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Catering a "pan-Asian" dinner for eight


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Howdy all ... as I mentioned briefly in the three-way foodblog I participated in last week, I am in the midst of planning a dinner for eight, to be catered in an associate's house in a week's time, which for lack of better terminology I've been calling a "pan-Asian" dinner. I guess it could more accurately be called a cross-cultural Asian dinner, because each individual dish is going to be fairly faithful to a specific cuisine, but I'm going to have a mix of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean dishes in the same meal--hopefully all harmonizing with each other okay! But the full truth, as I said on the blog, is that this dinner is mainly an excuse to cook a bunch of my favorite dishes, for a bunch of people willing to trust me with their taste buds. :biggrin:

After weeks of fiddling and tweaking, here's the menu I've worked out:

Cocktail snacks: rice crackers, wasabi peas

Appetizer: salad rolls w/shrimp

Soup: Tom yum goong

Salad: Som tam

Entrees:

Vietnamese-style steamed whole tilapia w/lettuce wraps

Red-cooked pork belly w preserved greens

Dan-dan noodles

Sides:

kimchee

Sigeumchi-namul

Kong-namul

Steamed white rice

Dessert: Thai sticky black rice pudding;

Platter of assorted Asian sweets and fresh fruit

This is admittedly a pretty ambitious menu--but a bunch of items can be made a day or two ahead (the pork belly, the rice pudding, the sigeumch-namul and kong-namul, the components for the noodles and the broth for the soup). Only a few dishes involve substantial fiddling at the last minute (the fish, the som tam, the salad rolls). And a couple of items I'm obviously just buying outright (rice crackers, kimchee, whatever assorted sweets call to me at the last minute--I was considering some of the New Years confections showing up in all the Chinese and Vietnamese stores now). Still, I've got both the day before and the day of the dinner completely blocked out for nothing except prepping and cooking. It'll be a lot of work--but fun work, I think.

I've made a master shopping list, and now that my foodblog duties are over, I've started to acquire ingredients I didn't already have in stock, or was low on:

gallery_27785_5620_110937.jpg

My favorite new-to-play-around-with ingredient is the nam prik pow:

gallery_27785_5620_77483.jpg

Tasted a little bit of this--oh. my. god. It's like the umami crack of the universe. I am going to have to be extremely firm with myself not to inhale spoonfuls of this stuff straight out of the jar. Obviously, I'm going to have to make a test batch of tom yum with this stuff--strictly for scientific purposes, of course... :laugh:

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Wow Miz Ducky- sounds like a "Greatest Asian Hits" menu that your guests will be in love with. Are you plating courses, doing buffet, or serving family style? I know that I would want some of the papaya salad to contrast the noodles in alternating bites. Also since I see you are doing the fresh spring rolls- does this mean you have mastered the rice paper softening? Congrats. Keep us posted.

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Wow Miz Ducky- sounds like a "Greatest Asian Hits" menu that your guests will be in love with. Are you plating courses, doing buffet, or serving family style? I know that I would want some of the papaya salad to contrast the noodles in alternating bites. Also since I see you are doing the fresh spring rolls-  does this mean you have mastered the rice paper softening? Congrats. Keep us posted.

Will do!

I think I'm going to serve family style--more authentic, plus less work. I'm thinking the salad rolls, soup, and papaya salad will come out sequentially, but then all the remaining dishes will hit the table as soon as they're ready ... with the exception of the desserts, which I'll bring out after clearing the table and giving people a little while to digest.

I've got my rice paper technique sufficiently under control at this point that I'm feeling pretty confident about whipping out the salad rolls okay. I may wrap them up a bit before serving and hold them under a damp tea towel--I'll see how my flow goes.

I do have a question to throw out to people regarding what tea(s) to serve. I'm figuring on something relatively mild and basic, like an oolong or a green tea. Any more specific suggestions are welcome! (I am leaving it to my hosts to supply alcoholic beverages as desired--I suggested that they look for a crisp, not-too-dry white wine and/or a light crisp lager in the style of Tsingtao.)

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Family style makes sense as does your order of bringing to the table. The place I purchase salad rolls "to go" when we are in need of a quick fix on the road keeps them in a pan with plastic wrap tightly over the top. As for tea, I personally would enjoy a Jasmine tea with your menu.

