Vietnamese Spring Rolls

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Spring rolls are among my favorite of Vietnamese foods. They are easy, healthy, filled with lots of veggies, and are bursting with flavor. Spring rolls are usually my go-to when I am entertaining a large group of friends. They are convenient because people roll them up themselves, which saves me a lot of extra time in the kitchen. All I have to do is wash and cut up veggies, and cook my protein. After tasting pre-made spring rolls from Trader Joes, I’ve realized how good the real thing is compared to what is out there! So do yourself a favor and make some for yourself.

While most American families have a roast for their Sunday night family dinners, my family gatherings usually consisted of an assortment of Vietnamese and Chinese fare. So eating spring rolls became a staple for my family. I am always reminded of fun times eating with my grandmother, aunts, and uncles when I whip up some spring rolls for myself. I am transported back to my pre-adolescent days smiling and nodding along as my family members tried to instruct me on proper spring rolling form. As a youngster, I thought I knew everything, especially about cooking and food. I had spent hours watching Food Network stars every day, so it would only be natural for me to be an expert at this simple food preparation….wrong. It took me a long time to master rolling these babies up. In my adulthood I would finally realize that I was too greedy with my rolls. That was why they would always burst apart. I thought that I could fill them up as full as you would a burrito.

There are many variations on Vietnamese spring rolls. The formula is this:

Spring roll wrapper + protein + lettuce + fresh crunchy veggies (cucumber and carrot) + fresh herbs (mints & basil) + vermicelli rice noodle

Another delicious variation of spring rolls involves having a huge fried fish in the middle of the dinner table. You take small pieces of fish and place them into your spring roll wrapper, filling it with noodles and veggies. I usually make mine without noodles because I am trying to reduce my carbohydrate intake.

In terms of dipping sauces, the two most common ones are: fish sauce or hoisin peanut sauce. I personally prefer fish sauce, but hoisin peanut sauce pairs nicely with spring rolls that are filled with blander proteins, e.g., tofu, boiled shrimp, and boiled pork

Cooking notes/tips:

A common mistake in making spring rolls is that people dip their wrapper in water for much too long or they leave their noodles in water, and then place them in the spring roll. You’ll want to strain and completely dry your noodles before using them for spring rolls. And with the spring roll wrapper, just a quick dip in warm or hot water will be enough to soften the wrap. It takes a minute, so be patient. While you are layering your fillings in the wrapper, it will soften. So by the time you are ready to wrap, it should be perfectly soft enough. If it is not, then wait a minute longer. It might also be an indication that your water for dipping the wrapper needs to be hotter.

The pork marinade shared in this recipe can be used to prepare thin slices of pork that are used for vermicelli noodle salad and Vietnamese broken rice. Or you can just eat it with some white rice and call it a night. Because there is sugar in this marinade, burning will occur if your fire is on too high. Keep heat at medium or even medium low when cooking.

Because Vietnamese food is such a staple for me, I usually have loads of prepared fish sauce on hand. The recipe that I shared is for a smaller portion, but just use equal parts bottled fish sauce, fresh lemon juice, and water, with ½ the amount of sugar for best results. This prepared fish sauce is best when you give it time for its flavors to meld together. I recommend making the sauce the night before for best results. If not, then at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Always keep this sauce refrigerated and stored in a clean jar with a lid. This sauce is the same that is used for dipping in many Vietnamese salad and noodle salad dishes, so it is handy dandy to have some around.

Do not over-fill your spring rolls. The ingredients that you layer onto the wrapper should only take up a 1-1.5 inch thick horizontal strip on the edge of your wrapper that is closest to you. Cut up your meat, tofu, and veggies into thin strips to allow them to fit nicely onto your spring roll wrapper. Remember: less is more. As you wrap, make sure that you keep a semi-firm grip on your roll to make sure the wrap is tight.

Spring rolls are best eaten fresh. If they are refrigerated, the wrapper becomes hard. If you need to make them ahead of time, wrap each one individually with saran wrap. Microwaving them for 15 seconds can help to soften them up if they have been refrigerated.

Ingredients
2 pork chops
1 tbsp minced lemongrass
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch of sugar
2 tbsp oil

2 tbsp oil
1 block tofu, cut into ½ inch thick pieces

1 cucumber, cut into ½ thick sticks
1 bunch basil
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint (optional)
1 bunch green onion (optional)
1 bunch red or green lettuce
½ carrot, julienned

Dipping Sauce: fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp hot water, or to taste
sambal chili sauce to taste

Dipping sauce: hoisin peanut sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp water, or to taste

1 pack spring roll wrappers
1 big pot of hot water

Marinate pork chops in lemongrass, minced garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. Allow to sit at least 1 hour. Overnight preferred.

Make fish sauce by adding minced garlic, sugar, fish sauce, lemon juice, hot water, and sambal. Allow to sit refrigerated at least 30 minutes.

Make hoisin peanut sauce by heating a saucepan on low. Add in peanut butter and allow to heat up. Then add hoisin sauce and mix in pan for a minute. Then add water to make sauce more runny and sauce-like. Continue stirring and remove from heat when sauce is at desired consistency (slightly thinner than the texture of pudding). Add in sambal (red chili sauce) if desired. Set aside.

