Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Learning how to prepare bánh bò hấp, in Vietnam

My husband, John, and I live in upstate New York, and most of the
retired people in our area are “snowbirds,” who head south to spend the winter in warmer, snow-free states. John and I head all the way to Asia for three months. We find Asia reasonable, cost-wise, and enjoy the diversity of cultures. We like the flexibility of wintering for a few weeks each in several countries.

In January 2016 we were in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam. We had been there several times but wanted to revisit the Cao Đài Temple and the Củ Chi Tunnels. The Cao Đài Temple is the center of the Caodaist church, an indigenous religion that incorporates the teachings of many religions. The first time we visited the temple was in 1998. It was as colorful as I remembered. 

The biggest change was at the Củ Chi Tunnels. The part of the
tunnel that we visited in ’98 is now open only to Vietnamese, whereas the new area has been made handicapped-accessible, with visitors entering via a gift shop. Also, other activities have been added, such as a rifle range. 

We wanted a hotel in HCMC close to the airport, so we booked a few days at the Parkroyal Saigon. A standard room cost $88 a night, but we upgraded to an Orchid Club room at $137. The Orchid Club room price included airport/hotel transfers, breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails plus laundry for up to four garments per day. A great deal! We liked the relaxing atmosphere in the Orchid Club Lounge, especially during afternoon tea, when there was an assortment of tea sandwiches. 

We commented to the waitress that the most common dessert
in Vietnam was fresh fruit but seldom cakes or pies. She said that many Vietnamese don’t have ovens. Also, they don’t have a “sweet tooth.” She told us that her favorite dessert is bánh bò hấp, which she said are also called “cow cakes” because the word bò means “cow.” She said her mother told her the word bò also means “crawl” because when the cakes are steamed, they “crawl” up the side of the pan.

Later we had an opportunity to try this dessert. We reported back to our waitress that we loved the light and tasty “cow cakes” and thought they looked simple to make. She said she was sure the pastry chef would love to show us how to make them. The next day, pastry chef Nguyen Thanh Ngoan and his helper Nguyen Thu Nhi showed us how they are made. I found out it was not as simple as I had thought!

Bánh Bò Hấp (Vietnamese Rice Cakes)
1 ¾ cup rice flour 
3 tbsp corn flour (or tapioca flour)
2 tbsp rice wine
1/3 cup coconut water
½ tsp salt
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
optional — food coloring

Sesame Sprinkle
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp sugar
dash of salt

Coconut Sauce
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp water
1 ¾ cups coconut milk
3 tbsp sugar

For the Bánh Bò Hấp, 12 hours ahead of time, mix rice flour and corn flour and set it aside. In a small pan, add rice wine, coconut water and salt and bring to a boil. Cool for five minutes, then add it to the flour mix and stir until smooth. A drop of food coloring can be added, if desired. Strain if lumpy. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside (not in the refrigerator) for 12 hours.  After the 12 hours, combine water and sugar in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Boil just until the sugar is dissolved, then cool for five minutes. Stir into the mix made 12 hours before. In a steamer, heat water to the boiling point. Brush small dishes or forms with oil and place in a steamer. Cover and steam for two minutes. Ladle batter into the dishes or forms, then cover. Steam for seven minutes or more, depending on the sizes of the dishes. When the center of each cake rises, remove from steamer. Repeat with any remaining batter.

To make the Sesame Sprinkle, place sesame seeds in a pan at medium heat. Toast until light brown. Set aside. When cool, add sugar and a dash of salt, and stir. 

To make the Coconut Sauce, mix rice flour and water in a sauce pan. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, slowly stirring until it's the consistency of cream. Remove from heat and stir in sugar to taste. Strain the mixture to eliminate any lumps. 

Plate each cake, sprinkle with the sesame seed mix, top with dollops of coconut sauce and serve. 

