Chicken Congee!

Yay, it’s the weekend! Normally, I’m all about trying out new recipes and crazy cooking adventures on the weekend, but I have a number of leftovers in the fridge that I needed to finish. Earlier this week, I made a bunch of basmati rice to have with falafels and red lentil curry (during different meals haha), and despite eating a bunch of it, I had about a cup left. I’m a bit particular about my rice–gotta have the right grain with the right meal! I know that sounds over the top, but really, longer grains of rice tend to be a little drier while shorter grains absorb more liquid so it’s more moist. It’s not crucial per se, but I personally think it enhances your dish more when you have specific rice types with different meals.

Anywho, I had a cup leftover and didn’t have anything particular planned to serve with that rice. I wanted to catch up on my reading, so I wasn’t in the mood to cook anything elaborate. Rice pudding is always an option, but I wanted something for a meal rather than just a snack. Congee ended up the perfect dish for my predicament! Congee, a rice porridge, is super easy to make and doesn’t take that much fuss. I could let it simmer away as I immersed myself in a novel. I also had a piece of chicken that I had taken down from the freezer to make something the other day (but got too lazy to make), so I figured this was the perfect way to use it up too.

This chicken congee is similar to the one my mom made for me as a kid whenever I got sick. Nice and light, super easy, and absolutely delicious! Depending on how much time you have, you can cook this longer than 3 hours (on a nice, even simmer), which gives the porridge a silkier texture. I, however, didn’t want to spend more than 3 hours, so I added a tiny smidgen of cornstarch (a trick I learned from a friend!) to the congee to give it a nice finish. It’s a bit of a cheat move, but it works if you don’t wanna spend 5 billion years cooking. You can exclude it if you want–the congee will still taste great!

Chicken Congee

  • Servings: 1-2
  • Time: 3 hrs
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

To cook with:

  • 1 cup cooked rice (I used basmati)
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 chicken thigh
  • 1 tsp corn starch (optional)

To serve with:

  • 2-3 sprigs cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 green onion, roughly chopped
  • ground white pepper
  • Chinese donut, cut into 1″ pieces

Directions

    1. Bring 1 cup cooked rice, chicken broth, and water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Once it has come to a rolling boil, turn down the heat to a medium low and cover the pot with a lid so the steam can still escape. Mixture should be at a good, steady simmer. Give the pot a stir every 20 minutes so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. Keep an eye out for your pot–you don’t want your porridge to boil over (and it will if it boils too hard!).
    2. Cook for about 3 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when you see that the grains of rice are broken up into tiny pieces, and the broth is a little thicker. If it gets too thick at any point, you can always add more water.
    3. About 2.5 hours in, add the chicken thigh and allow it to cook in the congee for 20 minutes.
    4. After 20 minutes, pull the chicken and slice into 1/4 inch slices.
    5. After 3 hours of cooking, your congee is ready! If you’d like to add the cornstarch*, mix 1 tsp of corn starch with 2 tsp of cold water, then stir it into the congee. Add salt to taste (I didn’t find it necessary).
    6. Ladle the congee into a bowl and top with chopped cilantro/green onion mix and Chinese donut pieces. Enjoy! 🙂
  • optional, see note up above for more info

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What are your favorite ways to use up leftover rice? Let me know below!

Chai Overnight Oats

After trying it for the first time the other day, I decided last night to make another overnight oats jar! It’s just so easy and I’m so lazy in the morning that it’s really the perfect breakfast solution. But me being me, I get bored really easily so I can’t have the same thing too many times. My first jar was a banana-peanut butter mix, which was delicious but I didn’t want it 2 days in a row. “So what to do!?” I thought last night, while sipping on a mug of chai tea. Why not a chai flavored overnight oats?!

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Honestly, this was really an excuse to just have more of that chai tea latte mix. I recently found it at World Market (aka my favorite place ever), and it’s an instant mix that I rather like, so I decided to give it a shot. The oats turned out pretty well! I wanted to add a little more texture and some variety into the mix, so I added some baked sweet potato and toasted pecans. The added sweet potato and pecans will give this dish a fall-esque flavor, so I hope you like fall 🙂

Notes! I don’t like large portions of sweet things for breakfast, so if you need a lot of food in the morning, I would suggest doubling this recipe. Also, if you can add whatever chai instant mix you’d like–I just happened to have this one on hand. Just make sure it’s instant (just add water types) or else you’ll have some weird tea bits in your oatmeal.

