Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Vietnamese Sweet Sticky Rice Pudding with Black-eyed Peas and Coconut Sauce

The Thanksgiving holiday is long over and I have turned my attention to Christmas sweets. On Sunday I restocked my supply of chocolate and extracts of peppermint and vanilla in preparation for the pre-Christmas baking. I'm already planning on what cookies I will make to give out to friends and bring to parties and possibly trade at a cookie swap. As I sorted through recipes to gather my list of ingredients I needed, I found one recipe I thought was lost...one for which I had all the ingredients in good supply because this is a sweet that I had been meaning to make for some time, but to my dismay had misplaced the recipe. It was Sweet Sticky Rice Pudding with Black-eyed Peas topped with Coconut Sauce. I learned to make this in a Vietnamese cooking class I had taken about a year ago. Thinking I had lost the recipe, I had tried to find something similar so I could get the right ratio of water to rice, it is not the usual 2 to 1. Unfortunately, I found nothing quite like it. I even emailed the instructor of the class for the basic ratios and to my dismay, she never replied! My excitement at finding this long lost recipe caused me to push aside my fancy Christmas baking for the time and turn my focus to making this simple yet exotic, warm or cold but comforting dessert made of rice and beans. Lou just finished his second bowl of this sweet treat for the night. He too was glad I found the recipe.

Vietnamese Sweet Sticky Rice Pudding with Black-eyed Peas and Coconut Sauce

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, rinse, soak in warm water for 2 hours
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 cups water
1 cup Thai glutinous rice, rinse, soak in warm water for 2 hours
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 -13.5 oz. can coconut milk
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

salted, roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)

Note that you will be soaking both the rice and the black-eyed peas for 2 hours in separate bowls. Drain the black-eyed peas first, pick through and remove any floating skins and particles. In a medium saucepan, cover the beans by at least an inch with water and add the baking soda. Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender, but not mushy. Drain the beans, rinse with cold water and set aside.

While the beans are cooking, bring 6 cups of water to boil in a 4 quart saucepan. Add the glutinous rice and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to simmer and stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Then add the cooked beans and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the pudding to cool slightly. It will be very soupy at this point and will thicken as it cools.

In a small saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk and the cornstarch before heating to dissolve the cornstarch. Then, over medium heat, stir in the sugar and salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Dish up the rice pudding into individual serving bowls and drizzle the coconut sauce over the pudding. Garnish with chopped peanuts if you like and enjoy!

The leftovers are great warmed up slightly in the microwave, or you can eat this cold too.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Post Thanksgiving Cooking

I love the buzz of food articles and turkey talk in the month of November. It gets me all excited for the Holidays and eager to prepare a feast. I've never hosted a real Thanksgiving, but have done a pre-Thanksgiving dinner party with friends in the past. Not wanting another year to go by without making a Turkey, we decided to host the dinner party again. As a cooking enthusiast, it is a sad day when you don't get to host the Thanksgiving dinner. However, we don't have a large enough place for the comforts a family requires. Friends, on the other hand, are willing to sit on the floor or even stand to partake in the feast, drink some wine, and converse with friends. And so I made a 20 pound Turkey last Sunday along with stuffing and gravy and our good friends brought side dishes to make it a full Thanksgiving feast.

Even after 17 people had their fill, we had plenty of leftovers. Lou and I have eaten Turkey all week and had another Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, yet I am still looking forward to making Turkey Tetrazzini. Creamy sauced egg noodles seasoned with mushrooms and garlic, this is a great earthy, fall dish and of course an alternative to Turkey sandwiches. It is especially appetizing since it has turned cold outside. When I left for Hanford on Wednesday evening to visit Lou's family for the Holiday, the weather was unseasonably warm in San Francisco. Upon my return this morning, it was drizzly and cold. Winter came and settled in abrubtly and triggered a hunger for homey comfort food as I looked out the window of the Amtrak train. The view from a train running through California's valley is not a pretty one, by the way. It appeared that both sides of the tracks were the wrong side, so thoughts of food comforted my disturbance by the treachorous landscape. And now I am home and comfortable and ready to indulge in leftover turkey in Tetrazzini.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Easy as Pie

I'm not sure who coined the term "easy as pie", and if you've ever tried to make a tender, flaky pie crust that looks pretty too, you've probably wondered the same. The usage likely originates from a time when pies were made weekly because I have found that practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to pie crust. I have the luxury of a mother who made pies quite often when I was growing up, so the process has become old hat to me. What has changed are the ingredients.

