The Kids Cook Monday – April 25, 2011 “Food and Culture – Bahn It Tran”

This story is from the past, but it’s relevant because my daughter and I are cooking Bahn it Tran (Sticky Rice Dumplings) tonight. Here is tonight’s product. 

Most people would never realize that I am half-Vietnamese, and when I cook, people would gather that I am from European heritage. Growing up we had a lot of Vietnamese food on special occasions but normal American food during the week. As I grew up and learned to cook, I wanted to cook French food. To this day I will still cook food with an European twist. I never felt the need to cook Vietnamese food since my mom does such a great job and she makes enough to feed the entire Silicon Valley.

Through Twitter, I ran into a young Vietnamese couple that have a blog devoted to authentic Vietnamese cooking. It really inspired me to start cooking more Vietnamese food since I do like to eat it. At the same time I also want to teach my daughter different styles of cooking. My daughter is Vietnamese, El Salvadoran, Mexican, and Caucasian. She can learn so much of her ethnic background through the different styles of cooking.

The first recipe that we tried is relatively easy, but it does require patience. Here is the recipe from Hong and Kim: You can follow them on Facebook or on Twitter (@ravenouscouple)

I really enjoyed making these dumplings and I plan to make them again for future dinner parties and for lunches during the week.


  • The dough is critical. Don’t add too much water because you will think it’s not coming together, but it does.
  • Keep your hands well floured to prevent the dough to sticking to your hands. I used latex gloves and rubbed my hands together with flour.
  • Use a small spoon to place the filling in the bun. You will need both hands to wrap the dough around the filling and you don’t want any of the filling on the outside.
  • After the wrapping the dumpling around the filling, I coated the dumpling with a little flour and rolled them in my hand to get a consistent roundness.
  • Use pork belly, jowl(cheek), or shoulder for the pork. Leaner cuts may dry out.
  • Do not over marinate the meat or shrimp. A little goes a long way and you can easily blow out the ingredients if you use too much.

If you want your children to help, the dough process is a great place for them. The dough is extremely pliable and kids can get crazy with it without fear of getting sick. No eggs or ingredients that would be subject to salmonella. To be honest, the package of flour is so cheap, buy an extra package and mix in the water. Split it evenly among the kids and let them play away with the play-do like flour. For Alessandra, she helped me mix the dough and make one dumpling. Next time, I will have her make a couple of dumplings. Perfection is not a requirement as long as she enjoys the process and is proud of what she does.

For the sauce, it’s 1 part soy sauce, 1 part rice vinegar, and a dash of sesame oil. You can mix in a little green onion, or if you want some heat, thinly slice a small seeded Serrano chile.

It felt really good to cook Vietnamese and I plan to do more cooking this weekend. It’s very inexpensive to cook, it’s enjoyable, and it allows my daughter and I to spend time together while learning about an ethnic dish.


The Kids Cook Monday – April 18, 2011 “The Menu”

My daughter makes me laugh, and at the same time, she inspires me. One of her latest joke’spirations was that she loves calling our kitchen and dining table the restaurant, and I am the “Cooker”.  I wish I could record a video of her exaggerated voice ladeled with youthful enthusiasm. At the same time it  got me to thinking, “let’s pretend our kitchen is a restaurant, and let’s make eating at home just as special as eating out.” My daughter’s food requirements are fairly  consistent, so I created a menu that had four choices that were fairly easy to do in a short amount of time.

We showed the guest of honor her menu while she sat at the table and her four choices of what to have for dinner. She felt special to make her own choice of what she wanted for dinner.  For this menu we had miso soup, mac and cheese, cappellini, and short ribs.  Every item is home made with no sacrificing of food quality. Alessandra choose Mac & Cheese with the snap peas, and the great thing about this recipe allows for a young child to help.

The following is the recipe used for Alessandra.

55 grams good quality cheddar cheese, cut into small pieces.

25 grams gruyere cheese, cut into small chunks

pecorino romano or parmesan cheese for sprinkling

50 grams milk separated by two 25 grams amounts

bread crumbs (optional)

90 grams of elbow pasta

For the child, let them cut up the cheddar cheese and gruyere into little pieces, but keep them separated. Precision is not needed since we are melting the cheeses into a sauce and Alessandra really loves this step. Children can also add the milk to the pot (under supervision). Start salted water to boil on high and begin cooking the pasta in a hot boiling pot of water. Meanwhile, in a non-stick pan place the cheddar cheese and 25 grams of milk on medium-low heat. Once the mixture is fully melted and mixed, we can then add the gruyere into the mix and stir constantly until the cheese is fully cooked through. Add the remaining milk, and occasionaly stir into the cheese sauce to fully incorporate. You are done after the mixture reduces by a third, keep warm. Total time less than 10-15 minutes.

Once the pasta is almost fully cooked, drain from the hot water. You have two choices to finish this dish, bake or stove top. Option one, you can pour the cheese sauce on the pasta, add bread crumbs, mix well, and spread evenly in a Pyrex baking dish. Broil in the oven at 350 for about 5 – 10 minutes to finish.  Option two, is to pour the cheese sauce on the hot pasta, stir, and then serve. Making sure that the pasta sauce is evenly coated on the macaroni.

This version will have texture, taste, and richness you don’t find in store-bought mixes. Plus, it was a big hit at “the restaurant”.

Side benefit, it will make going out to eat easier since the children are getting a restaurant experience at home.

2008 Ex Umbris Syrah from Owen Roe

On New Years Eve we had a bottle of Gramercy Cellars 2007 Syrah as our wine for dinner. As luck would have it, the Somelier was our waiter who was also a big fan of Columbia Valley, WA wines. He also recommended Owen Roe and a host of other local wines. I recently had a bottle of the 2008 Ex Umbris Syrah; cost $24/bottle. Columbia Valley is truly blessed with some great soil and terrain because the wines coming from this region are making me think twice about local wines from Napa. Yes, I prefer the wines from Washington over many of the wines from Napa.