Chai Overnight Oats

  • Time: 2hrs 15 min (at least)
  • Difficulty: easy
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Credit for base oatmeal recipe: Wholefully

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp plain yogurt (I use Trader Joe’s French Cream Line Yogurt)
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsps chia seeds
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp Chai Diaries Insta Masala Chai (or your instant favorite mix!)
  • 2 tbsp baked sweet potato (diced)
  • 1 tbsp toasted pecans, chopped

Directions

  1. Make your base! In a bowl, mix together yogurt, oats, milk, chia seeds, chai powder, and salt until combined. Put in a container and let sit overnight in the fridge (or at least 2 hrs).
  2. Dice up some sweet potato. Drizzle (like 1/8 tsp) with olive oil and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 375F. I use my toaster oven since there’s not much! Set aside when done.
  3. Then toast the pecans in the oven on 375F for about 2-3 minutes. Make sure to watch them so they don’t get over-toasted and burn! After toast, cool and roughly chop.
  4. Take your oatmeal jar out of the fridge, top with sweet potatoes and pecans, and enjoy!

Let me know your thoughts and feel free to share your favorite overnight oats flavors!

Food experiment: Spaghetti squash carbonara

It’s been almost a week since Thanksgiving and I somehow still have leftovers. I don’t get it, it’s insane. After eating turkey for a few days straight, I needed a break. But as I left the gym earlier this evening, I had no desire to get into the car, drive, leave the car, buy something, get into the car again, and drive home. No no, that was too many steps in too cold of weather. My California body is still very unprepared for 31F evenings.

That meant leftovers! But I couldn’t handle any more turkey. Not tonight! As I drove home, I contemplated stopping by the store to grab some veggies, but then I remember I had half a gourd of spaghetti squash left that I hadn’t touched in about a week and a half. Maybe I could do something with that…?

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If you’re unfamiliar with spaghetti squash, let me tell about this intriguing vegetable. Spaghetti squash is a yellow winter squash that is about the size of your butternut squash. As its name describes, spaghetti squash, when cooked comes out in strands that can be scraped out of the gourd once cooked. The yellow strands of sweet squash is very reminiscent of Italian spaghetti. It’s become very popular to use a carb substitute for dieters due to its low caloric value compared to carby pasta. Personally, nothing replaces carbs for me, but I heard about it on some cooking show so I thought it’d be fun to try out. Spaghetti squash is probably one of the easiest things to cook, but sometimes a bit difficult to use in application. At least for me, I haven’t been able to make anything particularly interesting with spaghetti squash.

img_3950-1Then it hit me–spaghetti squash carbonara. That could be a thing, right? If people use it as a spaghetti substitute, why not for carbonara? It sounded like it would be a brilliant thing because spaghetti alla carbonara is normally a very rich dish–pasta, eggs, parmesan cheese, pancetta/bacon, garlic, and salt & pepper. Spaghetti squash and marinara has always been boring to me since it’s just squash and some sauce (albeit delicious sauce). In carbonara, perhaps the spaghetti squash could be a lighter spin on the dish by balancing out some of the richness. Also, spaghetti squash could give an interesting texture to the dish as well since it’s not a soft pasta, but also not too crunchy since the strands are relatively thin.

So how’d it turn out? Not too shabby. In fact, I would even say it’s something I’d make again, which is why I’m going to share this experimental recipe with you.

Notes about this recipe!

Unlike pasta, spaghetti squash gets a little watery once cooked. My dish turned out a little more watery than I wanted because I didn’t saute the squash for too long before mixing in the sauce. If yours does start to produce some water, don’t panic! It’s perfectly edible and it REALLY bothers you, you can put your pan back on the heat for a couple seconds. It might scramble your egg mixture bit, but it’ll be less watery.

From recipes I’ve looked at before, I cook my spaghetti squash WAY less. Personally, I don’t like it when the squash is cooked too long and the strands get a little clumpy, so I think 12-15 minutes to cook squash is too long. That being said, it also depends on the power of your microwave. Mine is pretty strong, so the time it takes to cook in mine might be different than yours. The key thing to remember is if it’s easily scraped out, your squash is good to go!

