Sunday, July 05, 2009

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Use your words, Tipsy Baker

No camera to document our kooky 4th of July party. 

Guests: 8 Americans, 4 Guatemalans, 1 Frenchman. Age range: 2 to 97.

Topics of conversation: tennis, chickens, haircuts, my sister's pregnancy weight gain, my sister's (rightful) sensitivity about discussion of her pregnancy weight gain, The Proposal. We're deeply thoughtful people.


-stir-fried beef with Chinese celery (C -- too much celery, flank steak like leather)
-pork riblets simmered in caramel sauce (B+)
-cellophane noodles with crab and black pepper (A-)
-honey roasted duck legs (A)
-quick steamed buns (A+)
-grilled corn with scallion oil (A)
-banana cake (B)
-grilled bananas with coconut sticky rice (B+)

Tiring to cook? Oh yes.

Owen planned the menu, per my shaky new theory that if he's more involved in the process of producing a meal, he will be more inclined to partake. We sat down with Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and he picked out what looked appealing based primarily on photographs. He was particularly enthusiastic about the cellophane noodles with crab as there's a pretty picture of the dish on page 237.  I flinched because cooking and picking Dungeness crab is labor intensive and, in July, expensive, but why should I always get to call the shots? I bought a crab ($15), boiled her, cleaned her, and extracted all the meat. Dinner came around and Owen was off playing with his cousin. When he finally came to the table he requested the noodles. They were all gone.  That's how good they were.

I think Owen chose two banana desserts because Isabel hates bananas. The banana cake: damp, dense. Not like banana bread at all, as you don't puree the bananas you just slice them and mix them with a very scant batter and bake until the banana flavor is intensely concentrated in a flat, wet, brown cake. Curiously popular. I was not personally a fan. 

The grilled banana with coconut sticky rice -- exciting and exotic. You simmer glutinous rice with coconut milk and sugar until soft and gluey, spread it on a banana leaf, top with a wedge of banana, wrap like a tamale (Owen did this part), and grill. The banana collapses and melts into the rice, you unwrap the packet and eat the sticky, yummy confection with rich coconut sauce. It sounds complicated but, if you have access to an Asian grocery store and a barbecue, isn't. I thought this was fantastic, albeit unusual. 

The real revelation, however, was the quick steamed bun recipe, which you can find here. You know those pillowy, bone-white rolls you get when you order Peking duck? These were them. Take Pillsbury biscuit dough, pat it out into little rounds, fold into half-moons, steam for a few minutes and you have fluffy, tender Chinese buns. A really cool trick.
I lost track of Owen during all of this -- I think, in the end, he only ate ribs, which he would have eaten anyway.

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