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May I make a suggestion (that's a rhetorical question, by the way :raz:)?

If you're thinking of serving family style (since it's more authentic, anyway), you might want to throw the soup in with the rest of the meal, rather than serving it before the salad. In Thailand, soups are usually served along with the meal. I suppose, though, the order in which you're serving may also be based on serving dishes. If you have regular US-sized soup bowls, rather than smaller ones (like Thai or Chinese ones), then it wouldn't make sense space-wise to serve the soup with the meal.

If you're looking to throw another cocktail snack in there, further in the Thai direction, khao tang na tang is one of my favourites, and can be made ahead. You can find the potcrusts at Chinese groceries, so you don't have to make them youself. Just make sure you get the plain ones. I also love krathong thong--the shells can be made ahead by baking spring roll wrappers in mini-muffin tins, then just crisp before filling. The traditional filling uses chicken, but I prefer one more salad-y (more similar to the one I linked to) and served cold.

Gewürztraminer is the common wine served with spicy Asian food, and I'd ditch the kimchee. I don't think it will go as well with the rest of your dishes.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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I've got my rice paper technique sufficiently under control at this point that I'm feeling pretty confident about whipping out the salad rolls okay. I may wrap them up a bit before serving and hold them under a damp tea towel--I'll see how my flow goes.

You can definitely make these several hours ahead - put them on a platter that has been lined with wax paper, then use wax paper in between the layers (this way, you can stack them several rolls high if necessary). Put another piece of wax paper over the top, then lay a damp towel over that, and then wrap up the whole thing - platter and all - with plastic wrap. Store in your fridge or cooler until ready to serve. The damp towel will supply enough moisture to keep the rice paper hydrated. The wax paper will prevent the absorbtion of too much water, and will also keep the rolls from sticking to each other.

Your menu sounds delicious!!! :wub:

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To add another Asian element to your menu, maybe you can serve gamachi (? sp)tea - Japanese green tea with roasted barley. I love the light roasted flavour and it seems to compliment any cuisine.

I keep a thermos of this on my counter every day, and even after several hours, it's still enjoyable.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Thanks for your comments, folks! Catching up on some replies:

Family style makes sense as does your order of bringing to the table.  The place I purchase salad rolls "to go" when we are in need of a quick fix on the road keeps them in a pan with plastic wrap tightly over the top. As for tea, I personally would enjoy a Jasmine tea with your menu.

Thanks for the salad roll holding technique hint. And jasmine tea sounds like a great idea.

May I make a suggestion (that's a rhetorical question, by the way :raz:)?

If you're thinking of serving family style (since it's more authentic, anyway), you might want to throw the soup in with the rest of the meal, rather than serving it before the salad.  In Thailand, soups are usually served along with the meal.  I suppose, though, the order in which you're serving may also be based on serving dishes.  If you have regular US-sized soup bowls, rather than smaller ones (like Thai or Chinese ones), then it wouldn't make sense space-wise to serve the soup with the meal.

If you're looking to throw another cocktail snack in there, further in the Thai direction, khao tang na tang is one of my favourites, and can be made ahead.  You can find the potcrusts at Chinese groceries, so you don't have to make them youself.  Just make sure you get the plain ones.  I also love krathong thong--the shells can be made ahead by baking spring roll wrappers in mini-muffin tins, then just crisp before filling.  The traditional filling uses chicken, but I prefer one more salad-y (more similar to the one I linked to) and served cold.

Gewürztraminer is the common wine served with spicy Asian food, and I'd ditch the kimchee.  I don't think it will go as well with the rest of your dishes.

Oh, I'm totally happy to get suggestions ... I may not be able to implement all of them, at least not at this meal, but any I don't use will go in the memory bank for future reference.

Re serving the soup along with the rest of the meal: as I'm serving on an American-style table (long rectangle without lazy-susan), I'm not sure it'll be practical to have a tureen of sloshy soup in with all the rest of the dishes. I'll play that one by ear.

The Thai snacks you suggest sound lovely, but I think I want to keep the pre-meal snacks relatively light--these are fairly light eaters and I don't want them to fill up too fast! But I do want to try those snacks at some future time.

