Thursday, October 28, 2010
This past weekend was my son's first birthday, so I was on a mission to cook a lot of food by myself. I even planned to bake his own mini cake with cupcakes, but then I got sick and didn't feel like doing all that cooking anymore. I decided a day or two earlier to cater half the food and order a cake. Fortunately I did that because even after waking up at 4:30 in the morning, I almost didn't finish cooking everything. And fortunately for my guests, they got to eat a yummy cake since I am not the best baker. :P It just feels good to make something yourself, especially for your little one, you know? Oh well, next time. Since I bought so much ingredients, I might as well attempt to make some cupcakes from scratch this week.
One of the things I did make were fresh spring rolls. I think the best spring rolls are the ones you make at home, because you can put anything you like in them and they are truly fresh. I have since learned of a new method to help keep them stay fresh longer. This is important if you're making them for a potluck or a large crowd and they won't be eaten right away. In any case, spring rolls are meant to be eaten the same day, within hours. They are not meant to be refrigerated or saved for the next day. Try it and you'll find out! :D
I've been making these for several years, but they just never turn out how I like them to. I even made them once for my husband's potluck at work and he told me they didn't look too good by lunch time. I woke up at 5AM to help him kiss ass for nothing. :p I think I finally found the
secret(s). After prepping them 5AM in the morning, and people didn't eat until after 1:00 afternoon, the ones I made this past weekend still stayed fresh. By fresh, I mean the wrapper did not tear (as bad) and the wrapper stayed soft (not rubbery like some in the past). Having the wrapper stay in tact is important because it helps keep the rest of the stuff inside stay fresh as well.
Makes about 30 rolls
Rice Vermicelli Noodles
1 lb pork loin chops
2 tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 tbsp Oyster Sauce
1/2 tsp Soy Sauce
1 lb uncooked shrimp, deveined and peeled
Red leaf lettuce
2 bunches of cilantro
1 package of spring roll rice paper, must be Three Ladies Brand
1. Cook the vermicelli noodles according to package instructions. Make sure the noodles come out soft and rinse it under cold water to get rid of the extra starch. Drain the noodles and set aside. It's important to have the noodles (air) dry. This is why I do this step first, but I'm usually multi-tasking. ;)
2. Set the oven to broil at 500 degrees. Mix the sauces and set aside. Prep the pork by seasoning it lightly with salt. Broil the pork for about 15 minutes on one side until cooked (fat around the meat should be brown and almost crispy looking). Turn the meat over and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until cooked through. Once the meat is browned, this is when you put the sauce on the meat (I use a basting brush). Let it cook for less than a minute until the sauce starts to sizzle and brown on the meat. Turn over and repeat. Once the meat is cooled, slice the meat into thin strips. Set the cooked meat aside.
3. Boil the shrimp in a pot of boiling water until pink. Drain and set aside. You'll need to slice the shrimp in half. You can do it now or later.
4. Wash all the vegetables and cilantro. After washing the lettuce and cilantro, I use a salad spinner to spin dry them. It really makes a difference. If you don't have one, you can use paper towels to pat dry the lettuce and cilantro. It's important to have all your ingredients dry (except for the cucumbers, of course).
6. Peel the carrots and cucumbers and cut them into matchsticks. I've been using the Titan peelers to peel all my fruits and veggies as well as to julienne my carrots and cucumbers. I love it. :)
The cucumbers will be the wettest/moistest ingredient. If it has too much liquid you can simply drain out some of the liquid, but not too much since that's part of the taste. When rolling, I usually put the cucumbers in the middle anyway, so it doesn't touch the wrapper. Here's all my ingredients lined up on the table and I am ready to wrap and roll. I didn't cut my shrimp in half in these pictures because I had so many leftover and decided to use the whole shrimp. I actually like the taste of a half shrimp better, so I would stick with that. Also with the cilantro, you can use the sprigs of cilantro as pictured or simply use the leaves.
Now, comes the "secret" part after doing some Googling and experimenting. What I used this past weekend was a package of already cut quarters of the spring roll wrappers. I forgot to take a picture of these, but I drew a line here to show how they would look like when you see them in the stores. The Three Ladies Brand carries this and that is what I used. In the pictures below, I cut them in half as per other instructions, but honestly, cutting them in quarters tasted better to me. Some people might just use two wrappers entirely, but I do not like the taste of a thick wrapper and that's why the quarter sheet is the way to go.
The quarter sheet should be placed in the middle along with the full sheet and dunked in hot water. The quarter sheet helps hold the rest of the ingredients better and avoid the tearing in the spring rolls, without that extra wrapper taste.
Initially, I start out with hot water only because it's my first wrapper and it softens it quickly. I use the same water for about 10 rolls and start with fresh hot water all over again. I usually place new wrappers in the water as I am rolling the other that I just prepped.
Take out the sheets and place it onto a large plate that's been covered with a clean dish cloth. The dish cloth helps absorb a lot of the water and this is an important step as well. Sometimes, I use an extra dish cloth to absorb the excess water on the top of the wrapper.
Start out by placing a lettuce leaf on the bottom of the wrapper (I like to just use the outer parts of the leaf because it's softer and won't tear the wrapper), followed by some noodles, cucumbers, carrots, cilantro and pork.
Roll, tighten, roll...place the shrimp and ready to roll them over as well.
Wrap in the sides of the wrapper in and tightly roll.
When I made these for a large gathering, I place them in one of those large aluminum catering trays that come with a plastic top. I try not to place the spring rolls close to each other, and never on top of each other without placing something in between them. I used parchment paper in this case and that worked well. Instead of the saran wrap, I just put the plastic dome/top over the tray and that helped (along with other steps mentioned above) made the spring rolls stay fresh for hours. Using the Three Ladies Brand produced that soft texture that I like. Some other brands taste rubbery-like to me. Hope this helps you out!
Sauces deserve their own posting, so one of these days I'll make a posting about the different sauces that can go with spring rolls, egg rolls and rice rolls. Everyone likes theirs a little different.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Boy, I felt like I haven't cooked in a long time! I really haven't. I have been going out to eat too much and making fast food. I haven't experimented in a while. I do miss that because it gives me the chance to eat different food that's home made. Nothing beats home made food! I don't care how good the restaurant. Somehow, it just tastes different and better to me.
Anyway, here is a fabulous Italian dish that I made last night. It was quite yummy, even as leftovers. I usually don't like creamy sauces, but I did not mind this one. It wasn't as thick and I liked that. The sauce wasn't too thick, but I would've wanted more sauce to cover my pasta. Next time, I might just make half the pasta. I also messed up and didn't read the full recipe before I started cooking, so I ended up putting the whole can of tomatoes into the sauce pan. The recipe had called for drained tomatoes. I quickly took the tomatoes out and started cooking a new batch of garlic and oil, but I know I lost some of the broth from the shrimp. It was still tasty anyway. I just love the smell of garlic cooking in olive oil mixed with other herbs. Italian food always smells good.
Here is the original recipe from good old Food Network. I try to find recipes with good ratings and then make them. Most have been on the spot as far as ratings go.
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, and deveined
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, roughly chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup white wine
1/3 cup clam juice
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until the shrimp turn pink and is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp and set aside.
Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup basil, 1/4 cup parsley, and the red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine, clam juice, and heavy cream. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 7 to 8 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, the cooked shrimp, the cooked pasta, and the remaining herbs. Toss together until all ingredients are coated. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve immediately.