Friday, September 4, 2015

Simply Vietnamese Cooking: 135 Delicious Recipes

Simply Vietnamese Cooking
135 Delicious Recipes
By Nancie McDermott
Trade Paperback, 256 pages

I didn't discover Vietnamese food until my thirties, and had no idea it was such a distinct flavour sensation in itself. Food, dining, the family table are all very important to the Vietnamese culture. Food is expression, tradition, sharing and communicating with friends and family. Food is soulful and restorative.

Vietnamese food has Chinese influence, to be sure. and even some French - from colony days - but the cuisine is all theirs. And it is wonderful. I think that it has replaced Thai as my favourite Asian cuisine.

Simply Vietnamese Cooking is a great book for us North Americans who want to bring the flavours of Vietnamese fare to our kitchens. The recipes are well presented and indeed simple. Most ingredients can be found in regular large grocery stores and specialty ingredients have suggested substitutions if they can't be found (or you don't feel like making a trip to an Asian market). 

The flavours are vibrant and full of life and, unlike many South Asian cuisines, are not really influenced by Indian fare.

Yes, originally grandma would spend all day on traditional dishes, but these recipes deliver the flavour and work with our fairly busy lives. (And why are we so busy anyway? The more convenience items and tools we have in our life, the busier we seem to get) Anyway, the recipes are quick, easy and delicious. I won't tell your guests that you didn't spend days making dinner.

The author, Nancie McDermott spent time in Thailand with the Peace Corps, so came about her love for Asian food honestly. I am so glad she shared it with us.

Summer Rolls with Shrimp and Mint

Goi cuon are known in English as “summer rolls,” “rice paper rolls,” “soft spring rolls” and “salad rolls” — the latter a direct translation of their Vietnamese name. These extraordinary rice paper–wrapped bundles of shrimp, rice noodles, lettuce and fresh mint present an edible sketch of Vietnamese cuisine. Delicate and satisfying, soft and crunchy, as plain as white rice noodles and yet vibrant with the pink and green of shrimp and fresh mint, these snacks invite you to savor the contrasting pleasures of Vietnam’s way with food. Get a little assembly line going with a friend or two and you will quickly wrap and roll enough goi cuon for your picnic or party.

Makes 10 to 12 rolls

8 oz    thin dried rice noodles, angel hair     250 g
    pasta or somen noodles
    (see Tip, below)
12    round rice paper sheets, about     12
    8 inches (20 cm) in diameter
10    Bibb, Boston or other tender     10
    lettuce leaves, cut crosswise
    into 1-inch (2.5 cm) strips (about
    2 cups/500 mL) loosely packed)
1⁄2 cup    fresh mint leaves    125 mL
1⁄2 cup    fresh cilantro leaves    125 mL
5    green onions, trimmed, cut into     5
    3-inch (7.5 cm) lengths and then
    cut lengthwise into thin strips
12    medium shrimp, cooked, peeled     12
    and halved lengthwise
    Peanut dipping sauce (homemade or store-bought)

1.    Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in rice noodles and immediately remove from heat. Let stand until tender and ready to eat, 5 to 7 minutes, gently lifting and stirring noodles occasionally as they soften to keep separate and to cook evenly. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain well and set aside. You should have about 2 cups (500 mL) of noodles.

2.    Arrange all ingredients in separate dishes around a large cutting board or tray set before you. Have a large platter ready to hold the finished rolls and fill a large skillet or shallow bowl with hot water.

3.    To make each roll, slide 1 sheet of rice paper into pan of water and press gently to submerge for about 15 seconds. Remove carefully, draining water. Place sheet before you on cutting board.

4.    On bottom third of sheet, line up the following ingredients in a horizontal row: a small tangle of noodles (about 1⁄4 cup/60 mL), some lettuce strips, some mint leaves and some cilantro leaves. Sprinkle green onion slivers on top.

