Monday, December 26, 2011

Suon Rang--Vietnamese Glazed Spareribs

The end of the semester along with an unexpected opportunity to substitute for a friend at the school where I used to teach has limited my posting recently.  The end of the semester is always a busy time getting finals ready and finishing grading.  The substitute position was a surprise because with cuts in the budget for adult education, the district no longer hires substitutes when teachers are sick or have jury duty; classes are simply canceled.  The director of the division loathes to pay for a substitute when also paying sick leave for the absent teacher.  Because her father, who himself has bone cancer, is no longer able to adequately care for his wife, who is terminally ill with cancer while also suffering from Alzheimer's, my friend had to take a family leave of absence to care for her parents.  Since the school district isn't paying her, the director agreed to pay for a substitute.  This is the state of compassion and education in present day America.

Although I agreed to substitute primarily because I wanted to help out a friend, I've greatly enjoyed her classes.  If only the people responsible for funding education could see how important these classes are to our community.  Besides recent college graduates from other countries, there is an orthodontist who fled the violence and fear of kidnapping in Mexico, a pharmacist from Algeria who is working at Del Taco, a psychologist from Spain,  and a young, former accounting executive for Coca Cola in Africa in one of the classes.  One of the Chinese students is also fluent in Japanese, married to a neurological researcher working at the UC Davis medical center.  Many of them are already fluent in several languages, but without greater fluency in English they are reduced to working in fast food restaurants or other such menial jobs.  Yet, the only reason they even have a class now is that their regular teacher is forced to go without pay in order to take care of a dying parent.  Merry Christmas!

On to the main point of this blog, I suppose.  The food.  Today's dish is a tasteful recipe for spareribs.  It has the characteristically Vietnamese combination of salty (from the fish and soy sauce) and sweet (from sugar).  I served them with quick pickled beansprouts and carrots, the pickled vegetables a nice counter balance to the richness of the spareribs.  The recipe is from Nicole Routhier's The Foods of Vietnam, the first Vietnamese cookbook I ever bought and still one of my favorites.  In the future, I think I'll deep fry the ribs in the first part of the recipe as stir frying them requires a large wok and a great deal of patience to cook them through.  I used my 22-inch wok to stir-fry the ribs, a smaller wok will probably require you to cook them in batches if you don't choose to deep fry them.  Another option would be to grill them before the final step of glazing them and stir frying them with the vegetables.  The important thing is to make sure they are cooked through before doing the final glaze.

Suong Rang--Vietnamese Glazed Spareribs

1 TBS oil
3 lbs pork spareribs, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 TBS sugar
2 TBS fish sauce
1 TBS soy sauce
2 medium onions, each cut into eighths and separated
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large wok or frying pan.  Add the ribs and cook on both sides until browned and almost cooked through, 25 minutes or longer.  (Alternatively, deep fry the ribs in batches, about 6--8 minutes, or grill over hot coals until almost cooked through.)

Add the sugar to the ribs and cook, stirring, for another ten minutes.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok.  Add the fish sauce and soy sauce and stir for five minutes.  Add the onions, garlic, and peppers and stir-fry  just until onions are lightly browned and peppers are becoming soft.  Season with pepper and remove to a serving platter.  Garnish with cilantro if you so desire.  Serve with steamed rice and pickled beansprouts and carrots.

Pickled Bean Sprouts

1 pound fresh bean sprouts, tails removed if you wish
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 TBS salt
4 cups water
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar.

Place the sprouts and green onions in a large, non-reactive bowl.

Combine the salt, water and vinegar in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt. Cool until warm to the touch.  Pour this over the bean sprout mixture and stir.  Marinate for at least one hour, or until ready to serve.  Drain before serving.

These are best eaten on the day they are made.  Don't marinate too long or they will become limp.

Pickled carrots

3 carrots
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 TBS sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Peel carrots and cut into julienned strips or thin rounds.  Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Remove and let cool to room temperature.  Add the carrots to the vinegar mixture and allow to marinate for at leas one hour.  Drain and serve.

I was sorry to see that Delicious Vietnam, the monthly blogging event founded by Anh of A Food Lover's Journey and Hong and Kim of The Ravenous Couple is coming to an end.  It will still exist here in the world of Facebook apparently, but not as a monthly event.  Anh, one of its founders, is hosting the final addition of Delicious Vietnam.  Interested participants have until the final day of 2011 to take part and have a chance to win some wonderful prizes.  For more detailed information, please go here.

I may try to get in another entry, but for now, this will have to do.  I must say I've enjoyed participating in and having the chance to host several of the round-ups of Delicious Vietnam over the past few years.  I hope it will continue to thrive on Facebook.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pong Tauhu--Tofu with Meatball Soup

Although they share many cultural, linguistic, and culinary influences, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore also have distinct differences.  One of the reasons I am so fond of Indonesia is that there are so many distinct cultures throughout the archipelago.  Even within Java, the Sundanese of West Java are different from the Javanese of Central and East Java, with their own language and dietary preferences.

