Sunday Family Dinner

Family Dinner Celebrates Mardi Gras

March 2019 Fam Din
March is always a tough month for us to figure out a theme for Family Dinner.

Do we go with the St. Patrick’s Day route like that one year?

Maybe an early Easter theme like last year?

Or that one year where we were so stumped, we just decided to make green food. (Maybe not our most inspired dinner but it was still tasty.)

March 2019 Fam Din
So when we were kicking ideas around for this March, we were hemming and hawing FOH-EVAH!

And then it hit us…. MARDI GRAS is in March this year!

Sure, we’ve done a crazy N’awlins Seafood Boil and Southern Comfort food but we haven’t tried channeling Fat Tuesday before.

March 2019 Fam Din
Now it’s said that the first Mardi Gras celebration in the states occurred in Mobile, Alabama – and my ‘Bama coworker won’t let anyone say otherwise (those Roll Tide folks are serious!). But since celebrations can be found all around the old French territories in the Southern Gulf, we decided to take inspiration from Creole, Cajun and Southern cuisine for our menu that night.

March 2019 Fam Din
Seestrah T was up to bat first.

Shrimp and Grits seemed like a great option but she had already made a knock out version to pair with the brisket V smoked awhile back.

March 2019 Fam Din
Thankfully by the powers of Google searches, she stumbled upon a recipe for Crab Beignets.

Crabs? YES PLEASE!

Beignets? HECK YES!

Can’t have a nod to this region without including lots of seafood and beginets!

March 2019 Fam Din

These savory beignets were filled with goodies like LOTS of lump crab meat, onions, peppers, hot sauce, eggs, milk and baking soda for that lift. They were then rolled in cake flour and deep fried until golden brown.

We dunked them in a rémoulade and DING-DING-DING-DING-DING!

Nuggets of joy I tell you.

March 2019 Fam Din
We all agreed that they were more like fritters than what you initially think of when you say “beignet”.

But none of us cared because we were too busy stuffing them into our mouths.

March 2019 Fam Din
Since moving back to California, Luna has taken a great interest in helping out in the kitchen – particularly during Fam Din. She’s become more and more comfortable with her knife skills (under supervision of course) and is cooking complete dishes with her folks’ guidance.

All skills that we put to work as she helped her parents prep their dish for that night – Crawfish Étouffée.

March 2019 Fam Din
Étouffée is French for “smothered or suffocated” and is a thick sauce (practically a stew) made most often with shellfish. It’s traditionally served over rice and it all begins with a “roux“.

A roux is a mixture of a type of fat and flour that has been cooked down to thicken a sauce. I’ve read in a few places that if your roux is made with butter and flour, it’s Creole. If it’s made with oil and flour, it’s Cajun. But please don’t quote me on that– it has the makings of an ongoing debate I sure as heck have no authority to settle.

March 2019 Fam Din
V and L searched and searched for fresh crawfish to use in their étouffée but were out of luck. Crawfish season (crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs – whatever nomenclature you prefer) in California usually doesn’t start until July but sometimes you can find them in Asian grocery stores a bit earlier.

At the end of the day we opted to use the seawater cousin of crawfish – langostinos. These wild caught langostino tails can be found in 2 pound packs in the freezer section at Costco and they’re an awesome substitute. So yes, technically, we had Langostino Étouffée and not Crawfish Étouffée. The langostinos are quite sweet, tender – and these are SHELLED by hand so you don’t have to do the work!

March 2019 Fam Din

After they spent some TLC getting a rich and dark roux (for that deep nutty flavor), they added aromatics and A TON OF EXTRA BUTTER! Kerrygold Irish Salted Butter – it’s their fav.

And then all the glorious langostinos joined the party!

March 2019 Fam Din
Delish right?

March 2019 Fam Din
They served their étouffée over a big scoop of white rice. Can you guess which kind?

Uncle Ben’s!! SERIOUSLY!

They were told that it’s what’s commonly used – so we did it! To be honest, we weren’t even sure how to cook Uncle Ben’s white rice. But when all was said and done, it was perfect.

March 2019 Fam Din
In fact, it’s one of those things that tasted even better the next day!

By then the flavors had extra time to meld and party together which made me VERY happy to have leftovers.