NB: If the steamer has a metal lid, remove any water off the lid to prevent water from dripping onto the cakes. Cakes can be made ahead and refrigerated but should be steamed again for one minute before serving.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Myanmar Ginger Salad

One of the things that I love about Asian food is that the preparation is so easy.
I once mentioned to a Myanmarese, “There are no fast-food restaurants in Myanmar.” The reply was, “All food in Myanmar is fast food.”
Indeed, with many Myanmar recipes, once you have the ingredients, creating the dish is quick. In addition, simple alterations to many recipes can create equally delicious dishes. Such is the case with Myanmar Ginger Salad.

John and I took a cruise in Myanmar on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River from Mandalay to Bagan aboard the RV Pandaw Kindat, The cruise was a great value; the one-week cruise was all-inclusive of food, local libations, tours, site admissions and tips for the crew. During the week, there were several onboard cultural presentations, such as how to apply thanaka (the pale yellow makeup commonly worn in Myanmar), how to wear a longyi (the wraparound garment worn by men and women), a puppet show and dance presentation. Also, every day there were shore trips to temples, pagodas, handicraft shops, villages and other fascinating places.

Near Amarapura, one excursion was a rowboat ride on Taungthaman Lake for a close up look at the picturesque U Bein Bridge thought to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. One of the crew brought along sunset cocktails. How’s that for service?! We sat in the rowboat sipping our cocktails while watching the sun set. Beautiful. One of the shore trips was to a market in Pakokku, where Yan Myo Aung, our guide, pointed out all the ingredients needed to make Green Tea Leaf Salad and Ginger Salad. Many of the items, like ginger, were already julienned and ready to use.
My favorite salad was the Ginger Salad, which is usually served as an appetizer or salad in the United States but in Myanmar is often a dessert or palate cleanser.
In a cooking demonstration on board, Chef Wai Myo Ham showed how to prepare a Ginger Salad, with Mr. Yan translating.


Mr. Yan related, “The simplicity of the
recipe defines Myanmar cuisine, which is a blend of textures and flavors utilizing available items from the market or locally farmed.”He also noted, “Pickling and salting of vegetables is widespread due to the lack of refrigeration.” There was one awkward moment during the lesson. When the salad was ready to serve, Mr. Yan asked our group of 10, “Who is the oldest? The oldest gets served first.” One woman in our group said, “You never ask a lady how old she is.” To avoid an embarrassing situation I volunteered that I was the oldest. Who knows? Maybe I was.         

Myanmar Ginger Salad (Jinn Thoke)
½ cup thinly sliced or julienned fresh or pickled ginger
½ cup thinly sliced crispy fried garlic
½ cup skinless roasted peanuts        
½ cup fried chickpeas (or 1 tbsp chickpea powder)
10 whole dried shrimp (optional)
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
½ cup fried butter beans
3 tbsp peanut oil
½ cup julienned cabbage
½ cup julienned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Minced chilies or chili sauce (optional)

Toss all ingredients in a bowl.
Serve with a side dish of chilies for those who want to add some spice.
N.B.: To make Green Tea Leaf Salad (Lah Phet Thoke), substitute ½ cup pickled tea leaf for the ginger and eliminate the chickpeas.

Monday, January 4, 2016

French Canadian Tourtiere

I was able to check off one of the adventures on my bucket list – to travel through the waterways and canals of the Northeast. The St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes were used by the Native Americans, explorers, settlers and armies and were key to the development of the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, New York State, and the interior of the United States. 

I was excited when I learned about Blount Small Ship Adventures’ “Locks, Legends, and Canals” (461 Water Street, PO Box 368, Warren, RI, 02885; toll free 800-556-7450, The two-week cruise from Montreal to New York City traveled via the St. Lawrence, Lake
Ontario, NYS Canal System, and the Hudson River was a dream come true.  The Grande Caribe is a purpose-built vessel designed to make it through the narrow and shallow waters of canals. Blount often has special offers.  The listed price started at $4,399 pp but with 40% off the cruise cost $2,640 pp making the two-week cruise a great value considering some of the shore trips were included. 

Even though John and I boarded the Grande Caribe in Montreal our first port of call was Quebec before returning to Montreal and continuing through the St. Lawrence Seaway on the way to New York City.  Each day the menu was posted offering a choice of entrees for dinner.  After a morning tour of Quebec that included a side trip to Montmorency Falls, I returned to the ship and noticed that one of the dinner entrees choices was French
Canadian Tourtiere. I asked Chef William Pannoni if he would show me how to make it.  Chef William, like all the staff, was quick to agree.  He made individual servings for most of the passengers including a half portion for one of the guests, and larger ones for the staff. 