I love Gewürztraminer; I'll suggest it to my host. And yeah, bagging the kimchee sounds good to me. (I've got pickled greens happening with the pork belly anyway.)

I've got my rice paper technique sufficiently under control at this point that I'm feeling pretty confident about whipping out the salad rolls okay. I may wrap them up a bit before serving and hold them under a damp tea towel--I'll see how my flow goes.

You can definitely make these several hours ahead - put them on a platter that has been lined with wax paper, then use wax paper in between the layers (this way, you can stack them several rolls high if necessary). Put another piece of wax paper over the top, then lay a damp towel over that, and then wrap up the whole thing - platter and all - with plastic wrap. Store in your fridge or cooler until ready to serve. The damp towel will supply enough moisture to keep the rice paper hydrated. The wax paper will prevent the absorbtion of too much water, and will also keep the rolls from sticking to each other.

Your menu sounds delicious!!! :wub:

Ah--more salad roll preservation technique! Thanks for that, and the vote of confidence on the menu!

To add another Asian element to your menu, maybe you can serve gamachi (? sp)tea - Japanese green tea with roasted barley. I love the light roasted flavour and it seems to compliment any cuisine.

I keep a thermos of this on my counter every day, and even after several hours, it's still enjoyable.

Hmm ... I saw a tea tonight at the 99 Ranch labeled gen-matcha -- is that the one you mean?

Edited by mizducky (log)
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I recently did a Vietnamese feast for 14 after New Years. It was fun to show all my friends in Canada what I'd learned overseas. The thing that took the longest was the summer rolls - after I'd done all the prep, I farmed out the task of assembling them to an enthusiastic helper. I was thankful I did, because I hadn't made anything else in advance, and was prepping it all at my friend's house, as a kind of ad hoc cooking lesson. The chopping of the veg and the assembling of the mise en place took a couple of hours, but I was able to cook it all in 30 minutes (save the pork) once it was all ready. I also made a lemongrass tea by steeping lemongrass in hot water, and then cooling it. I served it with fresh lime juice and sugar over ice, and it was well received. I like Gewurtztraminer with Vietnamese food, but I prefer soju and beer with Korean dishes! :wub: Good luck, and I can't wait to see the pictures.

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I recently did a Vietnamese feast for 14 after New Years. It was fun to show all my friends in Canada what I'd learned overseas. The thing that took the longest was the summer rolls - after I'd done all the prep, I farmed out the task of assembling them to an enthusiastic helper. I was thankful I did, because I hadn't made anything else in advance, and was prepping it all at my friend's house, as a kind of ad hoc cooking lesson. The chopping of the veg and the assembling of the mise en place took a couple of hours, but I was able to cook it all in 30 minutes (save the pork) once it was all ready. I also made a lemongrass tea by steeping lemongrass in hot water, and then cooling it. I served it with fresh lime juice and sugar over ice, and it was well received. I like Gewurtztraminer with Vietnamese food, but I prefer soju and beer with Korean dishes!  :wub: Good luck, and I can't wait to see the pictures.

Thank you! I saw the pictures of your feast go by--excellent looking food. I'm an eggplant fiend also, and I liked the look of that eggplant dish. And your salad rolls are gorgeous.

I'm hoping to get as much of my mise en place as possible done the night before--I'll keep the veg bagged and iced down in the fridge so that it'll hopefully stay in good shape overnight. Then I'll haul everything over to my host's house the next day for all the remaining chopping and cooking. And my host has been warned that I'll be playing Candid Camera in the kitchen. :laugh:

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OMG I am particularly excited about the dan dan noodles (love these babies)! Will you be using a spicy PEANUT-y sauce?

Y'know, when I started researching dan dan noodles, I stumbled across a major amount of variations on this dish--some variants have a peanut-based sauce, some have a sesame-based sauce, and there are apparently even a few styles that have neither peanuts nor sesame seeds. :wacko:This page summarizes the confused terrain I fell into. I confess that, right at this point, I'm tempted to go more with the sesame-based version, if for no other reason than I've planned to do that peanut-based Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc leo (sp?)) with the summer rolls. But who knows? I've got both peanut and sesame ingredients in the house, so I might put a little of both in the noodles, see how that tastes.