Nonya cuisine is essentially a blend of Straits Chinese and native Malay/Indonesian spices and ingredients.  As a result, you'll find a combination of tastes that you would not find in strictly Chinese or strictly Indonesian dishes.  For instance, coconut milk is rarely used in Chinese dishes, and pork would of course be taboo for Muslims.  This amalgamation of ingredients and flavors results in a vibrant and rich culinary tradition that stretches along the Straits of Malacca from Penang to Singapore and Riau in Indonesia. 

While Penang, Malacca, and Singapore are where the Peranakan culture and cuisine have been best preserved and promoted, in truth its influence remains strong along the east coast of Sumatra and along the north coast of Java wherever Chinese communities have been. This particular recipe is from a Singapore cookbook, Nyonya Specialties by Mrs. Leong Yee Soo, but it is something I could easily imagine finding on the table in my wife's home in Kediri.  It's a bright, robust soup that is hearty enough to serve as a meal on a chill winter evening. 

BTW, this soup, pong tauhu, should not be confused with the Indonesian tahu pong.  Although they are probably derived from the same root, tahu pong are fried tofu puffs.  Those in this recipe are  denser dumplings of tofu that are not fried.

 Tauhu Pong--Bean Curd with Meatball Soup
adapted from Nyonya Specialties

1 1/2 lb prawns, preferably with heads (for making the stock)
1 1/2 lb minced pork
3 TBS green onions, finely chopped
8 oz firm tofu

1 TBS salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced and fried crisp
1 tsp white pepper, finely ground

2 TBS vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pounded to a paste
1 TBS yellow bean paste (tauco), pounded
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt or more, to taste

1 1/2 pound julienned bamboo shoots
12 oz fresh pork belly

Remove the shells (and heads) from the prawns.  Reserving the meat of the prawns, fry the shells in a stockpot until they change color and are charred in spots.  Pound the shells and add 6 1/2 cups water.  Strain and set this stock aside.

Boil the pork belly in 4 cups of water for about 45 minutes.  Cut the pork into thin strips.  Add the pork stock to the prawn stock.

Mix together the seasoning ingredients.  Mince the prawns and tofu and combine them with the minced pork, green onions, and seasoning.  Grease your hands and roll the tofu mixture into walnut-sized balls.  Place the meatballs on a tray.

Heat 2 TBS oil and fry the pounded garlic until it just begins to color.  Add tauco and sugar and stir-fry for a minute.  Add bamboo shoots and stir.  Stir in reserved pork and prawn stock.  Boil for 15 minutes, then taste and add salt. 

Add meatballs and pork strips to boiling soup.  Cook on a low boil until meatballs float to the surface.  Simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.

Serve hot. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Javanese Nuts and Bolts


Nuts and bolts (AKA Party Mix) is a seasonal snack in my family, something that pops up around this time every year.  Although the recipe makes a generous amount, it disappears as fast as it is put out.  The combination of toasted cereals, pretzels, and nuts with butter and worcestershire sauce produces an incredibly addictive, not too salty snack (although I've always found the packaged versions to be overly salty and nowhere nearly as tasty).  As much as I love the original version (or at least the version that my mother makes), I decided to try giving it a little Javanese flavor.

Instead of butter, I substituted fresh pressed whole kernel virgin coconut oil.  To be honest, I was worried that the coconut oil would overpower the mix.  Fortunately, it proved to be a fairly subtle back note to the mix, not at all overwhelming or cloying.  In addition to the coconut oil, I added some crisp tempe, some fried kaffir lime leaves, and some fried, finely chopped lemongrass.  Instead of using worcestershire sauce, I used kecap manis, some fish sauce, and some panang curry paste.  Although not my mother's party mix, this proved to be just as addictive.  If you're looking to give a different twist on an old standby, I'd certainly recommend giving this a try.

Javanese Nuts and Bolts

2 stalks of lemongrass, inner lower third only, very finely chopped (easiest to do in a food processor)
14 kaffir lime leaves

2 cups bite-size wheat square cereal (such as Wheat Chex®)
2 cups bite-size corn square cereal (such as Corn Chex®)
2 cups bite-size rice square cereal (such as Rice Chex®)
2 cups toasted oat cereal rings (such as Cheerios®)
2 cups pretzels
1 1/2 cups lightly salted dry roasted cashews
1 1/2 cups tempe sliced into pieces 2" x 3/4" x 1/3" and deep fried until crisp

1 cup fresh pressed virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup kecap manis
1 TBS fish sauce
2 tsp panang curry paste

Preheat your oven to 225º F.

In a pan over medium low heat, fry the lemongrass in several tablespoons of the coconut oil until browned and crisp, like when making tofu with lemongrass.

Fry the kaffir limes in hot oil until crisp.  Alternatively, crisp in a microwave.  You want to be able to crumble them easily.

Heat the remaining coconut oil in a small saucepan.  Stir in the curry paste until it is dissolved in the oil, and then stir in the kecap manis and fish sauce.

