cháo cá kho

Chao Ca Kho

today marks 3 years since
my beloved gpa passed away.
we are currently in CA,
in celebration of his life,
visiting gma,
and taking a much needed breather.

today’s recipe is one of my childhood faves,
which i have gone & bastardized.
normally it’s eaten with rice,
but gpa would make it with
rice porridge
and we’d have it for breakfast.
gpa always ate it with chopsticks,
which is weird,
this is stew-soup-porridge,
but the man was deft with them sticks.
he is dearly missed.

Chao Ca Kho

cháo cá kho
cháo amount makes 4 small servings, or 2 hefty servings (which is the norm)
cá kho amount makes 6 servings

*note: in feb, dw & i visited charleston, sc, and one of the places we dined at, Xiao Bao Biscuit had a special: fishball congee that was fresh and completely different from any congee experience i’ve ever had, at home or at a restaurant. i only like vietnamese style congee, which is called chao, every other version is not good to me, no offense to all other congees out there. their version, the balls were deep fried and proportion of balls to congee is the exact opposite of what i’m used to. chao is supposed be a quick filling and warming meal, bland with a few bites of salty. their version tipped it to the opposite side of the scale and my version attempts to even it out. the presentation is a little on the precious side for me, but it was a special occasion.

*note: the consistency of this chao is on the thick side, which is my preference, almost to the point where you could stick your chopsticks upright in the bowl and it won’t topple (don’t do that though, especially in japan).

Chao Ca Kho

1 1/2 lb catfish filets, skinned and de-boned
knob of ginger, skinned and thin sliced
2 garlic cloves
2 scallions, rough chopped
1 tsp fish sauce
fresh cracked black pepper
oil, for frying

in a food processor add all the ingredients except the filets. pulse until all the ingredients are rough chopped and mixed together. with a spatula, push down the mixture and clean the sides of the bowl.

chop the fish filets into bite sizes and add to the processor. pulse until all the ingredients are chopped and mixed through. you don’t want it to be mush but you do want it to get incorporated.

using a tablespoon or if you’re fancy, a ice cream scooper, scoop up about 1.5 tablespoons worth into your hand and roll it around until it’s ball. place on plate or parchment lined cookie sheet. do this for the entire mixture.

in a pan, heat up a splash of oil. fry the balls until they’re all browned on the outside. don’t worry if they’re not fully cooked on the inside (though they probably are). set on paper towel lined plate and set aside.

braising/caramel sauce
1 generous tsp sugar
1/2 cup – 1 cup coconut juice (water if you end up sipping all the coconut juice waiting for the sugar to caramelize)(no judgement)
half onion chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
a knob of ginger, thin sliced
1-2 TBL fish sauce

you’re working simultaneously here:
in a pot heat up some oil. saute the onions until they are richly browned, add in the garlic and ginger, all the while stirring to prevent burning.

meanwhile, in a small sauce pan heat up the sugar. it’s going to melt, it’s going to harden and you might smell some burning. don’t freak out like dw did, add the liquid (coconut juice or water) and mix it all together and the liquid starts to simmer. at that point, add it to the pot of onions/garlic/ginger.

mix it all through and then carefully, nestle the fried fishballs into the pot. allow the pot to simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. turn the balls to allow for even coatage, add more liquid if the pots gets too dry.

while that’s doing its thing, make the chao.

1/2 cup rice, rinsed and drained (any kind, whatever your preference)
3 cup water

in a medium pot, add the water and rinsed rice. heat on high until boiling, stir, and then lower heat to medium low, until just a simmer. semi-cover and ignore for 20 minutes. check on it, stir and check consistency. you’re aiming for a thick porridge, if you prefer looser, add more water. take off heat. as it cools, it will thicken, just add water to loosen.

pickled red onions (paper thin sliced red onions in a sweetened vinegar mix)
fried onions
fried garlic
green scallions
sliced red chilis

to assemble
in a bowl add the chao then top with fishballs. drizzle with the caramel/braising sauce. add the garnishments to your heart’s content.