When I mention parmesan cheese, I’m using the block of cheese, not the stuff in a bottle. I love Kraft’s parmesan in a bottle for pizza and cheese toast (childhood favorite!) but please don’t use that in this. You need the block of cheese because it’ll provide that melty texture you need for this. Pre-grated works fine too, but the best thing for this recipe is if you grate the cheese yourself with a microplane. It’ll give you a better melt and will help coat the “pasta” better.

Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

  • Servings: 1
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups of spaghetti squash (a little less than 1/2 a squash)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (microplaned is best)
  • 2 slices of thick cut bacon, diced (I just used bacon ends from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash of pepper

Directions

  1. If you have a whole spaghetti squash, cut it in half length wise and store one half. With the other half, use a spoon and scrape out the pulp and seeds. Once it’s all cleaned out, place the squash on a microwave safe shallow plate. Pour in about 3-4 tbsp water at the bottom of your shallow plate. This water will help steam and cook your spaghetti squash.
  2. Microwave the squash for 7 minutes (or what it says on the sticker of your squash). After it’s done, let it sit for at least 5 minutes to cool down a little.
  3. Then check on your squash. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s easy to scrape the squash out with a fork. Be careful you take it out of the microwave–it’s hot!
  4. If your squash is ready, scrape away! You should be able to get most of the flesh and be left with a light outer skin. Toss the skin and set aside the squash.
  5. Grate about 1/2 a cup of parmesan cheese. Set aside.
  6. Beat 1 large egg, then add the cheese. Beat a little more to combine the two, then set aside.
  7. Mince a clove of garlic. Set aside.
  8. Dice up your 2 slices of bacon. Set aside.
  9. Heat up a frying pan on medium high heat. Once the pan is warm enough, add the bacon and render the fat out. You’ll know it’s about ready when the bacon changes to that caramelized reddish brown color.
  10. Once bacon is just about rendered, add the garlic and give it a stir. Fry for about 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
  11. Add your 1.5 cups of spaghetti squash and stir to incorporate the bacon and garlic into the squash. Add the salt and mix. Cook for 4 minutes.
  12. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. Add your egg-cheese mixture onto your “pasta” and toss the squash to mix the sauce in evenly. The sauce will seem too thick at first but it’ll start to thin out a bit as you continue to mix. If it gets too watery, feel free to place it on the stove for a couple seconds again to cook the sauce a little (make sure you keep tossing if you’re doing this). Just FYI, it probably will scramble since it is an egg mixture.
  13. Once your squash is completely covered and well-mixed, put your squash on a plate to serve. Top with more parmesan cheese if desired and a sprinkle of black pepper. Enjoy!

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Ta-da! Recipe probably could use some tweaking to solve the watery squash problem but taste-wise, it’s pretty good. If you try it out, lemme know what you think.

Leftover turkey ideas: turkey pho!

It’s been 3 days since Thanksgiving, but do you find that you still can’t get rid of your turkey? I was joking with some friends that it’s never ending–for every slice you eat, it feels like two more pop up in its place. It’s baffling!

After being injected with cream and butter for several days now, my body is begging for something lighter and less fat-laden. Whenever I feel I’ve been eating terribly, I always like to reset by having some soup and salad. This recipe I want to share with you won’t include salad, but I can promise something light but full of flavor 🙂

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Pho, arguably the most well-recognized dish of Vietnamese cuisine, is a simple, yet complex broth. Traditionally, pho is made with beef bones to make a flavorful soup, but the chicken variety has started to become more and more popular in the United States. The idea behind pho is very simple: bones, water, toasted spices, ginger, and onion simmered for several hours on stovetop to create a deeply flavored broth.

