Vietnamese eggrolls

The holidays are right around the corner, and I have been craving some homemade, nostalgia-inducing Vietnamese food. One of my all time favorites is Vietnamese eggrolls — savory meat filled packets deepfried til golden brown. I’ll eat them with and without nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish dipping sauce), plain, or in a noodle dish.

After years of watching my mom make her meat filling, I set out and derived my own recipe which I feel is an accurate version of hers (but nothing ever compares to mom’s cooking, right?). Plus, what I love about this recipe is the simplicity and ease of making batches to freeze. They taste great fresh, but if you do end up freezing them, thaw the rolls on a paper towel before deep-frying.

Take the following ingredients and mix well. I ran all my ingredients through a food processor and let it do all the heavy lifting.

1 large onion, diced
1 ounce wood ear mushrooms, soaked and chopped
1/2 bag of baby carrots, chopped
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground shrimp
2 eggs
salt and pepper, generously

You should end up with a thick meat paste.
Then, all you need to do is roll the meat in an egg wrapper.

While the rolling process may look daunting, it’s easier than it looks. Basically, take a wrapper and orientate it like a diamond in front of you. Mold some meat paste like a log at the northern corner. Fold the northern corner over the log, roll once, tuck in the east and west corners, and finish rolling.

The last step is to fry to a nice crispy, golden brown and enjoy.
I decided to make vermicelli noodles and eat my eggrolls with mint, sliced cucumbers, and nuoc cham.

It’s been too long…

Woah. I haven’t post anything for 3 months not because life has been boring or too stressful but because I’ve been quite busy. In this interim, I decided that blogging was extremely time consuming, especially if I try to keep my posts as formal as I have in the past. SO, basically, I’m going to write half-thoughts and witless material for my sole enjoyment and amusement.

What adventures have I traversed recently?

1. Jake and I trekked parts of the Olympic Peninsula on President’s Day weekend. We foolishly summited Mt Storm King while being out of shape and having little experience scrambling over loose rocks with only a rope for safety. But we made it…only to have a view worst than parts below. Regardless, I can now claim having reached a summit of a mountain and can cross it off my bucket list.

2. My lab/work group went cross country skiing in early March. It was the first time for me and Jake, but I was the only one who didn’t get the memo that rollerblading/ice skating skills don’t apply to skiing and fell often. Jake was skiing like pro until a small incident where the sole of his boot ripped off. After a short rest for fondue at the lodge/ski rental, Jake hit the slopes on new ski boots, and I had my first snowshoe outing. Lots of snow and fun.

3. London!! Bailin, Jake, and I spent 9 days in the London area, where we spent the majority of the time museum hopping – British Museum, British Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum, and the National Gallery – and castle hopping – Leeds Castle, Hampton Palace Court, Canterbury Cathedral, Kensington Palace, and the Tower of London. Somehow we also managed to attend two London plays: the Mousetrap and Wicked. All of the sights and sounds were fantastic, the food not so much. Fish and chips are overrated; traditional British food in general was bland with the exception of meat pies and English afternoon tea. The British make excellent meat pies. I might make a full post about this trip later, but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures!

4. My highschool friend Xue got married at the town hall in San Francisco the April 3rd. Marie-Claire, Anwesa, Sarah, and Guy all attended. Fun mini reunion.

5. Jake and I finally saw tulips at the Skagit Tulip Festival!! Last year, we went a weekend too late to find all the fields freshly plowed without a tulip in sight. This time around, we went a weekend too early but were able to see the daffodils and some tulip fields in bloom.

Traveling is fun, beautiful, but tiring…

How to Shell a Crab Easily

All you need is a fork!

Dungeness crab was on sale for $5.99/lb (still waiting for the famed $3.99/lb), which prompted me to purchase 4 pre-cooked ones. I spent a little over $30 for them. Let me tell you that I love crab meat! I think it is better than lobster, shrimp, and other sea crustaceans because of the sweetness of the meat and therefore had to splurge. Of course, by purchasing 4 dungeness crabs, I intended to pick and save some of the meat. I figured I’d post about how to actually eat a whole crab with minimal waste.

The first step is obviously to cook it. Mine came precooked so I just slightly heated it up in the microwave to speed things along. I could have steamed or gently boiled it but I had to stopper my drool by stuffing my face with crab. The second step is to detach all the legs from the body. Since this step can be messy, I suggest this be done over a bowl or pot that will also serve to collect the shells for making a crab stock. Afterwards, you remove the triangular shaped covering or “tail” as I call it, slip your fingers in between the top and bottom crevice, and pry the two pieces apart. Deliciousness awaits you.

