Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Trends in My Kitchen 2012

Hamachi with Vietnamese Chili-Fish Sauce
Have you had enough of the Year End Lists?  In case you haven’t been paying attention, there have been a few.  I’ve seen Best Restaurants, Best Dishes, Top Food Trends, Best Fast Food, not to mention psychic predictions as to what we can all expect to be eating, trending, and “besting” in 2013

I’ll leave the “Best of” lists to the professionals.  But even in my own universe, food seems to cycle, each year bringing its own personal set of top eats.  2010, for example, would certainly have been The Year of the Duck.  Once John found out I could sear a mean Muscovy, he put in a request for said duck dinner at least once a month.

2011 could have been a few things, but I’ll give a special mention to the clay pot. A simple unglazed bean pot inspired many a long simmered dish from Jamaican goat curry to rabbit ragu. 

Which brings me to the Top Trends in My Kitchen of 2012. 

Saturday Fish
Hamachi Collar
Once John learned how to navigate the tourists and overwhelming selection of fish and seafood at The Lobster Place, our fish consumption skyrocketed.  Walking home from a Friday night or Saturday morning workout, he might swing through and pick up whatever was looking good at that moment.  Opah belly, ahi tuna, hamachi collar, fresh Florida shrimp- we threw the net wide.  I'd prepare the fish simply and we'd eat it alongside a salad. Our Saturday lunches became infinitely healthier.

Grilled pork with Japanese Sweet Potatoes
Wide World of Potatoes
It all started with John’s famous sweet potatoes, roasted with garlic and rosemary, and the occasional dollop of duck fat.  Feeling bold one day, we swapped out the sweets for Purple Peruvian potatoes.  The entrance of Foragers Market to our neighborhood brought the discovery of sublime, creamy Red Bliss potatoes from a local farm, so far removed from the typical grocery store variety it was like I was discovering the potato for the first time.  Then came the revelation of the Japanese variety from BodhiTree Farm at Abingdon Square Farmer’sMarket.  These tiny, misshapen tubers were so intensely sweet I could eat them practically by themselves with little more than salt and pepper.

Ice Cream on Hand
New best practice for dinner parties: always have homemade ice cream in the freezer.  The gift of a Cuisinart ice cream maker last Christmas turned into the unexpected dinner party savior I never knew I needed but apparently did. Keeping ice cream on hand saved me from having to make one more dish on the day of the party, while still reaping the benefits of serving a homemade dessert.  From milk chocolate with Oreos, to lemon sorbet, to pumpkin with candied ginger, there was an ice cream recipe to fit any season and every menu. 

What will be trending in the months to come?  Will John start adding pineapple to his berry smoothies?  Will coriander replace cumin as my favorite spice in the cabinet?  Will potatoes take a backseat as we sample the international rainbow of rice?  Only time will tell.  But if it happens in my kitchen, you will probably be reading about it right here, on Pho the Love of Food.  

Happy New Year! With Vietnamese Duck and Rice Noodles

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, December 17, 2012

From the Slanted Door to Your Front Door

Cooking Fish for "Halibut Vermicelli with Dill"
It is rare I cook four recipes from a book in a year, let alone a week.  Yet since the moment I received Charles Phan’s new cookbook, Vietnamese Home Cooking, I have only been able to put it down long enough to pick up my chef’s knife and start chopping. 

It is no secret I love Vietnamese food (my blog is named after the country’s most famous dish). And The Slanted Door, Phan’s deservedly popular San Francisco restaurant, has also long been one of my favorites in that city.

However, I will admit I was skeptical the first time I pulled up a stool at the sleek and sunny restaurant bar with its sweeping bay views.  How could this chic space possibly remain true to the food I had devoured on roadside plastic stools and make shift restaurant shacks? 

Then came the crepe.  The Slanted Door may have boasted central air conditioning and walk-in refrigerators, but the golden pan-fried crepe presented to me, stuffed with bean sprouts, pork and shrimp, was a near perfect replica of one I had eaten some years before in Saigon on an oppressively humid day sitting outdoors on the dirt floor of restaurant tucked down a narrow alley. 

Ever since I have been wondering how to make that crepe at home.  Would it ever be possible to form that perfect golden batter tinted with turmeric and scented with coconut milk in my own kitchen?

Crepe with Pork and Shrimp
Thanks to Vietnamese Home Cooking I can now definitively answer “yes”.  To be sure, this book is not Vietnamese cooking lite.  Phan’s recipes sometimes require upwards of fifteen ingredients.  But they are the sort of Vietnamese pantry staples- tamarind, rice flour, fish sauce- that once stocked, will keep you in good supply long enough to work through much of this book.

As devoted as he is to creating authentic recipes, Phan remains a sympathetic teacher.  In a recipe for “Hue Rice Dumplings” he demonstrates creating the batter and forming the dumplings in six beautiful, full color photos accompanied by nine, clear-cut steps.  For “Bánh Cuón: Rice Crepes with Pork and Mushrooms”, he explains how to make the proper steaming contraption (a pot that would be sold specifically for this purpose in Vietnam) using a common pasta pot with steamer insert, fabric, and a 16-inch hose clamp easily purchased from Home Depot.

I have already worked my way through a few of the simpler, everyday recipes (Lemongrass Chicken, Halibut Vermicelli with Dill) as well as some more time consuming (Pork Clay Pot with Young Coconut Juice).  As for the crepe, or Bánh Xèo, it was as I had always hoped.  Thanks to an excellent teacher and his well written book, my crepe emerged as an authentic taste of Vietnam, cooked simply, at home. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell