Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bánh Mì with Lemongrass Ginger Tofu

Yes, this is vegan! I'm just starting to feel a bit silly putting "vegan" in nearly every vegan post that I do. I mean we can eat vegan, organic, or gluten-free without advertising it all the time, right? I know some people out there get annoyed by this :)

Bánh mì or what my family basically calls "Vietnamese sandwiches," are one of my favorite types of sandwiches. There is a lady that my family knows who makes these really great sandwiches in Vancouver Chinatown. As kids living in Victoria, we used to come along with my parents and family to Vancouver and they would buy 20 or 30 sandwiches from her. Back then Bánh mìs were just $2. Also we couldn't buy any in Victoria. Now the lady moved to a restaurant and sandwiches are $4 or $5 plus taxes. And now there is a lot of competition. We still buy from our trusted sandwich lady every now and then when my parents are in town since she gives them 'a deal.' Honestly, we just don't eat Bánh mìs very often anymore. I kind of miss them.

The original sandwich with the assorted cold cuts, paté, and mayonnaise is my favorite. I have tried other variations that are very good too. Since my husband is into all this vegan stuff and we're eating more vegan and vegetarian foods, I thought I would try to come up with a good homemade version that was vegan. Coming up with a vegan version isn't actually all that hard because tofu versions of bánh mìs are quite common. Coming up with the original cold cut version, if everything had to be homemade, would be super hard! We bought all the inside meat stuff in the past and assembled sandwiches ourselves at home and that was good. The nice thing about making them at home is that you can customize them exactly the way you like them. For me, it's more veggies and a tad bit more Maggi Sauce :)

I have never had a vegan Bánh mì before. We bought a vegetarian one once that had tofu in it. It was alright. It had potential and I instantly had ideas of how to make it better. This vegan Bánh mì was actually on my to-make list for awhile now. Yesterday, I finally came around to making it. I was in luck because the sun came out as well so I was able to get some bright photos of the sandwich by the window :)

I didn't tell my husband what I was making. All I told him was that it was going to be vegan. When he found out, he couldn't tweet the food porn fast enough. He took a bite and instantly smiled. He gobbled up the sandwich so quickly, I'm not even sure he was breathing. Seriously, he loved it! :) My 3 1/2 year old son liked it too and so did I. It was definitively better than the vegetarian Bánh mì I had tried. I really liked the French bread that I used as well. It was Thrifty Foods stored baked organic baguette. It was a bit flat and had a chewy texture more like a banette, than a baguette. I'll have to buy it again for sure.

Bánh Mì with Lemongrass Ginger Tofu
Serves 6-8

Pickled Veggies

1 medium daikon or Chinese white radish, julienned
5-6 carrots, julienned
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 to 1 cup white vinegar
1 tsp salt

Tofu and Bead Curd Marinade

350 g extra firm tofu, thinly sliced
300 g fried bean curd, sliced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 1/2 tbsp lemongrass, minced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Sandwich Assembly

2-3 long French breads (or several Vietnamese sub breads)
bunch cilantro
jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced (optional)
Vegan mayonnaise
Maggi sauce

Prepare the pickled veggies first. Cut the daikon and carrots and then give them a good rinse under water to remove the pulp. Rinsing the cut veggies is a tip my mom gave me so that you can keep the pickled veggies longer in the fridge. I believe she got that tip from the lady we buy Bánh mì from. Drain the veggies and then add them to a big mixing bowl. If the veggies are still wet, that's okay. Add the sugar, vinegar, salt and mix well. Transfer to a Tupperware, cover, and store this in the fridge.

NOTE: the recipe above makes A LOT of pickled veggies. For the sandwiches, you will probably only need about half of it. I like to use my leftovers for other Vietnamese dishes:)

Slice the tofu and bean curd. Throw in all the marinate ingredients and mix well. Be gentle so you don't break the tofu :) Set aside. You can get the cilantro and jalapeños (if you are using them) ready while this marinates a bit. Heat a large frying pan and brown the tofu a bit on both sides. After the tofu is done, remove them and then add the bean curd and cook for a few minutes. Remove and set aside.

I like my bread warm and toasty so I toast it for a few minutes before I assemble the sandwich. To assemble, I spread on a bit of vegan mayonnaise on the insides, then I add a generous amount of pickled veggies (make sure you drain these a bit before you add them!), a layer of bean curd, a layer of tofu, cilantro, and jalapeño peppers if you are using them. Finally, I squirt on some Maggie sauce and close the sandwich. Serve this immediately and enjoy! :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Making Cupcakes: Practice Makes Perfect

You know what they say. "Practice makes perfect." Okay, they're not perfect but the results are good enough for me! :) So here is the thing: I'm not really a baker. These days I'm sort of turning into a hobby baker though. Two years ago, I haven't even started to make cupcakes. I didn't make my first cupcake until October of 2010. Before then, I never baked a single cupcake in my life! In fact, I barely ever ate cupcakes in my life. Why? I didn't like them. They were all too sweet. My parents did not feed us food like that and every time I craved for something sweet, it was often a chocolate brownie or something similar. I never had the urge to make cupcakes. Until around two years ago.

