Saturday, August 30, 2008

Woohoo! (alternate title: Emily Finds a Job)

So, if you're a bit compulsive and are planning an international move, it can be a tiny bit stressful to have no idea where it is that you're moving to or what job you'll have when you get there. It's the type of thing that can drive a girl with OCD completely insane, as a matter of fact.

With that back story in place, maybe it will be easier to understand why I am so totally and completely ecstatic to have received a job offer yesterday from a place I've wanted to work pretty much since I found out it existed. I have extricated myself from the trials and tribulations of academia and will officially be working an interesting job with reasonable hours and fat paychecks in a totally awesome city.

I'm super-excited to be moving back to Boston, and it will be fun to re-explore the city from a new perspective (older, wiser, no longer impoverished...). It will be interesting, too, because I've been away so long (7 years) that even the things I thought I knew have changed... Every time I think of Boston, my first thought is of Shino Express Sushi, where we ate pretty much ever Sunday when I was an undergrad. It was the first place I ever had sushi, and I still remember it fondly as one of my very favorite sushi restaurants. Apparently, though, there's been a "brown rice revolution" over there, so prices are higher and sushi is no longer made with anything but brown rice, which sounds... odd. Sounds like I may need to find a new favorite hole-in-the-wall sushi place... Pretty much all of my dining experiences in Boston have been of the budget variety, so it will be fun to explore some of the higher end options now that I won't be quite so poor... I've heard rumors that there's some damn good food in Boston, and I'm looking forward to finding out first-hand...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Recipe: The World's Greatest Sandwich?

Still in Melbourne for a couple more weeks, but wanted to post one more time about the delicious food here...

One of the things I'll miss most about Melbourne is the ubiquity of a sandwich known as the Vietnamese Pork Roll (or Banh Mi). I've seen several versions of this sandwich around on the interweb, but my addiction is to the version available at the Hot Bread Bakery on Sydney Rd in Brunswick (conveniently located on my way home from the market where I buy all my produce on the weekends, such that the aromas wafting out from the bakery lure me through the door far too often...). This sandwich (pictured below on the right) consists of a baguette (fresh baked at the bakery) topped with pate, mayo, Chinese BBQ pork, two types of Vientnamese pork coldcuts (I have no idea what either is called), braised pork meatballs, pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro, chillies, and a dash of fish sauce. The mix of the bright fresh flavors from the cilantro, cucumber, and carrots with the richness of the pate and meatballs is truly a thing of beauty.

I think most of my favorite things that I cook started out as something I tried at a restaurant and fell in love with, only to either move far away from that restaurant or have it taken off the menu, leaving me with no choice but to try to make it on my own... That's the story behind why I first started making an (awesome) thin-crust pizza with caramelized onions, prosciutto, and a lemon-pepper cream sauce... why I started making pineapple-ginger chicken with coconut rice... beef rendang with roti canai... crab Rangoon... the perfect roast duck curry... And, as of this weekend, that was the motivation behind the making of a totally kick-ass sandwich (pictured above on the left), which I will refer to as the Emily-Style Vietnamese Chicken Roll.

The "recipe" (it's a sandwich, so a recipe is mostly an ingredient list assembled on bread...) is below, along with recipes for the components. This took a couple hours of prep the day before, and led me to wonder if I'm a bit crazy to make this when I realized I have to take 9 different components out of my fridge when I want to make this sandwich for dinner on subsequent nights... but I honestly think the result is well worth the time and effort. I'll rest easier knowing that I'll be able to have a taste of "home" (Melbourne-home, that is) when I'm back in the US and can't find a $3 Banh Mi less than a block from my apartment like I can here...

Emily-Style Vietnamese Chicken Roll
*Amounts on all items are "to taste" or as dictated by the size of your sandwich roll. It is necessary to start prep on the components (recipes follow) at least a day before you plan to make this sandwich.