Tourtiere originated in the province of Quebec as early as the 1600s and, while it is enjoyed any time of the year, it is a traditional part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Quebec.

French Canadian Tourtiere

¾  tbsp butter
¼  tsp oil
1 onion, diced
1 lb. lean ground pork
½ lb. ground lamb
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½  tsp salt
½  tsp thyme, crushed
¼  tsp sage
¼  tsp black pepper
1/8  tsp ground cloves
1 prepared double pie crust, uncooked
1 whisked egg white (optional)

In a large sauce pan add butter and oil (oil helps to prevent butter from scorching) over medium-low heat. When warm add onions. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until onions are caramelized being careful not to burn the onions. Set aside. In another pan cook pork for seven minutes stirring occasionally. Add lamb. Mix. Cook for seven more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic, salt, thyme, sage, black pepper, cloves, and onions. Mix. Cook five
minutes more stirring occasionally. Place in colander. Drain until excessive moisture is gone.  Let it cool for one hour.  Cut dough in shape of dish.  Use scraps to cover sides and bottom of dish. Press meat into the dish. Place crust on the top. Crimp edges. Slit air holes so steam can escape. (optional) Brush the crusts with whisked egg whites. Bake in preheated oven at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let it cool 10 minutes before cutting. Serve. Can be frozen uncooked.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Spicy Korean Chicken Stew

Recipes are found in cookbooks, which are one of the most popular
selling genres, on the internet, plus we all have family recipes; but, when I am looking for something different to make, I refer to the cooking classes John and I have taken in a variety of countries.  I like the fact that we completed the recipe, know it is correct, plus we have taste-tested it, and that it is ethnically authentic because the class was taught by a local chef. An added benefit is that we get to relive our trip while making the recipe at home.  

When my husband, John, and I were in Seoul, Korea, in March 2013 we took a cooking class at O’ngo Food Communications. We made several dishes including Spicy Chicken Stew. The teacher/chef, Hyejin Kim, said it is the recipe that most people want to learn how to make. 

Chicken is very versatile and relatively inexpensive so I thought the
spicy stew would be the perfect dish to make during the winter. I had not tried to make at home. There was another couple in our cooking class which made the class more enjoyable. When the class was finished we dined together on the recipes we made.  The chef joined us and we discussed Korean table etiquette.

Politeness and respect of elders is very important to Koreans. Chef Kim said that while manners have relaxed in Korea just as they have elsewhere many families try to retain the old ways. Korean meals consist of several dishes placed on the table family-style to be shared by everyone. The oldest person sits down first then everyone else may sit. Eating begins when the oldest person picks up their chopsticks. Guests should try to eat at the same pace as the oldest person. When offered an alcoholic drink it is considered impolite to refuse, especially if offered by an elder. If you do not want more to drink do not empty your glass/cup. When offered more food, and you would like more, decline twice and then accept the third time it is offered. Leave a little food on your plate at the end of the meal indicating that the host has provided enough food. There is no point in saving room for dessert because dessert is not commonly served after a meal. Koreans eat quietly saving discussion for after dinner.

Spicy Korean Chicken Stew (Dak Dori Tang)

1 ½-2 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (drumsticks, breasts,                      and/or wings)
2-3 onions, cut in quarters
4-6 potatoes, peeled and cut to wedges
1 large carrot, peeled and cut to about 1-inch pieces
2 scallions, cut in 1-inch long pieces
1-2 tbsp oil (enough to cover the bottom of the cooking pot)

1 tbsp chili sauce
½ tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili powder
½ tbsp rice wine
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tbsp sugar
¼ tsp black pepper 
1 tsp sesame seed, crushed
1-2 cups of water

Cut all vegetables, set aside. Mix all the sauce ingredients (not the water), set aside. Put oil in cooking pot (can use a crockpot) on medium heat for three to four minutes. Add vegetables and chicken slowly being careful that the oil doesn’t spatter. Sear for four to five minutes stirring occasionally. Add sauce mixture and water.  Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium. Cook about one-and-half to two hours, or until all ingredients are cooked, and the sauce has thickened.  Serve with rice. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Be adventurous – Try Iguana Soup

I think travel is about discovering new places and learning about new cultures. Part of the discovery is learning to appreciate other people’s culture and respect the way they do things, their beliefs, and all aspects of their culture. One of the best ways to learn about people is to explore their cuisine. 

