Tuesday, July 30, 2013

First Impression Review: GlamGlow Super Mud Clearing Treatment

This mud mask converted me into an instant fan.  Talk about super powerful and EFFECTIVE.  I've been hearing / reading about the rave reviews but was skeptical about the hype....

Until I examined my skin after I washed this mask off.

Uh...where did I get this new face?

The mud mask hydrated my face like no other.  I now understand the expression "Like a baby's bum" because that's exactly how soft my face is (hold the jokes, please).  Note the word "is."  The next morning, my face is just AS soft and AS hydrated as when I first washed off the mud mask.  Before I applied the mask, I had noticed some small white bumps on my chin area as well as a pimple that hadn't  gone away despite use of my acne spot treatment the past few days.  Where are they now after the GlamGlow mask?  GONE.  That's where they are.  GONE.

This mud mask has a special technology called Pore Matrix that consists of Activated-X Charcoal and K17 Clay.  Both of these properties essentially extract and soak up toxic substances from the deepest crevices of your skin.  Simply put: it vacuums out the bad stuff!  Aside from this technology, it contains ingredients (aloe, cucumber, chamomile, glycolic acid, and salicylic acide to name a few) that promote skin healing, hydrate, de-clog and minimize pores, combat anti-aging, and soothe the skin.

The mask itself is a dark grey cream that you can apply to your face with your fingers or a brush (use upward strokes when applying by brush).  As the mud mask dries, the Pore Matrix gets to work, vacuuming out and trapping toxins onto the mask.  The dried mask will reveal dots of the Pore Matrix (basically your pores that were vacuumed out!) when complete.

GlamGlow recommends you leave the mask on your face for 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes.  I felt it necessary to leave it on for 20-30 minutes to allow it to completely dry.  You can then rinse it off with just your hands and water or use a facial towel or sponge.  Instead of an all over facial mask, you can also use this for spot treatment for blemishes and acne.

This is fairly pricey at $69 for 1.2 oz.

Verdict: Purchase but I'd use it sparingly for those indulging self spa treatments at home.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summery Winged Eye

I wasn't planning on doing anything out of the ordinary with my makeup when I woke up today, but ...well, sh*t happens.

Here's a list of the products I used:

Dr. Jart Black Label Detox BB Beauty Balm
Make Up For Ever Super Matte Loose Powder
MAC Select Cover Up Concealer in NW20

Contour: Tarte Mineral Powder Bronzer in Park Avenue Princess
Blush: Tarte Amazonian Clay 12 Hour Blush in Dollface

MAC Paint Pot in Painterly (base)
MAC e/s in Soft Brown (crease)
MAC e/s in Espresso (crease)
MAC e/s in Satin Taupe (lid)
Urban Decay e/s in Blackout (outer V)
Urban Decay e/s in Venus (inner eye corner and brow bone highlight)
Maybelline Eyestudio Lasting Drama Gel Eyeliner in Blackest Black
Maybelline Volum' Express The Falsies Mascara

Burt's Bees Lip Gloss in Rosy Dawn

Friday, July 26, 2013

Recipe: Bolognese

I LOVE bolognese.  Love.  One can almost describe it as a love affair.  A lifelong love affair.  Nothing is more comforting than swirling your fork into the plate to grab a forkful of spaghetti noodles that has been soaked in the tang of tomato paste, the aromatics of oregano and basil, and the umami of.....fish sauce.  Yes, you read that right.  I use fish sauce in my bolognese.

I'm extremely picky when it comes to Italian food, especially spaghetti or bolognese.  I have yet to find a place that will pass for satisfactory.  I've tried everything from chain restaurants, to high end, to hole in the wall restaurants.  Meh.

Enter Venice, Italy.

