Vietnamese week, days 1-3

I got a late start on Vietnamese week due to the presence of more leftovers than planned which needed eating, but since Tuesday I have made a few things. Using recipes off, a food blog by a pair of Vietnamese-Americans who seem to have pretty good taste.

Day 1: Curry

This one is from a can. It was a busy day, and I’d planned to make a curry-paste curry for a while and had a fridge full of eggplant, pepper, green bean, mushroom, and sweet potato that were about to croak. Sue me. It was delicious.

Day 2: Green Papaya Salad and Xoi Man

Green papaya salad, xoi man sticky rice.

xoi-man-sticky-rice-recipe (my chinese sausage was old and sad so I subbed in scrambled egg)

goi-du-du-green-papaya-salad (felt the need to add green beans, but otherwise just plain with mint and peanut only)

Day 3: Bo Kho

Bo Kho (Vietnamese beef stew) with rice noodles.  Please notice beef tendon front and center, from Snow Farm meat share. Yay, happy tendon! Bonus points for bone marrow steeped in delicious spicy broth.

Served with bún bò Huế rice noodles. Next time I serve this, I am going to cook the rice noodles in the broth so they aren’t quite so bland.  When they sit in the soup a while and take on the flavor, it’s much better.  Also improved by a shot of sriracha along with the lime and herbs and pickled daikon.

Ann’s delicious walnut cake

A friend made this for a party last weekend and it was really good.

Walnut cake
Serves 12

Butter (for the pan)
Flour (for the pan)
1 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups walnuts, ground medium-fine in the food processor
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

2. In a bowl, sift the flour, salt, cinnamon, and cloves; set aside.

3. In a food processor, grind the nuts until they are medium fine; set

4. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, if you have one, or the
whip, cream the butter. Add the sugar gradually in three stages, beating
after each one.

5. Beat in the eggs, one by one, beating only until they are incorporated.

6. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, stir in the
nuts, then fold in the flour mixture.

7. Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and bake the cake for 45
minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out

Caribbean squash soup

I found this recipe in Saveur last month and it seemed pretty easy, and I had some butternut squash in the house.  I made adjustments as is my wont, and it turned out fricking terrific!  It’s in heavy rotation now, as it is easy, absolutely delicious, and violates none of the dietary constraints I am half-assedly semi-adhering to at present.

Here’s my version:

Melt a few tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium-high. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped onion, and, if using, whatever kind of chilies you have or like; I use dried jalapenos and/or crushed red flakes.  Go easy unless you like it spicy (I do).  Cook until golden or at least soft and fragrant.  Add a container of Trader Joe’s cut butternut squash, a few cups chicken stock to cover (works fine with part water too), a shake of dried thyme, and a bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until squash is very tender, 30–35 minutes. Discard bay leaf.  Add a tablespoon of curry powder, a squeeze of lime juice if you have it, a grating of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Puree with the immersion blender.  Simmer a little more if you can stand the waiting and then have at it.

I omit the dairy because it’s not really needed, but if you felt like swirling something in at the end, I wouldn’t stop you.

Bread and Butter Pickles

10-12 small cucumbers, washed and prepped (slices)

4 medium onions, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup salt
1.5 cups packed brown sugar
1 pint cider vinegar
2 (3″) sticks cinnamon, broken (or not)
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp white mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne


Place cucumbers and onions in layers in bowl or colander, each layer sprinkled generously with salt. Let stand overnight or at least an hour or so. Drain vegetables, rinse well with cold water, and drain thoroughly. Dissolve sugar in vinegar in a kettle. Add cinnamon and allspice and boil 1-2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. Add drained cucumbers and onions, and scald 25-30 minutes, over very low heat but do not boil. Spoon pickle into clean glass jars, let cool, then put on lids and store in refrigerator.

If you are super lazy, you can just divide the rinsed and drained cuke/onion into the jars, divide the spices into the jars, and pour over the hot sugared vinegar to cover. Let cool, lid, then put in fridge.

Also, you may want different proportion of onion/cucumber — that should not affect the flavor much.

2012 was completely nuts.

An awful lot of stuff happened this year.  Nothing truly bad, but it’s been a struggle to keep up — a lot of unexpected home repairs and a really big investment in dance event organizing and more to do at work than average — and the result was no time at all to post on the FoodNerd.

Sorry about that.  I imagine you’ve all gone off by now and given up on me, and I couldn’t blame you.  But if you have me in your RSS reader or otherwise stumble back across me, welcome back.

The most recent kitchen adventures have been related to the winter holidays:  ajil and milk punch.

Ajil is an Iranian trail mix that is made and eaten on the winter solstice night, when people stay up all night to ward away evil.  I found the recipe in a recent issue of Saveur, and it sounded awfully good.  I thought it might make a nice hostess gift for people on our trip to LA.  So I went to the Armenian markets in Watertown to see if I could dig up the necessary ingredients.  No one seemed to know what I was talking about when I asked for sugar-coated slivered almonds, but at the last store I found them on my own, in a huge display of every kind of candy or dried fruit you could imagine.  They had dried mulberries too, which look just awful, like dusty old stuff swept out from under the fridge, but they taste pretty good so don’t be alarmed by their appearance.  The salted whole pumpkin seeds are wonderful if you treat them like a salt lick, but I can’t work out any method for actually extracting the seed, so I punted and just used shelled pepitas instead.  I also altered the recipe by adding in some shelled pistachios along with the ones in the shell.  Roasted chickpeas are kind of bland and dusty-tasting on their own, but they are a nice element in the mix of stronger-flavored nuts and fruits.  The end result is quite delicious, and very pretty with the greens, golds and browns punctuated with tiny flecks of bright white.