March 2019 Fam Din
V & L were overwhelmed with joy at how well their dish turned out.

March 2019 Fam Din

And like all of the munchkins at some point have done, Nini is wondering —“Is this my family???”

March 2019 Fam Din
Seester N directed the last two savory items of the night…with the assistance of the kiddos, of course.

Luna helped her big cousie Nina get the corn meal dredge prepared for the catfish that had been soaked in buttermilk, hot sauce and spices.

March 2019 Fam Din
After the fillets were coated in the cornmeal, they hung out for a little bit on a rack so that the coating would set.

March 2019 Fam Din
They were then deep fried for a few minutes until golden brown. Southern Fried Catfish –mmmmm!

(Psssst…..I spy a box of Uncle Ben’s in the corner.)

March 2019 Fam Din
N also felt that if we were going to be in this region, we should have some okra. Hey- we did need some veggies.

So she dredged them and threw them in the hot oil, too. Because nothing says healthy veggies more than Cornmeal Fried Okra.

Work with us people…..

March 2019 Fam Din
Doesn’t this plate just look heavenly???

March 2019 Fam Din
We added generous douses of fresh lemon juice over it all to brighten the flavors and it was scrumptious!

The leftover fried catfish were remade the next day into little sliders on rolls with a schmear of the rémoulade from the Crab Beignets. I’m telling you, leftovers are a clutch component of Fam Din and we are always SUPER bummed during the months when our “doggie bags” are lighter than others.

March 2019 Fam Din
DROOLS.

Doesn’t this make you want to chug some Hurricanes and run around in elaborate costumes on floats?!?

Side note: I did consider whipping up a batch of Hurricanes for the occasion but really…. Although it would have been on trend for the theme, who in their right minds actually like the tastes of hurricanes?!? Tooth-achingly sweet and so boozy it could combust into flames.

BLEH!

So we stuck to lots of vino instead.

March 2019 Fam Din
Our Humanlings!

And a few photobombers in the background.

OMIGOSH – how the heck did that Uncle Ben’s box manage to squeeze itself into another picture????

March 2019 Fam Din
Okay, let’s talk about dessert now, shall we?

I really struggled on this one, peeps. The sweet bite often seen during Mardi Gras is King Cake. In the states, King Cake is a sweet bread dough that is braided and formed into a ring. After it’s baked, it’s drizzled with an icing and decorated in the colors of the celebration – purple, green, yellow. According to an article from Eater,

“King cake is eaten on January 6 in honor of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which historically marks the arrival of the three wise men/kings in Bethlehem who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus. The plastic baby hidden inside king cakes today is a nod to this story.”

March 2019 Fam Din
That is all fine and dandy.

But here’s the thing–if I want a dessert, I don’t want to have something that evokes a breakfast pastry. And to me, that’s what King Cake tastes like.

I could’ve tried traditional desserts for the season from outside of the US like galette des rois, gâteau des rois or roscón de reyes. But I just didn’t think that any of them would’ve been a hit with the fam – particularly the kiddos.

Of course, there was the sweet beignet route, too. However Seestrah P has made beignets in the past before and nothing I could’ve made in that thread would’ve topped her Cafe du Monde inspired Beignets with Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.

March 2019 Fam Din
So I took some MAJOR liberties and finally settled on a French dessert – Profiteroles!

I figured a French influenced dessert still had a home in a Mardi Gras menu, right? Another stretch? But I went with it and nabbed Maya and Nina to help make the choux pastry.

Bella volunteered to guard them as they puffed and baked in the oven.

March 2019 Fam Din
The choux pastry came together quick and easy (especially when you finagle 2 nieces to help you) and can be filled with just about anything. Common fillings are whipped cream, pastry cream, custard, fruit but I wanted use ice cream so that we could have a variety to choose from.

March 2019 Fam DinPLUS it gave me the perfect segue to bring in the colors of Mardi Gras based on the ice cream flavor:

March 2019 Fam Din
Since I didn’t make the ice creams (or gelato) myself, I felt compelled to make a chocolate sauce from Bouchon to drizzle over the tops. This WAS in honor of Fat Tuesday!