A few years ago while in Italy, we dined at a small restaurant near the Grand Canal.  For the life of me I cannot remember which restaurant it is.  Yes, for shame.  Anyway, I had been sulking over the lack of satisfying bolognese in Rome and Florence.  I wasn't expecting much from this little trattoria.  One bite later, however, I was delirious with excitement.  HEAVENS!  What in the world did the chef put into this marvelous plate of goodness?!  I was so distracted by the delicious explosion of flavors on my taste buds that the view of the Grand Canal and the fact that I was on my honeymoon ceased to exist at that moment.  (Sorry Hubby)  When I inquired, I was told the secret was the fact that they use anchovies in the sauce to get that umami flavor.

Anchovies?  Um, hello?  That's what fish sauce is made out of: fermented anchovies.  After that, it was on to experimenting with fish sauce.  After a few tweaks, I also discovered using Chardonnay yields an aromatic sauce that I prefer much much more than red wine.  The result?  Well, here's what fellow foodie from Insatiably Epicurious had to say:

"I have had several versions of Bolognese both homemade and restaurant quality.  Neither of which piqued my interest until my fellow foodie Ms. T (grudgingly) passed along her recipe.  Not only did it include a generous amount of Chardonnay (not a red!) but contained fish sauce.  I was intrigued.  I am the first to admit I fail miserably in following directions.  As such, I've tweaked her original version a bit.  It's meaty, robust in flavor, and the Chardonnay gives it such a wonderful aroma.  This is easily my new favorite pasta sauce."

Many MANY thanks to Insatiably Epicurious for practically twisting my arm to get me to memorialize my FIRST recipe.  What a snowball effect that had!

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

Mirepoix: 3 carrots, 3 celery ribs, 1 yellow onion, all diced then processed in a food processor
5 cloves of garlic
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
5 slices of bacon, diced
1/2 bottle of Chardonnay
1 tsp of fresh thyme
8 oz of tomato paste
1 can of 14 oz of fire roasted tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup of heavy cream

1 lb of spaghetti noodles (or any other desired pasta), cooked accordingly to instructions

1. In a dutch oven, fry the bacon to the desired level of doneness.  Remove bacon and place on a paper towel.  Reserve 2 tabsp of the bacon fat.

2. Brown the mirepoix in the bacon fat.  Make sure all water evaporates.

3. Add the ground meat and ground pork and brown.  Season with 1 tbsp of fish sauce.

4.  Add the tomato paste and brown, thoroughly mixing with the ground meat.

5.  Add the Chardonnay.  Cook until wine reduces nearly completely.

6.  Add the fire roasted tomatoes.  Stir to mix.

7.  Add the bacon.

8.  Add enough water so that it covers the meat.

9.  Add thyme, bay leaves, and 1.5 tbsp of fish sauce.  Bring to boil then reduce to simmer.  Ideally, simmer for 3 hours but you can get away with 1 hour.

10.  Towards the end, add the heavy cream.

Italians will then add the pasta directly into the bolognese sauce so that the sauce absorbs into the pasta.

Garnish with basil.

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

First Impression: Tarte Maracuja Creaseless Concealer

I've been looking for an under eye concealer/corrector to brighten up my eyes and cover up my dark circles for a while now.  I've been particularly picky with what I put on my face this year just because, well, I'm not 21 anymore.  With the momentum from the argan oil movement highly branded by Josie Maran, it's only natural that other cosmetics companies join the "healthy oil" bandwagon.  Tarte Cosmetics introduced maracuja oil.  

I've never really paid much attention to Tarte cosmetics.  However, once I tried their Amazonian clay blushes and bronzers, I looked into Tarte cosmetics a little more.  As you recall from my previous blog post about the Tarte Amazonian Clay 12 Hour Blush, I was mighty impressed with Tarte's use of Amazonian Clay.  So when I heard about their use of maracuja oil, I was immediately intrigued.

Extracted from a rare Brazilian fruit that harvests in August, maracuja oil is naturally rich in nutritious essential fatty acids (EFAs) and vitamin C (a skin brightener!).  Because of these qualities, maracuja oil promises to brighten dull skin, restore and rebuild dry skin, and combat signs of aging.