Like many new parents, I felt like I needed to bake more. I loved cooking and I did it often. I was never really into baking. I also never cared about presentation. All that mattered to me was the taste of it :) Then I noticed parents sharing pictures of sweet treats on Twitter and I soon discovered that there were a lot of talented bakers out there. I was really impressed by their work and secretly wanted to be like them. Shhhh! :) I started to realize how artistic cake making could be. I knew one day my 3 1/2 year would be eating cake and cupcakes at parties and I wanted his first one to be from me and homemade.

I think I have come a long way since the day I made my first cupcakes. Now that I look back, I just laugh. The day I made my first cupcakes, I remembered I tried to pipe icing on those cupcakes but failed miserably. I had no idea how to connect the piping tip to the bag. I ended up just squeezing it through a hole and it got super messy! Lol. Also, I wanted red icing but all I could make was pink.

October 22, 2010 - my 1st homemade cupcake.

My failed attempt at a 2 color tone inside.

I thought it would be fun to share a post and give you an idea of how my cupcakes have evolved and improved over the past two years. I actually got a hang of it on cupcake attempt #3 I think. Things were going well until I started a new recipe and had to learn another thing or two. I'm learning a great deal just through trial and error and of course, research :)

December 19, 2010 - 2nd cupcake attempt

At least I got the coloring right this time. Icing still the pits!

January 1, 2011 - my 3rd attempt - SUCCESS!

February 2, 2011

August 21, 2011 - icing attempt failed on red velvet cupcakes.

August 25, 2011

November 19, 2011

December 24, 2011

February 13, 2012 - red velvet cupcakes with successful icing :)

March 1, 2012

April 8, 2012

And here are my latest cupcakes! I made them last week for the family party for my niece's 8th birthday. I wanted to have fun with these ones. I was getting a bit bored of the standard frilled frosting look so I tried a a couple of different frosting techniques using some of my other piping tips. I have many different piping tips but I only use a handful of them since I still don't know what to do with the others. Lol. I may look like I know what I'm doing but I still have tons to learn :)

September 11, 2012

I piped "8"s out of melted candy melts & used them as toppers. Now they looked more like birthday cupcakes!

I made 24 extra cupcakes for my niece's class at school.

Our gift to the birthday girl: cupcake apron, cupcake making kit, cupcake holders for lunch. Packaged in a cupcake gift bag!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Princess Dress Cake for a Birthday

Cake is right at the height where it looks like it's part of her outfit. Love that :)

It was only about a year ago that I learned what fondant was. I noticed a pin for a recipe on how to make marshmallow fondant. I decided to try my hands on making ruffle flowers out of fondant for the topping on my mom's birthday cake. This was how it all started.

This weekend, my niece had her 8th birthday party with her friends. She has never had a themed birthday cake before. I was responsible for making her very first themed cake so I wanted to make it special. Now I don't have a little girl of my own but if I did, I would definitely want her to have some kind of princess or fairytale cake for one of her birthdays. Once again I wanted to make something that was pretty but easy enough for a beginner cake maker like myself. This cake would be my fifth fondant cake and fourth theme cake. The hulk cake was my fourth fondant cake. See? I can still count them because I have made so few! Lol.

Here was my inspiration for the cake:

After correcting for many errors and imperfections, here was how my princess dress cake turned out:

When I go into improvisation mode, things and in some cases many things end up changing. The cake I modeled against ended up getting scratched and I did everything I could to make "my cake" look decent. Ahem. For instance, my fondant did not follow the recipe since I thought I would try cutting down on the sugar this time. Then my almost 4 year old suggested I add milk to it, which I thought was a pretty cool idea so I added some whipping cream that was leftover from the cupcakes I made a couple of days ago. I also added a few drops of strawberry oil flavor to it. The fondant smelled and tasted great and it wasn't that sweet but boy, was it darn sticky! Omg. Now it would have been fine if I was only covering the cake in small pieces, like what I did with the bottom tier, but for the big piece on the top tier, it was kind of a nightmare. The thing was sticking to the table and it got stretched in random areas on its way over the top of the cake. There goes the smooth fondant covering I was fantasizing about. Lesson learned!

I just couldn't ruffle this fondant. Too soft!

My attempt at hiding imperfections. Lol.

Funny how the colors change in different lighting.

The above cake that inspired me is so much cooler. I'm a bit sad my cake ended up looking so different :( Luckily, in the end my princess dress cake was still somewhat recognizable and cute. I was afraid it would be hideous at one point! Omg. The $1.25 tiara I bought from the dollar store made it prettier too :) Score! Also, all the girls loved it at the party! I think my dress cake actually looked a little less baby and a bit more grown-up overall. Or maybe not. It's not as cute anyway. It did taste good though. I'm not a big fan of plain vanilla cakes but this new recipe I tried was quite nice.

Cake Details:

Fluffy white vanilla cake (with less sugar)
Swiss meringue buttercream (with less sugar), some strawberry puree added to half of it
Strawberry marshmallow fondant
Candy pearls

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vegan Greek Salad with Homemade Nut Goat Cheese

My husband made vegan goat cheese a few days ago. A lot of vegan goat cheese! What he made may look like goat cheese but I would describe it more accurately as a nut hummus. I told him that it's terrible 'goat cheese' but it's pretty awesome nut hummus :) Let's face it. There's no smelly goat or cheesy taste to it.

My husband insists that it is vegan goat cheese so I'm going to treat it as so for a few vegan recipes. Why not, right? :) This week, I decided to make a Greek salad using his homemade vegan goat cheese. I knew I had to use some of his cheese but I also had organic lemon cucumbers to use up as well. I have never had lemon cucumbers before and was totally intrigued when I saw them in the Thrifty Foods flyer. They were on special that week, were local from Saanich, BC, and it was suggested that they would be great in salads. I love discovering new foods, especially interesting looking vegetables and fruits that are seasonal. Remember the leek flowers? Loved them!

The past few days, we have been eating potatoes in coconut milk and other foods that felt really heavy. The kind of foods that you can't eat a lot of but we did since it was the only thing we had to eat. I knew I had to make a salad soon! I have to say it was a bit of a relief to eat the fresh raw Greek salad. There's also something about eating a cold, colorful, healthy salad on a warm summer's day that just makes me happy :)

Organic lemon cucumbers

Raw photo of the salad. The above photo was brightened & labeled to attract visitors ;)

This is not your traditional Greek salad but I quite like this version I made up :) I think it would have been equally delicious had I added some thinly sliced red onions (which I didn't have any) and a few capers (which I forgot about). For those who don't like real goat cheese, this is a nice alternative too. I made a huge batch because I wanted to use up all my vegetables and I wanted leftovers for the next day. Feel free to half the recipe below :)

Vegan Greek Salad with Homemade Nut Goat Cheese
Serves 6-8


700g cherry tomatoes
9 baby Japanese-type cucumbers
5 small lemon cucumbers
1 red bell pepper
175g Kalamata olives
1/2 to 1 cup of homemade goat cheese


4-5 garlic cloves, pressed
1 1/2 tsp dry Greek oregano
1 1/2 tsp dry Provence herbs
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp agave syrup
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus bit more for drizzling on top)

Freeze the goat cheese for a couple of hours beforehand so that it can be diced into small cubes onto the salad later. Slice the tomatoes in half. Slice all the cucumbers and red bell pepper anyway you like. Transfer everything into a large salad bowl and toss in the olives.

Mix in all the dressing ingredients above & pour over the salad. When serving, top each plate of salad with ice cold diced goat cheese and drizzle a bit of olive oil over top.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

One of my favorite cookbooks: Tartine

I have a baking secret. I use the Tartine cookbook. Some of my favorite bakes are from this book. I didn't make this awesome stuff up so all the recipe credits goes out to Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, the authors of Tartine. Now that the source has been revealed you too can have all the secrets, if you buy the book :)

It all started around a year ago when I came across a post about making croissants online and was so drawn by the photos of them. As I scrolled down the page to find the recipe, none was given. Instead the author mentioned that the recipe was from Tartine. Because this was a trusted food blog of mine, I decided to buy the book. Yup. I bought the book just for the croissant recipe! Well, I was hoping there would be other good stuff too :) I can't remember which site it was that I was drawn to but if it comes back to me, I'll add the link to this post.

Are you a baker or do you want to bake some really great stuff? Stuff that the professional bakers bake? Buy Tartine. Croissants and pain au chocolat were the first things I made. Excellent! I have probably made at least a dozen or more things from the book and everything was excellent. Well, mostly. My least favorite so far would have to be the pumpkin tea cake. That was alright but I know my husband and others who have tried it thought it was very good. Everything else? Excellent. Don't take my word for it, google Tartine and read about all the rave reviews for yourself. Before you dash off to buy the book (because I know you want to :), check out some of the delicious stuff below I have made using Tartine. Happy baking! :)

Plain croissants

Banana coconut cream pie

Inside: Banana coconut cream pie (first time I made it)

Devil's food cake

Blackberry tart with lavender cream (my adaptation)

Toasted almond and lavender parfait

Hazelnut biscotti

Chocolate soufflé cake (aka my "celebrate life" cake)

Buttermilk scones

Lemon cream

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