We created an assembly line where Nini filled the choux with ice cream, I drizzled the chocolate sauce and Luna topped them with matching sprinkles. Teamwork makes the dream work….especially when it’s this yummy.

And no surprises here but the the King Cake was not missed.

March 2019 Fam DinAnd guess what we did after we ate all of that?

We spent over an hour watching YouTube videos of people traveling all over Asia eating delicious (and sometimes crazy looking) foods. We’ve got some issues, I know.

I’m just going to call it research.

March 2019 Fam Din
Until next time Friends….Cheers! ❤

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This Month’s Family Dinner Menu

Cocktails: Various Wines
Appetizers: Crab Beignets with Rémoulade
Entree: Crawfish Étouffée, Southern Fried Catfish
Sides: Cornmeal Fried Okra, Rice
Dessert: Profiteroles filled with Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

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Seafood · Vietnamese

Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

Cá Nướng is a really common Vietnamese dish of roasted fish. And although it’s most often made with catfish because of its firm and somewhat fatty flesh, you can use any fish that can hold up to high heat while still staying moist.

When given the choice, I recommend roasting a whole fish. Not only does it help retain moisture but you’ll almost always get a better flavor when you cook your proteins bone-in.

Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

This is when it’s so nifty to have a trusted fishmonger — or in my case, an Asian grocery store, nearby. The latter almost always has live catfish on hand (so you’ll know it’s super fresh) and both options can do the dirty work for you –which I totally appreciate as I hate cleaning fish.

And don’t be surprised to see your once silver/black catfish “turn” white when it comes back cleaned for you. Many fishmongers will scrub the catfish skin to remove the dark outer layer. Although it’s completely edible, the darker skin does make your fish taste a tad “fishier” so the extra scrub down is a good thing.

Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

I’ve adopted my eldest seester’s method of preparing Cá Nướng which is not only easy to do but is rather simple when seasoning the fish. A lot of folks will use a variety of aromatics and spices to marinate it. But since you’ll typically dunk the roasted fish into a nước chấm (dipping sauce), you can stick with a minimal preparation before cooking the fish as the sauce will provide the extra flavor punch.

Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

Cá Nướng can be served over rice, with vermicelli noodles, inside a bánh mì (sandwich) or how we typically like it —cuốn bánh tráng (wrapped in rice paper).

The rolls are filled with tons of fresh herbs and veggies that when combined with the roasted fish, is absolutely amazing. They have tons of different textures, knock-out flavor and are deliciously light on the tummy.

Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

Serving your Cá Nướng as spring rolls is also a fantastic way to entertain family-style and would be a prefect al fresco dining option during the upcoming warm months. Your guests will love making their own rolls and adding their favorite items inside.

And don’t let the ingredients list and recipe fool you. It may seem like a lot of different components but it’s not difficult at all. You can also prepare many of the components in advance to cut down on prep time.

Easy and delish……Total Nguyen-Win!

 

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Cá Nướng {Vietnamese Roasted Fish}

Ingredients:

¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup chopped scallions
1 whole catfish (2-3 pounds), cleaned/scaled with head removed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 scallions stalks
½ cup fried shallots
¼ cup roughly chopped peanuts
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves

For Nước Chấm dipping sauce:
¼ cup nước mắm (fish sauce)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup  fresh lime juice,
2 tablespoons warm  water,
1 finely minced garlic clove
1 teaspoon chili paste, more to taste

Serve with:
1 package bánh tráng (dried rice paper sheets)
lettuce leaves
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup đồ chua (pickled carrots and daikon slices)
fresh mint leaves
fresh Vietnamese cilantro leaves
fresh Thai basil leaves
whole Thai chiles
lime wedges

Prepare scallion oil (hành mơ):  In a sauté pan, slowly heat the vegetable oil over low. Add the chopped scallions. Cook the scallions until they are wilted but still bright green–approximately 2-3 minutes. Pull from heat and allow the scallion oil to cool until room temperature.

Rinse the fish with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Coat the fish with the scallion oil and season the exterior and interior with the garlic powder, black pepper and kosher salt. Stuff the fish cavity with the scallion stalks and prop it upwards on a baking tray. Allow the fish to marinate for 20 minutes.

