I’ve been feeling a bit crafty lately and was looking for a small project that would be a fun gift for friends. After a bit of Pinteresting (that’s a verb right?)  I found the perfect piece. Us women folk are always needing to bring a dish somewhere – a dish with food. There’s always a potluck or a picnic or just a group of people who will surely die if there isn’t 7-layer dip around. Sometimes it can be a bit tricky to try to transport the dish, especially if it is on the warm side.

Here is the solution – a fancy casserole dish carrier. (That fits your standard pyrex dish or smaller – but who ever brought something small???)

I can’t take credit for the idea, I found it here on Little Bit Funky (if you want to make one yourself) but I can take credit for the hours of sewing while binging on Gilmore Girls. My friend Taunya tipped me off on a quilt fabric shop in Ho Chi Minh City where I found the perfect pair of prints (very Cath Kitdson style) to start this endeavor.  After I had finished them I realized there was a very very good chance the ladies who were gifted these would end up going to the same bring-a-plate soirees so I took it one step further and put name labels to make sure they would make it home safely. Now how many of y’all want one?

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Look at all the things you can put in there!

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I might’ve made one for myself

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The stack of finished beauty!

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Food Friday – Bánh cuốn

Remember when I post about all of the wonderful people who have helped us in this move? Well some of super helpful people are the owners of the home we are living in. They. Are. Awesome. They have not only come to our rescue time after time but we enjoy genuinely enjoy spending time with each other. This past Saturday they invited us to join them for Vietnamese breakfast (I think they spotted our wide but sad selection of sugary breakfast cereals). We met up with Hien and Son and their son at this local joint. What I like about the Vietnamese eateries is that they basically make one thing, which makes ordering WAY easy.

This specific place specializes in bánh cuốn. This is a rice based dish – but not what you think. They start with a rice batter that is spread out thinly over a drum-like-looking thing and then steamed. This makes wide sheets of rice noodle. These are then used with fried shallots, coriander (cilantro) and pork sausage. As you eat with chopsticks (which we did!) you dip the combination of ingredients in fish sauce that we added lime juice and red pepper spices too.

I was impressed with the dish. The rice noodles definitely look like quite a bit of work and I love the flavours of the fresh ingredients that are always included in Vietnamese dishes. It was definitely filling, which I’m still not used to eating large breakfasts so I was the only one to not finish. It was nice to have a breakfast date with friends.

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The lovely meal

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Took a picture of the location so I can make it back

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Rice noodles being made

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Food Friday – How to Train Your Dragon (Fruit)

One of my Instagram friends said it best calling Dragon Fruit the “best show off fruit ever!” and I couldn’t agree more. It is seriously so pretty. Bright pink exterior with green accents and then you slice it open to a delicious white fruit with black seeds, sometimes I’m surprised with a red interior. The fruit is originally from Mexico and most likely brought to Asia from Europeans. If I were to compare it to another fruit I’d say it’s most similar tasting to a kiwi fruit but slightly less juicy and slightly more fibrous. It has a nice sweet flavour (um, as most fruit does …).

Its really easy to uncase, just a quick cut down the middle and you can get the fruit out with either a big spoon or even just plying off the outer casing with your hands. It comes out quite easily. Then you just eat as is – and like my love for the pomelo it doesn’t last long in my house. With all of this great fruit available here in Vietnam I wish I could find baking recipes to go with it, but usually they do this healthy thing called “just eating fresh fruit”. pfft .Well, on that note, next time you see the dragon fruit pop up in your grocery store pick a few up and enjoy (and you don’t even have to add sugar or some sort of pastry).

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Flock of Dragon Fruits

Flock of Dragon Fruits

Food Friday – Ho Chi Minh Cooking Class

We took a cooking class. It was bound to happen sooner or later. There are a myriad of options when looking for cooking classes in Vietnam and we decided to go with the Ho Chi Minh Cooking Class. It’s set out on their organic farm so you have the opportunity to pick your veg and herbs to cook with later. We chose a pretty tame menu of popular Vietnamese dishes partially because we thought they looked really good but also because we want our friends and family back home to eat what we make for them in the future.

Our Menu

Our Menu

Vietnamese cooking is very fresh and is apparently one of the healthiest cuisines in the world (which is probably why my experience with it was limited). Each dish contains elements of sweet, salty, bitter, spicy and sour and used a variety of sauces (soy, fish, oyster) and herbs (mint, corriander, chill, basil) and some fruits (lime). Once you get these elements down you can basically make anything.

The first course were fresh spring rolls. I was really looking forward to these as they are a personal favourite! We made them with pork and prawns but I love that you can modify them to meet anyone with picky specific dietary needs. They were quite simple to make and I look forward to making piles of them on my next trip to the US (while pretending like they were incredibly difficult and time consuming).

The second course was the popular Banh Mi – a sandwich Anthony Bourdain has raved about. This popular baguette sandwich is eaten all over Vietnam and usually contains a combination of meat, fresh sauces, pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. There are many variations but ours were beef with a wonderful fresh sauce we made, vegetables we pickled and herbs we picked. It was a highlight (even for the really picky lady in our group who refused to eat anything except the banh mi!)

The third course was honey chicken and favorite by most people I know. We fried vermicelli noodles to put the chicken onand a wet batter consisting of flour and water. After the chicken and mushroom pieces were fried we made a honey sauce and toss it in. There’s no getting around this, Rob made the best honey chicken of the day. From this day forth he will be in charge of making this dish for our household!

