Archive for the 'Recipes' Category
Banh and Beyond

I have a banh mi fetish. There, I’ve said it. After too many “meh” experiences (and stomach-aches) from Stumptown samples, I set out to make my own. My ideal? The crusty, spicy, sweet, chewy, meaty, herbacious monster sold at Saigon Banh Mi, combo sandwich shop/jewelry store in New York’s Chinatown. (You know what they say, nothing goes together like pearls and swine.)

My first foray was a banh mi canapé riff (mini-mi? banh mi slider?) for the ever-delightful and deserving Bruce Bauer’s 50th birthday celebration. I threw everything but the kitchen sink atop rounds of toasted white bread and results were good…if a visual mess. Mini-Mi I also suspected the complexity (marinated and fried pork belly mixed with the pork butt) could be dialed back with no discernible ill effects.
←Tastier than it looks

Then Jade Teahouse & Patisserie moved into Sellwood and the impetus to make my own disappeared. They’re not classic, and in fact after one bbq pork sandwich I switched, at April’s suggestion, to their sublime Vietnamese meatball banh mi, and have never looked back. Yes, the veggies are awkwardly chunky, but the baguette…oo-la-la, tres jolie. And the spiced pork is light as air and bursting with flavor. Not to mention the warm vibe, great tea selection, $5 salad rolls and addictive sesame balls. If they’d always steam their bao instead of microwaving them? It would be my perfect escape.

But wait, this is all about “mi”.

A Sunday potluck cocktail party to warm the house of ethereal E. provided the perfect excuse to try again. And this time I did my best to document a recipe. Cyndi, Billie and Judy, this is for you! Remember, it’s all by feel and taste, so take the measurements with a grain of salt. (Or is it two?)

The Gist
Simmer pork butt with spices until it’s fall-apart tender. Shred, marinate and fry the cooked pork, shred and marinate julienned veggies, and assemble. Whether you put them on Wonder bread, baguettes or kaiser rolls doesn’t much matter (imho); as long as the bread’s tender enough to bite through, crisp enough to support and hold the fillings, you can’t go wrong. Active cooking time is 1 to 1.5 hours. The more pre-shredded veggies you get, the faster it goes.BanhMiResize
Simmer Stock:
Cover a (4 lb?) pork butt / shoulder (as much as you get, you’ll eat, trust me) generously with cold water and add:
- 3-5 star anise
- cinnamon stick
- large chopped onion
- chunk of ginger
- 4 rough-chopped cloves of garlic
- a generous splash each of soy and fish sauce (nam pla)
- a rough cut jalapeño pepper
- whatever else you want to make the stock tasty. A stalk of celery and a carrot are fine, maybe even a bay leaf. Though I think star anise is critical, you can substitute it and the cinnamon stick with a generous pinch of Chinese 5-spice.

Simmer covered for about two hours, uncovering it halfway through if you have plenty of liquid and want to start reducing your soup (more on that bonus later). When it’s fork tender and pulls apart into shreds, remove from the liquid and cool.

The Veggies:
Cilantro is critical, Thai (or plain) basil are good, and mint used sparingly would be nice. Simply clean and remove the biggest stems. Set aside. Peel, seed and julienne a cucumber. Twice I’ve done jalapeños, once plain and once pickled, and neither time did anyone eat them. So do what you think is best.

Pickle a melange of julienned vegetables: carrots are critical, daikon is classic. I had high hopes for a Fubonn (local Asian grocery superstore) tub of pre-sliced carrot and daikon, but found it too daikony and badly julienned. But their finely shredded green papaya? A cheater’s dream! Instant crunchy fabulousness. Cheat as you see fit, especially if you don’t have a wondrous knife or mandolin.

For about 2 cups of julienned veggies, mix in:
- Fish sauce (4 T?)
- Rice vinegar (quarter cup?)
- Juice of 1 lime (why lime and vinegar? Because I’m not sure which I prefer so I split the diff. You can use one, the other or both, lime is slightly more sour)
- Asian sweet chili sauce, found these days everywhere—even Safeway—5-10 “plops”. If you don’t have any, add 1-2 T brown sugar and 1 tsp chile sauce, such as olek sambal.

Taste and correct the balance of salty, sweet and sour. If it tastes yummy? It’s right. I keep the cucumbers out of the shredded veggies because of the water they give off.

The Meat:
Shred the cooked pork into medium-sized chunks when it’s cool enough to handle. The smaller your bread, the smaller the meat. Toss any chunks of fat, drain off liquid that’s collected. Assuming you have about 4 pounds of pork, mix with:

- 4 cloves chopped garlic
- Fish sauce (4 T?)
- Soy sauce (3 T?)
- The juice of 1 lime
- Sweet chili sauce (1/4 cup?)
Taste and correct the balance of salty, sweet and sour. If it tastes yummy? Yeah…you know.

Heat a frying pan with 3T peanut or canola oil. Dust the meat with cornstarch, toss, and transfer a single layer to the hot pan. Turn as it carmelizes (2-3 minutes), transfer to a paper towel, repeat til all the meat’s fried. Replenish oil if needed. Is frying necessary? Probably not, but I’m trying to duplicate the chewy, fried texture of the Saigon banh mi, and this was the least decadent way to do it. Would a sandwich be good and quicker using just the spiced meat? Yup.

The Secret Ingredient
And here it comes, the critical component………garlic mayo. All the trouble we’ve just gone through and it’s mayonaise? Sad but true. Without garlicky mayo, the whole thing would fall flat. Crush 2 cloves of garlic in a half cup of mayo,and spread it on anything you can lay your hands on.