As for heat level--this is an issue throughout the meal, because as you may have noticed I've got several dishes on the menu that normally pack a lot of spice heat. I've got some dinner guests who are a bit cautious about spiciness, but I don't want to totally wimp out, so what I'm going to do is put a modest amount of heat in the traditionally hot dishes, and provide appropriate condiments for anybody who wants to up the voltage in their servings (sliced fresh chiles, dried chile flakes, chile oil, sriracha, ground sichuan peppercorns, etc.) With the dan dan noodles especially, I think this customize-your-serving method will work out well.

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OMG I am particularly excited about the dan dan noodles (love these babies)! Will you be using a spicy PEANUT-y sauce?

Y'know, when I started researching dan dan noodles, I stumbled across a major amount of variations on this dish--some variants have a peanut-based sauce, some have a sesame-based sauce, and there are apparently even a few styles that have neither peanuts nor sesame seeds. :wacko:This page summarizes the confused terrain I fell into. I confess that, right at this point, I'm tempted to go more with the sesame-based version, if for no other reason than I've planned to do that peanut-based Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc leo (sp?)) with the summer rolls. But who knows? I've got both peanut and sesame ingredients in the house, so I might put a little of both in the noodles, see how that tastes.

As for heat level--this is an issue throughout the meal, because as you may have noticed I've got several dishes on the menu that normally pack a lot of spice heat. I've got some dinner guests who are a bit cautious about spiciness, but I don't want to totally wimp out, so what I'm going to do is put a modest amount of heat in the traditionally hot dishes, and provide appropriate condiments for anybody who wants to up the voltage in their servings (sliced fresh chiles, dried chile flakes, chile oil, sriracha, ground sichuan peppercorns, etc.) With the dan dan noodles especially, I think this customize-your-serving method will work out well.

Sorry, by peanut-y I meant sesame hhahahha (oops :raz:). I think sesame based is traditional (maybe?) so it would be nice to give it a go if you can :) You're right, there's many many variations and the soup-based dan dan mian is also really quite delicious (tantanmen is the Japanese ramen version -really good stuff).

Please do offer your recipe once it's done :biggrin:

Musings and Morsels - a film and food blog

http://musingsandmorsels.weebly.com/

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Okay, at this point, on the evening before the dinner, I've got the pork belly basically done, the banchan (spinach and bean sprout) done; the shrimp stock for the tom yum goong done, the shrimp for that soup and for the salad rolls all peeled and prepped (so that I could use their heads and shells for the stock) but still raw, and properly iced down; and the black sticky rice is almost finished soaking and ready to start being made into pudding. I want to also, at the least, knock out the Vietnamese dipping sauces (nuoc leo and nuoc mam cham), and perhaps some of the remaining mise en place. The only thing I still have to purchase is the tilapia, which I'll pick up on my way over to my host's house a little before noon. That'll give me the whole rest of the afternoon to finsh stuff.

Some insanity provoked me to buy a whole green papaya rather than the pre-shredded stuff--no, not insanity, just looking at the pre-shredded papayan and going "echhh, this doesn't look so hot." I'll try shredding some of it tonight--I bought a couple different varieties of those wacky little shredder gadgets--but if it turns into too much of a pain in the butt, I'll buy the preshredded tomorrow when I pick up the tilapia.

I think this is actually under control--as long as no phone calls or inquisitive housemate questions distract me from my train of thought! :laugh:

(No pictures yet, because shrimpy hands and distracted brains don't work well with cameras. :rolleyes: )

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Ellen: Sorry I never got back to you about the name of the tea, and I haven't had any time to go check the package at the store (I put my tea into a canister). If it's japanese green tea with roasted barley, that's the name. :wink::laugh:

I'm looking forward to reading about and seeing your Pan-Asian dinner!

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Genmai-cha (popped brown rice mixed with green tea).

It's a popular green tea, as the nutty flavor of the popped rice makes the grassy taste of the tea less noticable for first-timers.

On the other hand, if you planned to make a big potful and leave it for people to serve themselves, green teas don't take to sitting around in pots as well as many Chinese teas or roasted Japanese teas like houji-cha (hoji-cha).

