Recipes and Me

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Ultimate Summer Sandwich - Bahn Mi, Part 1

If you haven’t tried Bahn Mi before, you better get on it.  For those of you that know and love Bahn Mi, you understand why I’m dedicating a Part 1 and 2 to this special lunch treat.

Bahn Mi is a Vietnamese specialty.  It’s a sandwich consisting of a variety of fillings from grilled pork to lemongrass chicken to meatballs or pâté, or even tofu, as well as a variety of condiments including pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro, fiery jalapenos, and a bit of mayo.  All of this is stuffed inside of a just baked baguette (if your Bahn Mi place is really good), crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  Of course Bahn Mi is delicious any time of the year but for some reason, for me, the summertime tends to bring on strong cravings for these delicious sandwiches and I’ve found other Bahn Mi lovers have similar summer sandwich cravings.

I’m doing this recipe in 2 parts since it involves pickled vegetables, which takes a little forethought.  So for now I’m going to focus on the recipe for the pickled carrot and radish mixture (super simple) which you’ll let sit for a few days before making your Bahn Mi sandwich.  I’ll post Part 2 within the next couple of weeks, promise!

*Tip: the pickled carrot and radish mixture is addictive and does not have to be reserved for just Bahn Mi. Try it on a salad, a pulled pork sandwich, or any old sandwich you want to liven a bit.  It’s delicious!

Pickled Carrot and Radish (Do Chua)
1 pound carrots (approx. 2-3 medium sized carrots), outer layer peeled
1 pound daikon radishes (approx. 1 large daikon), outer layer peeled
1 ¼  cups distilled white vinegar
½ cup plus 4 teaspoons of sugar
1 cup very warm water 
1 teaspoon table salt
A large jar (one that seals well)

Julienne the carrots and the daikon radishes so you have matchstick size strips of each.  To do this you should trim off a layer on four sides so that you have a long rectangle to work with; from there you can cut lengthwise so you have long strips that are thin with regards to thickness but are wide across.  Stack the strips and cut them again lengthwise into matchstick size pieces. Put the carrots and radishes in a large bowl. Sprinkle the vegetables with 4 teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of table salt. With your hands massage the sugar and salt into the carrots and daikon until well coated.  Continue to massage until they soften quite a bit.  It should take about 4-5 minutes. When you can gently bend a piece of radish all the way back without it breaking, you are good to go. Dump the carrots and radishes into a colander and rinse well with cold water. 

In a large measuring glass (mine is 4 cups) or medium sized bowl, mix together the remaining ½ cup of sugar, the white vinegar, and the warm water, until the sugar dissolves.  Wash the jar with warm and soapy water.  You don’t have to sterilize the jar since the vegetables aren't being cooked.  Put the radishes and carrots in the jar. Pour the vinegar and sugar mixture on top and seal (the liquid should cover the vegetables).  Refrigerate.  In a couple of days this mixture will be perfect for your homemade Bahn Mi sandwich.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Brunch Time!

Who doesn’t love French Toast?  It certainly isn’t a hard sell BUT there are at least half a dozen ways to prepare French Toast so it’s one of those breakfast foods I feel you can have a lot of fun with on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning.  This recipe is a favorite born out of inspiration from an amazing breakfast of Challah French Toast I once had at a restaurant brunch years ago.  I came out of that meal sure that Challah bread was the epitome of perfection when it comes to French Toast.  The only thing to really keep in mind here is that with any bread you use for French Toast, it needs to be day old/stale.  Soft bread can’t stand up to the egg/cream mixture and you’ll end up with something more like a bread pudding consistency.  So buy some Challah early in the week when you do your regular grocery shopping and by the weekend it will be perfect for French Toast!  I serve this recipe with fresh berries and homemade whipped cream.  Just trust me on the homemade whipped cream, there is no real substitute.

There’s no doubt about it, this one is certainly decadent and not your everyday breakfast but for a fun brunch with friends, family, or a special person you want to impress, this one really is a showstopper.

French Toast with Mixed Berries and Whipped Cream
Serves 4-6 (probably 4-5 if this is all you are serving, 6 if you’re also serving eggs, etc.)

6 extra large eggs
1 ½ cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Challah Loaf, cut into 8 large slices about ¾ to 1 inch thick (don’t include the ends)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons Canola oil or other neutral oil
Agave syrup
3 cups of rinsed mixed berries (I suggest Blackberries of Blueberries and Raspberries)
2 cups heavy whipping cream (optional, for homemade whipped cream)
¼ cup granulated sugar (for whipped cream)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.  If you’re going to make whipped cream to go with the French Toast (highly recommended!), put your mixer’s clean bowl and whisk attachment or beaters in the fridge or freezer to chill.  Combine the eggs, whole milk, honey, vanilla extract, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Whisk it all together. Pour the mixture into a large shallow baking pan and soak the challah bread slices in a single layer for 6-7 minutes, turning the bread once.  If all of the bread won’t fit, it’s okay.  Just do as many as you can and then you’ll fit the remaining pieces in the baking pan on the second round.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet, over medium heat.   As soon as your skillet is hot and you start to smell the butter you’re ready.  Add 2-3 slices of soaked bread (as much as will fit in your pan without crowding) and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown.  If it seems like they are browning too quickly just lower the heat a touch so they still cook through without browning too much on the outside.  Add more butter and oil as needed for each batch.   Using a clean spatula, move the cooked slices to a large baking pan in the heated oven so they stay warm while you cook the rest.  Once you’ve put the last batch of bread on the stove, go ahead and pour the heavy whipping cream into a mixer and mix on high speed until the cream starts to become thickened.  Now slowly add the granulated sugar while continuing to mix on high until you get light soft peaks.  This shouldn’t take more than five minutes.  DO NOT overmix (I feel like a broken record saying that in every recipe but it’s true.  Overmixed anything is not your friend).  If you do overmix, your cream will become lumpy and start to turn into butter, not what you’re going for here.

Serve the warm French Toast topped with a generous helping of the mixed berries, a drizzle of Agave syrup (you can use any syrup you like but the Agave syrup has a lighter flavor and goes amazingly well), and a dollop of the homemade whipped cream.  You will be in heaven while eating this, just warning ya!