The texture of this concealer is creamy and a bit on the thick side.  The thicker consistency surprised me as it's a bit counter intuitive for the under eye area, where you want to keep product minimal and thin to prevent creasing.  As I rubbed the concealer between my finger tips, I thought to myself, "This concealer's gonna be a gimmick."


Using my ring finger to blend the concealer (ALWAYS use your ring finger when applying product to your eye area, ESPECIALLY the under eye), it literally glided onto and melted into my skin.  I believe it's actually better not to use a brush to apply this concealer as the warmth of your fingers will assist the product to blend into your skin for a more natural finish.  

The coverage is definitely full coverage.  My dark circles were instantly gone.  

Is it brightening?  Yes.

Is it truly creaseless?  I had it on for a little over 7 hours but it remained creaseless as promised.  The concealer stood up to a typical hot summery California day, air conditioning, and a nap.  

Likewise, it is long lasting.  Despite the heat, the AC, and a nap, the product remained in place for the 7 hours I had it on.  This is not surprising since it is advertised to last for 12 hours.

As to the ingredients, this concealer is formulated WITHOUT parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, triclosan, synthetic fragrances, and gluten.  

Overall, I'm extremely excited about this new addition to my makeup collection.  It's brightening, creaseless, long lasting, waterproof, full coverage, and is formulated with healthy and safe ingredients for the skin.  

Verdict: C'est bon!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Recipe: German Pancakes aka Dutch Baby

The first time I was introduced to German Pancakes, otherwise known as a Dutch Baby, was at Plum's Cafe in the City of Costa Mesa in Southern California.  Four of us had to dig in in order to polish off the delectable goodness.  I love all things pancakes and waffles so I needed to make sure that I can have access to this whenever it suits me.

The difference between this recipe and what I had at Plum's Cafe is that at Plum's the lemon is squeezed onto the pancake whereas lemon is included in my batter.  The other minor difference (just minor!) is that I kept this on the healthier side by not including bacon.  Yes, I know, blasphemous, but I can't keep clogging my arteries!

Special Equipment:
10 inch skillet (approximate) - preferably a cast iron

3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk (I used Lactaid since I'm lactose intolerant and it turned out fine)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp lemon juice
lemon zest from 2 lemons
2 tbsp melted butter, COOLED!
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
confectioner sugar
any fruits you like
dollop of Greek Yogurt (I prefer Chobani Vanilla flavor)
cooking spray


1. Heat oven to 450.

2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, melted & cooled (you don't want scrambled eggs!) butter, sugar, and vanilla extract.

3. Add the flour and whisk until smooth.  No bumps, no clumps!

4. Spray your oven safe skillet with cooking oil.  Pour the batter in.  Place skillet into the oven for about 15 minutes or until the sides are golden.

5. Top with fruit, confectioner's sugar, and yogurt.

You can also skip the fruit and use jam/jelly, nutella, BACON(!) or anything else that tickles your fancy.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 2013 Ipsy Glambag!

Hello hello hello!  July marks the first month of my Ipsy Glambag subscription, and I cannot tell you all how excited I am to finally wrap my hands around the 5 products that Ipsy sent me.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ipsy, it is basically a samples subscription.  For $10 a month with free shipping ($110 for 12 months), you get 4-5 samples of makeup, skin, and or hair products.  Ipsy includes all of these products in a cute makeup bag each month.  Click HERE if you're interested in joining!  Now onto the goods!

The entire package arrived in this uber cute envelope:
Anybody who knows me knows I love pink so HELLO! Adoring the fuchsia color!

And this was what was inside the fuchsia envelope

Healthy Sexy Hair's Soy Renewal Beach Spray Conditioning and Texturizing Spray.
This spray is suppose to give your hair a beachy undone texture.  It contains argan oil which is a huge plus since it'll help nourish and hydrate the hair.  When I applied this to my damp hair, it didn't affect my hair's texture.  Applied to dry hair, however, you need to mind the amount used.  Your hair does become a bit crunchy but it indeed texturizes your hair as it promises.  My advice would to just spritz about 3-4 sprays at the roots and then adjust accordingly.  