On our visit to Bonaire in September 2015, John and I stayed at Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino.  The hotel had just completed a multi-million dollar renovation project that included an upgrade to both pools.  My favorite place to spend time was around the largest pool relaxing in one of the curtained cabanas. The pool had underwater music. 

The island is a semi-arid desert where iguanas are plentiful. Wildiguanas are indigenous to Mexico, Central America, parts of South America and some Caribbean islands like Bonaire. There are feral iguanas in California, Florida and Hawaii. Iguana Soup is a favorite of the local people claiming it is a cure-all for just about any malady plus it is an aphrodisiac, which seems to be the most common attribute given to unique foods. I liken eating iguana to people in parts of the United States who eat rabbits, squirrels, and frogs.  Iguanas are free for the capturing.

One day we visited the historic village of Rincon in the northern part of the island. The village is in a valley where it was safe from seafaring marauders.  We stopped by Posada Para Mira restaurant overlooking Rincon.  Their menu included many local favorites such as goat stew, conch soup, and iguana soup.  

After our return from Rincon we chatted with Divi’s general manager, Charles Vos, and mentioned that we saw iguana soup on the menu of Posada Para Mira. He said iguana meat tastes like chicken.  Laughingly, I said it seems that is the usual comment when describing the taste of exotic food. He said his chef would gladly show us how iguana soup is made even though it is not on the hotel’s menu.  

A few days later Mr. Vos said that Lucio Mercera, the sous chef, had an iguana and was ready to show us how the soup is prepared.  Iguana Soup sounds more exotic than it tastes. The tender meat had less flavor than chicken and the broth tasted like Knorr’s soup. It is very boney. I did a quick check on the internet and found iguana meat can be purchased from Exotic Meat Market, 

Iguana Soup
1 iguana, ready to cook (skinned, gutted)
½ (half) cup lemon juice
½ (half) cup vinegar
1 tsp salt
Water – as needed
½ (half) large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 large tomato, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 box Knorr’s instant noodle soup mix
1 tsp minced basil leaves

Cut the iguana into two-inch pieces with spine removed. Place in pot and cover with two inches of water. Add lemon, vinegar, and salt.  Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Drain. Cover with two to three inches of water. Bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat until iguana is tender – about one hour. Add vegetables, garlic, and soup mix. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook five to ten minutes or until vegetables are tender. Garnish with minced basil leaves. Serve.  Watch out for the small bones.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Making Roasted Pig in the Philippines.

With the pig on a spit, Joseph prepares to stuff its belly and sew it up. Photos by Sandra Scott
Ready to serve and enjoy.
While John and I were on a tour in the Philippines, one of our stops was on the island of Cebu where we stayed overnight at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. I was impressed with their pools — eight of them, four of which are saltwater lagoons and four, freshwater pools — covering a total of six acres. I never forgot about the pools, so when we returned to the Philippines in March 2015, we again booked a stay at Plantation Bay Resort. 
The resort is designed to resemble a historic plantation village, with a one-mile circular road that Riding in the vintage horse-drawn carriage around the property, I spotted the chef cooking a whole pig near one of the pools. Called lechón, the pork dish is served several times a week at the resort’s themed dinners. I returned to learn how it is prepared. passes by the many plantation-style buildings used for
accommodation, plus the spa, restaurants and activity areas. It is one of the national dishes of the Philippines, and no celebration, fiesta or family event is considered complete without it. It is especially popular at Christmastime. If you want to wow your family and friends at your next big gathering, serve lechón.    Black lechón is unique to Cebu. Legend has it that black lechón was served to Magellan in 1521 when his voyage stopped in Cebu. The word lechón is derived from the Spanish word for “milk,” but today, in the Philippines, it refers to the roasted suckling pig (or, colloquially, to a chubby child). 
 Black Lechón
1 suckling pig, ready to cook (about 40 lbs for 40 guests)
Salt and pepper as needed
Soy sauce as needed
2 onions sliced
6 bay leaves crushed
1/2 cup sliced ginger
10-12 whole garlic cloves
1 tsp crushed peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
15 stalks of lemon grass
6 whole scallions
Trussing needle kit
1 can coconut milk
A spit (many farmers who sell suckling pigs have rotisseries for rent)
1 bag (25 lb) charcoal briquettes (have a second bag on hand, just in case.