As food trends have evolved with the discoveries of cholesterol and later trans fats, so has the preferred fat for my pie crust. In my first attempt at making pie back in the midst of the eighties' "no cholesterol" craze, I chose to use Crisco shortening in place of the lard my mom used in her pies at the time. It was thought that Crisco, a man-made fat, was healthier than the natural lard my mom used. Sounds ironic looking back, doesn't it? Now that we understand that trans fats raise cholesterol levels and actually deplete the good cholesterol, a flaky pie crust is not reason enough to keep Crisco in your kitchen. I as a rule do not use unnatural or artificial ingredients so of course the new fully hydrogenated shortening that is being marketed these days as "trans fat free" does not cut it in my kitchen either.

As a replacement in my pie crust, I had considered going back to good ole lard, but found that commercially available lard is also partially hydrogenated to help preserve it. I suppose I could have rendered my own, it's not behond me, but that was a whole other project and I wasn't convinced that was the best choice for the fat in my pastry. I therefore went back to basics and used an old French trick for my Amercian pie crust....why not use all butter? After researching old recipes for American pie crusts, I actually found that butter was commonly used for fruit and sweet pies and lard was more commonly used in the crust of savory meat pies. After a few tries, I settled on the following recipe.

All Butter Pie Crust

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
6 to 10 Tablespoons cold water
1 Tabelspoons white vinegar

In a small cup or bowl, mix 6 tablespoons of ice water with the tablespoon of vinegar. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour and salt. Add the cubes of unsalted butter and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until you have some grains of butter mixed with flour, some pea-sized bits of butter and a few larger chunks of smeared butter. These various levels of butter mixed with flour are necesssary to have both a tender and flaky crust. Then, using a fork, start mixing the water and vinegar mixture into the dough, one spoonful at a time until the dough collects into a ball, using additional water if needed. Be careful not to add too much water. You may have to help to form it into a ball with your hands.

Form the dough into two 4-inch discs and wrap them separately in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer.

When ready to make the pie, roll the first disk out on a floured surface with a rolling pin or dowel into an even thickness until large enough to fill your pie pan. Fill the bottom crust and if making a two crust pie, do the same with the second disk, covering the filled pie. To seal the crusts together, you can crimp the trimmed edges with the floured tines of a fork and then form the edge of the dough into a ruffle. This might be easier to show than tell, but once you got it, trust me, it'll be easy as pie.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Fresh Spinach and Fruit Salad

When I first met my husband, Lou, there were many things he was not in the habit of eating. One of those things was salad. To him, salad was lettuce served with a dressing and maybe a few tomatoes or cucumbers, but the dressing dominated the flavor of the salad. I, on the other hand, was in the habit of eating salads with almost every meal. Luckily, I take a different approach on building one. I like salads made with a variety of ingredients that complement each other. More importantly, I like dressings that only complement the flavors of the ingredients instead of masking them. One salad that is especially great for the winter months when great tasting tomatoes are hard to come by is a spinach fruit salad. (We're big tomato lovers, so if they're in season and the farmer's market is selling them, we're probably eating them in a Greek, Caprice, or whatever salad may come to mind.) Today, we had no tomatoes, but did have some apples in the fruit bowl and grapes in the fridge. I like to balance fresh fruit with dried, so some craisins and dried figs were the perfect additions. A lot of people like to add red onions to a fruit filled salad, but I prefer green onions. Lou says green onions are my signature ingredient...give it a try and see what you think.

Fresh Spinach and Fruit Salad

about 1/2 of a 5 oz. bag of baby spinach leaves
a handful of craisins
4 dried figs, stemmed and sliced
about 10 grapes, halved (any color works, but purple are prettiest)
one small apple, cored and cubed
2 green onions, sliced
1 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Celery Seed Dressing:
2 Tablespoons champagne vinegar (can use white wine vinegar)
3 Tablespoons canola oil or mild olive oil such as Lodestar Olive Oil
1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste-may vary depending on the vinegar)
a pinch of salt
1/2 teapsoon celery seeds

Whisk to emulsify and add to the salad ingredients just before serving. Toss and enjoy!