In a large bowl mix the cereals, pretzels, cashews, and fried tempe.  Pour in the coconut oil mixture. Mix well, tossing and stirring the cereals so all get coated.  Stir in the browned lemongrass and the crumbled kaffir lime leaves.  Mix well and pour into a large roasting pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour, stirring every fifteen minutes or so.  Cool before serving.

I've found the kaffir lime flavor to become more pronounced the longer the mix sits.  This is a flavor I think can be overbearing--as I find it is in Trader Joe's Thai-spiced cashew nuts.  You can taste the kaffir lime leaves in this mix, but they don't dominate it. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Orak Arik Wortel--Carrots and Cabbage with Eggs

After the excess of feasting that is Thanksgiving in the United States, this is a simple, restrained vegetarian recipe.  As in many countries where animal protein is expensive and not a part of the daily diet of much of the society, in Indonesia eggs are a relatively inexpensive source of protein.  Orak arik are simple scrambles of vegetables and eggs. 

While a lot of Indonesian food is generously spiced, orak arik dishes tend to be rather tame.  The ingredients and the spicing indicate a Dutch influence.  According to this site, the orange carrots we are used to today evolved from varieties cultivated by the Dutch in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.  The Indonesian word for carrot--wortel--is taken directly from the Dutch.

Although this could be served as an accompaniment to a meat dish such as grilled chicken or fish, it also is satisfying on its own with some rice.  Especially after the glut of indulgence these last few days, a dish like this is simply satisfying. 

Orak Arik Wortel

1 1/2 cups julienned carrots (about 3 medium carrots)
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
2--3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 TBS oil for stir frying

Heat oil in a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and garlic and fry until fragrant.  Then add carrots and cabbage and stir fry until carrots soften, around five minutes.  Stir in eggs, salt and pepper, and scramble until eggs and vegetables are well mixed and eggs are thoroughly cooked.  Serve with steamed rice.

You may notice I added sliced chiles, but those are strictly optional.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving and Loss

The world, my world, was diminished this week.  Tuesday morning in Kediri, East Java, my father-in-law died.  He had been sick for many months, weakened and ravaged by the cancer that first blossomed on his tongue six years ago.  He had had half his tongue removed, been reduced to a diet of liquid and pap, yet he was unbowed by the disease.  Oh, he complained about what the cancer had cost him, complained that he had lost his sense of taste while also complaining that the bubur, soto or whatever else he happened to be eating didn't taste good, but he had many of the same complaints even before the cancer.  The eldest male in his family, when Pa spoke, everyone did as he said without argument.  It was hard to see him this summer, months after the cancer had reappeared, struggling to speak, his voice stolen by the disease. 

I first met Pa a little over 18 years ago.  I had asked Tjing to marry me and she had, with great trepidation, gone back to Kediri to ask her father for his permission.  Had he said no, that would have been the end of it.  Never mind that we were both adults living independent lives, if Pa had told Tjing to end it, that would have been that.  Tjing knew (as did I) there was also a very good chance that would happen.  Although she had known me for almost six years by then, my existence had never been broached to either her mother, who died a few years earlier, or her father.  Knowing all this, it's rather remarkable that I wasn't more nervous when I went to the train station that morning to meet him.

In fact, Pa and I got along very well together right from the start.  We were oddly similar in many ways,  both probably more feared by our families than by the community at large.  Like me, he accepted there are idiots loose in the world, but wouldn't suffer fools gladly.  He was also comfortable with silences and had little use for idle gossip.  Unlike his daughter, he believed in getting to the airport or train station in plenty of time.  Tjing and I both had to laugh when we said our final farewell this summer and he was enraged because he thought we would be late for our train although the station was less than ten minutes away and he had us leaving with almost 45 minutes to spare.  He shook his fist and bellowed with rage at our failure to have becaks lined up in advance to take us to the station.  When we had finally managed to get our bags and ourselves into the becaks, he relaxed and dismissed us with a wave.

What a lot of people didn't realize is what a great sense of humor Pa had.  He came to the US a couple years after we had moved into our house.  Because Tjing didn't feel able to deal with him in the classroom, he came to study in the school where I taught.  As I was teaching a Beginning Low class, Pa was a student in my class.  In the class there was a Russian student who had a very prominent, very long nose.  He was also not particularly bright, one of those students who is always a page or two behind the rest of the class, so when he was asked a question he would give a nonsensical answer.  Pa nicknamed him "Petruk," one of the clown-servants in Indonesian wayang plays. To this day, when I have a student who is a little bit lost, I think of Pa and Petruk and smile.

One time in Bandung, where one of Tjing's brothers lives and where Pa often stayed, he noticed a worker seemed  to be upset.  When he asked him what was wrong, the worker explained he had had a bad dream.  In his dream the worker was reading the book of his life and he had come to the last page when he woke up.  He was sure the dream meant he would die soon.  Pa told the worker not to worry.  Maybe, Pa said, it was just book one in a series. They both laughed and the worker was visibly more relaxed, able to look forward to a long life.