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I have fond memories of eating pho as a kid–I ate the broth a LOT. When my mom made a big batch of beef pho, it’d be a feast for days. I’d have it with the traditional rice noodles, of course, but I also liked mixing the pho broth with white jasmine rice, as well as just having the broth by itself. I didn’t really get sick of it despite eating it so much, probably because of it’s simplicity. I also wasn’t a super picky kid 😉

Inevitably, Thanksgiving makes me think of home and home cooked meals. My mom is a genius when it comes to holiday leftovers, so I took a page out of her book for this recipe. Every Thanksgiving, after we had cut away all the meat from the turkey, we’d save the bones (including the body!) to make a broth, then use that broth to make something fancier. Mom made a lot of different things with this turkey broth–cháo (rice porridge), bún riêu (tomato-y seafood-y noodle soup), canh bún (another noodle soup), mì hủ tiếu (egg noodles with a combo of meats and seafood). The possibilities for turkey variations on classic dishes really seemed endless! Weirdly enough though, turkey pho was NOT one of my mom’s creations from turkey broth. So why turkey pho, you ask?

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Simple, really. It reminds me of home. Despite the fact that we often eat pho at restaurants nowadays (because San Jose, CA is full of fantastic pho spots!), pho holds a special place in my heart as my childhood food love. I didn’t fly home this Thanksgiving, so to compensate, I’m filling my apartment with the smells of home instead.

Notes about this recipe!

This is not one of my just-for-one recipes since you really don’t usually make a single serving of pho. It’s just too time consuming for that. However, if don’t feel like having people over, you can certainly freeze the broth into portions and reheat it for later consumption. I’d say it tastes best if you eat it within 3 months.

Did you make a chicken instead of a turkey this year? Or maybe you just stumbled across this recipe and feel like making chicken pho? Go for it! The two birds are interchangeable in this recipe. Also, when you make the stock, you’ll find that a lot of turkey scraps that was left on the bone will easily fall off. Feel free to use this to serve, or if you’d prefer, feed these lean poultry scraps to your furry friend 🙂

How big should your stock pot be? The one I use is 26cm in diameter. After Googling some math equations I haven’t used since I was 12, I believe my stock pot holds about 2.5 gallons, so you should aim to at least have a pot that large.

Toast your spices! It seems like an annoying step that you can do without but don’t skip it! Toasting spices is very important in bringing out the flavors of each spice. When you heat spices, it brings out the oils inside the spices, which gives the spices a deeper, more nuanced flavor (which is what you want) than raw, un-toasted spices.

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img_9925Last important thing! Don’t let your stock come to a rolling boil. Ever. You want to keep this broth on a simmer, but never a full boil. Why? A rolling boil will cause the stock to go cloudy. While a full boil is required for broths like tonkotsu ramen broth, you want your pho broth to always be at a light simmer. Throughout the broth making, you also want to keep a ladle handy so you can skim off any impurities you see that float to the top of the broth. This is most common during the beginning of the broth making process, but you see a little bit throughout the process. Make sure you do this because leaving the “foam” floating around will also cause your stock to go really cloudy. Random fun tidbit–not 100% sure on this, but I think the clear broth rule is a French food influence, similar to their consommé (but less fuss because no egg whites).

Last, last thing. Just a reminder that I currently reside in Denver, CO, so my cooking times may be a bit different from yours due to the altitude. It shouldn’t be that big of an issue for this recipe, but do make sure to watch your cooking carefully (especially with toasting things!) to make sure you don’t have any mishaps.

Now without further ado, the recipe!

Turkey Pho

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

    For the stock:
  • carcass from Thanksgiving turkey (mine was a 12-lb bird)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1 knob of ginger, about 2 inches long
  • 1 tsp whole star anise (about 5-6 stars)
  • 3/4 tsp whole coriander seed
  • 1 tsp whole cloves (~6-7 cloves)
  • 1-2 sticks of cinnamon (1 large or 2 small)
  • 1-2 whole black cardamom pods
  • salt to taste (I used about 1 tbsp, then sprinkles here and there)
  • 3.5 tsps pure fish sauce (I use Squid brand)
  • For serving:
  • leftover turkey slices
  • 1 lb fresh pho noodles (or 1 package of dried pho noodles)
  • lime wedges
  • hoisin sauce
  • Sriracha
  • bean sprouts
  • herbs (Thai basil, culantro)
  • green onion and cilantro, chopped (will be soup garnish)

