Category Archives: Recipes – Monday Dinners

Authentic Bánh Mì – Vietnamese Sandwich recipe


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On our recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, we came across many bakeries and stores selling traditional Vietnamese sandwiches – Bánh Mì. These are the result of French and Vietnamese cuisines coming together, and boy, what a glorious effort.

Bánh mì sandwiches are different to the normal western sandwiches. The bread is crunchy on the outside and pillowy inside, serving as a light encasement for the delicious fillings inside. More on that later.

While watching our sandwiches being made, I duly noted what was included – the ingredients all play a part in achieving the balance of sweet, sour, savoury, spicy, umami, warm, cold, softness and crunch. That’s a lot achieved in one sandwich.

Here are the list of ingredients for you to create your very own bánh mì!

    • Bread – choose a light bread with pillowy centre and light crusty crumb. (J’s wanted to make sure I mention not to get bread that is so crunchy that it scrapes the roof of your mouth. Coz that will hurt. Noted, darling 😊) Baguettes or Ficelle from Paneton French Bakery would be my choice (in New Zealand).
    • Mayo – adds a creamy flavour to the sandwich.
    • Pate – this is essential to any good Bánh Mì, giving it the umami flavour.
    • Cucumber – Cucumber adds freshness and crunch, juxtaposing the other soft elements of the sandwich. Slice them lengthwise for even layering.
    • Herbs – for freshness and an earthiness, coriander leaves and sliced spring onions are added. I would also suggest Thai basil as well, if you wish.

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    • Pickles – this is a must! Easy to make: 1:1.5 ratio of white or apple cider vinegar to caster sugar to fill to just over half of a glass jar. Warm jar and sugar slightly in microwave to dissolve the sugar. While it is cooling, sprinkle a bit of salt over thin batons of carrots/daikon/rings of onions. Massage and squeeze the carrots the diakon (no need for the onions) to get rid of their juices. Pat dry and add to the cooled jar of pickling liquid. Ready to use in just an hour.

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  • Protein – you have lots of choices here: vietnamese ham, lemongrass pork or beef, grilled pork, chinese BBQ pork, chinese roast pork or even grilled tofu. Champagne ham works too if there is nothing else!

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  • Sauce – You can add squirts of hoisin sauce or Maggi Seasoning for extra flavour. For me, a good grind of black pepper was enough.
  • Fresh Red Chillies – a spicy element is a must and thinly sliced red chillies are commonly added to taste.
  • Fried shallots for extra crunch.
  • Add more meat if you wish.
  • Close the sandwich and enjoy!

Easy and light carbonara 


Easy carbonara with streaky bacon, eggs and cheese

We all love an easy and quick pasta dish. This recipe uses staples of the pantry and fridge, which means it can be whipped up anytime. Perfect for the flat and family, as it is easy on the wallet. It cooks in 15 minutes or less (mise en place done and water boiling). It has neither cream nor milk. Only eggs and cheese to make it creamy and cheesy. It tastes so much better than store bought sauces that you silently marvel at its simplicity and wonder why you didn’t know this years earlier. Well in my case, I wondered out loud.

Better late than never, eat up!

Ingredients

Serves: 4

  • 400g spaghetti
  • 250g prosciutto or streaky bacon, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks (save the whites for making macarons)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup grated cheese, Parmesan, Edam, anything you like really!

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a tablespoon of salt when the water starts to boil.
  2. In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs, a tiny tiny pinch of salt and the grated cheese. Set aside.
  3. Add the pasta to the water. When the pasta is nearly al dente, fry the diced prosciutto or bacon in a thick based pan until coloured. Add minced garlic and fry for another minute.
  4. Drain the pasta and put it in the pan together with the meat and stir to combine.
  5. Take the pan off the heat and pour in the cheese and egg mixture. Work quickly and keep mixing (I use a pair of tongs and the spatula) until the sauce is silky and clings to the pasta.
  6. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

Mapo Tofu (Pork mince with tofu in spicy sauce)


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For Chinese, this is a traditional dish most families would have at home. In northern China, Szechuan peppercorns would be added to give a unique spiciness that is at best described as a slight tingling sensation, to the more severe as ‘spins and needles’ on the tongue which means you can taste nothing for the next 5 minutes until the numbing feeling subsides.
In Hong Kong, we have milder, sweeter versions.

