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SEPTEMBER 2008 COTM: Winner is "Vietnamese"

By a bit of a margin, the COTMs for September will be:

INTO THE VIETNAMESE KITCHEN, Andrea Nguyen and PLEASURES OF THE VIETNAMESE TABLE, Mai Pham

There's certainly interest in Cradle of Flavor as well, so hopefully it will come up again in a subsequent month.

MMR

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  1. Thank you, MM! I'm looking forward to this and I like going from one country to another. I'm guessing the Vietnamese cuisine is going to be vastly different than Greek. Can't recall if I've ever had any Vietnamese food....but that's another thread.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      Oh - I think you'll enjoy it. I cooked quite a few Vietnamese dishes from the HSSS book when it was COTM and continue to do so. I think it will be a nice change. My husband and I were talking last night about the fact that we think we could eat just French, Italian or Spanish food for the rest of our lives and be quite content, but based on cooking from the Greek book, we couldn't say the same about Greek food. Despite the many recipes, it seems as if a lot of them strike the few same notes. So last night I pulled out Stitts and Goin for dinner! I am going to make the Greek snail recipe tonight, and goodness knows I have tons of ingredients still to use up!

      1. re: MMRuth

        We definitely agree with you about French, Italian and Spanish foods! However, I would like to delve into Mexican as well; I haven't really cooked much of that cuisine at all. I do have a few more Greek dishes to try, and I must write up last night's entree of Pasta with Tahini Sauce and Carmelized Onions. It really was pretty good - I didn't think DH would like it, but he did!

        Thankfully we have a large Asian market in a neighboring town so I think most of the Vietnamese ingredients will be easy to find. There's a huge inventory of meats and seafood. I'm dying to start!

        1. re: MMRuth

          Wow! Only French, Italian and Spanish? I couldn't live without Chinese food.

            1. re: oakjoan

              Sorry - what I meant was, I could live on only French food, only Italian food or only Spanish food, if I had to, and be quite content. I don't feel that way about Greek food. That's all!

              1. re: MMRuth

                I agree whole-heartedly. I find nutmeg/cinnamon in savory foods to be off-putting.

        2. My copy of Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table" is on the way. Woo hoo! Here is a link to her website and some recipes.

          Lemon Grass Restaurant
          http://www.lemongrassrestaurant.com/c...
          http://www.ichef.com/news.cfm?itemid=...
          Lemongrass Beef Recipe
          http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/...
          Pham's recipes on Epicurious
          http://www.epicurious.com/tools/searc...
          Pham's recipes on Food and Wine.com--pad see yew and chicken soup with jasmine rice and ginger
          http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/pa...
          http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ch...
          Salad
          http://www.recipesource.com/fgv/salad...
          Dipping Sauce and Table Salad
          http://www.mercurynews.com/recipes/ci...

          Andrea Nguyen has a website, too
          http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/

          I really hope to get back into the COTM groove in Sept.

          Thanks MMRuth!

          ~TDQ

          7 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            TDQ - How did you decide which book to get? I need to go look at both of them. Another thing that I recall from the limited Vietnamese cooking that I've done is that there's not a lot of fat, or at least added fat, and that there were not too many special ingredients - I think the only things I've bought in the past were fish sauce, and various rice noodles/rice paper.

            1. re: MMRuth

              Honestly? It was almost entirely for practical reasons. It was widely available used more cheaply than Nguyen's book (because it's older, I think, 2001 vs. 2006). Plus, I took Nguyen's book out of the library about 4-5 months ago and made a note of all the recipes that would fit my core plan, so, that combined with Nguyen's website, I don't feel in a hurry to get ahold of that book again. I've made a promise of sorts to myself that, if I add to my cookbook collection, I will endeavor to buy used books. It's both a budgetary thing and a "save the earth" thing. Now, if halfway through Sept a lot of the COTM participants turn out to love Nguyen's book more than Pham's, I might go out and get a copy of that, too, fickle gal that I am.