I could never express how thankful I am that Pa allowed me to marry his daughter, to take her so far from him, and to allow me into his family and his home.  He always treated me with more respect, more kindness, and more love than I am sure I deserved.  He was a good man, one who taught me much in the brief time I knew him, one I am proud to have loved and been loved by, who I will sorely miss now that he is gone.  So I give thanks for the time I had with him, for the gifts he bestowed upon me, for his grace.  May he rest in peace.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vietnamese Cabbage Rolls


Until I lived in Vietnam, I had never thought of cabbage rolls as a Vietnamese dish.  I also had never thought of them as very appetizing.  I can only remember a few times when I had eaten them, and they always seemed like death warmed over.  In recent years golubsi, the Slavic version of cabbage rolls, have become one of the staples at school potlucks, and while I have had some pretty good ones, they pale in comparison to the Vietnamese version.

This recipe uses pork as the main ingredient for the filling, but in Vietnam we often had a vegetarian version with tofu.  Di Nguyet, one of the aunts in the house we lived in, was a devout Buddhist and maintained a vegetarian diet.  The rest of the family, however, only followed a vegetarian diet two days a month.  As much as I like the cabbage rolls with pork, I enjoyed the vegetarian version just as much.  I'll post a recipe for that sometime soon.

This is what I would describe as Vietnamese comfort food.  I have never seen it on a menu either here or in Vietnam, but it was a dish regularly enjoyed by the family we lived with.  It's a perfect dish for these cool fall evenings.  This recipe is adapted from Nicole Routhier's The Foods of Vietnam.

Vietnamese Cabbage Rolls--Su Nhoi Thit Heo
printable recipe

1 head of cabbage
1 pound of ground pork
6 dried shitakes, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, chopped
1 bundle of cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, cut in two-inch lengths
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 TBS fish sauce
1 tsp or more of freshly ground pepper
20 flowering chives or garlic chives, blanched 30 seconds, rinsed in cold water, drained


1 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes, no salt added, or 6 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 TBS vegetable oil
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 TBS fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 cup chicken broth or water

Place the head of cabbage in a pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes.  Remove and place in an ice bath.  Drain and peel the leaves from the cabbage.  As you get towards the interior, you may have to repeat the process.  Boiling the cabbage makes the leaves pliable and easy to roll.

In a food processor, pulse the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms until they are finely chopped. (You can do all the chopping by hand, but this is one of those times when a food processor comes in handy.) Add the cellophane noodles and pulse several times before adding the ground pork.  Add fish sauce, ground pepper, and sugar, processing briefly to get a fairly homogenous mixture.

Place several tablespoons of the pork mixture on a cabbage leaf.  Roll the leaf as if making a burrito or a spring roll.  Tie a chive around the roll.  Repeat with the remaining pork mixture and cabbage leaves.  You should get around 16 bundles.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan with high sides over medium-high heat.  Fry the garlic and shallots in the oil until fragrant.  Stir in the canned tomatoes, broth or water, fish sauce, and sugar.  Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, break up the tomatoes into smaller pieces.  Add the cabbage rolls, submerging them as much as possible in the sauce.  Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.  If you are unable to submerge all the rolls, rotate the submerged ones with those on top about half way through.

Serve with rice.

I'm submitting this post for Delicious Vietnam # 19, hosted this month by Ginger of Ginger and Scotch (which happen to be two items I have an almost insatiable appetite for).  Delicious Vietnam is a monthly food blogging event open to any Vietnamese food lover.  The  aim is to promote and explore the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine. 

The idea behind this event came about several years ago by Anh of A food lovers’ journey.  Hooking up with Hong and Kim from Ravenous Couple, the idea finally came to fruition.  To learn more about Delicious Vietnam and how you can participate, click on this link.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vietnamese Coffee Crack Pie

Having heard so much about Momofuku's infamous crack pie, I decided I'd make it for a recent bookclub dinner.  Essentially a variation of chess pie, Christina Tosi's crack pie is a rich, extremely sweet dessert; click on the recipe for it and a rash of links to diabetes control and information websites appear.  Had Jerry Garcia survived the heroin, this would have been his demise.  Give an eight-year old a suggested serving sized slice of this and pull him down from the ceiling eight hours later.


Reading the recipe for crack pie, I thought it seemed sweeter than something I would normally choose.  Still, I didn't want to just say no. I made Tosi's crack pie following her recipe verbatim.  It produced a luscious, enticing pie that everyone else in the bookclub enjoyed.  However, it was too sweet for my taste.  I loved the crust and the filling was wonderfully creamy and silky, but it was like mainlining sugar.

In as much I drink my coffee straight--black, no sugar, no milk--I still had some sweetened condensed milk in the fridge from making the Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.  Hoping to make a pie that had the silkiness of Tosi's filling without quite so much sweetness, I decided to try a coffee flavored version of crack pie using the sweetened condensed milk.  The milk substituted for the cream and white sugar called for in the original recipe.