Directions

  1. Place your turkey carcass in your stock pot and fill the pot until it covers your turkey. Put stock pot on stove on high heat to heat up the water quickly.
  2. While your stock is heating up, toast your spices! You can do this on the stovetop or in a toaster oven. If you do it on the stove, medium-high in a pan and constant stirring. If you do it in the oven, 350F for about 4-5 minutes with the occasional stir. Watch your spices carefully so they don’t burn!
  3. Once your spices are toasted, place them in a tea steeper and add it to your stock pot. If you don’t have a tea steeper, a coffee filter tied with twine will work too!
  4. Bring your stock pot to just a boil. Once you start seeing it bubbling, lower the heat to medium.
  5. As the stock bubbles, you’ll see some foam and impurities float to the top. This is usually marrow from the bones, so they may look a little brown and foamy. Use a ladle to carefully skim the foam from the stock. Continually do this every couple of minutes.
  6. Once most of the impurities are gone (usually takes me about 10 minutes of watching and skimming), turn your stove down to low. Partially cover your pot with the lid and let the broth simmer for the next 4-5 hours. Check back every so often to skim off more things that float to the surface.
  7. After four hours, your broth should taste pretty flavorful. Take a sip to taste and add salt as needed. We’re adding salt near the end so you can make sure to taste the flavor of the pure broth before deciding whether or not you need a little or a lot of salt to season.
  8. About 5 minutes before you’re ready to take the broth off the stove, stir in the fish sauce. The fish sauce will give the broth the extra umami kick.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, prepare the rice noodles for the pho according to the packaging. Place the leftover turkey pieces into a ladle and dip it into the boiling water to heat up the meat. You can also dip it in the broth if you’d like.
  10. Portion the noodles into bowl and place the warm turkey pieces on top of the noodles. Ladle on the broth, then add a tablespoon of your chopped cilantro-green onion mixture.
  11. Serve with hoisin sauce, Sriracha, and all the herb fixings. Enjoy! 🙂

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Turkey leftover ideas: Vietnamese bì cuốn!

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! Sorry I’ve been lax about posting! The holiday weekend has given me a bit of free time, so I’m back with another recipe! Hope you guys had a wonderful holiday stuffed (heh) with lots of turkey, potatoes, green beans, and copious amounts of gravy. I’m flying home in a couple weeks, so I figured it’d be best to not fly back and forth unnecessarily so I stayed here in Denver. Despite being relatively new to Colorado still, I managed to rally together a few friends to share Thanksgiving with. Yay friends!

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See that pile of turkey in the back? It’ll be just as big by the end of the meal.

There were three super hungry ladies sharing a hefty little 12-lb turkey, and despite stuffing ourselves silly, we still managed to have a mountain of pretty much everything we made at the end of dinner. Endless food! While I did get one of the girls to take a bunch of stuff home, I still have quite a bit of turkey left in the fridge waiting to be eaten.

I don’t know about you, but by my 5th or so consecutive meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans, I get rather tired of the typical Thanksgiving meal. And despite all of that eating, there’s still probably about 4 lbs of turkey left in the fridge! Leftovers are difficult to deal with sometimes, but luckily, I have a plan! My family back home actually has had this similar problem every Thanksgiving since I was a kid-—lots of leftover Thanksgiving food despite eating tons of it. My mom, who is brilliant in the kitchen, hates eating leftovers day after day, so she came up with two main ways to repurpose our leftover turkey:

  1. bì cuốn– spring rolls!
  2. phở gà tây – turkey pho

I’m going to share both with you! Let’s start with the bì cuốn recipe since my pho is still bubblin’ away.

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Let’s first break down what “bì cuốn” means! “” is a meat dish, and “cuốn” means rolled. Literally, this dish means “rolled bì”. So what exactly is in this bì? Bì a meat mixture that is traditionally made with julienned pork mixed with thinly cut pork skin and rice powder. This is actually a relatively common dish that’s served as an appetizer at many Vietnamese restaurants, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve eaten it before! While I’ll be showing you how to make bì cuốn, bì is equally as delicious if you eat it with rice (or traditionally, broken rice!)–that dish is called “cơm tấm bì”.

