Sunday, November 17, 2013

Viet Staple: Nuoc Mam (Dipping Sauce)

Fish sauce (nuoc mam) is to Vietnamese people like ketchup is to Americans. It's our condiment of choice. Really, it's not even a condiment, it is a main ingredient!

While the bottle of fish sauce usually sits in a kitchen cabinet, what usually sits in the fridge? A diluted version that is sweet, spicy, salty, and sour. Some people call it "nuoc mam cham" but in my household growing up, we just call it "nuoc mam" -- I guess it's because we knew we wanted the diluted sauce depending on what we were eating, e.g. banh xeo, banh cuon.

My mom's fridge always has two jars of prepared fish sauce at the ready. I mean, we use the stuff A LOT. And when you're making it, it's just easier to make a huge batch since you don't want your house smelling like cooked fish sauce all the time.

So what do you usually this sauce for? Most Viet folks already know, but in case you don't, here are the normal uses:

Broken rice plate (com tam bi). This plate is from Vietnam and the nuoc mam is in the little plastic baggies. 

Banh cuon (rice rolls)!

Banh xeos also need a dipping sauce! Especially this jumbo one.

We also use it for vermicelli bowls and dips for spring rolls and eggrolls.

Every family has their recipe for the ubiquitous dipping sauce but I'm obviously partial to my mom's recipe. I think it's a good balance of salty, sweet and tangy. It's also a "cooked" version.

When you are making this, make sure your kitchen is well ventilated because it is PUNGENT! You've been warned.

Nuoc mam "cham"

1 cup fish sauce (I use the Squid brand to make this sauce)
2 cups water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 lime (cut into suprêmes - basically the meat of the lime)
5-10 garlic cloves minced (add or take away depending on your affinity to garlic)
2-5 thai bird chilis sliced(add or take away depending on how spicy you like it)


1. Place the fish sauce, water, sugar and vinegar into a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.

2. While the fish sauce is "cooking," put the lime segments, garlic and chilis into a mortar (if you have one). Use the pestle to smush it all up.

Lime before cutting it into supremes.


Lime supremes in... 

then tons of garlic...

Thai bird chilis from my garden. Make sure you wash your hands after handling these guys.

Everyone into the container...

I don't have a mortar and pestle, so I use a small bowl (in this case, my pyrex) and the end of a dowel to smush it. Fancy, I know.

3. Taste the sauce to see if the flavor profiles are to your liking. Add more water if you like it less salty, more sugar if you prefer a sweeter version, etc.
Note: I usually end up using 2 1/2 cups of water and 1-2 tablespoons extra of sugar.

4. Add the mixed lime/garlic/chili mixture to the fish sauce pot. Let it sit for 5 minutes over a low heat to mellow out the garlic flavor.

5. Taste the mixture again and adjust to your liking. 

6. Allow the sauce to cool before you put it up in the fridge. I put mine in a Lock-N-Lock! You don't want this stuff spilling/leaking in your fridge. It keeps indefinitely in the fridge.

Great amber color and tons of garlic, chilis and lime!

When you're ready to serve the sauce, just add a dollop of chili garlic sauce and you're ready to go!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dixie Cup Virgins!

If there's an excuse for me to go to Houston for the weekend, you know I'm all about it. If there's a homebrew competition AND a friend's bachelorette party in Houston the same exact weekend, well Micah and I are definitely there (Micah wasn't allowed to the bachelorette party though, even though he would wear a cop costume for free.).

Really, the only other homebrew competition we've ever been to is Alamo City Cerveza Fest in SA and that's because we were part of the Bexar Brewers when we were there. Micah doesn't actually enter homebrew competitions very often. If he enters, he usually only submits a couple of beers.

Since we hadn't been to the Dixie Cup, we thought we'd check out all the crazy shenanigans. The Houston homebrew club, The Foam Rangers, have been holding Dixie Cup for 30 years. Since this year was XXX, there were a lot of sexy things going on! Sexy costumes, sexy food and sexy beer.

We decided to get into Houston on Friday night to attend the event's potluck dinner as well as the Fred Dinner (beer/food tasting). We had never been to Dixie Cup before but everyone told us that Friday night is the night to go!