5.    Lift wrapper edge nearest to you and roll up and over filling, tucking it in under them about halfway along the wrapper and compressing everything gently into a cylindrical shape. When you’ve completely enclosed the filling in one good turn, fold in the sides tightly, as though making an envelope. Then place 2 shrimp halves, pink side down, on the rice sheet just above the cylinder. Continue rolling up wrapper and press seam to close it, wetting with a little splash of water if it has dried out too much to seal itself closed. Set roll aside on the platter to dry, seam side down. Continue to fill and roll up rice paper sheets until you have made 8 to 10 rolls. Set aside.

6.    To serve, present rolls whole or cut them in half crosswise — straight or on the diagonal. Or trim away the ends and cut into bite-size lengths. Serve with dipping sauce.

For angel hair pasta or somen, cook in boiling water until tender, according to package directions. Drain, rinse and use as directed.
The rice paper wrappers used in this recipe are sturdy once softened in water and wrapped around a savory filling of noodles, lettuce, herbs and shrimp, but while dry and in the package, they are fragile. A given package may contain broken disks and you may have to discard some because they tear or dry out during the rolling process. Buy extra, so that you have plenty on hand. They keep well for many
months even after they are opened so they make an excellent pantry staple.

Courtesy of Simply Vietnamese Cooking by Nancie McDermott © 2015 Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Sweet and Tangy Soup with Pineapple, Tamarind and Shrimp

Western cooks think of pineapple in terms of sweets and desserts, but Asian cooks relish the sweet-and-tangy contrast it provides to savory dishes as well as sweets. In Vietnam this celebrated soup appears on the table as one of a host of rice-centered dishes, but with its complex flavors and inclusion of shrimp, I love it as a main course, along with rice and a simple stir-fry of spinach or a crisp salad for cool contrast. The ingredient list for this soup is a bit long, but everything comes together quickly. With rice and a simple salad, you’ve got a wonderful meal.

Serves 6 to 8

2    stalks fresh lemongrass    2
1 tbsp    vegetable oil    15 mL
1 tbsp    finely chopped garlic    15 mL
5 cups    chicken stock, store-bought or water    1.25 L
1⁄4 cup    prepared tamarind liquid or     60 mL
    Indian-style tamarind chutney
    (see Tip, below)
2 tbsp    fish sauce    30 mL
2 tsp    granulated sugar    10 mL
1 tsp    chile-garlic sauce    5 mL
8 oz    medium shrimp, peeled and     250 g
1 cup    pineapple chunks, canned    250 mL
    or fresh
4    plum tomatoes, cored and    4
2 tbsp    thinly sliced green onion    30 mL
2 tbsp    chopped fresh cilantro    30 mL
Garnishes, optional
2 tbsp    chopped fresh mint    30 mL
2 tbsp    chopped fresh Asian or any     30 mL
    other type of basil
1 cup    mung bean sprouts    250 mL

1.    To prepare lemongrass, trim away and discard any dried root portion (to make a smooth base), the top half of stalks and any dry, tired outer leaves. Cut remaining portion of each stalk diagonally into 2-inch (5 cm) lengths.

2.    In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine oil, garlic and lemongrass chunks and heat until lemongrass and garlic release their fragrance. Toss for 1 minute and add stock, tamarind liquid, fish sauce, sugar and chile-garlic sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain the soup at a lively simmer and cook, stirring once, for 10 minutes.

3.    Increase heat to medium-high and when soup returns to a boil, add shrimp, pineapple chunks and tomatoes and stir well. Cook until shrimp are pink, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in green onion and cilantro and remove from heat. Stir in additional herbs and bean sprouts, if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve at once.

Instead of the tamarind liquid, use 3 tbsp (45 mL) vinegar mixed with 1 tbsp (15 mL) brown sugar.