Before we get to this receipt, here are my usual notes!

img_9888Rice powder is a bit of a weird, uncommon ingredient, but you definitely need it for this recipe. This fine powder of roasted rice gives the dish a unique nutty flavor that you can’t really replicate with anything else, so there’s no substitute that I know of. You can probably find this at your Asian supermarket in the spices section.

img_9886Pork skin is another crucial component of this dish, although if you really can’t find pork skin (and it has to be this specific ingredient) or you don’t like pork skin, you can skip it.
It won’t be as balanced as the dish usually is, but it’s not as make-or-break as the rice powder. Do make sure that you’re getting this specific type of pork skin though. Normally, I love making stuff from scratch and I would encourage making things from scratch, but this is not one of those things you can make from scratch. You can usually find this item in the frozen section of your Asian supermarket.

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT THE PORK SKIN: You’ll be blanching the pork skin in a bit of hot water in this recipe. Once you blanch the skin and take it out, don’t let it sit too long to drain. If you let it sit for too long, you’ll have a giant clump of pork skin. If that DOES happen, no worries. Just toss the pork skin back into some warm water, swirl for a sec until the strands separate from each other again. Once that happens, drain again and don’t let it sit for too long this time!

Dark meat? White meat? Which parts of the turkey do you use? Personally, I like a mix of both. For your own bì, add what you’d like/what you have! Just make sure to julienne all the turkey evenly so the mix gets an evenly coating of rice powder and seasoning. Depending on how seasoned your turkey is, you can omit salt or just season to taste. Mine wasn’t super salty so I added a sprinkle of salt to make sure my mixture wouldn’t be too bland (since you are adding pork skin that’s not flavored!).

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All right, are you ready? Here we go!

Leftover Turkey Bì Cuốn

  • Servings: 1-2
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1-1.5 cup of leftover turkey, julienned
  • 3 oz sliced pork skin
  • 1 tbsp rice powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt (or to taste!)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • green leaf lettuce (red works too!)
  • 1 oz vermicelli noodles
  • mint
  • Thai basil
  • pickled carrots (optional)
  • rice paper
  • deep plate with warm water
  • prepared fish sauce (recipe here)

Directions

  1. Julienne your turkey so you have little even sticks of turkey and place into a bowl. You should have about 1 to 1.5 cups of turkey.
  2. Bring some water (about a 1 cup) in a small saucepan to a boil. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, drop in the sliced pork skin. Give it a little swirl, then drain it in a colander. Run some cold water over it to cool it down, then once most of the water is gone, toss it in with the turkey.
  3. 3.img_9918Add in the roasted rice powder, salt, and garlic powder, and mix everything together. There should be enough rice powder to coat everything, so feel free to add a little more if it doesn’t look like you have enough. Taste to make sure you have it seasoned with enough salt. If it tastes good, then your bì mixture is done!
  4. Time to start our rolling! Dip a sheet of rice paper into the warm water and place it on a plate you can roll on.
  5. Add lettuce, herbs, and noodles about an inch from the edge closest to you. Add pickled carrots too, if you’d like!
  6. Add your bì mixture! You can add as much or as little as you’d like. I add enough to make about a 1-inch line of it on the rice paper.
  7. Taking the side closest to you, fold the paper over your pile and pull the pile in tight. Start rolling a little, then fold the sides in. Make sure you hold everything in nice and tight (but not too tight or you’ll rip the rice paper!) so your roll ends up tidy and even. Continue to roll until you have a completed roll.
  8. Repeat until you’ve used up all of your bì mixture.
  9. Dip your rolls in prepared fish sauce and enjoy!

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Super easy, right? Hope you like this little recipe to help get rid of the turkey in your fridge! Let me know your comments, questions, and criticisms below! The recipe for the turkey pho will be up next—-I’m in the process of making it at the moment 🙂

Quick sauce recipe: Nước mắm

Nước mắm (pronounced like “nuh-k mah-m”), or fish sauce, is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. It’s used a lot in cooking and serving in various forms. In cooking, you’d probably use pure fish sauce. You’d use this type of fish sauce as seasoning for soups and braised dishes. In serving, you’re more likely to use a prepared form of fish sauce, which is made of pure fish sauce mixed with other things to make it more mild and less pungent. This type you’ll use to have with egg rolls/spring rolls, noodle bowls, and various rice flour-based dishes. I’ve heard a lot of people call it nước chấm or nước mắm pha, but honestly, I’ve always referred to it as nước mắm. People are likely to understand which kind you’re referring to if there’s context.