Personally, I like eating the yellow parts that consist of essentially crab guts. While somewhat unappetizing and strange looking, the yellow stuff is definitely a strong taste but I love it (and so does Jake).

The easiest method to get out the body meat is to snap the body in half. Often, I see pictures of people cutting it with a knife but it is super easy (one less thing to wash) to just use your fingers. The trick is to push the two halves inwards first to separate them. See pictures below since the process is difficult to describe. Then you just need your fingers to pick at the chunks of meat in the Dungeness crab; blue crab, being smaller, may require those tiny forks if you have giant hands.

My final piece of wisdom is to not use a crab cracker!! All you end up doing is smashing the delicate, sweet sweet meat. The easiest and best method to extract leg/claw meat is to use a fork. Take the fork and insert it into one end and slit it up along the length of the claw. This gives you a nice long entry point to then break the shell in two pieces and even works for the large claws. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work with lobsters since their shells are too hard but, for all other shellfish, this works marvelously.

After eating 2.5 crabs and shelling the other parts, I collected roughly 2 cups of crab meat. I also threw most of the shells and miscellaneous crab juices into a pot with some bay leaves, half an onion, and some whole peppercorns and made a stock. The culinary plans for the week are crab egg omelets and maybe a crab corn bisque. ;0

Cherokee Trace – Drive Thru Safari

Over the Christmas break, I was gifted tickets for a drive-thru safari on the outskirts of Tyler, Texas. Not surprisingly, I was a bit skeptical about a safari located in East Texas but away I went with the Smiths. Thirty minutes on a winding back country highway (only in Texas can you drive 75 miles/hr on a two lane highway), we arrived at Cherokee Trace. One lone building greeted us, where we purchased the entrance pass and feed (initially, 3 bags of feed but doubled to 6 total bags due to Jake’s generous overfeeding of the animals). A sign pointed us to the cattle guard entrance.

Immediately near the entrance, a horde of deer and a variety of 4-legged African animals swarmed the SUV. The liberal feeding from the hand of Jake and other past visitors, no doubt, must have ingrained some sort of food memory for the animals there because as soon as the car stopped, the animals began galloping towards it. The first set of animals were hesitant to come too close, but the second set did not. A group of zebras stuck their heads through the open car windows, obviously waiting to be hand fed despite a rule stating not to feed the critters from your hand.

The no feeding from the hand rule really made sense for preventing bird attacks. Yes, the various emus and rheas eat their pellets by walking up to it and with one swell peck, gobbling it down whole. I experimented with a pellet dangling off the car window, and it’s a scary site. The cutest moments of the safari trip were when giant herbivores stuck their snouts in (couldn’t fit their giant heads inside the car) and began dangling their tongues as if they were luring for their feed. Lots of animal slobber. And they boxed us in! It’s difficult to drive through a horde of ton-sized mammals.

We ran out of the initial 3 bags of feed around 1/4” of the way through the safari and looped back to buy more bags since the park was quite expansive. Note: I still had half a bag left because apparently I’m a scrooge when it comes to feeding the animals. I would like to point out that I minimize the amount I give them as I want to work a little for it and not to overindulge them. It’s for their well-being! Regardless of my miserly feed lot, the camel encounter near the end of the drive relieved me of all it as the camel swooped in, grabbed the bag, and proceeded to devour it as the pellets fell to the ground.

This safari turned out to be a hoot! Not only was everyone laughing the entire time, the animal encounters were amazing. It felt like an exotic animal petting zoo and at no time,  did I feel unsafe within the confines of the car. I wouldn’t recommend driving through in a small sedan or convertible but any mid-sized car should suffice. I highly recommend a visit to this place if you are in East Texas near the Tyler area. It might even be worth it if you are in the Dallas area because it’s such a great adventure!

 

 

Tempura Vegetables and Seafood

After feeling a wee disappointed in the store-bought pre-fried Cajun style turkey from QFC (flavor was okay but way too salty), I decided that I wanted to eat Japanese food. I am in somewhat of a Japanese phase right now with watch J-drama, anime, and online videos so I thought tempura sounded like a good idea. And it was a great idea.