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Thanks for getting back to me about the tea--I'll see if I can spot any when I stop for the tilapia. I decided to go with teabags for ease of service--so far, I've got oolong, jasmine, and green tea in bags. This will allow the guests to make the tea of their choice by the cup, and to compare and contrast different types of tea (and also get around the problem of tea sitting around and getting aged in a teapot)..

Update on my progress: got the sticky rice pudding done, as well as the dipping sauces, and spent a messy hour shredding that papaya. I'm sure there are much more graceful ways to do it, but I couldn't get a good shredding motion while resting the papaya in a work bowl (kept running into the sides of the bowl!) and so wound up just laying it on my cutting board and shredding away and letting the shreds fall where they may. Now I know why they sell the stuff pre-shredded. :wacko: But I can already tell that my hand-shredded stuff will be much fressher than the dodgy-looking pre-shredded stuff I saw yesterday at the market.

Last thing before I went to sleep last night, I made a list of all remaining things to be done, and I'm actually in very good shape:

--Salad rolls -- to be made; sauce done

--Soup--only needs heating and assembling

--Papaya salad--to be made

--Tilapia--to be made; sauce done

--Pork belly--just reheat w/sauce

--Dan dan noodles--to be made

--The banchan: done

--White rice--just steam and go

--Rice pudding: done

--Fruit: I've got a pineapple that needs carving

I also put together a master list of everything that needs to come with me to my host's house. Since I made a huge master list of everything in Excel at the very beginning of planning, assembling the packing list was simply a matter of cutting and pasting. (Yes, the packing list includes camera and batteries. :smile: )

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I am very happy with how my dinner came out last night! Not that there weren't ample numbers of "learning moments" throughout the process--there's definitely a lot of stuff I'll do differently next time. But the end product was on the whole really pleasing even despite the occasional forgotten ingredient or abandoned last-minute garnish. Hard to go wrong, really, when there's a bunch of ginger, garlic, and coconut milk happening. :smile:

I am grateful to my hosts for the use of their roomy and well-equipped kitchen:

gallery_27785_5645_78365.jpg

As often happens with cook/photographers, a couple of dishes got partly consumed before I remembered to get my camera into play. For instance, the salad rolls had already been passed around before I got on the stick, so here's a shot of my roll:

gallery_27785_5645_106388.jpg

The tureenful of tom yum goong:

gallery_27785_5645_54727.jpg

This is one of the dishes I was especially happy with--the broth made with the heads and shells of the shrimp turned a beautiful bright orange from the yummy fatty stuff inside the shrimps' heads. I also have this dorky foodgeek pride in having finally masterd how to shell and devein shrimp fast: scissors. Snip right through the back, shells, vein channel, and everything; the shell then pulls right off, even from a raw shrimp. Oh yeah--it also helps to buy big shrimp so you're not there all day peeling and peeling and peeling. :wacko:

Here's a closeup of my portion of the tom yum:

gallery_27785_5645_44988.jpg

The papaya salad was another that got away from me before I could get my camera into play:

gallery_27785_5645_104585.jpg

The pork belly--to reheat it, I sliced it, placed the slices in a casserole on a bed of halved baby bok choy, poured the (reduced, defatted) cooking juices over all, and baked it covered in a 350 deg. F oven. Also pictured: the kong namul, white rice, and noodles (in the background):

gallery_27785_5645_12491.jpg

The fish--I got this monster 4-pound tilapia, which was great because it turned out to be a nice juicy sweet-flavored fish, but challenging because it was just a tad to big for the wok I was using as my steaming utensil. And of course I couldn't bear to cut it--having the fish whole is kinda the point, after all. :wink: So it got to the table a little after the other entrees, but went over really well.

gallery_27785_5645_389.jpg

The rice pudding--this set up so well I could just slide it out of its bowl onto a plate, and serve it like a big chocolatey-looking cake. I loved this thing--chewy nutty grains of rice enrobed in a gentle coconuty sweetness. Each serving got topped with a spoonful of the coconut milk sauce in the little gravy boat alongside. Also served a fresh pineapple, and one of those New Years' candy assortments from the local 99 Ranch market.

gallery_27785_5645_77972.jpg

I offered a choice of oolong, green tea, and jasmine tea; the host provided a nice Riesling and Tsingtao.