Award winning microdermabrasion scrub by Derma that does the usual stuff you expect from a scrub.  This one also absorbs excess skin oil with dead sea salt and volcanic sand.  It's also 100% vegan, cruelty free, paraben free, sulfate free, mineral oil free, glycol free, lanolin free, gluten free, and GMO free! One can certainly see why this is award winning.  Can't wait to try it!

Coola Face Mineral Sunscreen with SPF 20.  I had been shopping around for a sunscreen but got word through the ipsy subbies mill that this month's glambox includes a face SPF.  Made with 98% natural ingredients, is hypoallergenic and paraben free, this is well worth the $10 monthly subscription.

Pop Beauty Pouty Pop Crayon in Coral Crush
The first ingredient in this product is mineral oil.  As such, I will not be trying this product.  If you're looking for a review, you may want to google it elsewhere.  Apologies in advance.

BH Cosmetics Califonia Collection Eyeshadow Sample
Left to Right: Hollywood (plum purple), San Francisco (bronze), Malibu (gold)
The colors, while nice, do not seem to be pigmented.  I may need to try them again with a spritz of MAC Fix+.  At the top of my head, these colors are the cheaper dupes for MAC Parfait Armour (the purple), MAC Bronze (the middle e/s), and MAC Amber Lights (the e/s to the right).

So there you have it!  Did you get the same products in your July Ipsy glambag?  Which product is your favorite?  Let me know what you think of this month's Ipsy glambag, friends!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation

I had been curious about this foundation for the longest time.  For years I've heard great things about Giorgio Armani products.  Aside from my inability to locate a Giorgio Armani counter in my neck of the woods, the only other thing that stopped me from purchasing a bottle of their award winning foundation was the sticker price.  At $60 a bottle, this isn't like buying chewing gum.

During my recent holiday to London, I popped by Harrod's really quick.  When I saw that Harrod's was having a huge sale (40% off!), I immediately bee lined to the Giorgio Armani counter.  As I watched the indeed luminous and silky foundation disappear onto my skin upon application by the Giorgio Armani sales associate, I knew I couldn't leave the store without a bottle in my possession.  It really proved its name true.

What I love about this foundation:
1. It's light weight.  You don't feel like you have a ton of product on your face.

2. It has buildable coverage without making you look caked up.  Your skin still looks like skin.  The first time I used this foundation after purchase, I layered 3 - 4 coats to test its "buildability" (I swear that word only makes sense in the makeup world).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that even after 3 - 4 coats, my skin still looked natural.  It didn't feel heavy on my skin at all (see #1: light weight!).  It also covered small minor blemishes and evened out my skin tone.  You still will need a concealer to conceal any larger blemishes such as a pimple.  You shouldn't be using solely foundation to cover pimples anyway.

3. No SPF.  This makes this foundation great for flash photography, red carpet events, and evening outings.  Brides-to-be, this is good news for you.  SPF tends to give flashback in photography - you know when your face takes on a white cast?  That's courtesy of SPF.  With no SPF, your skin will look true to its color.  If you plan on wearing this out during the daytime, I highly recommend applying SPF prior to applying this foundation to protect your skin from UV rays and sun damage.

4. Beautiful natural finish.  Natural and luminous finish accurately describes it.

5. It's oil free!!

6. Advertised as great for all skin types.

I was asked to compare this foundation to Chanel's Vitalumiere Foundation.  Now unfortunately, I haven't tried Vitalumiere.  I have, however, used the Mat Lumiere.  You can read about my review for that foundation HERE.  I like both foundations but the Mat Lumiere gives me more sun protection during the daytime since it has SPF in it.