I followed the instructions from the Kikkoman tempura batter mix to make the batter and heated the oil. I don’t have a thermometer so to gauge whether or not my oil is hot enough, I add a few drops of the batter in. If it instantly sizzles and bubbles, then it is done. The oil can get too hot though so be careful!

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Then all you really need is to dip your veggies and seafood into the batter and deep fry. I choose a selection of sliced pumpkin, baby bella mushrooms, broccoli florets, sliced onions, and chunks of salmon and cod. A quick dusting with salt and pepper, and all the ingredients were ready to be dipped and fried. Salmon fries beautifully btw. To keep pieces crispy, I placed them on a rack for any excess oil to drip off.

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To accompany the tempura, I quickly made rice and a simple broth for udon noodles. Nothing quite memorable as I have yet been able to replicate restaurant versions. I am not providing a recipe at this time since it is not as good as I hoped.

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I had purchased some shucked oysters and figured this was the chance to make delicious fried oysters. Oysters are the best fried seafood in my opinion. Crispy, moist, and flavorful.

Instead of tempura coating them, I decided to panko coat them since panko helps retain all the oyster juices. Basically, I dredged them with flour, followed by a dip in an egg, and then crusted them with panko. After a quick fry, they came out amazingly! Yummy fried oysters.

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So to recap, tempura vegetables and seafood is super easy to make. All you need is 1) tempura batter 2) oil. Just follow instructions on the tempura mix box and make sure your vegetables and seafood are dry.

Panko-crusted fried oysters are amazing and super easy to make as well. All you need is 1) flour 2) beaten egg 3) panko 4) oil. Wipe excess moisture from the oysters and dredge them slightly with flour. Quickly coat the flour-dredged oysters in the egg wash and coat with panko crumbs. Deep fry until golden brown. Simple!

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Any tempura that I couldn’t finish, I refrigerated and then baked in the oven to reheat. For the most part, all the veggies were still crisp and delicious. So make a lot. It’s fun and easy.

Never too much learning

Hello Hellow

1. I think I’m a workaholic.. I worked two 12 hour days straight this week. Feeling a bit worn out but luckily I don’t have much work to do this weekend. Recharging over the weekends is the best.
2. I am planning a Japan trip next spring/summer, and in anticipation, I have been watching lots of shows about Japan and Japanese culture, anime, and J-drama. Even attempting to learn Japanese!! Yes, I purchased a learn Hiragana and Katakana for beginners book. With my limited time, I haven’t accomplished much but it is a start.
3. I’m also attempting to learn basic python programming. Turns out, there are a bunch of online beginner tutorials. I’m working my way through the Code Academy now. I even did some basic programming in Open SCAD. Haha, soon I’ll become a computer scientist!
4. I voted in the Presidential election for the first time!!
5. The Presidential election turned out to be a bummer. What really bothered me was despite how contentious this election year was, the voter turnout was significantly lower than in 2012. Really America? I guess no one really cares whether or not a sociopath is President after all…
6. I’ve gotten interested in skincare products again. Will post about it later.
7. Buffet time at Salty’s! Apparently, it is the best buffet in Seattle with a bunch of seafood and other stuff. Pricey. Didn’t take enough photos to blog about it separately so I’ll share here.

BubbleButt isn’t helping with my studies.

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Seafood

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Dublin, Ireland 2016

Continuing my mini-Europe tour – Republic of Ireland

I was there for a conference trip for 7 days(?) in early October and got to stay at the Dublin Westin, which was interestingly located across Trinity College and the Irish Houses of Parliament and oddly near the National Wax Museum. Basically, it was right downtown so I was smack in the middle of Irish nightlife near the Temple Bar area — and within walking distance of my conference.

collage-2016-11-06-3Random buildings and ship along my route to and from the conference

Let me begin my Irish travels with more rave reviews of my hotel. Essentially, they put me on the top (5th) floor for more privacy because I was staying so long. Fluffy pillows, large bath, and an amazing Irish breakfast buffet were included in my stay. The hot breakfast bar included eggs, bacon, blood sausages (blood pudding is a UK/Irish thing?), roasted tomatoes (delicious!), and eggs benedict (made-to-order). Coffee, fancy coffees, milk, and 5 juices : fresh grapefruit, apple, orange, cranberry, and pineapple juices were available. Cereals and pastries were abundant and could be topped with fresh Irish yogurt or berries or butter or honey from a honeycomb. And Irish yogurt is amazing! Very much like freshly made Greek yogurt. During my stay, I also enjoyed the cold meats, including smoked salmon and cheese spread and Irish soda bread. Overall, an amazing hotel breakfast!