Vietnamese Coffee Crack Pie
printable recipe

1 prepared crust following Tosi's recipe
(I used a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom)


3 1/2 oz light brown sugar (about 7 TBS)
1/8 tsp salt
a scant 3 TBS milk powder
1/2 cup (1 cube) melted butter
1/4 cup espresso or strongly brewed coffee
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 large beaten egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla

Heat the oven to 350º F.  Place the pan with prepared pie crust on a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, milk powder, butter, espresso, and sweetened condensed milk until you have a fairly homogenous mixture.  Gently whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla without whisking in too much air.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350º, then lower the temperature to 325º and bake until filling is just slightly wobbly.  This took around 15 to 20 minutes for the coffee filling, which has more liquid than Tosi's original filling. When done, remove and cool on a rack.

Refrigerate for several hours.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Slice and serve.
Tosi's recipe says each pie makes 6 to 8 servings.  I'd suggest 12 slices per pie.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Terung Isi Udang--Shrimp Stuffed Baby Eggplant

This is a recipe that is derived from a dim sum favorite.  Dim sum restaurants make a similar dish using long Japanese eggplant sliced on a bias, sandwiching the shrimp stuffing between pieces of eggplant.  It's a dish that is both attractive and delectable.

One of the many benefits of the extensive and diverse population of immigrants in California is the impact it has had on local agriculture and markets.  Each immigrant community brings its own flavors and accents to the communal table.  Thirty-five years ago fish sauce was a rarity, found only in Filipino markets.  In Sacramento, we've seen each wave of immigrants, from Vietnam, Laos, Mexico, El Salvador and Soviet-block countries to Afghanistan and Iraq, open markets to serve the tastes of their communities.  The farmers markets offer produce that was unknown here ten years ago.  One such offering is baby eggplant.

Similar in taste to Japanese eggplant, baby eggplant may be dark purple, light purple, or variegated purple and white.  They range in size from that of a medium egg, sometimes smaller, to several inches in length.  They're great in Thai curries, in salads, or simply grilled.  Stuffing them with a shrimp mousse and frying them makes for a tasty and visually appealing main dish.  With a side of stir-fried greens and some steamed rice, you've got yourself a nice dinner.  

Terung Isi Udang

12 baby eggplants (if unavailable, use Japanese eggplant)
1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
3 green onions, green part only, finely chopped
1 tsp salt (plus more for salting the eggplant)
1 TBS rice wine
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch

Peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Make 4 cuts in the eggplants from bottom to top, so each eggplant is essentially quartered lengthwise but is still intact near the stem and calyx.  Spread the eggplant open and sprinkle with salt.  Set aside for twenty minutes or so while you prepare the shrimp filling.

Place the shrimp in a food processor and pulse until the shrimp are coarsely chopped.  Add the chopped green onions, salt, rice wine and cornstarch.  Pulse several more times to mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Squeeze and wipe the eggplants with paper towels to remove the excess salt and moisture.  Holding them open, spoon in the shrimp mixture. 

Heat about 2 inches of oil to 350º F in a wok or fryer of your choice.  Fry the eggplant in three batches, frying four at each time and maintaining the temperature.  Each batch should take around four or five minutes.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  You may keep the first batches warm in a low oven (200º F) while cooking the remaining eggplant if you wish.

These may be served with a simple sauce of chicken stock with some ginger, green onions, and tausi (fermented black beans) slightly thickened with cornstarch, but they also taste good with nuoc cham, the sambal of your choice, or just on their own.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Kue Soes Kopi Kapulaga--Cardamom Coffee Cream Puffs


As my blog is entitled Javaholic, many people assume that I focus primarily on coffee.  As much as I enjoy a good cup of coffee, which I do several times a day, this blog is more interested in exposing people to Indonesian food. However, after having gone more than two years without a post specifically related to coffee, I find myself having two coffee related posts this month.
When the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program offered interested bloggers a chance to create a post about a dish that would pair with some new blends Peet's was promoting, I leapt at the opportunity.  For one thing, I got two bags of Peet's coffee from the deal.  Yes, I can be had cheap.  I wouldn't have done it, however, if Peet's weren't already my choice for coffee.  It seems to be one of the few places where I can get a good cappuccino that is not just a frothy latté.  I also appreciate that it uses a lot of Indonesian textile motifs in its decorations.

The new blends--Café Domingo, which is a blend of Central and South American coffees, and Café Solano, which is a blend of African, Indo-Pacific and South American coffees--are medium roasts. Interestingly, Indonesian coffee drinkers tend to favor medium roasts.  During my visit to Kediri this past summer, my brother-in-law couldn't appreciate the dark roast Sulaweisi I brought, preferring a medium roast from Flores.  He would definitely appreciate the Café Solano.

I don't generally drink much coffee past noon, but I do enjoy it sometimes with dessert.  As one of the desserts that Tjing likes is kue soes, which is what Indonesians call cream puffs, I decided to make some with an Indonesian spiced pastry cream.  Topped with a simple dark chocolate sauce, these pair very nicely with the medium roast blends.

