Thursday, June 7, 2012

Banh Mi Sandwich

Have you ever had a new food experience that was love at first bite? Banh Mi was one of those moments for me. The combination of flavors and textures blew my mind. Growing up in a small town where the most exotic cuisine was American Chinese or pizza it wasn't until I began working in a restaurant that the world of food opened up to me. I remember with distinction when my fondness for Vietnamese food in particular began. In college a friend from Taiwan introduced me to a hole in the wall Pho restaurant on Newbury Street. The soup was so unique yet comforting and delicious and the fresh spring rolls where an entirely new concept to me. When I left that night I was changed forever and a love of discovering new foods was born. 

The Banh Mi sandwich sounds like nothing spectacular but it is an art form. A shop serving little else opened in my neighborhood and the owner knows me by name. Yup, I am having an affair with a sandwich. This week I decided to try my hand at making them at home and it is pretty easy. However I don't think I will ever give up entirely on my neighborhood shop because I think I would break the owners heart. She is such a nice lady. For a bit of background information check out this link at one of my favorite blogs. Viet World Kitchen's Master Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe.

My gringo version can be made easily at home and while food lovers fight over the exact mayo recipe I was happy using Japanese mayo . I got it at an asian market but you can use regular mayo if you have it as well. This is all about convenience and making it work in your everyday life. 

Gringo Banh Mi Sandwich
Serves 2

1- Whole Wheat Demi Baguette, cut into 2 portions
6 oz Thinly Sliced Grilled Pork or Chicken
2 Tbsp Regular or Japanese Mayonnaise
Jalapeno Pepper (Optional), thinly sliced
1 C Daikon Carrot Pickle
English Cucumber, thinly sliced
6 Sprigs Fresh Cilantro

Heat oven to 325 and toast the outside of the bread until crisp. 

Spread 1 Tbsp mayonnaise on the inside of roll. Then layer with meat, cucumber, daikon carrot mixture, jalapeno and lastly cilantro. Serve immediately.

It sounds so very basic but trust me, it is SO worth it. I wouldn't recommend leaving anything out as the flavors all really work together. 

We will finish the tour of my favorite Vietnamese dishes to make home tomorrow with my version of the classic fresh summer rolls. You won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Vietnamese Pickled Daikon and Carrots (Do Chua)

A new sandwich shopped opened up close to my house and to my delight they sell Banh Mi and very little else. Vietnamese cuisine is one of my very favorite and I eagerly tried the shop a few days within opening. There is something about the freshness of flavors that I love and can not seem to get ever get enough. One of our favorites in our house is the fresh summer spring rolls that I will post later this week. Back to the Banh mi. The vegetables on top are what really make the sandwich for me so I eagerly did some research when I got home. As I munched on my DELICIOUS sandwich I realized it was quite easy to assemble on my own so I went to Whole Foods, bought the veggies and made the pickle that afternoon. To my surprise other than it being a lot of cutting it is quite easy to duplicate right in your own home. 
I decided to post the recipe after an old friend emailed me asking for ideas to spice up her healthy cooking. Most canned pickles are high in sodium but as this is a fresh pickle and will not be canned it requires very little salt and you get the added benefit of the vinegar. Vinegar is great for the body and has many medicinal claims. That being said this dish works as a side dish, condiment and as a topping for sandwiches. We ate the whole bowl in one day and I am already plotting my next batch. Perhaps on top of a pulled chicken sandwich...We shall see. 

It is rare that I use a recipe in its original form but this one I did because it was new to me and I respect the author Andrea Nguyen a great deal. Her cookbooks keep winning awards and she is respected world over as an authority on Vietnamese cuisine. 