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I was jet lagged most of my stay so I didn’t go to the Temple Bar area much, but I did try lots of Irish food. Traditional Irish stew and Guinness stew. Fish and chips with mushed peas? Yeah, that pea mush was interesting…well I think I like my fish and chips sans peas. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time during the day to take English tea, but I did have the best scone ever at a Irish gas station. That means that English afternoon tea must be amazing, yes?

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And more food!

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The best petrol station scone ever!

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Also, I went to my first Michelin star restaurant. Forgot the name so I guess it wasn’t that memorable? Well, I was slightly disappointed by it. It wasn’t too expensive (~20-25 lbs), good food with lots of variety. Enjoyed some escargot, pate, hake (Irish fish related to cod). Not phenomenal but well plated!

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On the topic of food, I ate quite a bit of potatoes. You can literally eat potatoes at every meal. In fact, I went to a carvery where I ordered roast beef which came with a side of mashed potatoes and bonus fingerling potatoes. Way too many potatoes for me. The Irish love for the common spud is indeed true.

Compared to Zurich, Dublin was quite trashy — pun very much intended. One of the major off-putting things about Dublin was the trash collecting. It appeared that people put their trash bags outside near the street for trash collection. It made the streets feel dirty and smelly. Not pleasant at all. Luckily, trash collecting is in the wee hours so the trash doesn’t begin to litter the streets until ~8 PM.

I escaped the city briefly and went to see the Cliffs of Moher on a tour bus. Along the way, the guide told us about Barack Obama’s ancestry in Ireland. Someone traced it back to a small village outside of Dublin and named a plaza after him. Apparently, Obama visited it sometime ago..

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After a fairly long bus ride, I reached the Cliffs of Moher. I’ve dreamt about the Mists of Avalon and King Arthur’s court and Medieval life and fantasy realms as a kid and so I felt as if I entered a very mythical site standing by the cliffs. Misty and windy. Completely magical.

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At the entrance to the cliffs were little shops and the visitor center built into the hillside; I couldn’t help thinking about Hobbits and Lord of the Rings during my visit as a result. Past the visitor center is a path that takes you part way along the Cliffs of Moher. To the left and right of the path, you can walk past the curated park paths and enter, at your own discretion, trails without a safety wall. I walked somewhat adventurously along one and thought the views were splendid, though thought best not to take a selfie too close to the edge for fear of tripping and falling to my death.

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After about 1.5 hours at the Cliffs, the tour guide picked us back up and swept us back to Dublin. Along the way, we stopped by the pretty Irish coast to look at natural limestone rock formations, saw some very cute Irish hamlets and countryside, and old castle ruins.

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I absolutely loved the rocky coastline.

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We took a detour at an abandoned monastery that had been in ruins since the reign of King Henry VIII and the English Reformation. Interestingly, I did notice some of the graves were well maintained so I wonder if the locals still use and view the place as sacred Catholic burial grounds.

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Lastly, we stopped by a gourmet Irish chocolate factory for a mini chocolate tour. Apparently, this shop is the only place in Ireland that makes chocolate directly from cocoa beans.

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Picturesque Irish chocolate factory in the middle of the countryside. Note the grass growing on the roof and sheep in the wee distance.

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Ireland was nostalgic for me. I kept hearing Celtic music in my head. I’ll have to go back again one day. Next time, I’ll take friends.

Zurich, Switzerland 2016

I was in Europe for a total of 10 days and in Zurich for 3.
Jet lagged in those 3 days and busy.

The trip started ominously with nausea caused by a new prescription. I haven’t done well on airplanes most of my life, suffering mostly from pressure-induced cabin sickness, so I was thankful that my flight time gave me another 4 hours of respite. Two Dramamine pills and one pillow helped me survive the flight to Amsterdam without feeling too ill. A sausage roll at Amsterdam airport and a 2 hour nap during my flight to Zurich completed my travel.

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Then, I had to navigate the crazy Zurich train system to get to the hotel with the one small bed, one small chair and desk, and one pathetic pillow. Another oddity (which turned out to be a normality in Europe) was that the hotel room required a card key to be inserted into a slot near the door before the lights could be turned on. As the front desk didn’t mention this, I fumbled with the light switches before I caught on. Smart girl.