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Oh, I almost forgot--the peanut sauce I made for the salad rolls really made the dish. A little fiddly to make but a vast improvement over the gluelike overly sweet substance often served with salad rolls in restaurants. Oops, missed getting a picture of that one...

I'll be posting recipes presently ...

This was a lot of work, but it was such fun work. There's some weird organization-geek part of me that gets off on planning and executing things like this, and I feel really good about how my organization for this dinner came off. Everything got rammed into an Excel spreadsheet. I had checklists and packing slips. I got on-site with only one ingredient forgotten (shy an extra bunch of scallions). Maybe this should be a whole other topic, how one gets oneself organized for dining productions of this sort. I imagine there's all kinds of pro systems for this kind of planning, but I'm just kind of making things up on my own as I need them for my admittedly amateur efforts.

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Oh, I almost forgot--the peanut sauce I made for the salad rolls really made the dish. A little fiddly to make but a vast improvement over the gluelike overly sweet substance often served with salad rolls in restaurants. Oops, missed getting a picture of that one...

I'll be posting recipes presently ...

This was a lot of work, but it was such fun work. There's some weird organization-geek part of me that gets off on planning and executing things like this, and I feel really good about how my organization for this dinner came off. Everything got rammed into an Excel spreadsheet. I had checklists and packing slips. I got on-site with only one ingredient forgotten (shy an extra bunch of scallions). Maybe this should be a whole other topic, how one gets oneself organized for dining productions of this sort. I imagine there's all kinds of pro systems for this kind of planning, but I'm just kind of making things up on my own as I need them for my admittedly amateur efforts.

:wub: Everything looks delicious, and I wish I could be there to sample! How did the dinner guest enjoy the meal? Man I need to go find me some lunch I could lick the screen.

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My favorite new-to-play-around-with ingredient is the nam prik pow:

gallery_27785_5620_77483.jpg

Tasted a little bit of this--oh. my. god. It's like the umami crack of the universe. I am going to have to be extremely firm with myself not to inhale spoonfuls of this stuff straight out of the jar. Obviously, I'm going to have to make a test batch of tom yum with this stuff--strictly for scientific purposes, of course... :laugh:

Oh, and ditto the love for Pantainorasingh nam prik pow. I also keep a jar or Maesri brand around for its in-your-face heat and tamarind tang. Either brand enhances Thai fried rice and stir-fries, and I just discovered how nam prik pao does wonderful things for Thai soups. Just put a dollop of nam prik pow in the soup bowl and ladle in the soup. Yum.

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Everything looks perfect, Ellen! I love the colours coming thru' the summer rolls. Looks like you got the technique down pat.

4 lb tilapia!? whoaaa...we only get smallish ones. An oval roaster would work as a steamer for the next big one. :smile:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Thanks, everybody, for your kind words!

:wub:  Everything looks delicious, and I wish I could be there to sample! How did the dinner guest enjoy the meal? Man I need to go find me some lunch I could lick the screen.

My guests were, frankly, blown away. I got lots of heartwarming compliments--including everyone making a significant dent in the food, even dishes that might have been a little beyond their familiarity level. At the end of the meal one of them even jumped up and hugged me! :cool:

Wow, that looks like a wonderful feast, MizD! The fish is particularly beautiful, as is the lonely salad roll. It looks like you got a nice, uniform shred on your papaya – what device did you end up using?

I found a copy of that wacky Kom Kom Miracle Knife in one of the local Vietnamese grocery stores. Worked pretty well once I got the rhythm down, but man--that took forever, and made my hands hurt by the end from clutching that awkward little tool. Next time, buying pre-shredded for sure. :biggrin:

4 lb tilapia!? whoaaa...we only get smallish ones. An oval roaster would work as a steamer for the next big one. :smile:

Yeah, he was a monster--I assume they just let him and his siblings at the market swim around in the farm pond till they all got good and huge. I have a covered enameled speckleware roaster that would have been perfect to steam this guy, except I had no pan that fit inside it properly for actually holding the fish. Next time I need to go shopping with a tape measure and buy a rimmed dish that will fit inside just perfetly.

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