              Both books were Beard nominees the year they came out (Nguyen's book lost out to Cradle of Flavor, funnily enough). I figured I couldn't go wrong either way. Both are rated very highly on Amazon, though Nguyen's book had no detractors (out of 18 reviews) and Pham's book had a couple out of 28 reviews. But, the complaint from the Pham's detractors seemed to be that they weren't interested in Pham's personal stories (I am--I adored Dunlop's as it really made the recipes come alive for me. I've been to Southeast Asia, but not Vietnam, so I think knowing more about the context of the recipes would be meaningful to me) and they thought the ingredients were too hard to find and the recipes were too hard. But, I'm not worried about those last two criticisms--the Twin Cities have some amazing Vietnamese markets and I participate in COTM specifically to challenge myself and to grow in cooking technique and ingredient knowledge, with the gentle support and assistance from my fellow (and more knowledgeable and skilled) COTM 'hounds.

              Someone mentioned in one of the Amazon reviews that Pham's book has no photos--I think that's untrue--it's just that the photos are in B&W whereas I recall Nguyen's being in full color. If that's important to you, you might want to confirm the facts on that as it could be a major deciding point.

              I don't know if any of that insight into my personal craziness helps.

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                There's photos in PLEASURES OF THE VIETNAMESE TABLE, Mai Pham
                and some stories too
                I'm a longtime fan of this book - the ginger steamed fish, the lemongrass shrimp (great on a grill), the hanoi shrimp cakes (which also work great as sweet potato only fritters)

                p.s. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/392330
                this thread might be useful for those looking for comparisons of the two books, and info on Nguyen

                1. re: pitu

                  That's a great thread - thanks.

              2. re: MMRuth

                The only special ingredients I've found hard to get are the herbs, some of which aren't available in Britain. Most of the other stuff - fish sauce, rice paper, rice crackers, lemongrass, green papaya - are available in Asian supermarkets. I needed annatto seeds for one recipes, and I found those in a local ethnic store which happened to stock some South American ingredients, as there's a burdgeoning Colombian population round these parts.

                1. re: greedygirl

                  I'm going to try to get into this month's Vietnamese cooking. We live in an area that has many, many Vietnamese restaurants and food stores. To tell the truth, my husband and I used to eat at a couple of places nearby at least twice a week for several years. I also did a fair amount of cooking. At that time I got realllllly sick of star anise and stopped eating at the restaurants and cooking Vietnamese food. That was about 4 or 5 years ago and I am now ready to try again.

                  That said, both of us never stopped being in love with bahn mi, those wonderful sandwiches on sweet french bread rolls, and continued to eat them during all that time.

                  Now I want to learn how to make the fish cakes that they used to serve at a favorite restaurant and which were discontinued...I guess they were too "weird" for the folks who ate there. Does anybody have the books yet? If so, can you tell me if there is a recipe for fish cakes? They're more like fritters - very crispy on the outside.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    There are shrimp cakes in the Mai Pham book, but no fishcakes. You could probably substitute fish for the prawns. I don't have the other book, but there are several COTMers who do.

            2. I'm excited too! We went to Vietnam in March and had some lovely food. Very fresh flavours, and they also do some interesting riffs on French food, thanks to their history. I bought the Mai Pham book when I got back, but haven't made that much from it yet so I'm looking forward to September (although I'm away for two weeks of it, in Turkey).

              I was hoping that The Glorious Foods of Greece would prove a revelation about Greek cooking, but so far I'm pretty much of the opinion I started with - it's fine for a week or so, but I wouldn't want to eat it all the time. But to be honest there are very few cuisines that I don't get tired of after a few weeks - Italian being one exception, and Thai, and actually Turkish food is very good too. French food is too rich for my taste, although I've noticed recently a move towards lighter food.

              9 Replies
              1. re: greedygirl

                Agree, re: Turkish food. Let's tuck that thought away for a future COTM. The friend I share a garden with is 1st generation Turkish-American, and I'm betting she'd love to join in on a Turkish COTM.