   - Whole-egg Mayonnaise (homemade or purchased from a gourmet grocery...)
   - Chicken Liver Pate (recipe below, or substitute store-bought)
   - Grilled marinated chicken breast, thinly sliced (recipe below)
   - Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs (recipe below), broken up to easily fit in the sandwich
   - "Chicken Loaf" (store-bought processed chicken product), thinly sliced
   - English cucumber, sliced ~1/4" thick on a bias
   - Pickled carrots (recipe below)
   - Cilantro leaves
   - Red Chilies, thinly sliced
   - Fish Sauce (optional)
   - Crusty sandwich roll, toasted briefly in the oven

Slice roll most of the way through, leaving a "hinge" intact. Apply mayonnaise to one side and pate to the other. Top with the 4 types of chicken, followed by the cucumber, carrots, cilantro, and chilies. Add a couple drops of fish sauce and serve.

Chicken Liver Pate
This recipe makes more than you’ll need, but the leftovers are delicious on toasted baguette. I made mine “rustic” by using the coarsest blade on my food mill to puree it (since I’ve already sold my food processor), but a food processor would be faster and give the pate a silkier texture… although I sort of like the “rustic” texture I ended up with…

   4 T + 125g butter
   3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and thinly sliced
   1 onion, chopped
   ~1T thyme leaves
   500g chicken livers
   2 T cognac

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over moderately high heat. Add the garlic, onion, and thynme and sauté until softened and starting to color. Add the chicken livers and sauté until just cooked. Add cognac to deglaze, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Puree the mixture (either in a food mill or food processor), adding 125g of butter in small chunks as you work. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm.

Marinated Grilled Chicken for Vietnamese Chicken Roll
The flavor on this reminds me of jarred roasted peppers, and works nicely in the sandwich.

   2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
   1/4 C rice vinegar
   2 t sugar
   1 t salt
   4 small red chilies, thinly sliced

Combine all ingredients in a zip-top bag and marinate overnight. Remove from marinade and grill until just cooked through.

Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs

   600g lean chicken mince
   4 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
   3 large shallots, finely chopped
   4 garlic cloves, finely minced
   1/4 cup chopped cilantro
   2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
   1 teaspoon sea salt
   1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
      granulated sugar for rolling

Combine the all ingredients (other than the sugar) in a bowl, mixing well with your hands to combine. Leave overnight in the refrigerator for flavors to develop.

The next day, preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silpat. Put about 1/2 cup of sugar on a plate. With slightly moistened hands, roll the chicken mixture into ~1 1/2-inch balls, then roll each ball in the sugar to evenly coat. Transfer meatballs to the baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until just cooked through and beginning to lightly brown.

Pickled Carrots

   1/2 cup white vinegar
   1/2 cup granulated sugar
   1 teaspoon kosher salt
   1 1/2 cups peeled and coarsely shredded carrots

Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat when the sugar and salt have dissolved and combine with the carrots, stirring to coat. Leave the carrots in the pickling mixture for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Drain well before use.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Heart Beef Rendang...

OK, so I haven't left Melbourne yet… but I cooked some damn tasty food over the weekend and wanted to share... and this sort of relates to the food-obsessed-traveler theme, since it's about a food I tried for the first time when I moved to Melbourne. I remember my first Beef Rendang with Roti Canai like it was yesterday...

When I first moved to Melbourne I was staying in a temporary housing situation that offered breakfasts and dinners during the week, but left us to fend for ourselves during the weekend (and with no kitchen facilities). My first weekend in Melbourne, I still hadn't found my way to the fabulous tram network and I was a bit too jet-lagged and exhausted to venture out as a motorist in search of food. Feeling defeated and desperately hungry, I started to walk towards the crappy fast food restaurant that I'd seen less than a block away, figuring the food would suck but would at least keep me from starving to death... Luckily for me, the culinary gods had other plans. Next door to the crappy fast food was a small "Chinese" restaurant (it seems that most Asian ethnic restaurants here have a mix of cuisines from several different countries, regardless of what ethnic cuisine their sign claims they serve). I wandered in and saw a picture on the menu of something that looked sort of like heaven. It was called, simply, "Roti Canai - Beef."