What can you expect at homebrew competitions? Lots of beer. They had a nice keg setup in the hospitality room with various craft beers as well as homebrew concoctions.

After the potluck dinner, the Fred Tasting got underway.

 You don't think it's a lot, but it ends being tons of beer!

 Pam kicking off the first round!

Truffle deviled eggs paired with Abbey Monk Wit out of New Mexico! Most of us at the table had never had this beer before and it was actually pretty good, especially with the egg!

Mangoes with lime and garam masala with Southern Star's Walloon Grisette. Interesting combo of spices but the garam masala worked! I think I might actually steal this. The beer is a saison farmhouse style beer. The clove notes in the beer paired nicely with the spices in the mango.

 Chicken wings tossed in spanish paprika and pepper sauce with Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. I love wangs, but this was probably my least favorite dish of the night. The spices weren't that great and the chicken was a little undercooked for my liking. The beer is a hop bomb so it goes well with spicy foods.

Fresh figs roasted in honey and butter served with goat cheese and arugala with Prairie 'Merica. Sorry for the shitty pictures, not sure what happened there. Figs and cheese, you can't go wrong with that.

You can, however, go wrong with the beer we had with it. Ours tasted like cat pee... really. It was funky in the nose and funky in the taste and it wasn't a good funky either. Micah said he's purchased other Prairie Artistan Ales several times recently and haven't had any problems with it.

Beef heart jerky with Schlenkerla Rauchbier! I've eaten beef heart before but not in jerky form. I thought the heart-shaped cheese was a nice touch.

 Yes, I'm enjoying my jerky as well as Micah's portion since he doesn't eat red meat. lame-o.

Kerry gnawing on the jerky.

I'm not a huge fan of smoke beers but the smokiness did pair nicely with the smokiness of the jerky. Micah loves smoked beers!

Sichuan peppercorn peanuts w/ Himalayn pink salt with Independence Bootlegger Brown Ale.
The nuts were perfect! I loved the spice and ease of the dish. We're not huge fans of Independence but if I had to pick one of their beers, I would pick the brown. Mellow and easy to drink.

Frosted cupcakes with cherries, topped with pop rocks with Wasatch Polygamy Porter. I mean, who doesn't like chocolate food with porters? You can't have just one bite or one sip!

 Micah obviously wanted all of the balls.

Last dish was a doozy. Hop and black malt powder coated dark chocolate truffles with Southern Star Buried Hatchet Imperial Stout. Truffles should never be coated in hop powder. It's offensive. The coating left a bitter residual coating in your mouth and every time you thought it was gone, you'd lick you lips and there was still some there. Had to drink a lot of beer afterwards to get the taste out. On the bright side, the imperial stout is always a winner.

Before the night ended, there was some of this! Making it rain pop rocks!

 John Palmer, beer writer and consultant, was also bombed! We actually met John back in SA during a ACCF that he spoke at a few years ago. Great fellow!

Stripper pinata, of course.

On Saturday morning, we got up and went back to the Dixie Cup hotel and sat in on Palmer's water presentation. He has a new book out titled "Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers." 
I was actually going to buy the book for Micah for Christmas but he already had it on pre-order from Amazon! I can't get him anything!!

After Palmer's presentation, the brewer of Alaskan Brewing was there to talk about how they got started and gave us samples of all their beers. 

Their winter ale is made with spruce tips instead of hops. It does the same duty but with a much more mild flavor. I actually really enjoy this beer!

While Micah didn't win any awards at Dixie, we both had a great time!

At least our homebrew club, Austin Zealots, won the Lone Star Circuit this year!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pacific NW Pt. 4: Seattle

Remember the Skagit River bridge that fell into the river back in May? Well, that happened the week before we were supposed to drive to-and-from Seattle/Vancouver. We were able to detour without much trouble and I'm glad we did because there is apple cider to be had on I-5!

You can't miss Cedardale Orchards on the southbound lanes of I-5. It's a bright red building with a huge "CIDER" sign on the roof. I saw it going up to Vancouver and made a mental note to stop off on our way down to Seattle.

When we pulled up, I really thought it was vacant but as I made my way up to the door I realized that it was an unmanned store. They go my the honor system here -- quaint, right?