Courtesy of Simply Vietnamese Cooking by Nancie McDermott © 2015 Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Cha Ca Fish with Fresh Dill, Hanoi-Style

Vivid color and flavor come to mind when I think of this lovely classic dish. Gold and green — the gold from turmeric and the green from fronds of fresh aromatic dill. Cooked at the table in Vietnamese restaurants, it’s a show-stopping treat. My streamlined version of cha ca gives you a delicious, aromatic and gorgeous dish so appealing you will want to make it often and so easy that you can do just that. If time is an issue, you can omit accompaniments, sprinkle with the chopped peanuts and serve this as a main dish.

Serves 4

2 tbsp    fish sauce    30 mL
1 tbsp    vegetable oil    15 mL
1 tbsp    finely minced fresh gingerroot     15 mL
    or fresh or frozen galanga
1 tsp    ground turmeric    5 mL
1⁄4 tsp    salt    1 mL
1 lb    firm-fleshed fish fillets, such as     500 g
    catfish, monkfish or tilapia

8 oz    thin dried rice noodles    250 g
3 cups    shredded lettuce leaves, such     750 mL
    as Boston, Bibb or oak leaf
1 cup    fresh mint, cilantro or Asian     250 mL
    basil leaves
1⁄2 cup    chopped dry-roasted salted     125 mL
    Pineapple-chile sauce, store bought or homemade
2 tbsp    vegetable oil    30 mL
2 cups    coarsely chopped fresh dill     500 mL
    (see Tip, below)
5    green onions, trimmed, white part     5
    chopped and green part cut into
    2-inch (5 cm) lengths

1.    Marinade: In a medium bowl, combine fish sauce, oil, ginger, turmeric and salt and stir to mix well. Cut fish into big bite-size chunks (2 to 3 inches/5 to 7.5 cm square) and add to bowl, tossing to coat well. Set aside while you prepare noodles and other accompaniments, or cover and chill to marinate for up to 1 day.

2.    Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in rice noodles and immediately remove from heat. Let stand until tender and ready to eat, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water and then drain well. Transfer to a shallow bowl or a deep plate. Prepare and arrange the remaining accompaniments next to a serving platter for the cooked fish.

3.    To cook the fish, place oil, dill and green onions by the stove. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until a bit of dill sizzles at once. Add fish to pan and cook on one side, about 2 minutes. Gently turn and let fish cook for another minute. Add dill and green onions to pan and cook, tossing gently to wilt herbs, for 1 minute. Transfer to a serving platter.

4.    To serve this dish the classic small-bowl way, start each guest off with a small bowl holding a portion of each accompaniment: noodles, lettuce and a few leaves of mint, cilantro or Asian basil. Top with a piece or two of fish with dill and green onions, sprinkle with chopped peanuts and drizzle with a spoonful of Everyday Dipping Sauce. Invite your guests to continue serving themselves in this way.

5.    To serve the big-noodle-bowl way, divide the accompaniments, fish, dill and green onions among 4 big noodle bowls or pasta plates. Season each bowl with Everyday Dipping Sauce and invite each guest to toss with chopsticks or a fork and spoon and enjoy.

Fresh dill is essential in this traditional dish, but it can be difficult to find, especially during winter. If you can’t find it, use a bouquet of fresh cilantro or basil in its place. It won’t be a proper cha ca ha noi, but it will still be a most tasty and pleasing dish.
Courtesy of Simply Vietnamese Cooking by Nancie McDermott © 2015 Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend; by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
by Katarina Bivald

Trade Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Bond Street Books

Is there such a thing as a hug in a book? This spirit-lifter was made for book lovers.

Us somewhat shy people who quite often feel better with a book in front of us than another human being. This book is for us.

A small town gal visits a small town half the world away and when she realizes her penpal is no longer there, turns to books and reading as a way to understand her new world and her place in it. Pretty much buries herself in them until she finds the courage to communicate with others. Through books.

Lots of references to other books current and classic and a lovely feel-good story. Delightful.

From the Back Flap:

A debut novel to charm all readers, that shows beyond all doubt that it's books, along with love, that make the world go round.

