Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes

I am a bit embarrassed to say this but I knew very little about this Spanish wine prior to reading Sherry by Talia Baiocchi. This book has a wealth of information presented in its seven chapters: how sherry is made, wines of the sherry spectrum, sherry through the ages, the modern sherry renaissance, the towns and bodegas, sherry cocktails, and sherry at the table. I enjoy Talia Baiocchi’s writing style as she delved into the history of sherry and its rising popularity across bars, restaurants, and home kitchens. I was expected to be bored by the overload of information but Sherry is so well written that I was curious to know more about this delectable Spanish wine.

Sherry doesn’t have a lot of pictures as I would have liked but the photography by Ed Anderson is gorgeous. Without the recipes, I would have given this book four stars. The cocktail section has quite a few interesting recipes. So far we have tried the Pimm’s cota (Pimm’s cup) and rebujito (mojito) which are both delicious and refreshing. I can't wait to try the other cocktails. I have not cooked anything from the savory recipes so I can’t comment on that.

Overall, this is a well written book with an extensive history on sherry and great selection of sherry cocktail recipes for those interested in learning more about this misunderstood wine.

*I received this book to review complementary of Bloggingforbooks

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Roasted crème fraîche chicken with vegetables

I love French cuisine but have very limited experience with French home cooking.  The extent of my French cooking goes no further than a few desserts--French toast, crepes, crème brulee, soufflés, financiers, and macarons.  Forget coq au vin, duck confit, cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, or bouillabaisse.  I still remember watching Julia Child on TV laboring over those complicated classic dishes and thinking to myself why not just order them at the restaurant.   

Well, that mentality changed recently when Mimi Thorisson’s book A Kitchen in France finally arrived from Amazon.  For me, it’s much easier to cook the food I grew up with.  I can make a Vietnamese dish without any recipe or look at my pantry and fridge and whip up dinner on a whim.  I have this paralyzing fear that I can royally screw up a much anticipated French dinner for my family so I have shied away from French dishes for years.  My library has about twenty five percent French cookbooks but this one in particular made French home cooking seem so approachable and forgiving.  

One of the very first dishes I made was chicken with crème fraiche.  I have made it four times already with only one major screw up.  Yes, only one!  I took a nap and the chicken burned to a crisp.  We have been eating this dish about every two weeks and it has become one of our favorite chicken dishes.  This is the first of many dishes from A Kitchen in France that I will be sharing on the blog.  Enjoy!

Roast chicken with creme fraiche and vegetables (adapted from A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson)

1 whole chicken, about 4-5 lbs
3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
5 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup crème fraîche
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 shallot, finely sliced
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
one orange, quartered
2 medium thick carrots, cut into 1 inch length and halved
1 lb of new red potatoes, halved (quartered if large)

1.Preheat oven to 375˚F. Take out the chicken about 15 minutes before cooking, wash, clean and pat dry.
2.With a spoon, mash the thyme and butter together until well combined.
3.Use a knife to gently loosen the chicken’s skin. Stuff the mixed thyme and butter evenly underneath the skin.
4.Combine 3 tbsp of olive oil, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Use your fingers to massage the entire chicken with the mixture.
5.Fill the cavity with the orange and thyme sprigs. Truss the chicken securely with kitchen twine.
6. Place the chicken, breast side down in a baking dish and roast for 15 minutes.
7. Mix creme fraiche with garlic, shallot, and thyme.
8. Toss the potatoes and carrots with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
9. Remove the chicken from the oven and carefully turn the chicken breast-side up. Rube the creme fraiche all over the top of the chicken.
10. Scatter the potatoes and carrots in a single layer around and underneath the chicken.
11.Transfer the baking dish to the oven and cook for 1 hour. Baste the chicken and vegetable with pan juices. If the chicken starts to brown, place a large piece of aluminum foil over the breast to prevent it from burning.
12. Roast the chicken for another hour or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken thigh reads 175˚F and the vegetables are tender.
13. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey

My family celebrated Thanksgiving a few days early this year because I have to work this holiday.  We also didn’t want Aiden to miss out on his first Thanksgiving meal. He couldn’t quite chomp down on a turkey leg yet but he certainly gobbled up some shredded turkey meat.  Maybe next year he’ll have enough teeth to go for a whole leg. 

When I’m busy juggling the main dish with anywhere from three to four side dishes and dessert, I like to keep things simple and make them as foolproof as possible.  I used the same turkey recipe that I have been using for years-- a rosemary-butter stuffed turkey.  I like to enhance the flavor of the turkey without overwhelming it with too many spices or herbs.  With both the butter and olive oil and frequent basting, the meat turned out succulent and tender.  The usual accompaniments were gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta, roasted acorn squash, and roasted butternut squash with balsamic honey.  