1 cup of bread flour (although all-purpose will also work)
1 TBS sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup butter (5 1/3 TBS) 
4 large eggs (at room temperature)

Sift together the flour, sugar and salt.  In a medium saucepan bring the milk, water and butter to a boil over medium heat.  As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, dump in the flour mixture and stir well to form a soft dough.  Off the heat, stir in one egg at a time, making sure that each egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next egg.  By the time the last egg has been incorporated, the dough should be satiny and smooth.  Using a pastry bag or two tablespoons, place twelve balls of dough on a parchment or silicone lined cookie sheet.  Bake for ten minutes at 400º F, then lower the oven to 350º F and bake another 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.  Cool before filling.

Cardamom Coffee Pastry Cream

1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup espresso
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
3 TBS corn starch
the seeds from 4 cardamom pods, finely ground in a mortar
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Whisk together the egg yolks with the sugar until light and creamy.  Stir in the corn starch, making sure there are no lumps.  
Meanwhile, bring the milk, espresso, cardamom and nutmeg to a boil.  Pour the hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture while whisking steadily to temper the eggs.  Then add this back to the rest of the milk in the pan and stir over low heat for several minutes until it thickens.  Chill the pastry cream until you are ready to fill the cooled puffs.

Dark Chocolate Sauce

1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup whipping cream
8 oz dark chocolate (I use Trader Joe's) finely chopped

In a small sauce pan heat the corn syrup and whipping cream just until it comes to a simmer.  Pour over the chopped chocolate and stir to melt the chocolate.  Drizzle warm over the filled cream puffs.
Enjoy with a cup of coffee or the beverage of your choice.

 I'd like to thank Foodbuzz and Peet's for the coffee and coupons they sent me for taking part in this promotion.  


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Olive Oil Pound Cake with Almond Meal


While my wife and I share similar tastes for most savory dishes, desserts are another matter.  I have a weakness for butterfat.  The higher percentage of butterfat in a dish, the more likely I am to love it.  My wife, however, has an aversion to butterfat.  Shortbread cookies--no.  Croissants, proper ones--no.  Traditional pound cake--no. My mother makes a very good traditional pound cake rich with eggs and butter.  I love it, but Tjing doesn't care for the buttery richness. Desserts are a cultural divide that finds us on two distant shores.  This olive oil pound cake helped us bridge that distance.

Catherine, a local blogger who is very active in the Sacramento food scene and is the author of Munchie Musings, helped organize a dinner for Sacramento bloggers at the Greek Village Inn last month that was also a promotional event for Star Fine Foods who wanted to showcase their release of a 100% California olive oil.  Besides a nice chance to meet and interact with some other local bloggers while enjoying a delicious Greek meal (Tjing also can't stand the smell of lamb, so any time I have it is a rare treat), I came away with a bottle of olive oil (the regular extra virgin--not the California terroir).  As fond as I am of butter, I did think this made a delicious pound cake, one that you could almost feel righteous in eating, good fat vs bad fat and all that.  Most importantly, it tastes good.

1 1/4 cups (160 gr) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (50 gr) almond meal
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup olive oil
finely grated zest of one lemon
1 tsp almond essence

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan.  You may line the bottom with parchment paper if you wish.  (I found it slightly easier to remove the cake when the pan had the parchment paper, but not that difficult to remove it without the parchment paper.  I use a pyrex glass pan, and I think I liked the crust a little more on the loaf without the parchment paper.)

Sift or stir together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl set over a pan with about an inch of hot water, beat the eggs and sugar together until the volume nearly triples.  The mixture should be the consistency of whipped cream just before it gets to the soft peak stage.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture by sprinkling the flour mix over the top little by little and stirring it in.  Add the olive oil, lemon zest, and almond essence, making sure to stir well to keep the oil from pooling in the bottom of the bowl.  Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the cake is a golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for five to ten minutes, then remove and cool on a rack. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Delicious Vietnam--Chi Lang Profiteroles with Caramel Rum Sauce

The first thing someone usually says to me when they hear I have a blog called Javaholic is "oh, so you write about coffee."  And then I explain that no, my blog is not about coffee or coffeehouses, but deals mostly with Indonesian and Southeast Asian food, with a leaning towards the food of Java.  In fact, I believe this is my first post in the two and a half years the blog has been in existence that coffee is the primary focus of the post.  And then it's for Vietnamese coffee.  As the basis for ice cream.

Although not a focus of this blog, I do drink several cups of coffee almost every day,  and have done so for most of the last thirty-five years or so.  I like my coffee black, no sugar, no milk--kopi pahit in Indonesia, kopi o kosong in Singapore and Malaysia, cafe den in Vietnam. However, I occasionally enjoy a glass of cafe sua da, Vietnamese iced-coffee with sweetened condensed milk.  So when I came across a recipe for Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream in David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, I decided to use it as the basis for my submission to this month's Delicious Vietnam.

