Tag Archives: Recipe Development

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

When people ask me about my website, I explain that the name comes from a love of eating – the Gourmand part – and a love of trying new things – the Experimental part.  Both of these are combined in this post about making Vietnamese Spring Rolls.  I don’t remember the first time that I ate them, but they are one of my favorite things to order at Vietnamese restaurants.

How to wrap a Vietnamese Spring Roll

The burning hot rolls come straight from the fryer to the table where you pick one up and wrap it in a cool, crisp lettuce leaf sprinkled with citrusy cilantro and refreshing mint.  Before you take that first bite, dunk it into the spicy, sweet, peanut-y sauce that is served on the side.  Then, eat it.  You get meaty, crunchy, green, spicy, hot, and herby tastes all going on at once.  Your senses and your tongue are perked up and brought to life as your brain just utters the word, “YUM.”  They are completely addictive.

Vietnamese Spring Roll ready to eat

Inspired by the cooking course that I mentioned I’d taken earlier this summer, I took a few of the recipes that I saw on line and fiddled around with them to get what I think is a very approximate version of this dish.  Unfortunately, as you can see, I haven’t yet mastered the frying part to get the solid crispy crunch of the exterior shell that you get in the restaurant versions.  I guess I’ll just have to keep making batches of them until I get it right!

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Prep Time: 30-ish minutes

Serving Size: 12 rolls


1/4 c. Bean Thread Noodles

5 large Shrimp (16-count* is fine), peeled and deveined

1/4 lb. Ground Pork

1 medium Carrot, minced

3 large Shitake Mushrooms, minced

1 Tbsp. minced fresh Basil leaves

1 Tbsp. Ultimate Fish Sauce Spicy Garlic**

Handful of Cilantro leaves (not stems)

Handful of fresh Mint leaves

Red leaf Lettuce

12 Rice Paper Wrappers (see photo)

Canola or Peanut Oil for frying

Dipping sauce

3 Tbsp. Ultimate Fish Sauce Spicy Garlic Extreme**

1 Tbsp. Rice Wine Vinegar

1/2 tsp. Simple Syrup

1 Tbsp. chopped Peanuts


Put dry bean thread noodles in a bowl and pour boiling water over them to soften.  While waiting for this to take place, put pork in a separate bowl.  Chop up shrimp finely.  I recommend using a knife to do this rather than a food processor, as that can make a paste of the shrimp meat, and this recipe needs for it to have some texture.  Put shrimp in the same bowl as the pork.

Chopped shrimp and ground pork

Check the bean thread noodles.  They should be soft and flexible, sort of like jellyfish tentacles.  Chop them roughly with a knife; they don’t have to be really small pieces.  Then, add the chopped mushrooms, carrots, basil, and bean thread noodles to the bowl with the meat.

Chopped vegetables, basil, and noodles

Pour in fish sauce.  The fish sauce I used in this recipe is a brand that I found at the Hester Street Fair.  The ingredient list to make this same sauce is at the bottom of this post.  Mix in the fish sauce with the meat and vegetables until everything is well combined.

Spring Roll Filling

Count out 12 of the rice paper wrappers.  Fill a shallow bowl or dish with warm water.

Rice Paper Wrappers

Soak one of the wrappers in the water for about 30 seconds.  Remove it and place it on the board or a towel making sure to get it as flat as possible.  Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling about 1/3 the way from one edge of the wrapper.

Lay out the wrapper and add filling

Then, make the first roll of the wrapper, taking the short edge and carefully lifting it up and over all of the filling ingredients.  Take care to roll these tightly and not to overstuff them, as they will need to cook all the way through during the frying part of the process.

The first roll

Before making the next roll forward, tuck in both sides of the wrapper, making sure to push all the filling ingredients together so that nothing is sticking out too far.  Then roll it forward.

Tuck in sides and filling ingredients

Continue to roll forward about one to two more times, keeping the ingredients and the sides tucked in tightly.  This will keep the roll from falling apart and the filling intact when frying it.

Finish by rolling up the whole wrapper

Continue with the rest of the wrappers and the ingredients.  Make the dipping sauce by whisking together the fish sauce, vinegar, simple syrup, and peanuts.  Prepare the lettuce leaves, cilantro, and mint and put on a serving platter or plate.  Put dipping sauce into shallow bowls and put it and the lettuce and herbs on the table ready to be served.