1 cup roast salted pumpkin seeds
1 cup whole salted pistachios
1 cup whole salted pistachios in shell
1 cup sugar coated, rose-water flavored slivered almonds (noghl)
2/3 cup dried mulberries
1/2 cup roast unsalted almonds
1/2 cup dried salted chickpeas
1/2 golden raisins
1/2 cup dried currants
8 mission figs
8 turkish figs

Milk punch is a historical drink with roots in the 1700s.  I first had it at Backbar in Union Square, where it was a crystal clear, sweet, bright thing with strong notes of clove.  It was so delicious and unusual that I wanted to try making some myself for a party, so I googled recipes.  Nothing sounded quite like Backbar’s version, so I made up my own recipe.

I started with Basil Hayden, just because bourbon is delicious and I had some in the house.  I used zest of 2 lemons and 1 satsuma mandarin, plus 1 cinnamon stick, 6 allspice and 4 cloves, plus a grating of nutmeg and a spent vanilla bean husk.  The zest and spices are heated in a quarter-cup of the bourbon just to boiling, then poured back into the bottle and left for 48 hours, shaking occasionally.

Then you strain the infused liquor into a big bowl or pitcher, ideally something with a pouring spout, and add 1.25 cups fresh lemon juice and 1.25 cups rich simple syrup.   Then scald 2 cups whole milk just under boiling point, and add it to the booze/citrus mix.  It will curdle right away, but let it sit about an hour.

Then strain through cheesecloth or muslin.  Then strain it again through a coffee filter.  If you can, strain again through another coffee filter to get it as clear as possible.  Pour it into clean bottles and keep it in the fridge, if you can keep people away from it long enough to have some to store.  Your 750 mL bottle of bourbon will double in volume, so you’ll want another empty liquor bottle to store the other half of your batch.

zesting lemons heating zest and spices in bourbon back into the bottle

This came out a pale yellowish-brown, and quite tasty in a lemony holiday-spice sort of way.  The bourbon flavor comes through, but even people who don’t care much for bourbon have enjoyed this: the sweetness, smooth mouthfeel, and spice give it a wide appeal.  I’m guessing Backbar used a vodka base, and less citrus juice, or perhaps they just have an industrial strength filtration method that gets theirs so clear.  In any case, the method rewards experimentation and swapping of ingredients to your personal taste.  I’ve just started a second batch with the same recipe, but with peel of 3 lemons and no satsuma, and a splash of vanilla extract, since I lack both oranges and spent vanilla beans at the moment.  There’s also a few lovely options using gin and other flavor profiles from Randy Wong, whose basic method I pilfered.

zest and spices in the bourbon bottle

We made a cheesecake from the leftover boozy-spiced curds, which aside from a grainier texture than we’d prefer was really rather delicious.  I recommend it if you can’t bear to toss out the filtered curds.  The pair make a nice combination for a party or potluck, as they do taste good together.


so far so good

So far I have been surprisingly able to stick with my omission of starches for a couple of weeks, with exceptions only when there was nothing else to eat, or I was at a restaurant with things I needed to sample (twice). At home, I’ve not caved. I astound myself.

I have very occasionally allowed a tiny bit of brown rice (I needed a gazpacho thickener; it’s not especially successful, as it doesn’t melt in like bread does) and potatoes. Corn is so far legal, and frankly I won’t leave fresh summer corn off the menu in any case. The pasta and rice I have not really missed much so far.

Braised greens make a remarkably able substitute as a neutral underlayer for things like curries. Ditto steamed yellow squash. And these have worked fine even before dancing, though I am legitimately hungry again by the time I get home.

The hungarian dill zucchini is like crack — I will dip into it when I feel snacky. Going to have to keep it in steady rotation. Same thing for hummus, a spoonful of that straight up can fix the kitchen-prowl problem by being filling and savory and speedy.

Just as long as I don’t become one of THOSE people

Damn it all straight to hell.

I have in the past had some success losing weight by eliminating wheat and grains in general from my meals (I’m looking at you, mid-90s Zone Diet), so I went and sort of half-assedly tried it again the last week or so. And it is depressing to report that I do seem to feel a lot better when I do this. More energy, less lethargic in the brain, better digestion, and I even look a little thinner even though I am most certainly not.

So there you go. Drat.

I guess for a while I am going to have to cut out the grains when I’m cooking for myself, and most of the sugar (easy for me, as I mostly lack a sweet tooth anyway), and only make special dispensations for unavoidable situations such as a trip out for pho. And really, I guess I am going to have to do that even after I fit back into my 90s jeans, since it’s not just the girth, it’s the sense of well-being. Sigh.

dill mustard potato salad

also, last week I made some hellaciously good potato salad. I have been eating the leftovers all week with a bit of cheddar for lunch.

5 lbs potatoes, cut up and boiled, sprinkled with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar once drained
12 hardboiled eggs, cut up
about 2 plants worth of dill
various mustards & mayo & miracle whip
a minced vidalia onion
salt & pepper

kale salad

This kale salad with feta and avocado and hummus dressing sounds really good and I might try to make it next time I get some kale from the parental homestead.

UPDATE: I made this with shredded kale (maybe 8 leaves), half a small tub of hummus, a slab of feta, half a yellow pepper, 8 olives and some quick-pickled cucumbers and their brine. Remarkably tasty, and astonishingly filling and sustaining. It also keeps just fine overnight, which is kind of miraculous for a salad.