Daikon and Carrot Pickle (Do Chua) from Viet World Kitchen

Makes about 3 cups
1 lg carrot, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
1 lb daikons, each no larger than 2 inches in diameter, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp plus 1/2 C raw cane sugar
1  1/4 C distilled white vinegar
1 C lukewarm water
In a medium size bowl mix the carrots and daikon with the salt and 2 tsp of sugar. Mix with your hands massaging the vegetables until they become slightly limp and water begins to accumulate in the bottom of the bowl. You want them to still be a crunchy but flexible. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Shake out excess water and return to bowl. In a small bowl combine the rest of the sugar, white vinegar and water stirring to dissolve sugar completely. Pour over vegetables and let sit at least 1 hour before eating. Keep refrigerated. 
Serve with a variety of grilled meats or tofu or as a topping on sandwiches. 
Asian Marinated Grilled Pork Chop with Daikon Carrot Pickle and Thai Basil
Check back tomorrow for my version of the Banh Mi recipe!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Asian Fish Soup

It has been rather cold here for the last few days. The first day was a bit of relief from the oppressive humidity of Memorial Day weekend but now it has gotten a bit dreary for the first week of June! The weather had me craving soup to warm up and since we had some lobsters over the weekend I just happened to have made some lobster delicious lobster stock that would work perfectly. Fish soup it would be! 
This broth based soup has a delicate flavor while still managing to be healthy and hardy. A mix of mushrooms will add complexity and earthiness to the mild cod fish. The whole wheat dumplings I found at H-Mart last week were a nice compliment to the soup and the finish of scallions at the end really brightened the flavor so I wouldn't suggest skipping them. For a vegetarian soup, or if you just like tofu like I do, the original recipe called for firm tofu and I think it would be fantastic. 

Asian Fish Soup (Adapted from Cooking Light)
4 Servings

5 Cups Lobster or Fish Stock
2 Cups Boiling Water
1 oz Dried Shitake Mushrooms
2 Tbsp Julienne Fresh Ginger
1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Fresh Ground Pepper
1/2 tsp Dark Sesame Oil
1/4 tsp Salt
1 lb Firm White Fish, like Cod
2 Cups Mixed Mushrooms, Cut in Quarters
12 Prepared Dumplings, Whole Wheat if Possible (Optional)
1/4 Sliced Scallions, Green Part Only

Combine 2 cups of boiling water and dried mushrooms in a small bowl and let soak for 20 minutes. Strain mushroom broth through a fine sieve. Reserve mushrooms. Add mushroom broth to fish stock through the next 7 ingredients in a dutch over. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Add fish, dumplings (if you are using them), and mixed mushrooms. Simmer an additional 10 minutes. 

Portion into 4 bowls and top with scallions. Serve immediately. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Raw Chocolate Pecan Energy Balls

I think one of the biggest obstacles to living a healthy lifestyle is a resistance to change. The family hears healthy and thinks "it tastes bad" or "we are going to starve and we have to give up all of our favorite foods". Healthy doesn't have to be boring or mean you have to give up what you love. It is about smart substitutions over time. Give up soda or change your latte to an iced coffee with skim milk and you will be shocked how easily you will lose some weight without "even trying". You are trying but you are finding it easy to adjust when you make the changes slowly. 
One of the hardest things for me to give up are sweets. I LOVE SUGAR but sugar does not love us or our bodies. When I gave up sugar within weeks people started commenting how much younger I looked. That was enough to keep working! When the desire for something sweet does come fruit is a great option but sometimes you want something different. This is where my energy balls come in. All the taste of a dessert but not devoid of fiber and nutrients. Win, win! Variations of this recipe have been floating around food blogs this past year in bar or ball form. Again this is about finding what you like. Add flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, whatever you love! This is just a good base to start the customization from. Raw chocolate is full of all the amazing antioxidants you need. If you can not find raw cocoa powder or don't want to pay the hefty price tag just use traditional unsweetened cocoa powder. Skip the dutch processed as that removes some of the antioxidants. 
When I started working on this recipe in my mind all I kept hearing was variations of Chef singing "My chocolate salty balls" and SNL Schweddy Balls skit. Yes, sometimes I am a 13 yo boy. I bet it is stuck in your head now too. 

