Friday, November 30, 2012

Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup (or Canh Chua)

My family often makes this Vietnamese and Cambodian Hot and Sour Soup to accompany our rice and stir fry dishes. It's called Canh Chua and I'm thinking it's more Vietnamese than Cambodian just by its name. It involves boiling fish and chicken bones to make a stock, making it sour with tamarind, making it hot with red hot sauce, and then throwing in various vegetables. Very simple and very tasty. My husband is also a big fan of it!

This recipe I'm about to share was something I put together from what I remembered Canh Chua tasted like from my childhood days. My parents didn't really share actual recipes with me since they freestyle cooked everything in the kitchen. If you think I freestyle too much and hack away at the kitchen, you should see them in action! Lol. Not a single thing is written down for them. And yes, both my parents are BIG cooks. Lucky for me I can reverse engineer and recreate dishes pretty easily now. If my parents were to make Canh Chua today, I'm quite certain that it would be different than my recipe but it would still taste very much the same.

ngò gai

This was only half of the bean sprouts I put in my pot:)

Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup (or Canh Chua)
Serves 6-8


3.5 L of water
several pieces of fish bones
2 pieces of chicken bone (I used pork bones since that was all I had)


2-3 carrots, sliced
4-5 celery sticks, sliced
3/4 cup sliced pineapple (use fresh, if possible)
4 tomatoes, sliced in quarters
lots of bean sprouts (3-4 cups?)
1 cup fish balls (or some white fish or both)


2-3 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tsp sriracha sauce (or much more if you like it hot!)
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 to 2 tbsp sugar


ngò gai, minced (love this stuff!)
fried garlic and oil

For the stock, boil the water and then add all the clean pieces of fish and meat bones to the pot. I used a piece of salmon bone and then 2 tilapia heads. That's what I had saved in my freezer from previous dishes so I just used that. I would do more fish bones than chicken or meat bones in this soup but it's your call. Simmer the stock for at least 1 hour and then scoop out all the bones and remains from the soup. If there is a lot of meat stuck to the bones, you may want to pick those off and throw them back in the pot. Otherwise, just trash them.

Throw all the vegetables, except the bean sprouts, into the pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer. Add all the seasoning ingredients to the pot. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. I like my vegetables soft but if you don't you won't need to simmer as long. Finally add the fish balls, bean sprouts, and fish, if you are using that. Simmer another 5 minutes.

Fry pressed garlic in lots of oil until the garlic is light brown in color. Remove from heat. When serving soup in bowls, top with some ngo gai and some fried garlic and oil. I like to eat this soup as is but you could also add plain noodles like vermicelli to it and serve it like a noodle soup. Enjoy!

If you're making this dish or plan to, I would love your comments! :) 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Panini Grilled Salmon with Coconut Soy Sauce

Who loves salmon? I do! I do! We eat salmon here more than any other fish. BC salmon is delicious! It's one of those things that I cook a lot of at home but will still order off a menu if I go out to eat. Yeah, I love salmon THAT much.

I have maybe six or more different ways of preparing salmon. It's funny because I had a friend once tell me she had no clue how to cook salmon. I think salmon is a very versatile fish and there are so many different ways you can prepare it. You really can't go wrong. Unless you burn it of course :)

This evening after our run, I came home and my husband walked to daycare to pick up our son. We normally run straight to daycare to get him but lately since it has been freezing outside, only one of us goes. I had to come home right away anyways because I had to cook dinner. More like whip up dinner! Today was a busy work day for me and I didn't have time to prepare things in the kitchen before our run. I already knew that I wanted to cook salmon but I wasn't sure how I was going to go about it. I only had about half a fish or maybe 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of salmon. I love baked salmon but it was too small to turn on the big oven for. I didn't want to fry it either since I was already using the stove top to stir fry gai lan (or kai-lan). So I grabbed our panini grill and turned it on.

Cooked salmon on the panini grill.

I have never cooked any "meat" on the panini grill before. It's not meant for things like that. However this was fish and I knew it wouldn't take long to grill. The filets fitted perfectly on it :) I removed the scales, washed the salmon, sliced it, and removed most of its bones. Preparing the salmon for cooking was the most time consuming and ickiest part of making this dish. Having said that, it should only take at most 5 minutes. I was in a big rush today :) I whipped up a quick sauce for it. I didn't have time to plan anything so I just started throwing things together that made sense. It was no more than a five minute whip up and I'm writing down the recipe for the first time right now in this post. Lol. All from memory.

I actually have a confession. I was planning to blog about my stir fry gai lan with grilled beef but something went a bit wrong with that dish so while I was cooking, I decided to take pictures of the salmon instead. Why not, right? It was a fail but not really since I still got a blog post out of it! Don't you just love it when you can do that?!