I fell in love that day with their version of Beef Rendang with Roti Canai (who knows if it was authentic or not, I just know it was ridiculously delicious), and even after I moved to a different suburb I would return to that restaurant for my new favorite comfort food whenever I was having a rough day... or a Friday... or whatever... Then one very bad Friday I returned to the restaurant and ordered my usual... only to find it had been taken off the menu. I was rather depressed about this at first, but soon I resolved that I would one day make something just as delicious in my own kitchen. After many many google searches and much perusing of food photography, I finally figured out that the "Beef" in "Roti Canai - Beef" was actually Beef Rendang, and finally, after several months, I could put a name to what had become one of my favorite foods.

I first made this about a year ago and haven't found a restaurant version I like as well since then (again, making no claims to authenticity, just what my palate likes...). Below is (roughly) the version I made over the weekend, which I personally think is pretty awesome... if I do say so myself... This was my first-ever attempt at making Roti Canai (I’d just used store-bought like a loser previously) and I was quite pleased with how they turned out (see photo)…

Beef Rendang
(Serves 6-8, based largely on the recipe at

   10 shallots, peeled and chopped
   8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
   4" piece fresh or frozen and thawed galangal, peeled and chopped
   5" piece ginger, peeled and chopped
   1-2" piece fresh or frozen and thawed turmeric, peeled and chopped
   6 shelled candlenuts, chopped*
   1 nutmeg seed, chopped**
   Salt (~1tsp?)
   2 kg boneless beef chuck, cut into 1 1⁄2" pieces
   4 stalks lemongrass
   5 cups unsweetened coconut milk
   15-20 kaffir lime leaves
   10 fresh curry leaves

1) Working in batches, combine shallots, garlic, galangal, ginger, turmeric candlenuts, nutmeg, and salt (to taste) in a mortar and pestle, pounding into a smooth paste. Combine the meat and spice paste in a large bowl and toss to coat the meat well in the marinade. Leave to marinate for at least one hour or overnight. (I tend to go with overnight.)

2) Bruise the lemongrass stalks with the dull side of a large knife. Cut into ~2” segments and set aside. Bruise the lime leaves and curry leaves as well to release more of the flavor.

3) Preheat an oven to 350°F. Bring the coconut milk to a simmer in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to a thick paste. Continue to cook on the stovetop over medium heat for 15-20 minutes to further reduce the sauce.

4) Remove lime leaves, curry leaves, and lemongrass before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with Roti Canai (recipe below).

*I use dried candlenuts for this, but I’ve heard a rumor that you can substitute macadamia nuts.

**If you wimp out and make the spice paste in a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle, make sure to finely grate the nutmeg rather than just chopping it. Otherwise, you can end up with big chunks of nutmeg in your final dish…

Roti Canai
(Makes 10)

   1 1/4 cups water
   1 tsp kosher salt
   2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
   3 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
   2 tablespoons melted ghee (plus extra for coating and frying)

1) Combine the water, salt, and condensed milk, then slowly add to the flour, kneading to combine. Add the ghee and knead this in, adding extra flour as needed, until you have a soft not-too-sticky dough. Leave the dough covered with a damp cloth for ~30 minutes.

2) Divide dough into 10 portions, rolling each portion into a ball and lightly coating with ghee to avoid sticking. Leave the dough to rest for at least 2 hours (or refrigerate overnight after 2 hours at room temperature, then bring to room temperature before proceeding)

3) Lightly coat your hands with ghee, and flatten a ball of dough between your palms. Continue stretching and pulling the dough until it is quite thin. (This can be facilitated by spreading it out over the butter-coated bottom of a large wok.) Sprinkle the dough with ~1tsp of ghee and fold four edges into the middle, attempting to achieve a square shape. Lightly sprinkle with flour and roll out slightly.

4) Pre-heat a skillet over medium-high heat and grease it well with ghee. When hot, add the roti and cook for 2-3 minutes per side (until golden), applying additional ghee when you flip it if needed.