                I'll be gone through the first week of September myself, but will be back on the 9th and definitely ready to go. I've enlisted the enthusiastic participation of a friend this morning, and we're both very much looking forward to it.

                Thanks for organizing, MMRuth.

                1. re: clepro

                  As you have both books, clepro, how do they compare? And which one would you recommend?

                  Before my time, but Arabesque was COTM at some point, and that covers Turkish, Moroccan and Lebanese food. The great thing about Turkey imho (and there are lots of great things - it's the new Tuscany, don't you know) is that they rarely import anything, as they can grow most vegetables all year round in some part of the country. The part we've visited a few times grows tomatoes by the truckload in the cooler months, for example, but imports from more mountainous reasons in the summer, when it's too hot to grow anything. Turkish yoghurt is to die for too.

                  Interestingly, TGFOG has a recipes for fried cauliflower which seems very similar to one of my favourite dishes in Turkey. I must try it once cauliflower is in season again.

                  1. re: greedygirl

                    Sorry, just saw this.

                    I can't really say, not being anything near proficient with Vietnamese cooking. But a few things to consider, if you're thinking of purchasing just one or the other:

                    POTVT has a lot of personal and "travelogue" writing. All of which I enjoy, but I know some people like their cookbooks sans nonfood talk. Most (maybe all) are recipes the author gathered on trips back to Vietnam from street vendors and people doing home cooking; the recipes reflect that. So I would imagine--again, I don't know--that the recipes here represent authentic Vietnamese cooking. Recipes are detailed, although with less help with technique than Nguyen provides. The lack of color photos can be rough for those of us who aren't familiar with many of the ingredients. If I'm remembering correctly (I'm not at home at the moment), she includes quite a few Vietnamese vegetarian dishes and covers claypot cooking.

                    ITVK has more of a French-Vietnamese feeling, I'd say, than does Pham's book. Lots of photos, information about techniques and a great ingredients list. A section on charcuterie and pretty much everything you might want to know about handling rice paper. The recipes seem to be a bit simpler than Pham's and more keyed to American kitchens, which could be a positive or negative, depending on your preferences. Not saying that Nguyen's recipes don't seem to be authentic, just that they seem to be written from more of a handholding for Americans' perspective than are Pham's.

                    1. re: clepro

                      Thanks - I'm also trying to decide which one to buy - hoping to get a look at both over the weekend, so any more thoughts that you might have on the issue would certainly be welcome.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I'll try to look at ITVK this weekend because I don't have it, but POTVT I think is a nice starting point for Vietnamese cuisine. Essentially the standards are there, and I wouldn't consider it too difficult of a book for someone unfamiliar with the cuisine. I like that is has basically the All-Star type dishes from different parts of the country- Northern dishes Bun Cha Ha Noi and Cha Ca Ha Noi, Middle Vietnam's Bun Bo Hue, and many Southern dishes that are more familiar. The Banh mi recipe is fine, but I think her pickled daikon is too sweet, and I think she doesn't explicitly point out that many of the other meats in the book could be fillings for the sandwich. If I recall her recipe is for the loose "meatball" one.

                        1. re: P. Punko

                          You remind me of one thing I noticed about ITVK when I had it out from the library and that's that she was constantly referring you to other sections in the book--go to this page for the sauce or that page for the meat or that page to see the pickled vegetables. I found this referencing all over the place to be a bit annoying, but, this is likely because I'm a bit of a disorganized cook, I'm afraid. I'm the type who scans the recipe the night before and makes an ingredient shopping list for the next day. You have to be really careful not to miss the quick reference to page whatever so that you pick up those ingredients on your shopping trip, too.

