Sunday, October 30, 2011

Turning Vietnamese Episode 5: Banh Day, and a Bit of History to Boot.

Another Turning Vietnamese Post, in which I attempt to vainly maintain my grasp of my cultural identity through pursuing the cuisine of my ancestors. This post is something of a follow up to what should have been titled Turning Vietnamese Episode 0: Lunar New Year: Bánh Chưng.

This time we’ll be looking at the sky counterpart to the Banh Chung’s earthliness, Banh Day (roughly pronounced Zay in the northern dialect, yay in the southern). The story that I didn’t tell you last time is that these two dishes collectively are a key element of a story of who gets to rule Vietnam.

I’ll paraphrase this great backstory from Culture-4-Travel (check it out if you want a long read); The King of Vietnam issued a challenge to his many, many sons from his many, many women, that whoever brought him back the best dish would rule the kingdom afterwards. The winner was a humble fellow who stayed in Vietnam and was taught these dishes by a goddess, Banh Chung representing the earth with it's flatness and greenness, the Banh Day representing the heavens with its whiteness and roundness.  The king, overpowered by this amazing symbolism, pronounced humble home loving prince the winner, and everyone lived happily ever after.

I’ll try not to point out the many issues I have with this story, like how this story tells the tired tale of divine intervention leading to who rules the land. Neither will I reveal my skepticism of how no other dishes brought back would beat out Banh Chung and Banh Day in taste and how his brothers were either highly incompetent in food selection (I guess no one found a decent cake or sandwich) or the whole scheme was a sham and the king would have picked the winner regardless of what he brought him because it was predetermined from the beginning, as many government job placements tend to be, with the whole proceedings of a hiring process being a farce that’s held for legal reasons only.

Wow, that was really bitter. No, I don’t really hate Banh Day or anything, I just think it’s not the most amazing thing ever in Vietnamese cuisine. That said, I can’t deny it’s cultural significance to my culture, and really, it’s great road trip food.

I’m using an authentic recipe taught to me by my mother. I can prove it by showing you this, the handwritten ingredient list in my mother’s recipe book with no instruction on how to do it whatsoever. Thankfully, she showed me how, and now I can show you. So if you see other Banh Day in various states of preparation in the pictures, those are the superior mom versions compared to my clumsy son versions.

something 001

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Boiled Peanuts, a Tasty Southern Snack.


Hey! Welcome to another installment of Cast Iron Therapy. Special greetings to all of the new followers through reddit who have started following the blog during my Seven Days of Alton Brown Series.

Now, let’s get back to the usual postings. Today’s post is focusing locally, on the Centerville Farmers Market, located in my hometown of Fremont, California.


I woke up feeling fairly motivated today, so I put on some comfortable jeans and walked the one and a half miles there. Here’s my loot from this morning’s trip, some lovely little squash and a pound and a half of fresh (also known as green, even though they don’t look green) peanuts.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last Post of the Seven Days of Alton Brown Series! Let’s Celebrate With a Drink: Celery Seed Soda!

Well, this is the last installment of the blog series, Seven Days of Alton Brown. I hope I’ve entertained as I’ve ridden on the coattails of food geek hero (Alton Brown) by exploring some of the applications in his last Good Eats book, Good Eats 3

It was a fun project sticking to a strict blogging schedule of a post a day, and I’d love to be able to do this more often. Sadly one of the reasons this project was possible was due to one less person being around the house enabling me to make more use of the kitchen without getting grief, so for the time being, I probably won’t be able to keep up this rigorous schedule (hint hint.)

But enough on such sad stuff. While this is the last post of the Seven Days series, this isn’t a final farewell to Alton Brown. There’s still a ton of things I need to go through.

Seriously, look at all those bookmarks.

I think a fitting application is simple, sweet, and refreshing, just right to cleanse the palate. With just a touch of eccentricity. Celery seed soda it is! As always, this application comes from Alton Brown’s Good Eats 3.
This is very straightforward:
  • two cups of sugar
  • two tablespoons of celery seed, freshly ground
  • one cup of water
  • club soda as needed for serving

So, this is celery seed. Small but potent flavor containers.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Day Six of Seven Days of Alton Brown: Time for a Healthy Snack, Good Eats Style! Salt and Vinegar Roasted Chickpeas

Hello again and thanks for checking out Cast Iron Therapy, where I’ve been trying out a number of Alton Brown’s applications from his latest book, Good Eats 3. So far we’ve tried such delicious things as miso soup, hoecakes, and the extremely popular baked banana pudding.

