Friday, November 14, 2014

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

When I suggested the sushi theme for Halloween this year, Scott's response was, "I don't get it."  I spent a long while explaining to him that we can still do it since we enjoy eating and preparing not just sushi, but many Asian dishes.  That's when I remembered about these Vietnamese Spring Rolls.

These would be an ideal date night activity since there is lots of sorting and assembling, but if you make them on your own just put on a good audiobook and go to town! This is the first time I made them with a Vietnamese chef, Trang, who worked with Scott in Utah.  They were sooo nice to teach us!  

1 lb ground beef-- brown, adding in ~2 spoonfuls finely chopped garlic, generous salt and pepper, a dash or two of seasoned rice vinegar, and juice from maybe half a lemon.  At the end/ish, add in a sprinkling of sugar to the meat.  This dish is all about the fresh ingredients, so try to get everything as fresh and real as possible!  The meat is what makes these spring rolls a "meal" at our house and not just an appetizer.  Using 1 lb ground beef generally yields 11 (8 inch) spring rolls for me.

Fresh Cilantro
Mint (and if you have any leftover, be sure to make some mint lemonade!)
-- This is the key to good spring rolls.  Taste each of the herbs before you start because once I made all the spring rolls and later realized that my basil was bitter and affected every single spring roll.  Wash, dry and pluck off the herbs from the stems.  I usually buy each of these herbs in a giant plastic bag, knotted at the end at an Asian grocery store.  Here in NYC I paid $1 for each herb, and I had more than enough.  Which brings me to my next point- don't skimp.  When washing and preparing your herbs, do way more than you think you'll need.  You want lots of each per roll, and its a hassle to prepare more herbs once you're in the assembly stage.  And also, I tear the basil and mint into halves or thirds to bring out the scent and flavor.

Bean Sprouts- These are also easy to get at the asian market.  They add a great crunch to the roll, don't skip these.

Dried Onion- We made this fresh when doing it with our Vietnamese chef friend, but since then I've used store bought and it's pretty good.  This is not onion powder, but little bits of dried onion. 

Vermicilli Noodles-  I always think I'll need a whole pack, but really just cook half the noodles that come in the package and save the rest for next time.  After they are boiled (just about 3 minutes) you need to rinse thoroughly with cold water so they don't get mushy and stick together.

Lettuce- Butter leaf is the best but I have used romaine and iceberg too.  This is primarily just to give the spring roll some shape and have a place to hold the meat, noodles etc... I prepare about 15 leaves at the start- break off any pointy ends and kind of shape them so they'll be long and somewhat narrow (while still able to hold the ingredients.)
Rice Paper- I use 8 inch circle paper and it works great.  Get a pan that is plenty big for the papers, and fill it with the hottest tap water.  Then soak the rice paper until it is soft and pliable but not yet mushy and folding over on itself.  I lay it on a mat and get to work. 

Lime- To use for lime juice
Here is the order of operations (But really just get everything in!):
I set everything out, ready to go so I put them together without disruption.

Noodles (use plenty)
Dried onion
Bean sprouts
Lots of herbs- several leaves of each
A generous squirting of lime juice all over the roll.

Then fold the bottom up over the lettuce, and then roll tightly.  You roll it up like you would a soft taco.  You can either leave the top open or close it the same way you did the bottom, your preference. 
(This picture rotated, the bottom is the folded side...)

 One thing to remember- food in Vietnam is beautiful, so don't do this sloppily.  Think of it as an art and try to make each roll more beautiful than the last!
The dipping sauce is 1 part soy sauce, 1 part vinegar, 2 parts beef broth.  I like it this way, but I don't know that I've perfected the sauce.  Experiment and see what you like!

Well, I think that's it!  I hope I didn't scare you too much with all the details!  This really is a delicious meal and worth the preparation!  Enjoy, and let me know if you make them!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween 2014- The Year of the Sushi Roll

Presenting: the sushi roll, Kikkoman soy sauce packet, and sushi chef:

It was really hard to convince my family that this theme was a good idea. I figure we can do Disney themes and more classic costumes in future years, but if I want to do something unique and cool, I better do it this year!  I did feel a little bit bad when Tatum saw a million Elsas and other princesses out and about on Halloween, so maybe I'll let her dress up like a regular girl next year.  I mean, lobsteroompa loompa, and sushi roll... the girl has quite the record!

