bid the voltage problems goodbye, and get the kitchenaid ice cream maker attachment. I must say that in terms of churning out good consistency ice cream, this attachment is really really awesome. I must say though, my only problem with it is pouring the mixture in. Due to all the stirring and cooling involved, I tend to place the mixture in wide mouth bowls and containers so that they would cool faster. It is actually quite hard to pour the mixture in while the machine is turned on (which is what you’re supposed to do) since the space available to pour the mixture in is very limited.  Hence, it has been quite a feat so far with me holding the mixture and another person holding a funnel, positioning it strategically over the bowl but not touching the moving parts – sounds complicated, right! So, until I find a better way, I love my new ice cream maker attachment just about 99%.

David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop ice cream book is highly recommended for anyone who loves making ice cream. It is the only recipe book I have that’s dedicated to ice cream and it has served me very well so far. I like it that the book has a combination of very easy to make recipes when you feel like whipping something up in 10 minutes, Yet, the book also has complicated recipes if you’re looking for a challenge or for a recipe to impress.

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When I first flipped open the book, the first recipe that caught my eye is the gianduja gelato! I always pick a hazelnut ice cream when I go to gelato shops and I just couldn’t wait to try making it myself.

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