The 2008 Ex Umbris Syrah was very smooth and equally bold with a lovely finish to every sip. When I have a bottle that tastes great from the first drink to the last, I really like it and this bottle was one of the few that had my immediate approval. I immediately wanted another bottle, and look forward to when I have another bottle of this wine paired with some mangalitsa pork filled ravioli. I highly recommend this wine for any occasion. Wine Spectator gives it a rating of 92 and a drink date up to 2014.


The Kids Cook Monday – April 11, 2011 “The Dairy Factory”

Genetics is a funny thing. My sweet tooth was definitely passed down to my daughter Alessandra as we both love ice cream and sweets. We don’t eat it very often, but we do like it a lot. Over the weekend we purchased an ice cream maker to make our very own ice cream at home for fun and for control of the ingredients. After making two types of ice cream, I can say that this was the best $50 I spent in a long time. It’s so easy, and the best part is the ice cream tastes very good and you can adjust how much sugar or other ingredients you put into the ice cream.

The first batch was vanilla ice cream, using a recipe from Avec Eric’s (Eric Ripert) cookbook. The flavor of a real vanilla bean is amazing. This recipe is a very rich custard based ice cream, but the sugar is quite low. Only 10 tablespoons of sugar, far less than many other recipes. Here is the best part, you can subtract the sugar content to your desire. Nobody is going to stop you, and that is the beauty of cooking at home. This was our test batch, and it was the best vanilla ice cream I have ever had. Using only milk, powdered non-fat instant milk, one vanilla bean, a little cream, egg yolks, and some sugar it was great. We froze the ice cream after we pulled it from the ice cream maker and enjoyed several hours later.

Next project was something a little healthier and something specifically for Alessandra. She likes strawberry yogurt so we planned to make a strawberry frozen yogurt using a David Lebovitz recipe. You can find the recipe here:

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt – David Lebovitz
About 1 quart (1l)

French yogurt is astoundingly good and I suggest you use a good-quality, whole milk or Greek-style yogurt for best results.

1 pound (450g) strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
1 cup (240g) plain whole milk yogurt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring every so often.

Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and fresh lemon juice. Pulse the machine until the mixture is smooth. If you wish, press mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any seeds.

Chill for 1 hour, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Very easy to make, and you can adjust the sugar to your taste. This was our first batch using the recipe so we stayed true to it, and it’s very good. (In the next batch I am going to reduce the sugar by 25% to see how a low sugar version tastes). The fresh strawberries make it so good and it really makes a difference. We did strain the yogurt and strawberry mix to take out the seeds to resemble ice cream.

After she cut the strawberries she lost some interest in cooking this evening. I think a tough day at school for Alessandra made for a tired afternoon. Plus, how many 4 year olds want to cook on a weekday? Never-the-less, she wanted to keep on going. she poured the sugar on the strawberries and stirred with a determined grip, and then shook the bowl to blend the sugar and strawberries together to coat the fruit. Alessandra came back after the mixture rested, and saw the lovely strawberry juice she helped create. 

When we blended the yogurt, lemon juice, and strawberries in food processor she came alive. The cyclone of strawberries was mesmerizing for her, and she just cracked up with an honest laugh. Watching her blend the strawberry yogurt together was so cute and I never get tired of her being excited and having fun. Afterwards, she mentioned that “she was happy because she was cooking”.  The numerous tastes of strawberry didn’t hurt either. 🙂 A great couple of days in the kitchen with Alessandra.

The Budding Cook

  The Strawberry Yogurt   The Finished Product

The Kids Cook Monday – April 4, 2011 – “Gluten Free Cupcakes” and “Broccoli”

This weekend was my daughter’s 4-year-old birthday party and we celebrate Alessandra’s birthday like there was no tomorrow. Probably with more enthusiasm than even Christmas. This day changed our lives for the better and we love seeing our princess as the center of attention. Invited to her party was her entire class at school, and many other friends. In all, 23 kids were there to celebrate. Fun times!!

There are two girls in her class that require a gluten-free diet because their families all have celiac disease. Even though Alessandra was the guest of honor, we still provided the two children and the mom their own gluten-free cupcakes instead of cake. Recipes are plentiful, many bakeries make them, and store-bought gluten-free cupcake mix are also available at many stores. Baking with children is a ton of fun, and frosting the cup cake using a piping bag makes it even more interactive. Call it just a cupcake, but these girls normally have to watch other kids eat when they go to a birthday party. They sat next to Alessandra while she cut her cake they were so happy, and our daughter was proud in making somebody else happy through food.

The second part of this week’s post is about choices. After the big birthday bash weekend and cooking for our guests over the weekend, Alessandra wanted to go out to eat. We cook a majority of the time at home, but we do go out once in a while. One of the cutest things about Alessandra is that we both like eating at a restaurant than taking it home via take out. After picking her up from school, she needed new shoes and to the shock of the sales associate at checkout she told him that she was going to eat “only broccoli” for dinner. We are so blessed. Unless we go to a nicer restaurant, sometimes you have no idea of what you are eating. We went to a Hawaiian fast food restaurant, and I let her order whatever she wanted…

Here is dinner:

Yes, we didn’t cook tonight but this wouldn’t be much different from cooking at home. In all, we had a great time talking at dinner, we made funny faces at each other, and she ate a lot of food. Alessandra got to eat out, and I felt good that she made good food decisions without my help. I cannot complain that we got to spend quality time together too.

Have a great week!