The final course were banana spring rolls. Seriously, what’s better than banana mixed with sugar, wrapped and fried??? We at it with a coconut ice cream but I think when I make them at home I’ll add a caramel sauce to “Americanise” it with sugar overload. This was a great treat the end the class and fall into a nice nap on the drive home.

“The” Banh Mi

Banana Spring Rolls

Banana Spring Rolls

Rob's PERFECT Honey Chicken

Rob’s PERFECT Honey Chicken

Hailey made a pretty darn good honey chicken too

Hailey made a pretty darn good honey chicken too

My dainty, yummy fresh spring rolls

My dainty, yummy fresh spring rolls

The day's group

The day’s group

Chef showing us the organic farm

Chef showing us the organic farm

Food Friday – Kẹo Chỉ

Vietnam is plentiful in street food options and I’m always eager to try some of it (and sometimes I actually do). The other evening we were walking along the beach and I kept seeing stalls for one food I hadn’t seen yet and heaps of people standing in line. It was the first street food that looked more on the sweet side – due to the container of powdered sugar contained in their stall arsenal. It’s sign said Kẹo Chỉ.

The modern day Kẹo Chỉ is apparently an expansion of a past Vietnamese favorite translated as “stretchy candy”, which is a part of this new version. I threw down my 10,000 VND (or 50 cents UDS) and watched some magic being worked. It starts with rice paper, then topped with coconut, sweetened condensed milk, peanuts and what appeared to be a powdered chocolate or Milo and then they add the “stretching candy”. The candy is pulled off a larger piece, dredged through a container of powdered sugar and then stretched in a billion little strands. Once it is added to the pile is is then rolled up like a burrito. It tasted like a homemade nougat-ey candy bar. Due to the fact that I was born without the ability of “moderation” I kept throwing down $10,000 VND bills at multiple stands and proceeded to ruin my dinner appetite. And may I just say, IT WAS WORTH IT!

The crowded Back Beach on a Saturday evening. Heaps of people come down from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The crowded Back Beach on a Saturday evening. Heaps of people come down from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

The set up

The set up

Time for the peanuts

Time for the peanuts

Topped with chocolate powder

Topped with chocolate powder

Finally the stretching candy is added before handed over to a very hungry me

Finally the stretching candy is added before handed over to a very hungry me

Can't wait to eat a few of these!

Can’t wait to eat a few of these!

Video I found on YouTube of the Kẹo Chỉ being made. This was similar to my experience, complete with the Vietnamese I did not understand.

An Un-pho-gettable Food Friday

When we announced we were moving to Vietnam one of the most common responses was

I LOVE Vietnamese food!

Whereas that is a pretty general statement as there is A LOT to choose from, one of the things they are most often thinking of is Phở. We’re going to start of with pronunciation. It is not pronounced “foe”but sounds more like “fu-uh” – yes, two syllables. Think of it like you are saying fuh when someone pinches your arm or like a singer starting out in a lower note and then trying to reach higher. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal but in a tonal language if you pronounce something incorrectly it could literally mean five other words. (Although I get around it by just pointing at what I want and grunting – which I learned by age 2 when my nickname was literally “grunt”).

Next we’ll learn a little more about this dish. This rice noodle soup originated in the Northern part of Vietnam where they eat it at any point of the day. Down South, where I live, it’s more popular for breakfast and can still be eaten at lunch – which is what I did because I really like cereal for brekky. The two main versions are chicken and beef (two words I learned VERY quickly) and served with a side of bean sprouts, mint, chilis, lime and an assortment of sauces to add to your liking. I prefer tossing in as many veggies as possible as it enhanced the soups fresh taste, Robbo added in chils in an attempt to burn his lips off. For our first Pho visit we walked to a nearby eatery only a block away. The entire street is lined with Pho joints so I’m sure we’ll just make our way down with each trip. Our meal of two orders of Pho and two bottles of water cost 90,000 VND (or $4.50 USD). I was impressed with the simplicity of the kitchen needing to make this soup. Only a burner and a few pots and bowls were necessary. It just goes to show you don’t need big, bright and fancy to make a big impact on your tastebuds!

Look at me eating!

Look at me eating!

The accompaniments

The accompaniments

Close up of the Pho Bo (beef)

Close up of the Pho Bo (beef)

The kitchen it was cooked in

The kitchen it was cooked in

Pull up a seat and join us next time!

Pull up a seat and join us next time!

Food Friday – P-P-P-Pomelo

Food Friday is harder than I thought it’d be – given the ample amount of subjects. I went with a simple fruit this time, one that I have developed quite a habit – the pomelo. The pomelo is native to South and Southeast Asia, which is why it is so easy for me to find. It is very similar to the grapefruit but a much more mild in lip puckering bitterness. I really love grapefruit but since I can only eat it after adding approximately 1 cup of sugar to it the pomelo is a much more healthy alternative.

The pomelo is labor intensive to section however totally worth it. To best learn how to peel one I went to my first line of education, YouTube, where I found this great video with no words and background music with creepiness reminiscent of Flowers in the Attic. (Video at the end of the post). I’ve already found many great looking recipes on Pinterest and can’t wait to make the pomelo tart with honey meringue once my arsenal of kitchen tools arrive!

Then I tried on my own:

The pomelo waiting to be butchered

The pomelo waiting to be butchered

GIANT rind - not good tasting!

GIANT rind – not good tasting!

You need to peel off this membrane layer as it tastes  yucky.

You need to peel off this membrane layer as it tastes yucky.

If an expert peeled this the sections would not be broken up, but I'm not an expert ... yet.

If an expert peeled this the sections would not be broken up, but I’m not an expert … yet.