The salmon was yummy. We served it with freshly cooked brown rice. We also had gai lan beef with the meal. It was all good :)

Panini Grilled Salmon with Coconut Soy Sauce
Serves 4
(Inspired from one of my favorite salmon dishes on

1 1/2 to 2 lbs of salmon filets
bit of olive oil


2 tbsp coconut oil
2 green onions, chopped
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2-3 tbsp seafood soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp fried garlic and 1 tbsp of the oil it was fried in

Heat panini grill. Drizzle with the olive oil and place salmon on to grill. Close grill enough to just cover the salmon without being in contact with the salmon. Cook for around 20 minutes, swapping the filet at the front with the one at the back about half way through the cooking.

Melt the coconut oil over the stove top. Turn the heat off. Throw in the chopped green onions, rice vinegar, seafood soy sauce, garlic and oil. Once the salmon is cooked through, remove them over to a serving plate and pour over the prepared sauce. Easy peasy :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Construction Birthday Cake, Cupcakes, & Cookies

My little boy is turning 4 years old tomorrow! This past weekend, we threw him a construction themed birthday party and invited all his friends from daycare. It was pretty cool, fun to plan and super tiring to implement. But we did it so hooray for us! :)

Everything was edible on the cake (except the toy digger :) )

My little sweetheart.

Over a year ago, I saw this amazing construction cake on Pinterest. It looked super easy to do since it was a big construction mess on top and the inside was the coolest thing I have ever seen inside a cake. I knew I had to do it and I just couldn't wait until the day I would throw a construction party for my boy. So yes, I settled on a construction theme just so I could make this cake! Ahem. Luckily for me, I have a typical little boy who loves everything construction as well :)

I made two 10 inch round cakes: one in chocolate and one in white. I dyed the white one a bit yellow. I was running very low on yellow food coloring. Oh boy. I used Bake Even Cake Strips around each cake when I baked them so I could get maximum height out of them and so they would cook somewhat flat on top. Those baking bands really do work! The downside was that the cakes took an extra long time to bake. Between the cakes and cookies I made that day as well, I think my oven was on pretty much all day. It felt like that anyway.

I used a cake leveler to completely level off the tops of the cake and to ensure they were both at the same height. The chocolate cake that I leveled off was saved for "dirt" crumbs for decoration. The leftover white cake was frozen for another time. Maybe I'll make cake pops out of them later. For the "dirt," I spread the chocolate cake pieces on a tray and baked them for about 15 minutes. After removing them, I left them on the counter to cool and dry a bit more. Then it was just a matter of breaking them apart and crushing some pieces to make it look more like "dirt."

Strawberry fondant painted with white food coloring.

A couple of days before baking the cakes, I made myself some caramel. The really delicious caramel from the Tartine book :) When it came time to assemble the cakes, instead of icing between the angle layers of the cake and having it ooze out, I brushed caramel in between the layers. The assumption was that the caramel would just get absorbed and keep the cake moist. Besides I only had enough icing for in between the two horizontal layers and the outside of the cake. It turns out that a 10 inch cake is HUGE! And two of them together is very heavy.

Construction Cake
(Makes two 10 inch cakes)

1 chocolate cake
1 1/2 white cake
3/4 to 1 cup homemade caramel
1 batch of chocolate swiss meringue buttercream

6 strawberry fondant construction cones
7 or so rock candies (buy at the candy store, tastes like cinnamon hearts)
1 brand new toy digger
fondant letter labels

The site that inspired me to make this cake has a great description and photos on how to get the cool slanted construction look inside the cake. I probably should have followed the instructions more carefully myself! Basically, you need to make the cakes beforehand so that they can be cut and assembled without breaking apart. Cut at a 45 degree angle all the way around. It was hard to measure so I just eyeballed it and hoped for the best. Now that I see the picture again, I should have cut closer to the edge as well. Big oops. The lines didn't exactly line up for me but depending where you did cut the cake, some of the lines did line up. Lol. Hopefully people got the idea and they appreciated the fact that I "tried" to get the cool construction look inside the cake.

The lines inside "sort of" meet here :)

I scooped out a bit of the top of the cake and dumped it off to the side on the top, then I finished icing the cake. I forgot to photograph on the side where you actually see a hole in the cake. The digger really was digging people! I should have taken a picture from directly above too. Oops. It's funny though because I found myself already taking a lot of pictures of food at the party. Probably more than the party itself. I wonder what my adult guests were thinking :)

The cake was delicious. All the flavors came together beautifully and it just tasted great. It was super moist and fluffy and it ended up feeding a lot of people. Each slice was very tall. At room temperature I was cutting them fairly big so that they would not break apart but from the fridge, you can slice them thinner and they will still hold up. It actually tastes good cold as well.

Near the end of the cake, it really started to look like it.