We’re going to take a brief step away from the sumptuousness of the last post, and making a rather healthy snack, with a very simple process if requiring a long amount of soaking time: Salt and Vinegar Roasted chickpeas, or garbanzos if you prefer.

As always, this application has been adapted from Good Eats 3.

The first step requires one pound of dried chickpeas (aka garbanzos.)

misoandchickpeas 034

Pour them into a bowl.

misoandchickpeas 035

And cover with enough water to cover by two inches and let soak overnight.

misoandchickpeas 038

Two inches is right! This was quite the growth in volume.

misoandchickpeas 042

A closer shot to see just how much these things have plumped up, sorry about the glare.

misoandchickpeas 041

Drain the chickpeas while assembling the other stuff.

Oh, important edit! (thanks reddit) now is a great time to preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

misoandchickpeas 052

To season the snack, we shall be calling upon kosher salt, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard and olive oil. Honey dijon isn’t quite right, but I wasn’t going to go buy another condiment to take up precious space in the kitchen.

misoandchickpeas 056

We will also need a small, sturdy container with a lid.

misoandchickpeas 057

To this we will combine one teaspoon of salt.

misoandchickpeas 058

A quarter cup of red wine vinegar.

misoandchickpeas 062

And one teaspoon of mustard.

misoandchickpeas 063

Shake vigorously!

misoandchickpeas 066

Add one tablespoon of olive oil.

misoandchickpeas 067

And shake vigorously again.

misoandchickpeas 072

Pour this mixture into the chickpeas and mix well to coat.

misoandchickpeas 075

Spread out onto a baking sheet. Foil isn’t really necessary, but I try to keep things tidy. You’ll need the mixing bowl again so don’t clean it out.

misoandchickpeas 078

Roast for one hour, tossing every fifteen minutes until they look a bit like this. Be brave and test a few, or maybe with a knife to ensure adequate crunchiness. If they aren’t adequately crisp another five minutes will help.

misoandchickpeas 079

Pour the chickpeas back into the mixing bowl and add another teaspoon of red wine vinegar.

misoandchickpeas 080

And a half teaspoon of kosher salt, and then give it a good mixing to incorporate the seasoning.

misoandchickpeas 081

Then return them to the baking sheet and spread them out to cool. Then enjoy as a healthier alternative to potato chips and corn nuts.

misoandchickpeas 087

Verdict? Not bad at all! These protein filled snacks definitely satisfy in the fills you up sort of way, but I think that I’d like to soak them in salt water next time to ensure more even and penetrating seasoning.

Still, this was a fun project, and pretty Good Eats!

Pleading the Fifth (Day of Seven Days of Alton Brown): The Proof (of Deliciousness) is in the Pudding!

Hello again, let’s keep this ship afloat! This is the fifth day in a row of my very disciplined blogging of the Alton Brown series to commemorate my meeting of the very awesome, science in cooking guru Alton Brown.

As you recall from yesterday’s post, vanilla wafers are awesome, and they’d be making a feature in the next post, and I shall deliver. They might have been a little too awesome, since the first step of this application involved making an entirely new batch of wafers, since my mother was a little too giddy about the ones I didn’t tell her I was reserving for this awesome dessert: Banana pudding.

The extra effort to make them? Completely worth it.

Bananapudding 048

According to AB, there’s two schools of thought on banana pudding, refrigerated and baked (even though this can be refrigerated later.) The refrigerated variety hails from more northern climes with a whipped topping, the baked variety a solidly southern dish with a meringue on top.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day Four! Seven Days of Alton Brown: Being Vanilla Isn’t Always a Bad Thing.

The title isn’t a commentary on the racial majority of the United States, but it could be if that somehow enhances your perception of this blog. If it isn’t, well that’s your problem.

The real subject is that of the wonderful vanilla wafer, a big standby of my childhood and brings back the memory of those boxed cookies in the yellow box. These homemade versions are far far better. Crispy, a bit crumbly, buttery, and with just the right amount of sweet and vanilla. Absolutely amazing when still warm. Are you sold yet?

With this in mind we shall pursue the vanilla wafer application, brought to you by the one and only Alton Brown.

Fancy Amazon link, yes, I still foolishly hope to somehow make money off this blog.