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            I just got ITVK from the library today and have only flipped through it rather quickly, but it doesn't seem to me as though the cross referencing is as plentiful or as onerous as it seemed to you. In most instances where there is a cross reference, there's only one and that's for a dipping sauce or a marinade that's used in a number of different dishes. It just wouldn't make sense to restate it in it's entirety within every recipe that uses it. Quite a few of the cross references are to descriptions of the ingredient and aren't so much another recipe as a definition, as in how to reconstitute dried mushrooms, for example.

                            As I said, I've only looked at it superficially so far, but I'm very excited about it nonetheless. I started writing down recipes I might like to try but gave up almost immediately as I seemed to be writing down nearly every other recipe.

                            This could be fun!

                            1. re: JoanN

                              That's good to know, Joan. I just know that before I returned the book to the library I was going to try to copy down just a copy of recipes, bahn mi sandwiches for certain and maybe one or two others and once I got into them, I realized I wasn't just copying down one page, but 2-4 pages for each. At at a glance it seemed like a simple thing, but once I got into it, it was as you say, the meat came from this section and the pickled vegs were from another section and the sauce came from yet another place in the book. So, it would seem that on the surface the recipe for a bahn mi sandwich is just a 1-2 page thing, but by the time you do the vegs and the meat and the sauce, it's really quite a lot of steps.

                              ~TDQ

                      2. re: clepro

                        Very helpful comments clepro, thank you!

                        ~TDQ

                2. Ooh, I've got this one, so I think I will join in. I think the book is very solid. I need to see if she has Cha Ca Ha Noi, because I'd like to try that at home.

                  1. I'm excited too, but have to tell you that when I told my husband (aka my main guinea pig) that next month was going to be Vietnamese food, he sort of rolled his eyes with a look of extreme disinterest. So ... I'll do as much as I feel he can handle. I've surprised him before by making him like new things (see: tofu, chickpeas, brussels sprouts).

                    1. I lucked out and found PofVT today at the library, and already have a hold on ItVK which I should be getting next week. I hope to be able to give this a look today - just having it in hand makes me excited about next month.

                      1. I'm new to this. Whats going on here ?

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: DarthEater

                          Hi!

                          What's going on is cooking from the "Cookbook of the Month" aka COTM. In this case, it's two books, Sometimes it's one author and multiple books; most often it is just one book. The general idea is that posters who want to participate cook from that book as much as they want during the given month (but often long afterwards as well) and then post on the given threads about their experiences. We usually have a lot of fun doing it.

                          Here's a link to the the books we've done so far (I think this September might be the two year anniversary.) :

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5459...

                          A number of posters have taken turns to help guide the selection, voting and posting process - I'm the most recent of four or five, I think.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            Sounds fun!

                            Yum! Vietnamese! Let me try to get my hands on that cookbook...
                            You cooks should start taking photos of your plate and posting it up.

                            1. re: DarthEater

                              We love photos! No shortage of them in the COTM threads!

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Yes - lots of photos - my husband knows dinner is ready when he hears the camera snapping:

                                http://www.chow.com/profile/10985/photos (only shows a certain number of loaded photos)

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  I cannot for the life of me remember to get the camera out when I'm getting dinner on the table. Its starting to drive me crazy when I realize the next morning (as I post my feelings about the recipe) that I don't have anything to show for it.

                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                    I just keep mine on the side board where I take the pictures - otherwise it's by the computer after I've downloaded (uploaded?) the photos.

                                    1. re: MMRuth

                                      Thats a smart idea. I think the insanity involved in getting the food on the table and the 2 year old there at the same time might be part of my problem ...

                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                        Or you could just take the photos in the kitchen.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          I'm really going to try next week. I'll be making at least one more recipe from the Greek book.

                          2. re: DarthEater

                            The short version is those of us who are interested suggest, then vote on a cookbook (or, in this case, two cookbooks) to cook from each month. That book is the Cookbook of the Month (COTM). We then cook from that book a much or as little as we want during the month and post here on the home cooking board in specific COTM threads that the organizer (MMRuth is the organizer right now) sets up for us. This thread the you and I are posting in right now is the thread in which MMRuth has announced the winner of our voting process for the September COTM.