Raw Chocolate Pecan Energy Balls
Adapted from Rawtarian
Approximately 24-1 inch Balls

2 Cups Whole Pitted Dates, (organic if you can find them)
2 Cups Whole Raw Pecans
3-4 Tbsp Raw Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
2 Tbsp Grade A Maple Syrup (do not use the fake HFC stuff at the supermarket, it needs to be real) or Agave
1/4 tsp Sea Salt

Begin with the dates in the food processor and chop until small but not clumping together or pasty. Add pecans and chop until small pieces but again not a paste. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until it clumps but it not completely smooth. You want there to be some texture. Using hands form into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment lined plate. Chill in the refrigerator 30 mins. I prefer them cold and straight from the fridge but they can be served either way. 
Once they are chilled you can store them in Tupperware in the fridge for 5 days or freeze any excess balls for later. 


Hearty and Healthy Vegetable Soup

Odd that I chose to start getting excited about soup as it gets warmer but as the farmer's markets open and all of the produce starts appearing I got inspired by veggies. Something I hope you have learned by now about my cooking is that there is no special formula. You can put in what you like and leave out what you don't. A recipe doesn't have to be a formula followed to the letter. When I read criticism of recipes on various sites it is often a result of the recipe not meeting that particular person's personal taste. The beauty of cooking is, you are the master of your own kitchen. Hate fennel? Leave it out. Love basil? Add another handful. The only sin is under seasoning your food so taste along the way and you will always end up with something great! 

I prefer to graze on small meals and broth based soups are a perfect way to get in your vegetables, control hunger and keep your weight under control (or going down in my case). This recipe isn't from any particular source, I just added things that we happen to love in our house. I chose to leave out starches such as potatoes and corn but you can certainly add them if you prefer. Try to choose organic vegetables whenever possible but if you can't buy everything organic at least follow the dirty dozen rule. 

Vegetable Soup
Servings: 12 Cups

1 Bunch Kale, ribs removed, wash and chopped into large pieces
2 Large Leeks, white parts only washed and chopped
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Medium Carrots, peeled and cut into slices
1 (10 oz) Package Frozen Peas
1 (15 oz) Can Red Kidney Beans, low-sodium, washed 
12 Medium Cremini Mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed, cut into quarters
1 (28 oz) Can San Marzano Tomatoes, crushed
8 C Chicken or Vegetable Broth, 99% fat free, low-sodium 
2 Low Sodium Vegetable or Chicken Bouillon Cubes
2 Tbsp Canola or Olive Oil
Fresh Cracked Pepper
Sea Salt
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (Optional)

In a 8 quart stock pot heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, and garlic and saute briefly. Add crushed tomatoes, kale, mushrooms, broth and bouillon cubes. Simmer until veggies are cooked through. Add peas, kidney beans, and salt and pepper to taste and heat through. 

Serve hot with a tablespoon of Parmigiano-Reggiano (splurge on the good stuff at the grocery store and grate it as needed, trust me the flavor is worth it and you only need a tiny bit so it lasts a long time). 


Monday, May 14, 2012

Sexy Baked French Fries

French fries are a great American love and sadly also one our most consumed sources of vegetables. I know, I don't consider it a vegetable either. Ketchup technically qualifies as well. I know, I know. When I decided to start eating a healthier diet I thought french fries were a thing of the past, an occasional treat, but I was wrong! We can have our fries and eat them too! I actually enjoy these more than most restaurants fried versions and definitely more than fast food places. I generally let the potato be my portion guide and plan on using one potato per person. If they are big fry fans you might want to up it to 1.5 per person. The spice mix I use is based on a local organic restaurant that I love. It took me a few visits to figure out what they were using but I did it. I thought it was just magic but nope, the secret is thyme. Sounds weird but trust me, it really adds something. If you think the kids won't eat it you can always do half and half but I find the grown up version to amazing. So amazing in fact I ate 2 servings last night for dinner. Don't tell anyone ;)

Sexy Baked French Fries  (Adapted from The Comfort of Cooking)
Servings 2

2 Large Russet Potatoes
4 Tbsp Canola or Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Dried Thyme
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper 

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. 

