Happy (Tiny) Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving is going to be different for us this year. It is my first year in the service industry, which means that I work on holidays and “normal” weekends. Oh dear… It would seem… I’ve turned into my father. (j/k – love you, Dad!)

I’ve always loved holidays — and it was difficult for me to come to terms with this — but Thanksgiving isn’t about gorging on turkey (or roast chicken or rack of lamb) on the third Thursday of November. It’s not about the side dishes or even the pie or alternative desserts. It’s about spending time with the people you love and being grateful for what you have… and that really should be happening year-round, holiday or not.

So, our dear readers, if you are indeed celebrating tomorrow, we hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving! As happy as the Tiny Hamster in the video. As for us, we’ll be postponing our festivities to a later time and will gladly share any new recipes we test out. Cheers!

(Many thanks to our friend Genie at Bunny Eats Design for the inspiration to share the video.)

Sweet Potato Mash and Warm Asparagus Salad [Thanksgiving 2013]

Recipes, Side Dishes

Thanksgiving is not a Vietnamese tradition by any means, but our families have come to welcome the opportunity to have dinner together on a nationally-designated Thursday each year. Martin and I were assigned side dishes and dessert, and his parents made soup and hosted the party. Our soy sauce glazed chicken with sticky rice stuffing is a crowd-pleaser, so my parents handled that this year.

Soy Sauce Glazed Chicken with Sticky Rice Stuffing

Soy Sauce Glazed Chicken with Sticky Rice Stuffing

The side dishes we selected are colorful, easy to prepare in advance, use seasonal ingredients, and reheat well at our final destination. They are also both – *fanfare* – vegetarian / vegan! (I did use C&H light brown sugar, so depending on how that was processed, it arguably is or is not vegan.) In lieu of traditional mashed potatoes, we wanted to use sweet potato for its brighter flavor, not that we don’t love a good, butter-laden mash a la Thomas Keller. We were also assigned to bring a salad but, with the cooler weather, decided to go with a warm roasted asparagus salad instead. Both turned out to be great hits, so save these recipes for next year, serve them up at Christmas dinner, or make them “just because.”

Ready to Party

Ready to Party

**Note: I doubled the proportions for our dinner party, so while each recipe yields 4 servings, the photos will depict twice as much of each ingredient.

Sweet Potato Mash Ingredients:

Sweet Potato Mash Ingredients:

2 lbs sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

Step 1: Scrub the sweet potatoes under cold running water to remove any dirt and pick off the roots. Stab all over with a fork (like piercing a frozen dinner for the microwave).

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Step 2: Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the skins pull away from the tubers and the sugars are dark but not burnt. Set aside and let cool.

Peeled Sweet Potatoes

Peeled Sweet Potatoes

Step 3: When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off the sweet potatoes. Add to a medium sized mixing bowl.

Sweet Potato Mash - the final product

Sweet Potato Mash – the final product

Step 4: Mashing with a fork, sprinkle in the salt, sugar, and spices. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Warm Asparagus Salad Ingredients:

Warm Asparagus Salad Ingredients:

12 ounces fresh asparagus (preferably the younger, thinner variety)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Lemon Vinaigrette Ingredients:

Lemon Vinaigrette Ingredients:

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon honey or agave *

1/4 cup olive oil, slowly drizzled to emulsify *

Salt & pepper, to taste

* adjust the sweetener and oil depending on how much juice you get out of your lemon

Vinaigrette proportions based on this Food Network recipe

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Step 1: Break the woody ends off the asparagus (the stem will easily snap in just the right place; if you’re fighting with it, you’re not doing it right). Rinse in cool water and drain well. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer.

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted Asparagus

Step 2: Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. The stems will be tender and sweet and the tops will be toasty but not dark.

Whisking the Lemon Vinaigrette

Whisking the Lemon Vinaigrette

Step 3: Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, and sweetener. While simultaneously whisking, slowly drizzle in a consistent stream of olive oil. Taste and season as needed. The emulsification will mellow out the sharp acidity of the lemon juice (if it’s still too tart, keep whisking and adding oil). Set aside.

Warm Asparagus Salad

Warm Asparagus Salad

Step 4: Cut the asparagus into one-inch, bite-sized pieces and add to a bowl. Toss in the dressing or serve alongside, if desired. Serve warm or cold.

Didn’t I tell you these were easy? Especially if you have a good oven, since it will be doing most of the work. These dishes were great accompaniments to the rest of our Thanksgiving dinner which featured….