Pat dry pieces of tofu to allow them to brown.

Turn on skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil and reduce heat to medium low. Place tofu in pan and fry for 7-10 minutes on each side without moving the tofu. Fry until each side is golden brown. Turn over and allow the other side to brown ~7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prep fresh vegetables and herbs. Set aside.

Turn on skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil and reduce heat to medium. Add in pork chop and fry on each side until golden brown ~5 minutes each side. Set aside.

Assemble spring roll. Dip spring roll wrapper in pot of hot water. Once both sides are wet, immediately remove from water and place wrapper onto a plate. Place ½ a leaf of lettuce horizontally on edge of the wrapper that is closet to you. Then layer with pork and/or tofu, 1 stick of cucumber, 1 stick of carrot, and small handful of herbs. Place all ingredients in a neat horizontal line that is no more than 1 inch thick.

Then roll spring roll as you would a burrito. Roll horizontally and away from you until ingredients are just covered by the spring roll wrapper. Then fold up the left and right edges inward to close the edges of the roll. Roll the rest of it horizontally away from you and you end up with a spring roll.

Dip your spring roll into the fish sauce or hoisin sauce and enjoy!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Deconstructed Peach (or apple) Crisp

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Summer fruit is here! I’m sad that I have only just now posted a recipe featuring these nature’s delights. Peaches and nectarines are among my favorite fruits ever. Their sweet fragrance, slight sour bite, and luscious juicy texture make me weak in the knees. In fact, I am feeling saddened at the thought that fall is quickly coming, and these nectar-filled treasures will no longer grace the shelves of my grocery store. Well, better late than never.

Anyone who is familiar with my cooking preferences and style knows that I have little patience or skill when it comes to pastries, cakes, or any elaborate baking. I have an innate inability to follow directions when it comes to cooking. I feel like a rebel whenever I read a recipe, because I will almost surely veer from it. It gives a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can do whatever I want, despite what others say in their recipes. Yes, I realize this is ironic because I am also sharing recipes and attempting to instruct others on how to prepare food. Usually things work out just fine because I have developed my own sense of proportion and flavor with regards to savory foods. Unfortunately, in the world of baking, only a select few highly skilled bakers can successfully pull this off. This is why I made a peach crisp. Not a cake, not a pie, or a cobbler. Making a fruit crisp is much more forgiving than other sweets, which is why it is one of my go-to recipes for a dessert fit for entertaining.

Cooking Tips

Since peaches are in season, I made good use of them. Pitting and coring them was a huge drain of my energy, but it was all worth it in the end. Other fruits can be used for this fruit crisp, including apples, plums, blueberries, or any other berries. I’m a fan of apple crisps because apples are available year-round in the United States.

I would recommend using less cinnamon if you choose to make a fruit crisp using a berry. Cinnamon does not play as well with berries as it does with apples or peaches. I would recommend using more vanilla extract and omit the cinnamon from the fruit mixture. It should be fine in the crispy topping.

I purposely prepared the fruit separately from the crispy topping. Just like the famed Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, I dislike soggy textures for baked goods. Which is why this peach crisp is a deconstructed one. I recommend combining the crispy topping with the fruit only when serving it. Otherwise, keep them separate.

Add more salt to bring out the richness in this dessert.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
5-6 peaches, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar

¾ cup oats
¾ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup butter, cut into cubes, cold
½ cup brown sugar
large pinch of salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare crispy topping separately from peaches. Mix together oats, flour, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar until they are well-combined.

Using a pastry cutter, mix butter into flour and oat mixture. Make sure your butter is cold. Continue to cut butter into mixture until the texture resembles small peas.

Place oat mixture onto a lined baking sheet and spread onto baking sheet in an even layer. Allow to bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While crispy topping is baking, prepare peach mixture. Add peaches, cinnamon, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and brown sugar into a large sauce pan. Turn fire on medium and allow peaches to cook down. Toss gently every few minutes for even cooking. Cook about 10-15 minutes, and then cover with lid, turn off the fire, and allow peaches to sit for at least 10 minutes. This will prevent the peaches from overcooking.

When crispy topping is done, remove from oven and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, scoop a spoonful of simmered peaches and top with crispy oat topping, and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Enjoy!

 

 

Junior Mac

E948D0E4-B029-44BD-8C78-881885E45A2CAs a child of the 1990s McDonald’s was a major pillar in the structure of my life. Because my family was very frugal with their money, my sisters and I often dreamed of dolls and toys from television commercials knowing that they were never coming home with us. Now that I am an adult I realize what a huge waste of money these overpriced toys are. But as a young child, these seemed to be the end-all be-all of life itself. You felt like you had to have a Barbie doll, Furby, and Tomagachi to fit in with the other kids. Anyway, this was why I looked forward to Happy Meals as a kid. It often came with a toy that otherwise would never have reached my eager hands. As I grew older, I began to appreciate food for its own merits as opposed to its role as a bridge to coveted toys. I realized that the Big Mac tasted so much better than the cheeseburgers in Happy Meals. Back in those days, supersize was the way to go. Of course, at the time we did not realize that this would contribute to an already growing obesity epidemic. I remember the joy and reckless abandon with which I approached each Big Mac combo.

Unfortunately these eating habits led to alarming weight gain into my early twenties. I realized that I could not eat McDonald’s on a regular basis if I wanted to live a long healthy life so I changed my eating habits and exercise habits. Nowadays my typical lunch and dinner plates are filled with veggies and lean proteins. But every once in a while, I crave food that transports me back to the simple days. I return to my childhood favorites, and the Big Mac is definitely #1 for me. Something I’ve learned about food is that nothing improves the taste of food more than nostalgia. Well….nothing beside extreme hunger. So, in attempt to relive fond childhood memories, I made my own Junior Mac. It is a very easy recipe, and unlike the original Big Mac, it only has 1 slice of cheese, 1 patty, and 1 bun. It satisfied my craving without breaking the calorie bank. My husband was definitely a happy camper when I made this for dinner. Hope you enjoy it too!

Cooking Tips

The fattier the ground beef, the more juicy and tender it is. 85% lean ground beef would probably yield a juicier burger, but for health reasons, I usually choose 90-95% lean. The choice is yours.

Do not smash or press your burgers as they cook. That will release all the juices and result in a dry patty.

I like to season my ground beef and mix it together, then form a patty. It gives the meat better flavor. Some people choose to form the patty and then put the seasoning on top. It depends on personal preference, but I am always in favor of more flavor.

For burger patties, always make the patty the same size or a bit larger in circumference than your bun. Burger patties shrink when they are cooked, and if yours is too small it throws off the ratio of your cheeseburger.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb ground beef, 90% lean
1 tbsp seasoned salt (I used the Trader Joe’s brand) or to taste
ground pepper to taste
4 burger buns
4 leaves of lettuce
4 slices sharp cheddar or American’s singles
½ cup onion, diced
8 tbsp Thousand Island dressing
Optional: sliced pickles

Place buns in toaster oven and set to light to medium darkness.

Season ground beef with seasoned salt and pepper, then form into 4 equal patties. Use the burger bun as a reference point for the size of your patties. Make your burger the same size or a bit larger than your bun.

Heat large skillet and spray with a bit of cooking oil. When pan is hot place burger patties on skillet. Fry on each side for 3-5 minutes depending on desired level of doneness.

After flipping burger patties, place a slice of cheese on top of each patty and cover pan with a lid to allow cheese to melt.

(Optional step: sear some additional cheese directly on the pan for 1 minute for a gooey burnt cheese addition to your burger. )

When burger patties are done, spread Thousand Island dressing on both sides of buns.

Place burger patty on bottom bun. Layer lettuce, onion, and pickles on top. Then top with the top bun.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Jenny Crack Corn

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Summer is in the air, and so is fresh, delicious corn on the cob! Corn has gotten a bad wrap lately due to the high fructose corn syrup industry and its contributions to the diabetes and obesity epidemics in the US. When not forced into unnaturally high concentrations of sugar content, corn is actually a delicious and nutritious food. I love grilling corn in the summer, but if I’m too lazy to start up the grill, I often like to sauté my fresh corn. Sautéing achieves a delicious caramelization and sweetness that, in my opinion, surpasses the flavors you can obtain through grilling.

I call this my crack corn because it has been a crowd pleaser at family gatherings and friends get-togethers. It can become seriously addictive. The combination of corn’s natural sweetness, salty bite, a bit of a kick from the pepper and red pepper flake, and the nuttiness achieved from the caramelization process in butter….this corn dish is one of my all-time favorites. I often serve this as a side for decadent steak dinners because the sweetness of the corn adds a pleasant contrast to the richness of the steak and its heavy friends of mashed potato and mac and cheese.

Cooking Tips

This dish is best when you use fresh corn on the cob. However, frozen corn would also do the trick. You might need to add a tablespoon of sugar halfway into the sautéing process to add some sweetness that is often lost in frozen corn.

I add garlic toward the end of cooking of this dish because if you add garlic too soon, it could burn before your corn has finished cooking. In general this is a good rule of thumb when you are doing sautés that do not include the addition of wines, broth, or any other kind of liquid. Stir-fries are an exception because the vegetables used often release liquid into the pan, which prevent garlic from burning during the cooking process.

If you want to infuse your dish with a specific herb or spice, make sure to sauté it in your cooking oil for a minute or two before adding other ingredients. In this dish, I did this with both red pepper flake and shallot, as well as garlic toward the end.

 

Recipe
Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
4 ears of fresh corn on the cob or 2 cups frozen corn
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 pinch red pepper flake
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
2 sprigs of scallion, finely chopped
Optional: splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese twist

 

Cut corn off of the cob.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add butter and olive oil. Once butter is melted and well incorporated with olive oil, add shallots and red pepper flake. Sauté for 2 minutes on medium heat or until softened.

Add corn and continue to sauté on medium heat for ~10 minutes or until corn becomes slightly golden brown. Stir frequently as it will stick.

Add garlic and scallions and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust seasoning to taste.

Optional: add a little splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese flavor.

Enjoy!

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