Here’s a recipe my mom shared with me for all your nước mắm dipping purposes! I’m giving you this recipe in proportions instead of specific measurements so you can make as much or as little as you need. Personally, I don’t use massive amounts of this stuff on a regular basis, so the last time I made it, I used a regular shot glass for my measurement tool.

Nước mắm for dipping sauce

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 part pure fish sauce (I used Squid brand)
  • 1 part white sugar
  • 1/4 part white vinegar
  • 2 parts water

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients into a small saucepan and place on the stove over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring the mixture to just barely a boil, then take off the stove. Skim off any foam that has formed on the liquid.
  3. Allow to cool, then store in a glass jar in the fridge.

How long does prepared fish sauce last in the fridge? To be honest, I have no idea. I think I’ve seen our jar back home stay in the fridge for a couple months before, and it’s been perfectly fine. We use it every so often and don’t make huge amounts so I can’t say I know how long it’s good for since I’ve never tested it.

Just FYI, the smell of fish sauce is STRONG so you might want to turn your kitchen fan on high and open the windows. Because it smells so strong, make sure you’re storing in a glass jar and not plastic or you’ll never be able to use that plastic ever again.

Questions? Comments? What are some of your favorite dishes to use fish sauce in (both prepared and pure)? Let me know in the comments below!

Sugar and spice and everything nice!

I don’t know about you guys, but one of my favorite thing mall foods when I was a kid was cinnamon rolls–specifically cinnamon rolls from Cinnabon. Those giant fluffy pillows of bread smothered in thick, decadent cream cheese frosting made for a delicious treat to share with a friend (because we all know from Louis C.K.’s experiences what kind of suffering you’d endure if you tried to eat one by yourself).

As an adult (kinda) now, I still love cinnamon rolls. I love making things by myself though, so I’ve tried my hand a couple times at the art of crafting cinnamon rolls at home. After trying a couple recipes over the years, my favorite recipe for cinnamon rolls comes from Paula Deen. I know what you’re thinking. Paula Deen, the lady that pretty much eats sticks of butter for a snack? Yes. She might’ve been a little butter crazy, but she makes some dang good cinnamon rolls. I follow this recipe pretty closely since it’s really good, but I have made some modifications that I think make the cinnamon rolls easier to make and slightly tastier in the end. Also, I know. This isn’t my typical just for one recipe, but it’s one of my favorites. And really, these cinnamon rolls are good enough to eat the tray by yourself if you don’t want to share with friends…

I must warn you–this recipe is not for those that want to make something quick. Cinnamon rolls take a lot of time. I have some tips on how to shorten your overall cook time, but even with that, it takes at least 3 hours to make these babies. With my friends and family, that’s actually a test of my love. I’m generally not an outwardly emotional person, so if I’ve ever made cinnamon rolls for you, that’s a silent (and tasty) declaration of my fondness for you because I spent hours kneading dough, waiting for the dough to rise, rolling out the dough, waiting for the dough to rise a second time, baking, cooling, and frosting. I mean, over 3 hours–gotta make sure the baked goods don’t fall into the hands of evil, right?

Not feeling like reading through my long explanation? Jump to the recipe here!

Notes for this recipe: Make sure you knead that dough at least 5-10 minutes! Why the need to knead? Kneading helps activate the gluten in the dough. Gluten is what makes your dough nice and elastic/stretchy. When you add yeast to the mixture, the yeast will be releasing air. Because gluten makes the dough stretchy, the air will be trapped inside the dough in little air pockets. This is what makes your cinnamon rolls (and all other kinds of bread) nice and fluffy! All those pockets created by the trapped air keeps your pastry nice and light instead of just a dense block of flour and water.

Speaking of trapping air, note that there are two rises in this recipe: the first rise of the dough, then the second rise after you’ve cut the cinnamon rolls and set them into the pan. I know some bread baking purists might scold me for this, but I swear it works! When I make this recipe, I do a “quicker” rise by putting my dough in a warm environment to speed up the process of the rise. I do this by heating the oven to 200F for about 1 minute so it’s barely warmer than room temperature. Then I stick the dough in the oven for 45 minutes instead of the suggested 1 to 1.5 hours. It’s cheating a bit, but the last few times I’ve done this, the dough integrity hadn’t been compromised–everyone said the rolls were nice and fluffy!