Wash potatoes and slice them into even size slices. Place in a large mixing bowl and cover with hot water for 20-30 minutes. Place 3 Tbsp oil on a heavy rimmed baking sheet and spread out evenly with a pastry brush or coat with cooking spray. (I find the oil works much better) Set aside

Drain potatoes and pat dry with paper towels. Dry out bowl and put potatoes back in bowl with 1 Tbsp oil, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Place on oiled baking sheet in a single layer. Cover with foil and bake 5 minutes (this step is important because you cooking the potatoes through at this point). Remove foil and baked 10-15 minutes. My oven runs very hot so I go more to the 10 minutes. Remove from oven and flip fries over, rotate baking sheet to ensure even browning and bake an additional 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and blot on paper towels. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. 

Serve immediately with your favorite ketchup or dipping sauce. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wheat Berry Salad with Garden Vegetables

Yesterday was a strange day to say the least. My intention was do some recipe testing but after a series of unfortunate events I was left in a funk. Combine that with the almost constant stream of rain this May and really all I wanted to so was sulk and play with the computer. In fact this morning a friend sent me a text and I stared at it for a full minute looking for the like button....I wish I was kidding. Maybe that was a clue I needed to unplug for a bit today. Just maybe. I did however find a lot of good inspiration for brownie flavors so it all worked out in the end.

The crazy thing about baking constantly is that you suddenly start to CRAVE healthy food. You would think that the constant smell of butter and sugar with really great chocolate would be enticing but I am absolute proof you can get tired of it. Who could have dreamed? One of the interesting things about me is I like baking and cooking equally. People generally lean towards one direction or other. Rule makes versus rule breakers. I like both. Sometimes I want the comfort of following the directions. The precision. The science of baking speaks to the biologist in my heart. Cooking is the creative force that lets out my wild child. The part of me that can't be tamed. This just got a little too deep for a Wednesday afternoon.

One of the great joys of food is discovery. When I started making healthy eating a priority I started learning about grains and and vegetables I had either never tried or was convinced I didn't like. Wheat berries are the whole kernel of wheat and when cooked properly have a pleasantly chewy texture and nutty flavor. They also have a good amount of protein and fiber and especially for vegetarians or vegans they can make a hardy and filling main course or a substantial side dish.

This leads me to the point of my part time vegetarianism. I am not looking for a debate on the benefits of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. We each make our own choices and need to respect not everyone else agrees. For me this has come from a  few places. My love of animals, my desire to alleviate the burden on the planet and from wanting to eat a healthier diet. It is easy to rely solely on meat for interest in a meal and the more I learn about the meat raising practices of this country as well as the burden raising feed animals on the planet I decided to start eating vegetarian at least several days a week. This is going to have an influence on this blog which I don't think is a bad thing. Regardless of your personal preferences you can always add meat or use the recipe as a side or skip meat and use it as your entree. Problem solved. All that I ask is that people think about where there food comes from. All of it and try to buy the least processed, best quality products they can afford.

This recipe is dedicated to my friend Becky who is battling Crohn's disease and finds marginal relief in a vegan diet. I hope you like it.

Wheat Berries with Garden Vegetables
2 Entree Portions or 4 Side Portions

1 Cup Red Winter Wheat Berries
3 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock, Low-sodium
Garden Vegetables- This is where this recipe can be made your own. I love recipes that are clean out your pantry kind of dishes. I used..
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1- (14 0z) Jar Artichoke Hearts, drained and cut into 4ths
2 Cups Sliced Fresh Mushrooms, use a mix of whatever you like. I was being cheap so I just bought one kind. When did mushrooms start being $18.99 a pound?
1 Large Carrot, peeled and diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and minced
1 Cup Diced White Onion
Salt and Pepper

The morning before you want to cook the wheat berries soak them in a bowl with water just to cover. They will be ready when you get home that night.

Place wheat berries and stock in a small sauce pan and simmer over low heat until stock is absorbed. 60-90 minutes.

Saute in olive oil the onions and carrots until the onions are translucent. Add artichoke hearts and mushrooms and let caramelize over medium-low heat until all the veggies are cooked and are slightly brown. Add the wheat berries and mix thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with crusty bread or entree of your choice.