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Monday, January 28, 2008

Recipe: Vietnamese Cold Beef Salad

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Living at home, I often ate variations of this simply prepared yet flavorful dish. It was quite a hit during the sweltering summer months as it was light and made with a abundance of fresh ingredients. My mom would often make a huge batch at the beginning of the week so that there would be less cooking to do later in the week but it also worked well for the dish as this is one that tastes better with a little aging. Even a trip to the local Vietnamese restaurant that served up 7 courses of beef called for some variation of the cold beef salad.
It is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes and definitely my most favorite course of the 7 courses of beef. Since this dish is very simple to prepare, I’d advise to not skimp on the freshness of your ingredients. The only thing that is cooked is the beef so the vibrancy of the raw veggies can really put on a show for the senses.

You can enjoy this dish as is or to make it a more heartier meal say for dinner enjoy it with a steaming bowl of rice. Save some to marinate a few days in the fridge and you’ll notice that the intensity of the flavor has increased dramatically yet the veggies still remain beautifully colorful. I know its still winter yet I miss the flavors of my mom’s kitchen and I found some very pretty ingredients at Trader Joe’s so I couldn’t wait till summer to prepare this dish that is so dear to my childhood.

Notice that I didn’t add fish sauce to the recipe for you seafood allergic Vietnamese food loving folks. You can add a couple dashes of fish sauce if you want. I choose not to since I’d take this meal with me to work and the fish sauce smell can be a little tough to get rid of.

Ingredients
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tsp red chili sauce/paste/oil
  • 1 ½ tsp minced ginger
  • ½ pound flank steak
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • ½ red onion, sliced finely
  • ½ seeded English cucumber, halved and sliced finely
  • 2 cups julienned carrots
  • ½ cup dry roasted peanuts
*Optional* cooked rice, prepared as you like

Directions
  1. Combine light soy sauce, lime juice, water, sugar, garlic, and chili sauce/paste/oil and ginger in medium bowl. Whisk or stir to blend. Pour approximately 5 tablespoons into a resealable plastic bag or large container. Cover and refrigerate the remaining dressing. Add steak to bag/container, seal, and turn to coat. Chill 30 minutes or overnight (for a more stronger flavor) to marinate.
  2. Heat broiler to 400 degrees F. Broil steak 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, or until medium-rare. Let rest 5 minutes and slice thinly at an angle, across the grain.
  3. Place basil, cilantro, mint, onion, cucumbers, and carrots in large bowl and toss. Top with sliced steak, drizzle with reserved dressing, and sprinkle with peanuts.
  4. Can be eaten with a bowl of cooked rice or alone for a healthy low carb alternative. Let the ingredients mingle overnight for a more intense flavor. If you choose to do this then keep the basil, mint and cilantro out of the dish till you are ready to eat to keep them from getting droopy in the dish.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Recipe: Red Velvet Cupcakes

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Quite a bit has happened since the new year. I tasted a lovely Red Velvet cupcake from Sprinkles courtesy of GS and NCT who introduced the Newport Beach outlet of the chain to me(review coming up next). Oh and I’m currently technically unemployed….the story is terribly complicated and you really don’t need to know all the gory details via this avenue. So the Sprinkles experience left me very inspired since it was oh so yummy and cute and a tad on the pricey side. I wanted to have tasty cupcakes I could eat most days and not feel guilty about shelling out $3.25 for it. The current employment status has left me with quite some time to ponder about my career path, ability to start to make some changes to head towards something new and of course plenty of time to test out recipes and batches of what I hope to be something I’d feel guiltless (at least money wise) when eating.

So after scouring the inner depths of the Internet for recipes I came across a recipe adapted from Paula Dean which I then also changed to suit my own tastes. I added some more cocoa and vanilla, cut back on the red dye and played around with the oil to butter ratio. For the frosting I cut back on the sugar since I like a more blander sweet.

Cupcake ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of melted butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* I play around with melted butter and oil measurements when I’m low on one or the other ingredient
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the melted butter, oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.
  3. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled.
  4. Bake in oven for about 25-30 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
  • 8 ounces cream cheese(cold)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups (or add more if you want it sweeter) powdered sugar, sifted
  1. Combine cream cheese, butter, vanilla and sugar in a food processor and pulse just until smooth and creamy. If the frosting is too stiff, pulse for a few seconds longer. Do not overprocess. If desired, stir in additional flavoring to taste.
  2. Electric Mixer Method
  3. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until blended. Add sugar one-third at a time and beat just until smooth and the desired consistency. If frosting is too stiff, beat for few seconds longer. Do not overbeat. If desired, stir in additional flavoring to taste.

By no means is this cupcake *The Cupcake*. I’m satisfied with it however and will continue to tweak. It is quite moist but I’d like to play around some more with the density and the cocoa flavor.

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