Sup Mang Cua (Vietnamese Crab & Asparagus Soup)

Sup Mang Cua (Vietnamese Crab & Asparagus Soup)

Martin’s parents made a soup commonly found at Vietnamese-Chinese restaurants, crab and white asparagus soup or súp măng cua. His mom adds a special twist that I don’t see very often (if ever!) – hard boiled quail eggs. With firm whites yielding to a smooshy yolky middle, it’s fun to find one of these surprises sitting at the bottom of your soup bowl. Garnished with fresh cilantro and a sprinkling of white pepper, this soup transports me back to fond memories of childhood.

Nuwave Oven

Nuwave Oven

When I was a kid, I used to stay up late at night watching infomercials on the little TV in my bedroom. I was always especially fascinated if it were food related (I’ve seen the flavor injector segment of the Showtime Rotisserie oven more times than anyone really should). Anyway, it turns out my parents were doing the same thing, so they got one of these — a NuWave induction oven. It actually did a pretty good job of cooking our humble 3-pound chicken in about 45 minutes.

Our dads carving the turkey... I mean, chicken.

Our dads carving the turkey… I mean, chicken.

So from our home to yours, we hope you enjoy these recipes for potluck-friendly side dishes that are sure to please the guests of your next holiday party. Wait – where’s the dessert, you ask? I guess you’ll just have to tune in again this Wednesday… ;)

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Homemade Chicken Stock

Appetizers and Starters, Food Life, Recipes, Side Dishes

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving, Nom Nom Cat Readers! I hope you were able to partake in a gluttonous quantity of turkey (or chicken, or ham, or lamb) with all the fixin’s, and most importantly, spend quality time with loved ones. And for those who did carve into a whole poultry bird, I certainly hope that you kept the carcass… which brings me to today’s recipe — homemade chicken stock. Martin makes fun of me for it, but one of my favorite Sunday afternoon activities is bringing home a whole bird, butchering it into the assorted parts (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings), and making a stock out of the remnants. I just use the raw chicken scraps as-is, but roasted chicken bones would impart even more flavor to your broth or stock, so keep that carcass!

Beautiful Stock

Beautiful Stock

The process is surprisingly simple, and once I used homemade stock in a recipe, I never turned back. Soups, sauces, and especially risotto benefit from a quality base that the canned and carton variety just cannot replicate. Making stock is also a relatively forgiving process. Short on time? You’ll get a nice clear broth. Leave it too long? You’ll end up with a concentrated demiglace that can be diluted later in cooking. But simmer it for just the right amount of time and you’ll yield a rich, full flavored stock that embodies the essence of chicken.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

Chicken: carcass, neck, 2 wings, excess fat

1 large onion

2 carrots

2-3 stalks celery

3 cloves of garlic

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

3-4 dried bay leaves

3 quarts cold water

Egg shell, optional*

* If having a very clear stock is important for your next recipe, toss in an egg shell and/or egg white. The albumen will attract and trap the “junk” and you can just skim off the floating “raft” at the end.

Carcass

Carcass

Butcher the raw or roasted chicken carcass.

Mirepoix

Mirepoix

Roughly chop the mirepoix vegetables. The garlic can be left whole – just smash it a bit to release the oils.

Browning the Chicken

Browning the Chicken

I like to start my stock by browning the chicken first. The one I bought had a large flap of fat that I had trimmed off, so I started that first to render fat and then tossed in the whole carcass. I also added the neck and two wings. The wings have a great bone to meat to fat ratio for making stock. For a true stock, I do not season the chicken at all. Any seasoning will come from the next stage; the stock only harnesses the chicken flavor.

Add the Veggies

Add the Veggies

Add the mirepoix. You can also make a chicken stock with only chicken, but I like the flavors that the vegetables add to the final product.

Pour in the Water

Pour in the Water

Time to pour in the water, cold as starting with cold water will result in a less cloudy broth. Also toss in the aromatics. Bring to boil and simmer for 3 to 4 hours, less for a broth (but at least 1 hour so the chicken cooks through), more for a reduced demiglace.

Strain the Stock

Strain the Stock

Remove the boiled chicken. After about 4 hours of simmering, the chicken itself will probably be dry and bland. I toss it (there isn’t much meat left on the carcass anyway) but to prevent waste, you can pick the meat off the bones and use for a chicken salad or toss in nuoc cham and eat over rice. Using a sieve or even a skimmer (in the very first photo), strain out the vegetables and herbs. The recipe should yield about 1.5 to 2 quarts of stock.