It wasn’t until a European friend pointed it out to me that I realised how strange this dish is – two proteins in the same dish! I don’t think I’ve ever looked at tofu as a protein and consequently consider why would there be a need to pair it with another (pork mince)?

I have no explanation except that the tofu is there to mix with the sauce and then with the rice as a perfect, wholesome, one plate meal. It just works so let’s not worry about it 🙂

Most recipes ask you to ‘parboil’ the tofu pieces before adding them into the wok. They claim this helps prevent them from breaking up. I have never done that and I’ve cooked this dish for almost 20 years!
What I’ve always done, is sprinkle salt onto the cubed tofu and letting it sit for 10 minutes. This pushes out the water from the tofu and keeps the cubes intact – it works every time. The key to it is in the manner of mixing –  mix the tofu in ever so gently and only till it’s warmed through. No tofu puddle mess at all.

Ingredients:
1 ‘brick’ of firm tofu, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
150g mince pork (or less if preferred)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chinese garlic chili bean sauce (toubanjan or doubanjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese brown bean sauce (tenmienjan, tenmenjan, or tenmenjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese hoisin sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 spring onion, chopped into small rounds

Marinade:
1 tablespoon dry sherry or Chinese wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorn (optional)

Directions:
1.  Slice your tofu into 3 sections and then cut into long strips. Cube them into 1.5cm sizes.  Sprinkle salt on the top of the tofu. Set aside. (They don’t have to be perfect so don’t worry about being precise here.) Marinate mince.

2.  Set the wok on high and make sure it is hot.  Add vegetable oil and swirl the pan, then add the mince pork, using the back of your spatula to separate the mince.

3.  When the pork is nicely browned, add in your equal portion of the 3 main sauces: Chinese garlic chili bean sauce, Chinese brown bean sauce and hoisin sauce. Continue to cook for 1 minute.

4. Drain the tofu pieces and add tofu cubes to the wok.
5. Working quickly and lightly, mix the tofu in with the mince. A bit like working an angel cake batter, you scoop from the outside and bring it into the middle.
6. Continue until all the tofu has been mixed with the sauce.
7. Add in chicken stock and thicken with cornflour slurry if you preferring a thicker sauce. Add in your chopped spring onion.
8.  Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Note: if you are making a bigger portion, you will need to proportionately increase the sauces, maintaining the 1:1:1 ratio.

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Massaman Beef Curry


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I don’t know about you, but I find that Monday dinners are the hardest to get on the table, fast.
Coming home from a full day’s work after a relaxing weekend – it’s hard to get back into the routine and I’m always in a rush to prepare anything decent.
What I’ve found to work for us, is that I pre-prepare dishes that we can heat up for Monday night.
That way, all we need to do is to cook the rice, add some veges and heat up the main dish.
Therefore you’d find that this blog category mainly consists of curry and other slow-cook meals. Not your typical Monday dinners of quick throw together meals, but instead meals that have been cooked with tender loving care that can be reheated in a matter of minutes.
Click over under the Monday Dinner  tab to see what other slow-cook meals I have in my repertoire.

This curry is sweet with a bit of kick.
J’s review: “I like it because it’s yummy and has potatoes and tender beef. Easy to eat and healthy for you.”