(Follow the jump for the recipe and the rest of the story.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Indonesian Red-Braised Beef Shanks

Red-cooked dishes are popular Chinese  dishes although they are not often found in restaurants in the US.  Most commonly featuring chicken or pork, the "red" stock they are cooked in is often a master stock that has been used and refreshed numerous times, becoming ever more flavorful and nuanced.  Unlike those dishes, this red-braised beef is a simpler affair, with its flavors similar to those of beef semur

Although Tjing doesn't much care for beef, her cousins are big meat eaters.  As their kitchen is currently undergoing a major renovation, I've been asked to cook some dinners for them.  With a recent cool down and light showers bringing an end to our summer, it seemed like a good time to make some stew.  This is a stew any meat and mushroom lover would appreciate.  The recipe is adapted from Terrific Pacific Cookbook, a cookbook with many delicious recipes influenced or inspired by Asian cuisines.

1/4 cup peanut oil
1 TBS roasted sesame oil
3 to 4 pounds meaty beef shanks
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
2/3 cup shao hsing rice wine
6 TBS kecap manis
1 TBS dark soy sauce
3 slices ginger, crushed
10 dried shitake mushrooms, stems removed, rinsed to remove any grit
1/3 cup tamarind water (from 1 TBS tamarind pulp dissolved in boiling water, strained)
1 stick of cinnamon
4  1/2 cups beef stock or canned broth

2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 TBS cold water

Tie in a piece of cheesecloth or place in a spice bag:
2 star anise, crushed
1 tsp black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
5 cloves, lightly crushed
3 pieces tangerine peel

In a dutch oven or large pan heat the oils over medium-high heat until almost smoking.  In batches, brown the beef shanks.  Remove the beef from the pan and fry the mushrooms until browned.  Remove the mushrooms and place with the browned beef. 

Pour off the fat from the pan and add the rice wine, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to get up all those good brown bits.  At this point I pour all of this liquid into a Chinese claypot and cook over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by about half, but you can simply continue cooking in the same pot if you like.  Add the soy sauces, tamarind water, ginger, shitakes, cinnamon, spices in the cheesecloth or spice bag, along with the stock, and bring this to a boil.  Add the beef and sliced mushrooms, cover the pot,  and simmer for 1 1/2 to two hours, until the beef is tender and falling from the bones. 

Uncover the pot and simmer on low until the liquid is reduced and thickened to your liking.  Stir in the cornstarch slurry and cook for several minutes.  You don't want a gravy-like sauce, but something approaching that of a good beef bourguignon. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

White Peaches with Saffron Jam

Several years ago, several months after I began this blog, I participated in Steph Chow's initial Jam Exchange.  Steph organizes this each summer, pairing participating bloggers who produce and exchange two half pint jars of jam.  Although Tjing and I don't really eat a lot of jam, I decided to participate as a way to motivate myself to try something I might otherwise choose not to do.

Making the jam itself didn't seem particularly daunting, but canning it successfully, without producing a toxic gift package, did give me qualms.  Science wasn't exactly my forte in school, and canning seemed an arcane and possibly perilous undertaking.  Anyone who has canned at home knows the relief I felt when the lids of those first jars pinged as the jars cooled.

In reality, if you can bake a cake, you can can.  It's simply a matter of following some steps and paying attention to details.  You may need to step up your game (and buy a pressure canner) to do more challenging canning with low acid foods, but preserves and jams seem fairly straightforward.

Although the rules allow you to send two half-pint jars of the same jam, I always try to send two different jams.  Both the jams I sent this year were adapted from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures.  Sacramento enjoyed a remarkably cool summer which seemed to extend the peach season.  As I was still able to get some good white peaches in September, I chose to try Ferber's recipe for white peaches with saffron.  This produces a very nice jam with a subtle flavor and hue from the saffron.  It is quite splendid on a warm buttermilk biscuit.

3 pounds of firm, ripe white peaches
3 1/2  to 3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
a pinch of saffron (Ferber calls for 15 threads)

Blanch the the peaches in boiling water for a minute or two.  Remove and immediately place the peaches in an ice bath.  After peeling the peaches, cut them in half and remove their pits.  Thinly slice the halves and put in a large pan with the sugar, lemon juice, and saffron.  Bring this mixture to a simmer and then turn into a glass bowl.  Allow to cool, then cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, pour this mixture through a sieve set over a large pan to drain the liquid from the fruit.  Boil this syrup, skimming the froth, until it reaches 221º F on a candy thermometer.  Add the peaches and return to a boil for about 5 minutes, skimming as needed.  As soon as the mixture reaches 221º F, remove from heat and place into jars.  Follow the directions for canning jams.