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In Paula Deen’s recipe, she wants to spread the melted butter onto the dough, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on afterwards. Personally, I find it much easier to get an even distribution of filling by mixing the melted butter and cinnamon sugar together THEN spreading that mix on top of the dough.

I also think her rolls are way too big, so they feel a little dry to me if I bake them that large. I think that’s mainly because the outside overbakes by the time the middle of the roll is cooked. Thus, I made the decision the last time I made these and cut the dough in half so I could make smaller rolls. This worked out much much better than when I make them with the original 9×15″ rectangle that Paula wants you to roll out.

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Lastly, and this is important–make sure you don’t have yeast that’s too old. Because this recipe takes so much time already, make sure your yeast isn’t expired. A little bit over the date is fine (especially if you keep it refrigerated or frozen), but be careful with using yeast that’s months old. It’s not so much that you’ll get a tummy ache; it’s more that your dough won’t very well (or AT ALL!) and it’ll just be a waste of your time. This has happened to me before, and it’s devastating to pull out a dough you’ve been proofing to see that it hasn’t risen. You think I’m joking, but I’ve legitimately wanted to cry the few times this has happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you! Use good yeast! If you’re unsure about your yeast, I found this guide to be very useful. You’ll also know your yeast is working properly if you smell the bread-y smell as you wait for the dough to rise!

All right! Recipe time 🙂

Cinnamon Rolls

  • Servings: 15-20 cinnamon rolls
  • Time: forever
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

    Dough:

  • 1/4oz yeast (1 packet)
  • 1/2 cup of warm water
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 medium egg
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
    Filling:

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
    Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar


Directions

    1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Make sure the water is WARM, not hot! You should be able to stick your finger in the water.
    2. Mix milk, sugar, melted butter, salt, and egg together until combined.
    3. Then add 3 cups of flour and mix until smooth. I like mixing at this point with a whisk.
    4. Mix in your yeast mixture.
    5. Switch to a mixing spoon and add in the rest of your flour, a little bit at a time. Continue to add flour until you get a workable consistency. Basically, whenever you get a ball of dough. I start mixing by hand once the dough starts having shape. Add in flour as needed but not too much! You want the dough to be able to touch the dough (poke it and it shouldn’t be too sticky).
    6. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. You can’t really overknead the dough by hand, so work those arm muscles!
    7. Place your dough ball into a greased bowl and cover to rise until it doubles in size (around 1-1.5 hours). For a slightly quicker size, turn your oven to 200F for about 1 minute, then turn off. You should be able to stick your hand into the oven and just feel that it’s slightly warm (make sure it’s not hot!). Then stick in your bowl of dough and let that rise for 40-45 minutes.
    8. Punch down your dough. Yes, literally punch it.
    9. Take the dough out of the bowl and roll it out into about a 15″ by 9″ rectangle. A little bigger is fine. Cut the dough in halfway, lengthwise.
    10. Mix together melted butter with cinnamon and sugar. Spread onto the dough pieces evenly, leaving about a 1″ margin of dough on each piece uncovered. This will prevent the rolls from oozing out the filling too much once you roll it later.
    11. Roll up the dough from the longside. Cut out into portions (I like about 1.5″ slices) and place them into your greased 13×9 cake pan. I use soft butter to grease my pan. Adjust the shape of your rolls as necessary (so they look nice and round and pretty!). Make sure you leave about 1/4″ of space between the rolls because…
    12. …you’re going to let them rise for about 30 minutes in your oven (remember, warm, not hot!). The oven should be still warm-ish from the first time you warmed it, so don’t warm it again.
    13. Take the rolls out and set aside for a sec. Heat your oven to 350F.
    14. Bake your rolls at 350F for 25-30 minutes (until golden brown). Make sure to watch them because you don’t want them to overbake!
    15. For the cream cheese frosting, whip together the butter and cream cheese first. Make sure the cream cheese is at room temp or you will have lumpy frosting!
    16. Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time until fully combined. Add a splash of milk if you want to thin out the frosting a bit.
    17. Add the frosting to slightly cooled cinnamon rolls, then get ready to eat!

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Did you make the rolls and want to let me know what you think? Do you have a fond memory of a favorite childhood snack? Let me know below in the comments!