Muffin Tin Storage

Muffin Tin Storage

I stored my latest batch of stock in a freezer safe plastic container, but I wish I had taken the extra step to make my “broth bullion” as Martin likes to call them. It’s so easy — just strain the broth or stock into a muffin tin, about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Freeze overnight.

Frozen Broth Bullion

Frozen Broth Bullion

Once frozen solid, just pop them out (dip the tray in a bit of warm water to loosen if it needs help) and store in a zip top bag. Whenever you need broth, just reheat in a small saucepan. I also love these little discs because they add just the right amount of oomph to my sauces. No need to defrost more than you’d use right away, and it’s just as easy as popping open a can of the store-bought stuff. And like I said earlier, nothing beats homemade!

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SPONSORED POST

Speaking of Black Friday, a little birdie told us that Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (CBTL) is participating with a Buy One Get One Free sale all weekend (November 29 through December 1) on their Kaldi and Americano machines. Not willing to brave the crazy crowds at your local mall? Have no fear — this sale is also taking place online with the promo code BOGOCBTL. Check out the website for more info and for the fine print. Enjoy!

13CBV_PS_BOGO_BlackFriday 11x17* Disclosure per FTC regulations: we were not paid for this post but expect to receive a CBTL machine from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the near future to try and review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely those of Nom Nom Cat authors Alice and Martin.

Soy Sauce Chicken and Sticky Rice Stuffing [Thanksgiving 2012]

Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I are both only children of Vietnamese parents who immigrated to America around the 1970s. I never had a so-called “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings (and neither has he) but I remember that as I was growing up, I would pester my mom about it. Her compromise? A roast chicken. Looks the same, tastes better, and size-appropriate for our humble family of three. Now that we’ve become a combined family unit of 6, a turkey still doesn’t feel quite right, so this year, we decided to do a roast chicken using one of my favorite recipes from Martin Yan’s cookbook. Yup, that’s right – I grew up watching Yan Can Cook. And if Yan can cook, so can you! (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.)

Voila -- roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing

Voila — roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing!

All of the credit goes to my mom, and to Martin Yan for the inspiration. After a few years of following the recipe, then tweaking and tweaking again, she finally settled on a fantastic marinade this year that blew me away. It was really that good. No, I’m not biased at all – why would you say that?

Without further ado, here goes the recipe for preparing your own soy sauce and garlic marinated roast chicken with sticky rice stuffing, a Nom Nom Cat Thanksgiving.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)

Marinade

4 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons thick soy sauce (it comes in a jar, not the liquid-y kind in the bottle)

5-7 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Sticky Rice Stuffing

1 tablespoon oil

2 links of lap xuong (Chinese sausage), diced

1 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms, diced

3 tablespoons dried shrimp, whole

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce (or more, to taste)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

3/4 cup glutinous rice (gạo nếp)

1/4 cup green onions, chopped

1) Game plan – the night before you plan to serve the meal: prepare the marinade, let the chicken do its thing, and soak the sticky rice. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the ingredients for the marinade. Muddle the garlic a bit with the back of your spoon to really get the flavors out. Evenly drizzle over your cleaned and prepped chicken. I like to peel back the skin on the breasts and make sure some marinade soaks into the meat underneath. Let the marinade work its magic overnight in the refrigerator. In a large bowl, soak the sticky rice in enough warm water to cover the rice by at least an inch.

Marinated and ready for the oven!

Marinated and ready for the oven!

2) Game plan – 4 hours before dinner time: Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of warm water and the dried shrimp in a separate bowl of warm water. Let soak for 1 hour.

3) Game plan – 3 hours before dinner time: Prep the sticky rice stuffing. Drain the soaked mushrooms and shrimp; chop the mushrooms. In a large sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat. Toss in the garlic and Chinese sausage. Fry until the cubes look toasty. Then add the mushrooms, shrimp, and seasonings. Stir to combine and add pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the rice will “dilute” the overall flavor. Drain the rice and add to the pan, cooking until the rice starts to turn brown and roasty-toasty. Mix in the green onions. At this stage, add one tablespoon of water and continue to cook on low heat until the rice becomes somewhat softened. Take the stuffing off the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Sticky rice stuffing

Sticky rice stuffing

4) Game plan – 2 hours before dinner time: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. A 4.5 lb chicken will take at least 1.5 hours to cook, possibly 2 hours. Stuff the sticky rice stuffing into the chicken’s cavity. Truss the cavity closed using long skewers, turkey trussing skewers, or put your arts & crafts skills to work with a little twine and stitching. Drizzle the remaining marinade over the top of the chicken.