Some people like cake but some people prefer cupcakes. I always end up making both now. At the party only five cupcakes were eaten. Cake definitely won. Cupcakes are nice though because they are individual servings and they always look pretty stacked up. They make a beautiful decorative piece for the table too. Don't you agree? :) My little guy and me had fun making the cupcakes. The toppers were fondant and since I was running really low on yellow food coloring, I had to resort to painting to stretch my colors a bit more. I had to paint some of my sugar cookies for the same reason. Painting is a lot faster than cutting more fondant or icing in each separate color too.

It was a baking marathon last week!

In addition to the cake, I ended up making 32 chocolate cupcakes and around 100 lemon vanilla sugar cookies. The cookies were favors too but we still had plenty for the party. There were construction and road signs, arrows, and "caution" cookies. I chose easy designs since I knew I would be pressed for time. They all turned out pretty nice anyway. When it came time to present the dessert, I was running so late that I got my parents and brother to lay them out on the table for me. I told them to please put them "nicely" on the plates and cupcake stand. When I came back, I saw that the cookies were sorted like playing cards and then stacked in piles on two small plates. I gave them four plates to lay them out. I was horrified! Some of the cookies weren't even oriented to face the audience. What the heck?! Ok, if you are a foodie too, you would totally understand why I flipped out a bit. The cupcakes were smudged a bit too when they were moved over. Aw man. I quickly adjusted things and all was good after that :) See what a stay-at-home-mom has turned me into? I was not like this before. Seriously.

The "cake zone" at the party totally rocked. I thought it looked so cool with all the decorations together. It's just too bad the light by the table was burned out :( When it came time to cut the cake, all the little kiddies were hunched up close to the table. The anticipation in those adorable 3 year old and 4 year old little faces while they waited for their piece of cake made all the hard work worthwhile. I loved it! It was another party success :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Refreshing Raw Salsa with Cilantro Roots

When I was living in Paris, I met this really nice American couple who shared their salsa recipe with me. It was delicious! It was chunky, thick, and just full of flavor. It was my first time making salsa and it was so easy. You had to cook it until it thickened, much like homemade pasta sauce. It was so good I thought I was done. Why try any other recipe when this one totally rocked, right? Well it turns out that I just discovered an even easier recipe that is also awesome. Easier definitely wins! Yeah, I can be lazy like that.

Over the summer, my mom and dad brought us a ton of their home grown tomatoes from Victoria. I don't know the name of the tomatoes my parents grew but they don't sell them at the stores. They bought their plants at some flea market near Victoria and they are very tasty. You can snack on them just like plain fruit, which is how my mom usually eats them. We tried planting tomato plants from Walmart one year ourselves but they didn't taste very good. They were somewhat tasteless but we were new at gardening and we did a crappy job too. The store bought tomatoes tasted much better. Lol. My parents, on the other hand, take great care of their garden and every year, we get free organic produce from them :) They do live in Victoria so we don't get produce often but it's always nice when they come over to visit us! This year I made a lot of salads with their tomatoes but then I got sick of salads. We still had a lot of tomatoes left and they were all getting super ripe. I had to throw them into the fridge while I thought of something else I could do with them.

One night I made quesadillas and I wanted a quick and easy salsa to go with it. I found a restaurant-style salsa that didn't involve any cooking so I tried it out. Like with so many of my recipes, I improvised my way through it since I didn't have exactly what it was asking for. Instead of using canned tomatoes, I used my parent's fresh tomatoes. It was perfect since it used up A LOT of tomatoes! Since the tomatoes were small, I used nearly 35 of them for the recipe. I know! I actually had enough to make this recipe a second time. Lol. Guess what? I still have a few more tomatoes left.

This salsa recipe is raw and therefore healthier than the cooked salsas. What's also great is that you don't really have to pre-cut anything before throwing the ingredients into the food processor. If you don't have a food processor, you need to get one! A big blender could work as well. I quickly washed my tomatoes and threw them in whole. So easy. Remove the skins and tips of the garlic and throw them in whole. Same with the onion. You get the picture. Another important ingredient this salsa has that many others don't have are cilantro roots. I never cared for cilantro roots until I read how awesome and flavorful cilantro roots were :) Thanks Chef Heidi for the tip ;) Now when I buy cilantro, I always search for the bunches that have the roots attached. Wash them well and then throw them into the food processor.

This salsa is fresh and will taste even better the next day, once all the ingredients have time to soak together. Using the best of each ingredient will also make a difference.

Raw Salsa
Makes 750ml to 1 L
(Adapted from The Pioneer Woman)

35 small whole tomatoes (or 15-20 large or medium), skin and all
1/2 red onion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 piece jalapeño, seeds and all (more if you dare)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup cilantro, plus roots (roots are very important!)
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lime

Throw everything above into a food processor and turn it on for 2-3 minutes until all pureed. Store in fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving. Serve with tortilla chips or along with any Mexican dish that involves dip.
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