My budget for Halloween costumes is a strict $20.  And I spent $15!!  Here is the breakdown of supplies:

-Cardboard backing (dumpster recycling bin = free)
-2 nu-foam bumper pads (leftover = free) around the body and as rice.  These take forever + 1/2 to cut out.
-Thin batting + paint + poly fill (craft box = free -- turns out i have a lot of supplies on hand...) I cut and drew each of these first, then painted, then sewed them, stuffed them with filling and sewing the opening shut.  Hot glue all rice and center fish/veggies on.  Ideally, I'd liked to have had a brighter green for the avacado, but it wasn't worth the commute to Michaels just for one paint bottle... Also, I wasn't initially going to include salmon, but it is a dead giveaway fish and I didn't want confusion about what the costume is.
-duct tape-- $3.80  This worked perfectly because it has full coverage, and has the striations that a sushi wrapper has!  I sewed 2 bumper pads perpendicularly to the batting on top of the cardboard.  Then  cut out the head and arm holes, then tape everything really well.  
-Felt for hat and wasabi candy bag- $.66.  Pretty cheap.

Scott's costume is kind of why I decided to go with this theme in general.  We bought this chef coat for the lobster costume 2 years ago, and I wanted to reuse it.  So I paid $3.04 for half a yard of this "I am Ninja" print by Robert Kauffman. Scott said he wouldn't wear Chinese characters he didn't know the meaning of out into the streets of Manhattan, so luckily a few Chinese friends from school texted back quickly assuring him that his headband does say "Ninja." This was an easy, warm-ish costume that kept Scott comfortable and happy all night!

Kikkoman Soy Sauce Packet:
Originally I ordered 2 yards black felt to make a soy sauce bottle costume.  Once I got it, I realized I needed a punchier color and that the packet shape would be a lot easier to wear.  So with fabric.coms free shipping/free returns policy, I emailed in to return the fabric and the store basically said it wasn't worth it for them to pay to ship back, so they refunded me the $10.40 and told me to keep the fabric anyway, or "donate it to a local sewing guild."  So then I ordered 1.5 yards of red felt for $7.80 and just sewed up the sides and cut pointed on the ends.  Easy peasy.  The answer to easy Halloween costumes is to use felt because you don't have to hem anything, just cut!!  I found a high-res logo online, and blew that up even more, going over it in black sharpie to even out the pixels.  The label is just good black ink on regular printer paper, taped and cut into place.  I ended up mounting it on some back felt since I had it on hand ;) 

Scott's favorite part was jabbing the chopsticks in my bun on the train.  
Chopsticks were free courtesy of King's Wok Chinese Take Out!
People loved our costumes.  We probably had 15 people stop us for pictures, and by the end of the night, Tatum was so used to getting compliments that even if someone said "excuse me?" she would turn around saying "Thank you!" 

We also had our friend Dianne come trick or treating with us, her costume did not disappoint! Well done Dianne!  A crowd pleaser for sure!!

We love going to Trinity Church on Wall Street for Trick or Treating in the graveyard.  There is apple cider and snacks, a photo booth, and a historical questionnaire to fill out as you walk through the graveyard.  This year was even better than last because in addition to the questionnaire, they had 2-3 drama club members at various headstones, acting out a 1-2 minute drama that answered each question.  At the end of their performance they'd hand out the candy.  Tatum loved their theatrics and it made it interesting for us too! This is an exceptionally private candy stop, but the graveyard really isn't too crowded which is really nice and refreshing for NYC!

After that we headed in the church and saw a bit of Phantom of the Opera (silent movie) with the organist practicing in the background. Verrry Halloweeny! Tatum can't really sit in her costume, or pick up candy or basically do anything besides walk... poor thing!  I made her an alternate lady bug costume for her kid game party earlier Halloween morning in Central park, and her stroller-treating activity earlier that week.  She loved both her costumes and was overwhelmed by "LOTSA COSTUMES MAMA!!!"

If I lived out of town, I would really consider visiting NYC for Halloween.  This is the best activity for toddlers!!

We were still having fun after the cemetery, so we hopped off the subway on the Upper West Side and trick or treated some shops along Broadway (The New York way) like Banana Republic, a home decor store, this nail salon and places of the like.  This lady at the nail salon LOVED Tatum and Scott guesses she gave T about 15 pieces of candy.  She adored the sushi roll!  T would just take a candy, turn around and show us with glee and then go back and back for more!

Then we hit a few brownstones, but they were so crowded it was hard to navigate. But it was elaborate and unique and fun to do for a little bit.

And this girl got unlimited candy on Halloween.  The days since have been a great trial with rationed candy, but she sure had fun loading up when she could!

We came home and had a few more friends join us for a "Party Night."  Tatum asks us every night if we can have a Party Night, so Friday she was really thrilled to have a true party.  She carried in all the snacks to the living room, greeted each guest at the door, handed out glow sticks and turned out the lights and even busted a few dance moves.  She is such a gem and so fun to party with!  We watched Hocus Pocus and had some good laughs with some good friends.  

And now it is November and 40 degrees.  
Happy Halloween!!