Chao Ca Kho

previous gpa posts:
citrus curd mille feuilles
salt & pepper shrimp
guinea hen liver pate


bún riêu – vietnamese seafood noodle soup

bún riêu - vietnamese seafood noodle soup

lately i’ve been thinking a lot about
vietnamese food
specifically the foods i ate growing up.
it’s that weird, icky, emo
akin to nostalgia,
an emotion that is so foreign,
and unwelcome,
to me
that i would like to punch it in the face.

instead, i think i will attempt to feed it
because starving is just not our thing.

bún riêu - vietnamese seafood noodle soup

bún riêu – vietnamese seafood noodle soup
loosely adapted from wandering chopsticks

*note: i seem to recall seeing snails in this dish growing up. that’s an ingredient that i cannot locally source and if i’m to be honest, it’s something that i like to consume when prepared by professionals. i’m not there yet to make it myself. instead, i made do with local maryland crab and csa tomatoes – hooray for in-season AND local. alas, the fish cakes were purchased frozen and already prepared. this is when dw will turn a blind eye, conceding that some things just cannot be helped.

this makes a lot. like, an ass clown amount. we’ve have it for leftovers for a week, and we shared this with cousins who recently welcomed a baby boy, leaving them with portions too.

i won’t post the full recipe, because it’s fucking long WC does a great job of writing it all out. below are my short cuts and methods that worked for me.

i used two 32 oz boxes of organic seafood stock. i wasn’t about to make crab stock. i did use shrimp shells though.
i purchased backfin crab meat from whole foods, because lump meat would’ve been a waste of good meat and money.
i did not use canned tomatoes, instead, we’ve been drowning in csa tomatoes and so i diced up 15oz worth of tomatoes and rough chunked 4 big tomatoes.
spare ribs were also purchased at whole foods, and i think may have been dw’s favorite part of the dish.
i added two extra eggs to the rieu, because i like it extra eggy. i did not bother with keeping it whole, i just free formed balls with spoons and dropped into the broth.
if you can’t get your hands on banana blossom, shredded cabbage is fine.

last, this dish was just ok on the first day, in fact, i was a little disappointed. but the following days were so much better.


bún riêu - vietnamese seafood noodle soup

1 year ago: quinoa sushi rolls
2 years ago: blueberry breakfast cookies

other vietnamese goodness:
homemade bánh cướn chay
vietnamese bò kho – beef stew
phở gà
tôm rang muối – vietnamese salt & pepper shrimp
vietnamese vermicelli noodle bowl – bun thit ga nuong
chả trứng thịt hấp – vietnamese steamed egg meatloaf

chả trứng thịt hấp – vietnamese steamed egg meatloaf

chả trứng thịt hấp

by all counts we’ve had a good summer:
on a national level: one love
the heat this week has made us turn on the AC uh-gain
and made me secretly relieved for the inevitable return of autumn
which means i will be forced to hit the kitchen
and cook again
taking advantage of the bay’s haul
i grabbed a half pound container of crab
and made something comforting
something so easy
something that’ll ease me back into the comforting rhythms of the kitchen


chả trứng thịt hấp – vietnamese steamed egg meatloaf
*note: the way my dad sent me the recipe it was all a bunch of words with guesses on measurements. i’ve made this a few times and the measurements below are what i generally stick with. i use 5 ramekins (like, individual creme brulee dishes) and 1 double sized ramekin, as shown in the picture, so the steam time is slightly abbreviated and done in batches. using a bamboo steamer is ideal but i use a steamer insert in a regular big pot, which works perfectly for me. alternatively, you can do it bain marie style in the oven, 350F for same amount of time, just make sure you cover with foil.