Ingredients:

800 g cross-cut beef, cubed
5 tbsp of spice paste
3 tsp dry spice powder
470ml of coconut cream (1 can)
5 potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 tbs of unsalted, roasted peanuts
2 tbs of peanut oil
2 tbsp tamarind water

Spice Paste:

3 Dried red chilli
1 Lemongrass
5 cloves of Garlic
2 Shallot
5cm Ginger
5cm Galangal
1 tsp Salt
4 tbsp Oil
4 tbsp Palm sugar

Dry spices powder:

combine 1 tbsp of each (except where indicated otherwise) in a mortar and bash them together.
Mustard seed
Fenugreek
Coriander seed
Turmeric
White pepper
Paprika
Cumin
Cinnamon powder
Clove
Cumin
Coriander seed
10 Cardamom seeds
6 Bay leaves
** save the remainder of your spices mix for the next curry.

Method:

1. Coat beef in 1 tablespoon of peanut oil and massaman curry paste. Stir well to coat and set aside.
2. In a large pot, heat remaining oil over a medium heat.
3. Add the curry-coated beef and brown for 1-2 minutes. Add the dry spices. Stir the beef well to coat it in the spices.
4. Add 1/2 can of coconut cream and 1/2 to 1 cup of water until the beef is just covered by the liquid. Stir well and then bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn heat down very low and cover. Gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours. (I leave them in a thermos cooker so I don’t even need to watch it)
5. After this time, add the remaining can of coconut cream, potatoes and peanuts. Stir well. Taste and add a little more fish sauce and sugar if necessary.
6. Turn heat up to medium and cover. Cook for another 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
7. Meanwhile, prepare the tamarind juice. Soak the dried tamarind seed in 2 tablespoons of warm water and use a spoon to push the pulp off the seeds into the water. The water will become brown and pulpy — this is tamarind juice. Discard the seeds.
8. Once the potatoes are cooked, remove the curry from the heat. Stir in the sugar and tamarind juice. Stir well and serve with Jasmine rice.

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Spaghetti with meatballs in red wine tomato sauce


A friend was looking for an easy pasta dish to extend her family meal repertoire. Her daughter loves pasta and meatballs and so I thought to write up my recipe and share it with her.

If you don’t have time to prepare the meatballs, you can easily use the mince to make a spaghetti bolognese instead. Just omit the egg and panko crumbs while marinating, and fry off the meat after the shallots and onions.

Serves 2 hungry adults and 1 pasta-loving child

Ingredients

300g spaghetti

For meatballs:
500g minced beef and pork ( 50/50 is fine )
1 egg
2 tbsp tomato paste (condensed tomato)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp thyme (dried is fine)
2 tbsp basil leaves, torn (dried is fine)
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp panko crumbs (or bread crumbs)

For sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
1 tbsp chilli flakes (optional)
small glass of red wine
1 tin, chopped tomatoes
1 tin, tomato purée
handful of basil leaves
100g pecorino cheese
salt to taste
Brown sugar to taste

Instructions

In a large bowl, mix the minced meat, egg, tomato paste, light soy sauce, sugar, diced shallots and herbs together. Using a small spoon, shape the meat into small balls and place in an oven proof dish. You will have about 30-40 small balls. This can be prepared night before.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
In a frying pan, gently sauté onions and shallots in the olive oil until soft. Add chili flakes and red wine, let it simmer for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and purée and let it bring up to the boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes to reduce. Stir occasionally to avoid it catching on the bottom of the pan. Taste it while the sauce is cooking – trust your taste buds and add a bit of brown sugar if it tastes too sour for your liking.

While the sauce is cooking, put the dish of meatballs into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or till juices run clear. By all means try a piece.

At the same time, put water into a large pot and bring it to the boil. Add the pasta in and add 1 tsp of salt. Cook it till al dente, about 10-12 minutes. Test it close to the 10 minute mark as I find my kind of al dente might be different to yours and I certainly don’t always follow the suggested times in the packet 100%. Drain pasta and add to the sauce. Add the meatballs to the pan, mix well and serve with freshly grated pecorino cheese (optional) and freshly picked basil leaves.

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