They have fridges stocked with various sizes of cider. Mind you, this is straight-up apple juice, not the boozy cider.

We grabbed the small jar, dropped a few bucks in the box and made our way back to the freeway.

When I opened up the juice, I knew it was going to be good. The smell was clean, cutting and refreshing. The juice was sweet but with a tart bite. It was divine. This stuff would make amazing hard cider! Too bad I can't get a jug of that stuff here!

When we got into Seattle, we checked into our hotel and headed straight to Alki Beach to meet-up with my cousin and his family. My cousin, Phung, is from Vancouver (remember my aunt from the last trip post? that's his mama) but he now lives in Indiana with his lovely wife Cindy and their two adorable kiddos.

How adorable is their baby Gisele?!

Our attempt at a family portrait. lol. No wonder I don't have any kids.

I haven't seen my cousin in 8 years so it was AMAZING that our vacations aligned and we got to see each other in Seattle! They were actually doing our same trip but flipped (Seattle-->Vancouver-->Portland)!

After Alki Beach, we made our way into Chinatown, got boba tea and perused a Japanese dollar store. My cousin's eldest child finally warmed up to me and let me hold him... he is big boy though! His name is Austin -- and I've been a bad cousin for not sending him a tshirt from Austin that says "keep austin weird."

We were going to go to dinner but my cousin-in-law's relative wanted to have us back over at his house for dinner so we made our way to Issaquah. Really lovely suburb of Seattle - so green, so lush!

We picked up a mixed case of Ninkasi beer (Gisele obviously wanted a taste!) and spent the night hanging around the house munching on fabulous food and talking the night away.


Love these two fools.

The next day we made our way back down to Chinatown to hang out with fellow Lamar alum, Chanh and his family. We got boba tea... again. Why so Asian?!?

The rest of the day we spent hitting up various breweries in the Ballard area.

First up was Reuben's Brews. Their roster mainly consists of rye beers -- which I'm not a huge fan of -- but the beers were clean and malty. There is seating on the main floor and on a second floor.

A few blocks away was Hilliards Beer. We liked this place significantly more than Reuben's.

Their list is much more varied with more interesting beers. One of our faves was the Belgian chocolate dubbel.

Hilliards also has plenty of seating and is right down the street from a mural of Deadliest Catch star, Capt. Phil Harris.

After visiting the breweries, we stopped off at Chinook's at Salmon Bay located at the Fisherman's Terminal for some delicious seafood.

Delicious oyster shooters for $1 a piece! What a steal.

Mussels, calamari and fish tacos all on their happy hour menu. It was perfect.

It is so cool seeing all the boats dock at this location, even from the restaurant!

There is also a memorial dedicated to the fisherman who have lost their live to the sea in the Pacific NW.

Before my trip, I got in touch with Yelp's Seattle Community Manager, Katy H, and she was unbelievably helpful! She sent me a rundown of some her fave places while answering specific questions I had. One place she mentioned was the Pine Box restaurant and bar. It's an old mortuary turned bar. Claim to fame? Bruce Lee's funeral was held here.

The building itself s beautiful... albeit a little creepy when you know the history.


We also managed to find a bottle of Cascade Brewing's Kriek! The brewery in Portland didn't have it, but this place did! It was $25/bottle -- but totally worth it. My face is ridiculous in this pic, ignore me.

That night we had a fabulous late dinner at Wasabi Bistro! Their late-night happy hour is fantastic!

Their miso is one of the best misos I've ever had. Seriously. The umaminess from the mushrooms was amazing.

The fatty pieces of fish were melt-in-your-mouth. Great suggestion from friends!

On our last morning in Seattle, I jogged from our hotel (Silver Cloud Inn on  Lake Union) -- not for my health -- but to the nearest Top Pot donut shop, which happened to be next Amazon headquarters.

I bought myself some coffee and a maple bar and headed lakeside to enjoy my treat.

These geese were also enjoying my treat! I made a mistake and gave them a bite.. I thought they were going to peck my eyes out.

Before we flew out, we stopped off at Public Market for a quick walk-around and some cheese curds at Beecher's. Yum.

Some parting shots of Seattle...