From what I know about the Chanel Vitalumiere, it is made specifically to hydrate dry skin.  Those with dry skin will benefit from the Vitalumiere's hydrating properties.  The Chanel Vitalumiere also contains SPF 15, giving you some level of protection against UV rays and sun damage.  From my own personal experience, SPF 15 is still ok for flash photography.  Anything higher gives me cause for concern when flash photography is involved.  Brides to be, make sure you discuss this with your makeup artist and photographer to ensure beautiful wedding photos.

Based on the Mat Lumiere, I still believe both foundations are great.  You just need to be mindful of the SPF.

Verdict: If you can afford it, get the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation!  Tres bon!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: Chanel Ombre Contrast in Notorious Sculpting Veil

Introduced in Chanel's limited edition collection Contrastes Essentiels de Chanel for Autumn/Winter 2012, the Ombre Contrast in Notorious Sculpting Veil madly rippled through the cosmetics world as the IT contour powder.  Virtually sold out everywhere within a few months, one wonders whether its sought after status due to its scarcity contributes to its in-demand popularity (scarcity heuristics, right, psych majors?).

I was first introduced to this product by a gal pal of mine.  I had never even heard of this product until she asked me what I thought about it!  A quick search online revealed its scarcity.  You can bet your sweet derrieres that my obsession to possess this product immediately then began.  I'll save you all from the details of my Mission: Obtain Chanel Ombre Contrast Notorious because in the end, it found its way into my makeup collection.

Description: This dome shaped mauve-y colored sculpting powder has notes of grey and smokey purple.  It is vastly different than your typical brown colored contour.  It looks to have a bit of shimmer but applies matte.  The product itself is buttery soft without being powdery.

Application: It applies very sheer and will require you to continually layer the product on to see definition and pigmentation on your cheeks and eyes.  I found that even with continual layering, it still stays on the light side.  If you want more color pay off, I suggest gathering some product onto your brush and then spritzing your brush with water (I used MAC Fix +).  Apply and then buff the product.  Because it applies sheer, there is little to worry about harsh lines or streaks.  Wetting the product on your brush will assist in intensifying the color.

Best with: Light and cool toned complexions.  This product will be hard pressed to show up on darker skin tones.  I wouldn't use this as my every day contour product.  Instead, I would only use this if the rest of my makeup included cool tone colors.  See below:

Price: $43 for 0.14 oz.

Verdict: This is a product ideal for cool toned makeup application on fair to light / light medium skin tones.  If anyone knows a dupe for this that has more color pay off for a more affordable price, please share!  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Restaurant Series: Ebury Wine Bar

Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor

In the heart of the Belgravia neighborhood, southwest of Buckingham Palace, where Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once resided, lies a quaint little gem called Ebury Wine Bar.  Retaining its entry for the second year in a row in the Michelin 2013 London Restaurants and Hotels Guide, this gem was literally at the other end of the neighborhood where our B&B was located.  Upon entry, you are given the option of dining at the bar should you prefer a lighter meal or the restaurant, which offers gluten and dairy free options.  Typical of a wine bar, it also boasts of a list of fine wines by the glass or bottle.  In a nut shell, this establishment promises gourmet meals at wine bar pricing.

Aside from the impressive food, the decor promises to captivate you with the trompe-l'oeil walls.  We actually had to get up out of our seats to examine a wall clock to make sure it was real and not merely painted in, which is typical of tromp-l'oeil art.

Our server, to our delight, not only knew the menu inside and out, he also gave wonderful wine pairing suggestions for our meal and dessert!  He also regaled us with stories of his recent trip to Italy.  Based on our food orders, he recommended the following bottle of wine:

It was quite delicious and worthy of an award winning wine...then again, I'm not a sommelier so don't take my word for it =)

Cured foie gras with raisin and apple puree alongside toasted brioche

Breaded plaice fillet, parsley creamed potatoes, and buttered vegetables

Courgette and lemon risotto

File of wild sea bass with ratatouille and gazpacho vinaigrette

As for dessert, we asked the server to go ahead and pair whichever brandy he deemed was suitable for each of our orders.  He was more than happy to oblige ...and did not disappoint!