Spring roll dipping sauce

Heat canola or peanut oil in a wok or skillet.  Put 2-3 rolls in at a time, making sure not to let them touch each other.  Turn them to make sure that they cook on all sides.  This will take about 5 minutes or so.  Take cooked spring rolls out of the oil and briefly drain on paper towels before serving them hot and crispy.

Spring rolls served hot with condiments

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

I really like using the prepared fish sauce indicated in the recipe for its balance of flavors and its mild kick, but you can make something similar to it using the following ingredients:

Take 1 Tbsp. Asian fish sauce, 1 clove of garlic, and 1/2 tsp. light brown sugar and dissolve it to make the 1 Tbsp. called for in the filling.

For the dipping sauce, use 2 Tbsp. Asian fish sauce, 1 clove of garlic, 1/4 tsp. light brown sugar, and 1/2 Thai red chili de-seeded and very finely chopped.

Thai-inspired Chicken Skewers

Last month, when I was at the Fancy Food Show, I had a chance to check out a few new products in Schoolhouse Kitchen‘s range.  I’m a huge fan of their jams, chutneys, and mustards, which combine top-quality ingredients to make bold and innovative flavors.  They are perfect for cooking with as well as for slathering on breads and meats to make delicious sandwiches and snacks.  Their new Coconut Citrus Vinaigrette is a fantastic addition to their product line.

It is deeply flavorful with a smooth texture from the coconut milk, a dash of spice from the curry, and a zing of citrus shining throughout.  The tastes are all so well balanced and would be perfect for drizzling over a salad of seasonal summer greens.  For me, this brought back memories of eating Thai Chicken Skewers.  I’d taken a cooking course in Asian cuisine a few weeks prior to the show, and when I compared my notes for the recipe with the ingredients on the label of this vinaigrette, I realized that Schoolhouse Kitchen had created almost the exact same mixture that I could use in my own home kitchen.

When I ran into Wendy, the president of the company, at the Ice Cream Beer Social at Jimmy’s No. 43 last week, we talked about my sending her a recipe for these, using her vinaigrette.  I’ve contributed a couple of recipes to her website that I made with their chutneys, and I always want to try to find more ways of using their products.  This recipe has little prep time, minus the marinade part, and a very short cooking time, so I put it on the list of Weeknight Suppers.  Add peanut dipping sauce and some greens or a Pad Thai, and it is an easy meal for a hot summer’s night or for any time you’d like to take a trip to the Far East.

Thai-inspired Chicken Skewers

Prep time: 30 minutes; 1.5 hours with marinade time

Serving size: 8 skewers; serves 8 as appetizers or 4-6 as main meal


1/2 c. Schoolhouse Kitchen Coconut Citrus Vinaigrette

2 cloves Garlic, smashed and chopped finely

1 1/2-inch piece of Ginger, grated

2 tsp. Fish Sauce

4 boneless skinless Chicken breast halves (2 whole breasts)

8 long Bamboo Skewers

1 tsp. Canola oil

1 Tbsp. minced Cilantro (optional garnish)


Mix together the ingredients for the marinade.  Add the garlic, ginger, and fish sauce to the Coconut Citrus Vinaigrette and stir to combine.  Pour the mixture into a shallow dish large enough for the meat to be in one layer.

Grating ginger

Cut chicken into approximately 2-3 inch long and 1/2 inch thick pieces.  The best way to slice the meat is to cut it across the grain, as in the photo below.

Cutting chicken

Put the chicken into the dish with the marinade and toss it around to make sure that all of the pieces are coated in the liquid.  Leave this at room temperature for one hour to allow the marinade to infuse into the meat.  Turn the meat once at about the 30 minute mark so that both sides are coated with the liquid.  If making this several hours ahead of cooking time, cover the chicken and marinade and place it in the refrigerator instead of leaving it out at room temperature.

Soaking the Skewers

Thirty minutes prior to cooking the chicken, put the skewers in a pan or dish and cover them completely with water to soak them thoroughly before using them.  This will keep them from burning while the meat is cooking on the grill.

Chicken on skewers

When the chicken has finished marinading and the skewers are done soaking, thread the meat onto the skewers to prepare them to cook.  In the photo above, I probably crowded the meat too much, but you can see how the meat is threaded through the sharp end of the skewer and pushed to the bottom (flat end), like making shish kebab.