                            So, we're all running out and getting copies of either or both of these two books so, that starting September 1, we can all cook from them and post about our experiences. (The library is a great resource if you don't want to buy a new cookbook every month!) We've been doing this for a couple of years now. The organizer changes about every 6 months or so.

                            The COTM changes monthly.

                            We also have a DCOTM (dessert cookbook of the month), the DCOTM runs for two months. oakjoan is the organizer for that. DCOTM is new--we've only been doing it for about 4 months.

                            There's a longer, more thorough explanation about how all the voting, etc. works that I'll try to find for you. But, please, the more the merrier. If you're interested in Vietnamese home cooking, September would be a great month for you to jump in. August has been a Greek cookbook. That will be wrapping up soon, but you still have time to jump into that if you're interested. (And there's no reason you can't post to the threads after the month has ended--many people continue to do so.)

                            It's really fun. The more the merrier! I hope you'll join us.

                            ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              Here's a very eloquently written description by MMRuth of COTM for "prospective participants": http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5369...

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Thanks for linking to that. But, to be fair, I completely cribbed that from oakjoan, who was the COTM coordinator before me.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  There have been a number of "what this is all about" posts written by organizers and participants, many borrowing elements of others with and without attribution, and until I read Gio's below, I've considered that one to be the most concise and straight-forward. Gio's is now my new favorite. ;-) I'm sure each of the organizers, as well as various contributors, has contributed her own touch that makes COTM what it is today! It is truly a collaborative effort.

                                  I am very thankful for the efforts of all of the organizers, current and past, even the ones whose terms preceded my own participation in COTM starting this past March as I know it's their efforts that has kept the project alive. We are an opinionated, passionate (but also warm and friendly!) bunch and I know the job can't be easy, even when they make it look so.

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Thank you TDQ!! It's been such fun these past months. Everyone participating has been so forthcoming with advice and help. A community within a community. All the COTM organizers have done a super job whisking us into action......

                            2. re: DarthEater

                              We nominate a cookbook,
                              we vote,
                              we cook from the winner ,
                              we eat what we cooked,
                              we report about the recipe & how we liked it/or not..

                              It's been quite an education for me and my DH. I liken it to armchair travel - but in this case it's a culinary travel plan.

                            3. Woohoo! My copy of Pham's book just arrived. And, I'm embarrassed to say, I went ahead and ordered a copy of Nguyen's, too. Both books sounded so terrific I couldn't resist.

                              ~TDQ

                              15 Replies
                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Pham's book looks really good, doesnt it? I'm jumping the gun and making my first dish from it tonight.

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  You're such an overachiever! Please do report back--I hope it's great!

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    LOL @ both of you.... I just ordered the Pham book from the library!
                                    I have several recipes picked out from the Nguyen book to make on Monday. DH said he'll be very glad to go from Greece to Vietnam.....

                                    1. re: Gio

                                      I get the impression that Kochilas wasn't a huge success. I got a bit bored halfway through the month, but I still have some Greek cheeses in my fridge so I need to get some inspiration!

                                      1. re: greedygirl

                                        Well I liked most of what we cooked - and I did make more than last month, I think.... but DH thought most of the food was just too bland.
                                        This Vietnamese food looks to be quite healthy and somewhat more spicy.

                                        Have a wonderful time in Turkey. I'm sure you have lots to say about the local cuisine.

                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      I plan to sit on my hands until Sept. 1 to make my report. I'm sure my fingers will be itching! I'm really kind of excited by the book.

                                      Part of my jumping the gun is because I think serving Vietnamese food more than 2 times a week might be pushing it (every Vietnamese person reading this is currently rolling their eyes, I'm sure!).

                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Haha! I resisted ordering Nguyen's book, but only because I'm away for half of September, and really couldn't justify it!