Raspberry panna cotta with raspberry and mint soup

Creme caramel with poached pear

Chocolate fudge cake with strawberry compote and creme fraiche

Dark chocolate truffle with 12% rum

Hands down the chocolate fudge cake was the best dessert.  I'm also not a fan of dark chocolate (I know...don't judge) but the truffle was amazing.  

All in all, I'd recommend this wine bar.  The staff was friendly, fun, and attentive; the food was delicious; the ambiance was fun and relaxing; and the decor was uniquely beautiful.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Recipe: Healthy Buttermilk Oven "Fried" Chicken

I'm a glutton for good ol' fried chicken just like anyone else.  I love me some fried chicken.  However, my arteries hate me.  So we've come to a compromise.  I get my "fried" chicken fix by using panko bread to bread my chicken, and my arteries don't get into a clogging mess because I bake the chicken instead of deep fry it in a pool of oil.

Wet Ingredients
2 cups of buttermilk
1 tbsp of hot sauce (adjust to taste)
1 tbsp of garlic powder
salt and pepper
lemon juice from half of a lemon
3 lbs of chicken (whichever parts you prefer - I prefer drumsticks and thighs)

Mix buttermilk, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt, pepper and lemon juice.  Marinade chicken in the buttermilk mixture overnight

Dry Ingredients
3 cups of panko bread crumbs
1 cup of parmesan cheese
1 tbsp of cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
1.5 tbsp of garlic powder
salt and pepper
Olive oil cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375.

1.  Combine all dry ingredients.
2. Dredge each piece of chicken through the dry ingredients.  Make sure each piece is thoroughly coated with panko crust.
3. Arrange the chicken onto a baking sheet and spray the chicken with the olive oil cooking spray.
4. Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife.

*I love using olive oil spray instead of soaking the panko bread crumbs in melted butter.  The panko bread crumbs will still achieve a beautiful golden crisp color without all of the fat from butter.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Restaurant Series - Gordon Ramsay's Petrus Restaurant

For all my foodie subbies, I've decided to start a Restaurant Series for this blog.  After all, what's the point in enjoying delish food if you can't share it?  The first in this series - Gordon Ramsay's Petrus Restaurant in London.

Awarded a Michelin Star in 2011, this stylish and modern French restaurant was at the top of my list for eats when we were on holiday in London.  A short walk from our B&B in the lovely Belgravia neighborhood, I made sure this was our dinner the first night we were in London.  (You should always start things with a big bang, right?)  Upon entering the restaurant, my taste buds were tingling with excitement.  It's Gordon Ramsay for crying out loud!  My husband, however, was more enamored by the gorgeous glass wine cellar smack in the middle of the entire restaurant.  Lo and behold...

Let's just dive into the food - my husband and I both opted for the Chef's Menu.

Before the first course from the Chef's Menu arrived, we were given this amuse bouche.  For the life of me I couldn't catch what the server described it as because he was so soft spoken but I caught "foie gras" and some sort of cheese.  Regardless, it was oh so delicious.  The square noshes you see above contained the foie gras.  The sweetness of the foie gras paired with the crisp ...whatever it was that sandwiched it in... was to die for.  The tubular noshes you see above contained a cheese that was melt in your mouth.  The cheese also had a sweet quality to it.  It was a great preview to what was coming.

Another amuse bouche that was also nothing short of amazing: watercress mousse topped with salmon tartare on a crouton.  UH-MAZE-ING!

First course: ballotine of landes foie gras with semi-dried grapes, green beans, and hazelnut crumble.  BOOM!  Hello first foodgasm!

Second course: pan fried scallops with cauliflower, anchovy and capers, lemon beurre noisette.  Foodgasm part 2.