Put the pig on the spit. Tie its feet together. Rinse the pig inside and out. Use a paper towel to remove any excess water from the inside. Rub it inside and out with salt and pepper. Rub soy sauce on the skin. In a bowl, mix onions, bay leaves, ginger, garlic, peppercorns, salt and pepper. Stuff the pig's belly with the mixture. Using one of the leaves, wrap it around the lemon grass and scallions bunched together to create a bundle, and pace it in the belly on top of the mixture. Sew up the belly. Roast over live charcoal until crisp. Plan on at least one hour per 10 pounds. Brush the pig frequently with coconut milk to keep the skin from cracking and to get the black color. When cooking is complete, remove the pig from the spit and the stuffing from the belly and it will be ready to carve. Serve with native sauce. Tip — before cooking, the pig can be prepared a day ahead and stored in a plastic bag.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Making Chinese BBQ Pork in Shanghai

On a visit to Shanghai that my husband, John, and I made
in January 2015, I checked one more thing off my bucket list when we had a drink at the Long Bar in the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund. The Waldorf Astoria opened in 2011 in the restored, historic Baroque Revival building that once was home to the elite Shanghai Club, which opened in the 1920s. I had always wanted to enjoy a libation at its Long Bar, so called because, at nearly 112 feet in length, it was the longest in Asia when it first opened. In its heyday, British gentlemen were seated at the bar according to social rank, with the most important people at the Bund end. Women were not allowed entry. 

Today the bar's interior has been restored to its original glory. The dark paneling is lustrous, the oyster bar offers their famed “Waldorf Special Oyster,” and the Long Bar is open to all of the public, including women.

Our visit to Shanghai was a
stopover between Chicago and Bangkok. We made use of China’s new, 72-hour visa-free stay, which allows for a 3-night stopover as long as travel continues to another country other than the one of origin. We stayed overnight at the Waldorf Astoria. The entire hotel is exquisite. John and I had lunch at its contemporary Chinese restaurant, Wei Jing Ge. Their Dim Sum Brunch included a variety of wonderful items, but my favorite was the barbecued pork. When Chef Jerry Zhou was making his rounds to the tables, greeting diners, I commented, “The barbecued pork is delicious. It must be difficult to make.” 

"No," he claimed, and he invited me to follow him to the kitchen, where he showed me how easy it was to prepare. The barbecued pork can be served as a main course or tapas style. 

3 lbs pork belly (should have 40% fat)
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp water

Barbecue Sauce
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp chicken bouillon
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp black bean sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rose wine (optional)
1/2 cup shallots, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 egg 
1/4 cup malted sugar (or honey) for basting

Cut the pork belly into strips one inch thick. Mix the cornstarch, salt and water and toss the pork into the mixture, mixing with your hands to make sure it is fully covered. Let it rest for an hour in the refrigerator. Wash excess marinade  They called it a marinade but I guess mixture is a better word. off under running water. Set aside and leave to dry.

To make the barbecue sauce, in a large pot, combine sugar, salt,
chicken powder, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, peanut butter, oyster sauce and black bean sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add shallots, ginger, garlic and egg, mix  and remove from heat. Let it rest until room temperature.Rub the pork belly with the barbecue sauce and leave to marinate for 3 hours. Bake in an oven for 35 minutes at 240°F. Remove and brush with the malted sugar, put back into the oven and bake for 5 minutes or until the skin starts to bubble.