                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                      Yeah, I was away most of the Spain month, and part of this last month, although I did manage to make 4 dishes from the Greek book (not a huge number, but not bad considering). I lucked out - my library has both the Vietnamese books. If the recipes turn out well, though, I will likely end up buying the Pham book.

                                      So tell us what exciting and exotic locale you'll be visiting in September ...

                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                        I'm going to Turkey, to a village called Gelemis which we've visited before. It's close to one of Turkey's best beaches (Patara), but has been saved from hideous development by the fact that there's an important archaeological site there, and nesting turtles. It's a win-win situation - great but quiet beach, lovely food, and an amphitheatre. Plus we've had a horribly grey August, so a bit of sun will be welcome.

                                      2. re: greedygirl

                                        There's plenty of recipes here:

                                        http://vietworldkitchen.com/recipe.htm

                                        Not sure that all of them are from ItVK, but most seem to be from a quick perusal.

                                        I'm with you, LulusMom. After a month of traveling and another month of guests, I'm ready to get back to COTM with a vengeance. I've already made one of the recipes from ItVK and have three more planned for over the weekend. Itchy fingers, indeed!

                                        1. re: JoanN

                                          Thanks Joan. I've got Pham's book, so I'm good to go!

                                          1. re: JoanN

                                            Glad to hear I'm not the only one skipping ahead! There is something about the activities of summer (along with the heat) that sort of dampens the cooking spirit, isn't there?

                                              1. re: greedygirl

                                                I think you might find out in Turkey (which, by the way, has me turning a light shade of green with envy).

                                      3. i just bought into the vietnamese kitchen! after growing up in a vietnamese household and now living on my own, i can say that this book is an excellent guide to vietnamese food, aside from mommy, of course =)

                                        1. Hi all - Just wanted to let you know that I'll post all the threads in the a.m., though maybe not *first thing* as I'm on vacation! I've done a great deal of thinking about how to organize this month in the best way possible, but want to sleep on it one more night!

                                          Hope you are having a great long weekend! MMR

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: MMRuth

                                            Thanks MM -

                                            I've been reading the Nuygen book and yesterday we went to the Asian market to get some of the necessary ingredients not currently in our pantry. I have to say that I'm really concerned about the Maggi Seasoning Sauce. According to the nutrition label, there are almost 1500 ml of sodium in a tablespoon serving of that stuff.....We here are on a low sodium diet so I'm not going to use the Maggi. It's a soy-like seasoning without the soy but loaded with MSG and lots of other over the top sodium concoctions. I am looking forward to starting, though. Just not with the Maggi.

                                            1. re: Gio

                                              If you're on a low sodium diet this could be a tough month for you, Gio. I've been cooking from Nguyen for a few days now and have avoided the Maggi but not the fish sauce. Haven't made a recipe yet that doesn't include it and the brand she said she used to test the recipes (Viet Huong) contains 1420 mg of sodium per tablespoon. Most of the recipes I've tried so far use no more than 2 tablespoons for 4 servings. Nonetheless, if you're trying to cut down that's still a lot.

                                              Perhaps as DairyQueen has adapted past COTM recipes by reducing the fat and reporting on the result, you can tell us whether or not the recipes still work if the sodium is reduced. I'd certainly benefit from that information.

                                              1. re: Gio

                                                It's tough to cook Vietnamese food without fish sauce but I've got the other book, and Maggi sauce isn't mentioned at all. Which is good, because I loathe the stuff. Is it possible to get low-sodium fish sauce, do you think?

                                                1. re: greedygirl

                                                  Right - I have the Pham book too and haven't noticed the Maggi sauce in my perusals. I have another book (Hot Sweet Sour etc.) that had a recipe for vegetarian fish sauce - so I'll look it up when I get home, in case it might be lower sodium - but it won't be until next weekend.

                                                2. re: Gio

                                                  BTW: I should have typed 1500 mg - NOt ml!!! But still....thank you Joan N & MM - I'm going to try the recipes, of course, but reduce the sodium content.