Third course: Roasted suffolk pork fillet with crispy suckling pig belly, apple, and madeira jus
Ok, the pork fillet disappointed.  It was bland and a bit dry.  I was disappointed in the right half of this dish.  However, the pig belly was nothing short of amazing.  The skin was oh so delightfully crisp but the meat underneath somehow managed to be so tender and succulent.  It's so hard to blog about this pig belly because I want more more more!

We were spoiled by the staff when it was time for dessert.  This pretty concoction was put before me: Mango sorbet with coconut crisps, ginger sponge on top of coconut foam, garnished with fennel.  Who knew these pairings went so deliciously together??

Frozen vanilla bean ice cream with a white chocolate shell.  We were generously given a second round of this.

(Apologies for the photo quality) Mini lemon and mascarpone ice cream in a cone.  OMG I loved this.  LOVED.  THIS.

Ahhhh and the famous Chocolate Sphere with Milk Ice Cream and Honeycomb

Watch my video for how the chocolate sphere dissembled:

This was such an amazing meal and fabulous kickstart to our holiday in London.  Thumbs up Gordon Ramsay!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Recipe: Vietnamese Tamarind Soup - Canh Chua

A Vietnamese staple and one of my favorite Vietnamese soups, Canh Chua can be prepared solely with just vegetables (traditionally tomatoes, okra, and bean sprouts), shrimp, salmon, or catfish.  The above picture shows mushrooms and tofu - these non-traditional additions are recent for our family to cater to my husband's preferences.  Like Vietnamese dipping sauce (some prefer it sweeter while others prefer it more tangy), a lot of other Vietnamese dishes are slightly varied from family to family.  It was thanks to this soup that my mom got me to eat (and LOVE!) okra.  

Onto the recipe:

For a 5 quart pot:
1/2 pound of shrimp (other options: salmon, catfish)
3 tomatoes, diced into 8 parts each
2 cups of pineapple chunks (if using canned pineapple chunks, do not drain the juice)
About a dozen okra, diagonally sliced
3 stalks of bac ha (Vietnamese taro stem), diagonally sliced (alternative: celery)
1 cups of bean sprouts
a handful of springs of ngo om (Vietnamese rice paddy herb) - alternative: ground cumin
nuoc mam (fish sauce)
4 cups of shrimp stock (thank you Insatiably Epicurious for this)
1/2 a package of block tamarind
fried shallots

optional ingredients: tofu and mushrooms

Bac ha (taro stem) and okra, diagonally sliced

Here is the tamarind block we use:

Here's what it looks like out of the package:

Tamarind Liquid
1. Boil 3 cups of water in one pot.  Meanwhile, fill a 5 quart pot halfway with water.
2. Place 1/2 of the block of tamarind into the pot with 3 cups of boiling water.

3. Let boil for 10 minutes.   If the liquid becomes too thick, add a bit more water.  This is what it should end up looking like:

4. Strain the tamarind liquid through a strainer into the 5 quart pot like so:

5. Using a spoon or ladle, press down onto the tamarind liquid to squeeze out every bit of juice:

6. Pour the shrimp stock into the 5 quart stock pot.  Add equal amounts of sugar and fish sauce to taste.  Point of reference, we added 6 ladle full of fish sauce and 6 ladle full of sugar (gotta love the Asian method of measurements).  To be more exact, I believe that's a 2 oz ladle.  Anyway, bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to simmer.

7. Add the pineapple and simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the natural sweetness of the pineapple to release into the tamarind soup.

8. Add the okra and tomatoes (and tofu and mushrooms).  Let simmer for about 5 minutes.

9. Garnish with fried shallots (if you made fried shallots, throw in a bit of the shallot oil as well) and a handful of rice paddy herbs.  If you don't have rice paddy herbs, add 1 - 2 tsp of cumin.

To serve: Put a handful of bean sprouts into the serving bowl.  Ladle the hot soup over the bean sprouts.  This ensures that the bean sprouts aren't over cooked.  Serve over rice.

Like I said earlier, every family's recipe may slightly vary.  This is just how my family prepares it.  If yours prepares it differently, do share!

Bon appétit!