1 lb lean ground pork
8 oz crab meat, i bought from Whole Foods, but in a typical vietnamese household they use canned with liquid drained & discarded
1-2 cups worth of vermicelli noodles that’s been softened by submerging it in hot water for 15 minutes, rough chopped
2 good sized pieces of black fungi, submerged in hot water and then julienned
3 stalks of scallions/green onions, diced
4 eggs, reserving 2 yolks
3 TBL fish sauce, we use red boat
2 TBL sugar

in a mixing bowl, mix the ground pork, eggs, fungi, vermicelli noodles, fish sauce and sugar. seriously it’s like meatloaf, don’t over do it but make sure everything is well incorporated.
gently fold in the crab meat. don’t break the lumps up tooooooo much, but you want it to be nice mash up.
in a heat proof bowl or dish, smear a smidge of oil along the bottom and along the sides.
put the meat mixture into the prepared bowl or dish and steam for about 20-25 minutes.
top with scattered chili and spread a layer over the surface of the bowl or dish and steam for an additional 2-3 minutes.

(this is just for looks) serve with white rice and cukes, or between bread, sandwich style…

chả trứng thịt hấp

one year ago: spiced poach pears
two years ago: meyer lemon bars

other vietnamese goodness:
homemade bánh cướn chay
vietnamese bò kho – beef stew
phở gà
tôm rang muối – vietnamese salt & pepper shrimp
vietnamese vermicelli noodle bowl – bun thit ga nuong

bánh xèo – vietnamese crepe

bánh xèo

scenes from a weekend:
i spent the better part of the weekend
running around
like a squirrel collecting nuts for the winter.
i stockpiled the freezer
with dumplings/gyozas/wontons
for the coming winter.
i baked bread for the week’s breakfast
(acorn squash + hazelnut loaf,
adapted from this recipe)
and made soup for the week’s lunch
(roasted chicken noodle).
all in addition to
doing both CSA runs
during the city’s running festival,
getting an oil change,
most importantly,
Date Night.
we saw the Skeleton Twins
have you seen it?
i loved it.

bánh xèo

the final day we made bánh xèo,
a dish that, for me, signifies
the close of summer,
as we put away warm weather kitchen toys,
dust off cold weather kitchen toys.
it wasn’t a particularly warm day,
but the sun was out,
the game was on,
and we had somehow managed to
do all our chores in two days.

how was your weekend?

bánh xèo

bánh xèo

*note: we used a mix. dw mentioned something about making the batter from scratch, rice flour + turmeric + a bunch of other starches and i nixed that notion. it’s a special kind of flour, used in special proportions and frankly, my interest in making things from scratch doesn’t extend going to those lengths. i’m not loyal to any brand, at least not yet. we used two bottles of beer + some water. in this instance, it was instinctive: we gauged how thin the batter was based on our experience when making with my family during summer cookouts. you want the batter to be loose, not thick like pancake, but not straight water either. it was hit or miss for us the first few we made then we got our groove.

1 bag of bánh xèo mix
2 bottles of beer (whatever you have, i used an IPA) if you want to nix the beer, water is fine
approx 1/4 – 1/2 cup water
3 green onions/scallions, chopped and added to the batter

mix the bánh xèo mix with beer (or water) and stir until fully incorporated. add in the scallions. set aside.

1 lb pork belly, sliced thin
1 pound shrimp, deveined and tails off
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 bag of bean sprouts, rinsed
1/2 cup of chive blossoms, cut 3″ long

oil, i used a mix of canola + coconut

to serve: nuoc mam cham, or soy sauce + lettuce and whatever herbs you like, ie: mint, basil, cilantro

have your mise en place together, everything in a line in order of succession:
1. oil
2. onions
3. sliced pork belly
4. shrimp
5. batter
6. mix of bean sprouts + chive blossoms

heat a non-stick pan coated with a light layer of oil on medium-high.
add in a few onions and 4-6 pieces of sliced pork belly. allow the onions to sweat a smidge.
add in 2-3 shrimp.
using a ladle, pour 1 ladle full of batter into the pan. swirl the pan to coat it evenly, but thinly.
grab a handful of bean sprouts/chive blossom and pile it on one side of the pan.
lid the pan for about 1 minute (if you don’t have a lid, use a foil)
remove lid and allow the bánh xèo to cook through, get crispy around the edges, about 4-5 minutes.
carefully, fold the bánh xèo in half, like omelette.