Everything was gone except for the turkey carcass and a few pieces of meat enough for a sandwich.  It’s exhausting to spend the whole day cooking but incredibly satisfying to see everything gobbled up in less than an hour.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  

Roasted Rosemary Turkey
20 lb turkey (neck, heart, and gizzard reserved for gravy)
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup fresh rosemary leaves plus 4 sprigs
2 tbsp salt
½ tbsp pepper
1/3 cup olive oil1 orange (halved)

1. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator before roasting, clean, and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
2. With a spoon, mash the rosemary and butter together until well combined.
3. Use a knife to gently loosen the turkey’s skin. Stuff the mixed rosemary and butter evenly underneath the skin
4. Combine the olive oil, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Brush the entire turkey with the mixture.
5. Fill the cavity with the orange halves and rosemary sprigs.
6. Place turkey in a roasting pan, breast up, and roast for 4 hours. Baste every 45-60 minutes so the skin will not dry out.
7. Flip the turkey at 1.5 hrs so it can cook evenly, and flip it again at 3 hrs. After the second flip, place a large piece of aluminum foil over the breast to prevent it from burning.
8. Roast the turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of thigh reads 170˚ F and and juices in the thigh run clear when pierced with a fork.
9. Transfer the turkey to a platter. Tent it very loosely with aluminum foil, and let it rest for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Turkey Gravy
Neck, heart, and gizzard
1 cup of chicken stock
2 cups of water
½ stick of butter
¼ cup of all purpose flour
½ cup of pan juice from turkey drippings
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove neck and giblets and put into a large saucepan.
2. Add chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat and let simmer until reduced to about 2 cups. Strain and reserve.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk flour over medium heat for 5 minutes.
4.Add the reserved turkey stock and pan juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let simmer until thickened and ready to serve. Season, to taste.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Crack Coffee

You’re probably wondering what the heck is crack coffee?  “Cafe sua da” or Vietnamese iced coffee of course!  My friends and I call it crack coffee because it’s quite addictive.  

At our house, cafe sua da is an integral part of our morning ritual.  Both my husband and mom can’t live without it.  And one cup is never enough.  Growing up in Vietnam, I remember going to the supermarket with my mom and we couldn’t take a few steps without seeing another “quan cafe” or coffee shop.  Men congregate at the coffee shops as early as 5 A.M., getting their morning fix and enjoying a game of chess before starting their busy day.  

Although the French colonists introduced coffee to Vietnam in the mid 19th century, Vietnam has become one of the leading coffee exporters in the world.  Vietnamese are quite proud of their coffee and cafe sua da has become a quintessential drink of Vietnam.  Coffee is both a social and cultural part of Vietnamese life.  If you get a chance to travel to Vietnam, take in the cafe scene in Saigon.  It’s quite an experience.  Cafes cover every corner of the city  in the form of casual street stalls and rooftop patios to independent coffee houses.  No longer are the men dominating the cafe scene but University students, both guys and gals have integrated this into their daily ritual.  They drink coffee as a mean to catch up with friends and hang out.  

At its purest from, “cafe sua da” is made with Vietnamese dark roast coffee individually brewed with a “ca phe phin” or small metal drip filter.  At our house, we prefer Cafe Du Monde with chicory and Trung Nguyen premium blend.  The coffee slowly drips into a cup containing condensed milk, then stirred and ice added.  No sugar.  No cream.  Although most drink it with condensed milk, a small group prefers Ca Phe Chon, also known as civet coffee beans, at an outrageous price of $700 per kilogram.  Personally, I don’t prefer my coffee coming from an animal’s other end no matter how good it is.  My aunts who recently vacationed in Hanoi told me  that Hanoi people prefer their cafe sua da with a dollop of yoghurt or cafe sua chua.  We can’t wait to try this variation!  For now, we’ll share with you our recipe for cafe sua da.  Enjoy!

Cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee)

2 ½ to 3 tbsps Vietnamese coffee (Cafe Du Monde with chicory)
2 tbsps condensed milk to taste
½ cup of boiling water

1. Pour condensed milk into a small glass.
2. Remove lid and metal screen from coffee filter.  Add coffee.  Gently twist screen back on until it stops.  Don’t push screen all the way down or it will take longer for coffee to drip, unless you prefer a strong brew.
3. Place filter over the glass and add boiling water.  Place lid back on filter.
4. Let coffee drip for 5 minutes or until all the liquid has drained from filter.  If coffee stops dripping sooner, gently loosen the filter to relieve pressure.
5. Once coffee has finished dripping, remove filter.  Mix coffee and condensed milk together with a spoon.
6. Add ice, stir, and enjoy.