If you don't have fancy trussing tools, you could try toothpicks and hope it doesn't explode too much!

If you don’t have fancy trussing tools, you could try toothpicks and hope it doesn’t explode too much!

Bake at 375 degrees for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the dark meat juices run clear. Keep a watchful eye on the chicken and if it starts to darken too quickly, create a foil “tent” and loosely cover.

Cookie keeping a watchful eye on the chicken.

Cookie keeping a watchful eye on the chicken.

We hope you’ll enjoy our recipe for an Asian fusion holiday dinner. You can easily scale down the marinade (or follow the recipe and save the leftovers in a jar or reduce in a saucepan to drizzle over as a glaze) to accommodate smaller chickens, chicken parts (like boneless skinless chicken breast, if that’s your thing), cornish hens, etc. This meal always reminds me of Thanksgiving but the hearty, family-style nature of the roasted poultry is appropriate for any of the winter holidays (hint: just 5 days until Christmas!) or any time of the year really!

Our humble family

Our humble family

From our home to yours, we want to wish you all a very happy holiday and many good things to come in 2013!

Classic French-style (Herb Roasted) Rack of Lamb

Main Dishes, Recipes

This year, our family decided to save a turkey and go a nontraditional but still festive route for our Thanksgiving meal. Everyone gathered in our tiny, humble apartment and the NomCats prepared the dinner for six. A highlight of the dinner was the classic French style racks of lamb served over com do (Vietnamese tomato red rice) — the epitome of the beautiful fusion of French-Vietnamese cuisine.

NomCat tip for the ingredients:

The Lamb: We bought ours from Costco. They are sold as full racks, vacuum-sealed, trimmed, and ready to go – all for less than $20 a rack of 8 chops. If you’re looking to avoid the holiday rush, these packages freeze well and defrost just in time if you remember to move them to the refrigerator one full day in advance. (Or if you have trouble with clearing out your freezer like we do, the packages are well-marked and dated. We recently cooked a rack after months in the freezer, and it was still tender and delicious!)

Without further ado, here’s our recipe for pulling off one of these beauties:

Beautiful, isn’t it? (And yes, we like our lamb very rare.)

Ingredients:

1 full rack of lamb (8 chops)

2 teaspoons dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cloves minced garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic paste)

Salt & pepper to taste (we used Himalayan pink salt, which adds crunch with a more delicate saltiness)

Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons or so)

Let the lamb sit out on the counter to bring it closer to room temperature. If it is still cold, it will be very difficult to cook evenly. (Thanks for this tip, Simply Recipes!) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you are making the com do to accompany the lamb, you’ll want to start the pot of rice now. In a small bowl, mix together the herbs, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil to form a marinade-like paste. Liberally spread this paste over the rack, focusing on the meaty portions (*Note: you can do this in advance and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to marinate).

All herbed up and ready to go!

Place fat side up (so the bones will make it look like a dome) on either a foil-wrapped baking sheet or in a Pyrex baking dish. Score the fat and then put it in the oven for 7 minutes. You can take this opportunity to work on any side dishes.

After the time has elapsed, turn the heat down to 300 degrees and continue cooking. The time will depend on how large the rack is (the ones we get from Costco are consistently 1.5 pounds each) and how rare you like your lamb. We like ours rare and bloody, so the initial 7 minutes plus another 7-10 was perfect.

Hot out of the oven!

For our family dinner, we took the racks out at the rare point, carved into single chops, and pan seared the rest to temperature for those who preferred it medium-rare or well done. Be sure to let the meat rest a bit before slicing. Otherwise you’ll lose all of the wonderful juices!

Searing up some chops for the med-rare and well-done folk.

We like to serve 2-3 chops per person, crisscrossed over a mound of the com do or alongside roasted potatoes, haricot verts (green beans), grilled asparagus… whatever your stomach desires!

Adapted from this recipe.

Tried this recipe yourself? Let us know how it goes! Comment here or send us a message. We’d love to hear from you :)