serve hot.


bánh xèo

homemade bánh cướn chay – vegan rolled cake

Bánh Cuốn Chay

today marks 100 days
since gpa’s passing
as is tradition
dw & i went to temple on sunday

the 100 days milestone
is actually a celebration,
signifying the end of tears,
though mourning is up to 3 years.

from my limited knowledge
a vegetarian diet is typical
during the mourning period
i could be spreading rumors
i’m likely spreading rumors

either way,
i finally figured out
how to make bánh cướn,
meaning rolled cake,
and i veganized it
making a mushroom filling
and a spicy soy sauce to dress it

Bánh Cuốn Chay

homemade bánh cướn chay
adapted from luke nguyen

makes about 18 rolled cakes

note: i’ve tried the steam method, years ago, and my gpa laughed at my attempt. it convinced me that this is the kind of dish that is so much easier to purchase already made. however, i’m a stubborn fool. i made this about a month ago, with fairly good results. i used a huge ass heavy bottom pan that was difficult to handle so the crepe came out thicker than i liked. this 2nd time around i bought a 7 1/2″ non-stick pan which was much lighter and easier to maneuver with. the key is to pour the batter when the pan is hot and immediately lid. if you get into a rhythm, good for you, the process is quite pleasant, despite the tender fingertips. also: exact measurements for the filling and sauce are kinda lacking cus i was working on the fly. sorry about that.

spicy garlicy soy sauce – gluten free

1/2 cup gluten free soy sauce, i use tamari
1/4 cup water
2 generous TBL rice vinegar
2-3 tsp sugar
2 tsp fried garlic OR 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 red chili, chopped finely, optional

mix everything together in a jar. this is a taste preference, add more of less of each ingredient and adjust according to taste.

1 container of mushrooms (i used baby bella, though any will do), chopped
3 pieces of dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, chopped
1 small white onion, diced
5-6 strands of chive blossoms, diced
salt/pepper to taste

in saute pan heat up some olive oil, just enough to coat the bottom. when hot add in the diced white onion and saute until fragrant. season with salt. allow the onions to get translucent. next add in the mushrooms and saute until the mixture has reduced a smidge, season with salt/pepper. i let it go for about 5 minutes on med-high heat. take pan off heat, add in about half the diced chive blossoms and mix. put mixture in bowl, set aside.

200 g rice flour
60 g tapioca flour
1/2 tsp salt
600ml (approx. 2 1/2 cups) cold water
oil – veg or canola

add above ingredients in bowl, whisk until combined.

in the pan that you’re gonna use, drizzle some oil to coat the pan. i use a clean rag or paper towl to spread the oil evenly around the pan. the temp is around med-high.

pour a small ladleful of the batter (aim for 2-3 TBL), rotating the pan to cover the base with a thin layer of the batter. immediately cover with lid and allow to cook for about 30 seconds.

have a prepared well-oiled tray/cutting board/plate ready.

remove lid and flip the noodle sheet onto the oiled surface. set aside the pan on a cool burner (though if you’re working with a partner, you can keep on cranking out the sheets)

scoop a TBL or so of the mushroom filling on the sheet, fold the top over, fold the 2nd sides in and then fold top side again to shape a roll.

repeat process until everything is used up, make sure the pan is well oiled between takes. sometimes there’s more filling than the there’s batter, or vice versa. it happens.

top with fried scallions and fried garlic, garnish with the rest of the diced chive blossoms and dress with spicy soy sauce.

additional accompaniments: sliced cucumbers, cilantro, mint, lightly steamed bean sprouts.


Bánh Cuốn Chay

my other vietnamese dishes:
vermicelli noodles (bún thịt nướng)
chicken noodle soup – phở gà
pickled carrots & daikon
beef stew – bò kho