Bananapudding 000

For this application the following ingredients are necessary kosher salt, sugar, vanilla extract, flour (7 oz.) milk (whole preferred, but 2% worked fine for me) butter (4 oz, or a stick, room temperature) one egg, and baking powder.

As for the hardware, you’ll need two baking sheets, some parchment or wax paper, a mixer with a paddle attachment, and something to sift the flour.

Bananapudding 001

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

For sifting I use the hitting a sieve method. Handy for those of us without real sifters. I’ve also just put the flour into a bowl and whisked the heck out of it, hoping for the best, and it has worked well.

Bananapudding 002

The baking powder and kosher salt should be sifted in too. For me that just means whisking them in after the fact.

Bananapudding 003

We shall also need 3.5 ounces of granulated sugar.

Bananapudding 005

We will cream the stick of butter into the sugar, using the paddle attachment.

Bananapudding 006

Medium speed, one minute, scrape down the sides, continue for another minute.

Bananapudding 008

Add egg, medium speed, 30 seconds.

Bananapudding 010

Looks a bit disastrous… do not worry, it gets better.

Bananapudding 011

Add the tablespoon of milk.

Bananapudding 014

And the four teaspoons of vanilla.

Bananapudding 015

Mix briefly (15 seconds.)

Bananapudding 016

And then the flour. Here’s a tip. Take out the paddle first so that you don’t have to brush the flour off of it.

Bananapudding 017

This is what happens if you don’t. You need to brush this off before mixing it up a bit more like I had to.

Bananapudding 018

Here’s another place you can deviate from me. When Alton says a teaspoon measure per cookie, he means it. I thought a heaping teaspoon or even close to two teaspoons was good.

Bananapudding 019

This yields considerably less than the 70 cookies the application should yield. A pretty efficient way to go about the teaspoon method is to use a teaspoon measure and the handle of one of those tiny ice cream spoons, the perfect size to scrape out the tiny cookie dough ball.

Arrange two oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of oven, placing a tray on each. Alton suggests 15-20 minutes rotating tray positions halfway through. I found that switching the trays at 8 minutes and continuing to bake for 9 minutes more was optimal on my second runthrough of this application.

Bananapudding 020

And here we are, vanilla wafers. Prepare to be transported briefly to a somewhat improved version of your childhood, with perhaps a slight addition of guilt that wasn’t there. But ignore it for now.

Bananapudding 021

It’s worth it. Thanks again to AB, I have to say that this turned out to really be Good Eats.

Bananapudding 025

By the way, you haven’t seen the last of these cookies.
Here’s a hint.

Bananapudding 040

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Third Day of Seven Days of Alton Brown: Miso Soup!

Yesterday we made some Dashi. Now to put it to good use by using it to make some miso soup. If you’ve ever eaten at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably had a serving of this lovely soup, with it’s light cloudiness filled of goodness, with a wonderful warming quality to it. And apparently good for dealing with radiation sickness according to various sources (two links!)

Lots of healthy stuff in this application for sure. Two quarts of Dashi, 1 12 oz. block of tofu for protein, red and white miso, and some scallions for color and texture.

misoandchickpeas 001

Tofu will need some preparation before getting started on the other stuff, because everything after this goes really fast.

misoandchickpeas 007

Double wrap it in paper towels.

misoandchickpeas 008.7

Then cover with a plate and weight down with one 28 ounce can. These two fourteen ounce cans had to do for me.

misoandchickpeas 008.75

After twenty minutes of pressing take it out and slice into quarter inch cubes.

misoandchickpeas 008.80

misoandchickpeas 009.1

Now for the fun part. This will be really fast if you’ve freshly made some Dashi. Put it on medium heat, medium high if cold. At 100 F, reserve a cup for the next step.

misoandchickpeas 010

I halved the recipe so this is just a half cup by the by.

misoandchickpeas 012

Now add some miso. Six tablespoons of dark.

misoandchickpeas 013

Two tablespoons of white.

misoandchickpeas 014

Whisk it together thoroughly.

misoandchickpeas 016

Once your Dashi hits a simmer, add in the cup of miso mixture and mix thoroughly!

misoandchickpeas 020

Then add the tofu and scallions and heat through, about a minute or so.

misoandchickpeas 021

Then serve and enjoy!

misoandchickpeas 024

A great application, warm, earthy and delicious. If you’re in the mood for some meatless umami that you can slurp, this is the AB application for you!

misoandchickpeas 025

Thanks for joining me and stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.