The Bread
While some claim bread is the key to a great bahn mi, my standard is simply that the bread not suck (too dry/hard to chew/crumbly). As long as it serves as a neutrally crisp receptacle for a massive amount of filling / topping, I’m happy. If you happen to be lucky enough to live near Jade, you’ll see Mom Lucy’s baguettes—simultaneously toothsome, tasty and ‘bite-able’—are the exception that proves the rule.

If you’re making a full-sized sandwich, err on the side of a softer…but crisp on the outside…bun that can mold itself around your fillings and hold things in place. You don’t want a rigid bread or they end up too dry. For the cocktail party I split and toasted up Trader Joe’s mini baguettes, about the size of a large breadstick, five to a bag. Perfect with a parchment paper wrap and a toothpick. (Keith ate my photo sample. I’d yell at him but it’s his birthday. Oh wait, I did yell at him. “Dude, seriously, you ate my prop?”)

Assembly
Toast your bread, slather with garlic mayo, heap on meat and pickled veggies, slide in cuke, a few sprigs of cilantro and basil, smush together if it has a lid, “fluff it” if you’re trying the canapé.

The Soup
IMG_1715Aside from the sandwich, here’s your reward for all your hard work: steaming hot, flavorful pork broth. Strain out the flavoring agents, add a bunch of watercress and boil til cooked. Or just eat the broth refreshed with lime and maybe some green onion or cilantro. Eating it makes you feel like you’re healing things you didn’t even know needed healing. In fact, I think I’m going to finish off the pot right now to try to stave off this sore throat. Sorry Bruce…I’d planned to bring it down to you.

Mmmm, better already.

Le Tomato-Love, a la Jacques

img_1373

The Flavel Street “farm” has one crop…tomatoes. (K grows pumpkins but primarily for their big, showy leaves that he lets run rampant across the lawn. We’ve never actually eaten one…he grows attached. That would be a-kin [heh] to murder.)

But back to tomatoes.

It’s been a weird year. Some people had blight before the fruit could ripen, we had the smallest crop on record. And the earliest. It seemed that ours were the only plants to hit their stride in mid-July; oh how we cackled with glee over the 2009 plan to under-water. It was working! True, the plants were sad, bedraggled little things, but the tomatoes were delicious, early (for Portland’s wet spring), nicely sized, with skins not overly tough (as ours usually are). But then…

The fruit got smaller and smaller until normally small Stupice shrank to the size of cherry tomatoes. The beefsteak? Roughly the size of a golf ball. Lemon boy? Like a junior baseball.

The flowers? Very few flowers. And by mid-August, very few tomatoes.

We started sneaking water.

Then madly dousing to coax along the few green ones left on the vines.

img_1329We have a healthy crop of Romas on the way, the Sun Gold’s continue indestructable as usual, and time will tell if the others rally. With the extreme heat, this may not have been the year to experiment, but really, can one complain about a steady stream of delicious fruit over several months? And as ours peter out? I figure friends will be looking for a home for their excess.

< Here's what a July haul looked like.

For YOUR extras, here's one of my favorite Jacques Pepin recipes from 1992′s Today’s Gourmet. I’ve made it countless times, and the proportions and herbs are endlessly forgiving and flexible. I’ve even cut up regular tomatoes to make up the difference, if the cherries measure short. Bon appetite!

Cherry Tomato Gratin
1 1/4 pounds cherry tomatoes (approx 3.5 cups)
3 oz day-old french bread (about 3.5 cups) cut into 1″ cubes
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced (about 2 T) (interesting; had forgotten these were sliced. I’ve always chopped)
1/2 cup coursely chopped flat-leaf parsley (mixing basil and parsley is nice)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 T virgin olive oil (I use a bit more, usually)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (even good w/o this)

IMG_1469 Preheat the over to 375. Wash tomatoes and discard stems. Mix tomatoes and all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 6-cup oven-proof dish. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes, serve immediately.

Four servings: 185 calories; 6 gm protein; 21 gm carbohydrates; 9.4 grams fat; 2.1 grams saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 506 mg sodium.

Summer Bounty Followup: Corn Soup Recipe

img_1277Here’s Michael Chiarello’s recipe for the corn soup served at our recent vegetarian dinner party. If you want to keep it veggie, disregard my thought that some chicken stock might be nice. Also, IMO, sauteeing a bit of onion and corn in butter would do more than the small of amount of cream he adds, but I haven’t tried it this way; it’s just a guess.

Summer Corn Soup
Michael Chiarello (italics=dds modifications)

4 c corn kernels (~5 ears corn; reserve cobs)
6 c water (or 2 c low sodium chix stock/4 c water)
1 onion, chopped, divided into 2 piles
1 celery rib, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 T butter, preferably unsalted
1/2 c heavy cream (optional)
Salt
Topping / garnish of choice

Cut corn off cobs and set aside. Cut cobs in half and add to water with celery, half the onion and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes; remove the cobs.

Saute the remaining half of onion in butter until soft, add corn and salt, saute another minute, add to stock. Bring to a boil until the corn is tender, about 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf, adjust salt, add cream.

Transfer in batches to a blender and blend thoroughly (start at a low speed & then ramp it up to avoid lid eruptions). Strain through a fine mesh sieve placed over a clean pot, pushing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

Reheat the soup gently to serve; do not allow to boil! Serve warm, cool or cold, and top with garnish. A dollop of pesto, creme fraiche, basil or tarragon leaves….

I also froze a bit of this, stirring as it hardened to produce crystals. Delicious corn ice resulted, but I have yet to think of what to put it on. Not interesting enough to stand on its own. I keep thinking about chorizo…..