While the fish marinates, prepare the nước chấm.  Whisk all the items together in a small bowl. Add chili paste to taste. Set aside.

Roast the fish in an oven heated to 400 degrees F for approximately 25-30 minutes or until the flesh is opaque and cooked through. Turn on the broiler of your oven and broil the fish for about 60-90 seconds to slightly crisp & brown the skin. Remove the fish from the oven and transfer to a platter. Top the fish with the fried shallots, chopped peanuts and cilantro leaves.

To serve the fish as a spring roll (bánh tráng cuốn), dip one rice paper sheet in warm water and place on a plate/flat surface. The rice paper will slowly become pliable. Lay one piece of lettuce in the middle of the sheet and top with some of the fresh herbs, đồ chua, cucumber slices and pieces of the fish. Spoon some of the peanuts and fried shallots on top. Tightly roll the bottom of the rice paper over the mound and then fold the sides in. Continue rolling the rice paper up until you’ve created a secured roll.

Serve the rolls and fish with the nước chấm. Ăn ngon!

 

Seafood · Vietnamese

Cá Kho Tộ {Vietnamese Clay Pot Braised Catfish}

Cá Kho Tộ {Vietnamese Clay Pot Braised Catfish}

Growing up, our daily family dinners typically consisted of rice (cơm) served with a stir-fried dish (món xào), a soup dish (món canh), and sometimes a braised dish (món kho). Pretty standard menu for a Vietnamese meal.

Truthfully, I took it for granted back then as I preferred to have lasagna, McDonald’s or even Dairy Queen for dinner. Hey- I was a little kid growing up in Minnesota after all.

But as I get older, those are the dishes I crave the most–even if I don’t make them too often. One of those nostalgic dishes is Cá Kho – braised fish. There’s a ton of variations to Cá Kho and it can change depending on the household. I like it two ways–the first in a very salty broth that you eat with vermicelli noodles or Cá Kho Tộ where the fish is braised in a salty sweet sauce.

Cá Kho Tộ {Vietnamese Clay Pot Braised Catfish}

Cá Kho Tộ is traditionally made with catfish and uses a combination of nước màu (caramel sauce), tons of fish sauce, shallots and coconut juice. Although it’s meant to be cooked in a claypot (tộ), you can use any heavy bottom pot that you have on hand.

We use Coco Rico (coconut soda) in a lot of our kho dishes in lieu of coconut juice but if you can’t find it at your local ethnic grocery store, the latter should work out fine. You can also substitute the catfish for salmon, seabass or any fatty fish that can hold up to braising.

Cá Kho Tộ {Vietnamese Clay Pot Braised Catfish}

Once done, the fish is really tender and I love to spoon the thick, salty/sweet sauce over rice. So good! But just a suggestion, be sure to turn on your kitchen fan while you’re cooking up cá kho because the aroma can be a bit strong. 🙂

Ăn Ngon, Folks!

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Cá Kho Tộ {Vietnamese Clay Pot Braised Catfish}
Serves 4

Ingredients:

salt
2 pounds catfish steaks, washed and patted dried
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1/4 cup diced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped scallions, divided
3 tablespoons fish sauce, more to taste
2 tablespoons nước màu, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 ounces Coco Rico soda
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks
3-4 red Thai chiles, more to taste
fresh cilantro leaves

Liberally sprinkle salt over the catfish steaks. Rub the salt all over the fish and rinse off with cool water. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. The salt “exfoliate” is a great way to clean fish and other meats.

Place the washed fish into a large bowl. Add in the palm sugar, shallots, garlic, all but 1 tablespoon of scallions, fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of nước màu and black pepper. Coat the fish well in the marinade and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the fish and allow to marinate for 45 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large clay pot or other heavy bottom pot. Place the catfish steaks in a single layer and sear 1 minute on each side. Pour all the marinade over the fish, the remaining nước màu and the Coco Rico soda. Add the ginger, chiles and allow the liquids to come to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes. Gently flip the catfish steaks halfway through the cooking time.

Once the fish has cooked through and the sauce has reduced and thickened, taste and add more fish sauce as needed. Sprinkle the remaining scallions, additional chiles (to taste), and cilantro leaves on top. Serve warm with rice.