     It all began with a correspondence between two quite different women: 28-year-old Sara from Haninge, Sweden, and 65-year-old Amy from the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. After years of exchanging books, letters and thoughts on the meaning of literature and life, Sara, mousy, disheveled, who has never been anywhere in her life--has really lived only for her work in a beloved bookshop, which has just closed its doors for the last time--bravely decides to accept her unknown friend's invitation to visit. But when she arrives, she finds her house empty, the funeral guests just heading home. . .

     Sara finds herself alone. And what choice do the inhabitants of Broken Wheel have but to take care of their bewildered tourist? And what choice does Sara have, faced with a town where nobody reads and her desire to honour her friend, but to set up the perfect bookshop with all the books she and Amy shared--from Yann Martel's Life of Pi to Iris Murdoch and Jo Nesbo, to Bridget Jones and Doug Coupland's All Families Are Psychotic to Little House on the Prairie? And then watch as the townsfolk are, one by one, transformed in unexpected ways. . .

     In the glorious tradition of 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club, Jane Austen, and movies such as You've Got Mail and Love Actually, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a big-hearted, witty book about books, friendship, love--and always being open to the unexpected.

About the Author
KATARINA BIVALD grew up working part-time in a bookshop. Today she lives in Älta, Sweden, with her sister and as many bookshelves as she can squeeze in. She has still not decided whether she prefers books or people.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Hesitation Cut by Giles Blunt

The Hesitation Cut
A novel
by Giles Blunt

Trade Paperback, 320 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada

Holy crap. Wait, can you say Holy crap when the book starts in a monastery?

This book comes right from a different corner of storydom.

I am a big fan of Giles Blunt's Cardinal crime series, Canada's answer to Nordic Noir. But this book is a 180 degree departure from those kinds of books.

It's not really a crime novel. Not really a mystery.... And yet....
An intense, serious, and personal psychological thriller - like we have never read before. Well, like I have never read before. And I am guessing for the bulk of other readers out there too.

I remember feeling the discomfort and nausea while reading Dostoevsky in my studious youth. How he was able to affect you physically with the tension.

The Hesitation Cut is not exactly Dostoevsky (and thank goodness, who has the patience?) but you feel this story in your bones, in your head, heart and organs.

It stays with you. It's a great work. Congratulations, Giles Blunt.

Great book.

From the Back Flap:

Master crime novelist Giles Blunt is back with a standalone novel of penetrating psychological suspense. Turning the screw tighter on every page, he delivers an intricately plotted story of jealousy and obsession that rivals the best of Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn.

     Nothing could be more serene than the life of Brother William, a young Benedictine monk who had turned his back on the world ten years earlier to retreat to a monastery in upstate New York. But then Lauren Wolfe, a troubled young poet, comes to use the library to research a book on Heloise and Abelard; one sight of the faint scars from a failed suicide attempt on Lauren's wrist is enough to turn the monk's life upside down. Every suppressed romantic impulse rises to the surface: his desire to rescue and soothe her trumps his vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. Soon he is simply Peter, a gentle young man who has followed his beloved to New York City because he needs to look out for her, as sincerely as he once pursued his calling.

     Of course, just because you love doesn't mean your love will be returned. Just because your intentions are good doesn't mean you'll achieve what you intend. No one illuminates the extreme psychological states this tale of obsession explores better than Giles Blunt. And no reader will ever see the end coming...

 About the Author

GILES BLUNT grew up in North Bay, Ontario, and spent twenty years in New York City as a writer and a scriptwriter for such shows as Law and Order, Street Legal and Night Heat, before making his home in Toronto. He is the author of the six novels in the bestselling Cardinal crime series, featuring Algonquin Bay’s John Cardinal and Lise Delorme, which he is currently adapting as a television series for CTV. He is widely considered “one of Canada’s top crime novelists” (the Globe and Mail) and among “crime drama’s elite” (Publishers Weekly). He is a two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel and a recipient of the British Crime Writers’ Macallan Silver Dagger.