(Ferber suggests simply ladling the jam into sterilized jars, placing on the lids, and turning the jars upside down--forgoing the water bath method of canning.  While this may be fine for the French ;-), it falls short of USDA guidelines. Fearful of shipping off a half-pint of botulism--and with my veins flowing red, white, and blue--I follow the American guidelines.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ahi Poke

If you look towards the right side of the island, you'll notice the landing strip for Bandaneira, the main island in Central Maluku.  Landing on the strip in a twin engine prop is a exhilarating experience.  As you approach the island you notice how the strip bisects the island where it narrows.  It seems impossible that the plane will stop before the strip ends and you find yourself in the sea, but it does.  At least it did when I flew there in the late 80s.

Bandaneira is an island that doesn't attract too many foreign visitors although some of the best snorkeling in Indonesia can be found there and at other nearby islands.  It was here that the Dutch East Indies Company shifted from being simply a commercial force to a colonizing power.  Nutmeg is indigenous to the Banda islands, and the Dutch so wanted to maintain absolute control over the production of the spice that they traded Manhattan to the British for one of the islands.

I traveled there by myself, staying in a guesthouse for a few dollars a day.  The only other tourists at the time were a handful of young Germans who had the charming habit of dipping tobacco and were intent on getting some good underwater pictures of sharks.  The apparent leader of the group seemed to be the heaviest user of the dip, and as he spoke he would intermittently pause and dribble some dark saliva into a cup he carried.

They had a great wealth of underwater cameras, lights, and gear for filming their snorkeling excursions.  We all hiked up the adjacent volcano one day before snorkeling in a beautiful cove.  Because he wanted to get some good close-ups of sharks if possible, the dipper thought it would be a good idea to tie a mesh bag filled with fish heads around his waist while he snorkeled.  I swam away from the group.

It was during this trip I first had raw ahi.  A sport fishing boat that was connected to the hotel in town had caught some yellowfin.  I happened to be at the hotel when they arrived and proceeded to fillet the fish and serve up some pieces with some wasabi and soy sauce.  That began my appreciation for raw ahi.

Poke is a Hawaiian dish of ahi and onion with a simple dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil and a few other ingredients.  As with any recipe for raw ahi, the most important thing is to make sure you use only the best, freshest sashimi grade ahi.  The recipe is adapted from HAWAI'I Magazine.

1/2 lb. fresh ahi cubed into 1/4 inch pieces
1 TBS Ponzu sauce
1 TBS soy sauce
2 green onions, chopped, including green tops
2 TBS chopped Maui onion (or sweet yellow onion)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp Lingham's Hot Sauce with Garlic
Sea salt, to taste
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp roasted kemiri (candlenut) ground with 1/2 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Tjing and I make a meal of this with rice and wakame (a kind of seaweed), but it also makes a nice appetizer served with fried won ton skins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cherry Tomato Clafoutis

I first encountered Patricia Wells while working in Sungei Besi refugee camp in Malaysia.  Having little else of interest to read, I would read every inch of the International Herald Tribune, including the financial news and coverage of test cricket, two subjects I remain woefully ignorant of.  Patricia Wells' articles came out once or twice a week as I recall. 

While almost all the writing in the paper was of a very high standard--even the cricket coverage could be compelling--I particularly enjoyed Wells' articles.  Mostly reviews of Parisian eateries, her writing was informative and informed.  When she praised a particular chef's handling of bouillabaisse, she placed it within the context of other chefs' treatment of the dish, not only pointing out the differences, but explaining why each chose the approach they did.  It was obvious when reading her that Wells had a great knowledge of and keen passion for the food she wrote about.  Living on a $500 a month salary, working in a rather bleak refugee camp on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, I found myself transported to the bistros and restaurants Wells assayed in her articles.

Although I tend to cook mostly Asian food and thus my collection of cookbooks skews towards recipes from those countries, I do have a handful of other cookbooks I enjoy.  For French and Italian food I am partial to Wells and Joyce Goldstein.  Both authors not only write clear, tasty recipes, but also include information on the background of the dishes and useful tips along with a clean prose style.  I have seldom been disappointed in any of the recipes I have tried from either of these authors.

Having stopped by the Mien strawberry stand down the street from my house, I discovered they had these brilliant jewels of cherry tomatoes little bigger than peas.  Once I saw them, I decided I'd have to find a way to use them.  This recipe for cherry tomato clafoutis is adapted from Wells' recipe for tomato clafoutis from Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.  Larger cherry tomatoes would work just as well--and be a lot less time consuming when halving and salting.  Wells recipe (which I halved) calls for baking the clafoutis in a 10 1/2-inch round baking dish. 

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
fine sea salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 TBS heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Place the halved tomatoes in a colander, cut side up.  Sprinkle them with the salt.  Set aside for 30 to 60 minutes to allow the salt to draw the liquid from the tomatoes.  Then place the tomatoes in a bowl lined with paper towels. 

In a small bowl, bet together the egg, yolk, cream, half the cheese, and half the thyme leaves.

Divide the tomatoes between two four-inch ramekins.  Pour the batter over the tomatoes.  Top with the remaining thyme and cheese. 

Bake in the oven until the batter is set and the clafoutis is golden.  Serve warm or at room temperature.