A Walking City. My hotel was located next door and perhaps above a H&M. Four blocks away was probably the poshest street in Europe with all the luxury shops lined in neat rows. Ten blocks away was the hotel where the FIFA executives were arrested for corruption. Mercedes taxis lined the streets. Yep, the taxis here were Mercedes Benz.

Since I was busy with work, I didn’t get to explore much. I did get to visit the Swiss National Museum which looked like an old castle with some modern flair. A few neat exhibits — the history of Switzerland from Stone Age to modern times or Renaissance history — kept me entertained for about 2 hours. The two highlights were 1)seeing pikemen gear and how insanely long the pikes are (no wonder they destroyed cavalry units in Civ) and 2)seeing the Armanda Portrait of Elizabeth I.

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Last but not least, I ate a ton of food in Zurich. Particularly schnitzel. Off the top of my head, I had the traditional wiener schnitzel, rahm schnitzel, and Geschnetzeltes. Food at top tier restaurants was delicious as was the food at cheap places. I would say, however, that the food was somewhat heavy consisting of mostly a meat and side (either veggie or potato dish). And the popular drink choice is mineral water, which I love. Also, coffees are small. I think a coffee really means single shot expresso in Zurich.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. It was easy to navigate the city, and almost everyone spoke English so communication was super easy. The exchange rate was mostly 1:1 so price conversions were straightforward. The only thing that bothered me was the smoking. Lots of people still smoke. Everywhere.

Beef: It’s what’s for dinner

Marbled Melt-in-Your-Mouth Meat

I went to my favorite Japanese supermarket, Owajimaya, to buy ingredients for some Asian meals. Let me say that this grocery store sells some pretty nice meat, nice expensive things in general. I’ve been really good at resisting the temptation to buy the nice beef but decided to splurge this time…I mean it was really for poor Jake who was stuck at home eating frozen dinners while I was working in Europe. ;0

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Look at these pieces of beef! Look at the glorious fat! I bought 1/2 lbs for $15 and cooked it simply with salt and pepper. It was the most tender piece of meat I’ve ever eaten. I wouldn’t consider it the best since it was already cut into individual strips and couldn’t be cooked as a normal steak, but it was definitely tender and delicious.

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Was it absolutely worth the price tag? Resounding YES! Would I buy it again? Yes but not now. It’s too decadent for a daily/weekly/monthly indulgence. It’s best for special occasions or else I would be spoiled. It has been feeding my obsession with visiting Japan and trying Kobe and other Japanese beef. Yummy beef. I love delicious food.

Portland, OR 2016 and Mt St Helen’s

I am soo behind on my blog…

Jake and I hopped onto I5 on a late September Friday and headed for the outlet malls in Portland, OR. The drive was dark and surprisingly difficult on the eyes. (See grumpy Jake below.)We ended up staying in a Hilton on the edge of the state lines between Washington and Oregon and only made excursions into Portland to shop or eat.

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Portland can be described as the-not-as-cool-flannel-forestry-sister-city to Seattle. Too many people wear flannel; I’m not exaggerating. They love flannel so much that it rubbed off on us, and we bought some flannel shirts as well. Portland also has great food. We ate at the befittingly named Jake’s Grill and had an oyster omelette (amazing) and dungess crab eggs benedict (good but the hollandaise sauce overpowered the crab). Jake and I didn’t have time to try the neat food truck city in the middle of downtown as we decided to head out immediately after brunch. Turns out, we don’t like visiting cities.

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And instead, we decided to visit Mount St. Helen’s National Park. We drove to the park entrance where Jake had a hissy fit because the mountain was another 9o miles from the park entrance, drove back to the interstate where Jake decided that it was worth the drive and crucially where we refilled on chicken strips, and headed back up the route. It was quite a scenic drive.

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And we got to see the mountain! Most of the felled trees had rotted away so the mountain was pretty bare, though it did highlight the crevices caused by the resulting landslide after the initial volcanic eruption. The ridge on which the visitor center is located acted like a divide between dead volcanic earth and lush, fertile grounds where grass and trees grow.

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It was a fantastic weekend trip with some urban experiences and random scenic hiking. Perfect excursions in the Pacific Northwest. (Also Jake was pleasantly pleased with Mt St. Helen’s. Next stop, Mt Rainier:)