Cooking the skewers

Heat up a grill pan drizzled with canola oil or fire up an outdoor grill.  Lay the skewers in a single row, like in the photo above, to cook for 3-4 minutes on the first side.  When the edges of the chicken look done, i.e., the edges have gone from pink to beige, turn the skewers over and cook for 3-4 minutes on the second side.  As the meat has been sliced thinly, it will cook rather quickly.

Thai-inpired Chicken Skewers

When the meat is cooked through on both sides, remove to a plate or serving platter.  Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, if using.  Serve with peanut sauce on the side.

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

As a way of introducing new people to their products and to how easy it is to use them creatively in cooking meals for their families, the folks at Schoolhouse Kitchen have a well-curated recipes and serving suggestions section on their site. These are a great inspiration for anyone looking to perk up their usual weekly meal rotation.  Hopefully, you’ll also find a new favorite dish using one of these terrific products!

Sour Cream Chicken Nachos

It’s a bit over a week until the Superbowl, and I’m sure that your party menu is already planned, if you are doing one.  As promised, here’s an additional post with a recipe using another of Brooklyn Salsa Company‘s products.  I’ve been having a great time this week making a couple of different dishes with their salsa, and I’ve passed out some hints to friends about other ideas for meals to make with a few of their flavors.  My giveaway of their 5 Borough salsa pack is to give some lucky winner the chance to try them all.

The Staten Island salsa with its tomatillo and tomato roots provides the flavor base for these Sour Cream Chicken Nachos (photo below).  The first time I had these was when I went to Texas to visit a friend from college.  It was love at first bite with the spicy chicken, cool sour cream, gooey cheese, and crunchy tortilla chips.  Back in Virginia, we didn’t really have much Tex-Mex.  I’d eaten tacos with packaged seasoning and shells from a box, but that was about as far as anything resembling Mexican food ever got.  Well, except for the Chili con Queso I mentioned previously.

The giveaway!

I’d even had something that I can only now call deconstructed tacos, with all the components laid out on a table.  Originally, that idea came from someone’s Girl Scout camping trip, I believe, and went by the name of “Fork Tacos” in our house.  This drives my sister-in-law completely crazy because you scoop up the meat and toppings with a tortilla chip and not a fork.  It’s an existential argument, but she can dispute the point for hours.  I’ve actually been around when this has happened.

This is a perfect dish to make to get your Superbowl party started.  You can pull a big plate of these together and let everyone just dig in for themselves, serving them with cool, creamy, citrusy Guacamole.  The chicken can even be prepared the day before (just pack it up with some extra sauce to keep it tender).  This recipe came about in part because I was trying to make Enchiladas Suizas.  They didn’t really come out all that great, but I had all this leftover meat.  I really actually prefer nachos anyway with the crunch of the chips as a contrast to the soft, gooey toppings, so I changed the recipe around, which I think came out better in the end anyway.

Sour Cream Chicken Nachos

Prep Time: About 30 minutes, more like 45 if you need to poach the chicken
Serving Size:  As many nachos as you can fit on a plate!

1 Tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
1/2 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely minced
1/4 c. white onion, minced
2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded*
1 c. Brooklyn Salsa Company Staten Island salsa
1 Tbsp. Brooklyn Salsa Company Brooklyn salsa (optional, I just wanted more heat)
1/4 c. water
1 c. chicken stock (or chicken poaching water*)
1/4 tsp. salt
Tortilla chips, your favorite brand
Sour cream
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Heat oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven.  Put jalapeno and onion into pan and let cook over medium heat until softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Take care not to let them get browned or burnt.  Add chicken and salsa and stir to incorporate.  Pour in chicken stock and water.  Bring mixture to a boil and then turn the heat down to let it simmer.

Cook for about 15 minutes, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed into the meat.  If you are not going to use this right away, store the chicken in the liquid so that it doesn’t dry out.  If you want to make enchiladas at this step, this is the perfect stage to stop as well, as there will be plenty of sauce to make them.

If making nachos, cook for about 5 minutes more at this point to have most of the liquid absorbed into the meat, as you don’t want soggy nachos.  Turn off the heat.  Add salt and stir.  Taste for seasoning.  The chicken should have some heat as a backnote but should really just be flavorful and have a bright punchy taste to it.  If you would like more heat, add some additional salsa at this point and stir.

Assemble nachos.  This might have to be done in a couple of batches.  Put tortilla chips in a single layer on a large microwaveable plate or platter.  Place a dollop of the chicken mixture on each chip.  Dot each chip with sour cream, probably no more than 1/8-1/4 tsp. per chip.  Then, sprinkle a bit of cheese on each chip to cover it.  Put in microwave for about 15 seconds on high to melt the cheese.  (I just use the “Reheat” button on mine which seems to be enough time.)  Serve immediately along with Guacamole.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
I poached a couple of chicken breasts for this recipe, as I had them on hand, but you can use any parts.  To cook (poach) them, I put them in a Dutch oven along with a couple of bay leaves and a couple of slices of white onion.  Then I poured enough water over them to cover them. I brought the water up to a slow boil and then turned it down a bit to a simmer.  After about 20 minutes (check after 15), the chicken should be cooked through and no longer pink inside.

Remove chicken from the pan and set aside to cool before shredding it.  Put a sieve over a glass, heatproof measuring cup and pour the liquid from the pan through the sieve into the cup.  This liquid will go back in to the pot when cooking the chicken with the salsa.  This way, you don’t lose any chicken flavor in the dish.  Take the onion that you used to cook the chicken and chop that up finely to use as the onion for the above recipe.

Chili con Queso and Guacamole for Game Day

Today is the big playoff game for New York with the Jets taking on the Patriots this afternoon.  I don’t have any stake in this match-up or in any of the teams that will eventually make it to the Superbowl this year.  What I’ve been thinking about lately, no surprises here, is what great food I can bring to a game-watching party.  As it’s unlikely I’ll be hosting the whole thing, I’ve been toying around with some portable pre-meal snacking options.

It might sound a bit naff, but I really like the Tex-Mex classics, even though I know that they might not represent authentic Mexican cuisine, which I also do enjoy.  They were the way that I first learned about these flavors, which were completely foreign to my generic 1970s-80s upbringing.  One of the things I probably first ate was Chili con Queso.  I used to love to order it when we went out, but I never seem to do so now.

Chili con Queso

For a game day party, however, I think it is the perfect thing to offer to your guests.  It’s gooey, rich, cheesy, with a punchy spiciness.  Frankly, when I was testing this recipe, I forgot how much I enjoyed it and how addictive it can be.  Why did I ever stop eating it?  Paired with another version of Guacamole that I also created to go along with it, these two things should keep your hungry hoards satisfied, no matter who ends up winning the match.

Chili con Queso

Prep time: about 15 minutes
Serving Size: Depends upon your group

8 oz. Cream Cheese
1 1/2 cup Cheddar / Monterey Jack Cheese mix (or plain Cheddar)
1/3 to 1/2 cup Brooklyn Salsa Company’s Brooklyn Salsa (or your favorite)*

In bottom half of double boiler, bring about 1 inch of water to the boil.  Put in the top half of the boiler and add the cream cheese, stirring until it becomes smooth and creamy, rather than being a solid block.  Add the cheddar / monterey jack cheeses and stir until they melt completely into the cream cheese.  Pour in 1/3 c. of the salsa and stir thoroughly to blend together with the cheeses.  Add more salsa as necessary to taste.  Serve immediately, garnished with tortilla chips for dipping.  This can be made in advance and re-heated.

*The salsa that I recommend, which can be found several places in New York or on line, is their hottest one, so proceed accordingly and add the lower amount first, bringing the dip up to your desired level of spiciness by gradually adding more.  If you prefer, substitute a less spicy version and add more salsa to the cheeses to give the dip its kick.


Prep time: about 15 minutes

Serving Size: Depends upon your group
2 ripe Avocados
1 Jalapeno, finely minced
1/3 cup White Onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp. ground Cumin
1/4 tsp. ground Coriander
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh Cilantro, finely chopped
1 Lime, juice of, plus wedges for garnish
Peel and mash avocados in medium bowl leaving some chunks, if desired.  Add jalapeno and onion and stir to incorporate.  Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly.  Allow to sit for at least an hour, covered before, serving with tortilla chips.
Buon appetito!

This entry is also cross-posted at Blogher.