Bánh Mì crostini + Vietnamese pâté

We had a wonderful four days. They say four days is not a vacation, just a few days off. Short as it may be but perhaps more importantly, in a symbolic way. These few days to Hanoi marks our first family trip; together in a big troop, now with little ones and a few new family members.
We begin each day slow, never in a rush. In the mornings, Me and Michael would wake up earlier than usual, rolling out of bed still half awake, sliding the balcony door open. We stood outside in the stillness for a moment, looking out the balcony to the lake with our sleepy eyes. Inhaling the morning air, the air smells earthy and dewy with the overhauls of traffic fumes from yesterday, a distance away. Listening to the bird and the trees rustling.The lake is dreamy with the morning haze. In a distance, blurry without my glasses, I will point out a fisherman or two fishing by the lake as the sun is just about to come up. We will watch them throw out their fishing rod and reel in, in awhile, our tummies will start to grumble. That was just a brief perfect moment of togetherness before we get change and head out for strong coffee and big hotel breakfast.
In the afternoons, we would head to the old Quarter of Hanoi, the reminiscences of the French colonial stood heavy on the building architectural, unscathed from the decades of war. We will roam the narrow and wonderfully atmospheric streets. There's a kind of romantic nostalgia to it. The streets are impossible to cross. It's a leap of faith and one must embrace with the bravest heart to do that. Somehow we managed to cross them each time, me holding my breath and squeezing his hands each time. We zig-zagged through the roads. Me, trusting his lead. Most of the time we found ourselves totally lost. That's was good because we discovered new things along the way. There was no rush, because I have all the time in the world to have him hold and lead me. Anywhere will do.
Sometimes we would bump into my brother and my sister-in-law on the streets along the way, and we would all agree to find some street snacks or hunt for a quaint street cafe for some vietnamese dripping coffee. Balancing on small stools (it's so tiny that the stool only covers half of your butt), we sipped coffee facing the streets, like everyone else, we watched the humid day pass, There's a kind of stillness to the coffee ritual, very much like the way the French do. The Vietnamese take the coffee ritual seriously. Drinking coffee are made more special in that sense when you take notice of the surroundings not just the book or the screen on your laptop like we are so used to now living in cosmopolitan cities. Oh... the civet-cat coffee, I must say, the aromas of coffee was wonderfully rich and smoky with hints of chocolate. We should all take time with our coffee. Shouldn't we all?

After all, the day starts only after coffee.
We bought many things along the way, tagging along the mother hen like how we used to be when we were little. I realize how much I miss those family shopping days. My mother would go shop for souvenirs and dresses. We would murk around, never roaming far, maybe sometimes a few shops down the road  in search of Vietnamese popsicles. But waiting for her to do the her shopping and comment fervently on her choice when she called for one.
In the late afternoon, the weather settled for humidity. We will merge back to the hotel for a dip at the pool, playing water games with the little ones till it's time to refuel for dinner. Food was the highlight as well. There are a few things we sought after. And had walked miles in search of good food with an untrustworthy map, confused road signs, directions from the locals we done understand. Pho Bo, the light Vietnamese noodles with beef broth was my brother's usual call. He ordered that at every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner without fail. I suspected his extra room service bills were all Pho Bo for supper as well. Michael needed his fresh spring rolls. He said it's a delicious little salad rolled up in one two bites. Mine was Banh Mi, anyone from the street will do, because they all looked so amazingly delicious.

Banh mi Crostini
The formula for a perfect banh mi is a balance and contrast of tastes, textures and temperatures: the sweetness of the meat, the tanginess of the pickles and the spiciness of the chilies. This Banh Mi crostini is a twist to the tradition and a winning dish to share with some friends and beers. Plus it sure does look great on the dinning table.

Daikon, Carrot and Chillies Pickle
You can make this ahead of time
2 large carrot, peeled and cut into skinny matchsticks
1 daikon (white radish), cut into skinny matchsticks
3 red chillies, thinly sliced at angle. (Include all the seeds as well)*
2 green chillies, thinly sliced at angle. (Include all the seeds as well)*
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 cup distilled white vinegar
* Use can use less or more chillies according to your own preference.

Place the carrot and daikons in a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoon salt. Toss together and let it sit for 10 mins. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl. With a colander, rinse the vegetable a few times to get rid of the salt. (Have a taste, what you are looking for is to have the vegetable retain a little saltiness) Use your hands to knead the vegetables, expelling the water from them. The vegetables should have lost about one-third of their volume. Return the vegetables to the bowl.

To make the brine, in a bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients together and pour over the vegetables. The brine should cover the vegetables. Let the vegetables marinate in the brine for at least 1 hour before eating. If you wish to store time longer, transfer to a jar and keep refrigerated up to 4 weeks.

Chicken Liver and Pork Pâté
Serves 8
200g chicken livers
100g butter, softened
300g minced pork
3 French shallots, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon brandy or Cognac
4 tablespoon pouring cream
1½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce (according to taste but more on the salty side)
½ teaspoon white pepper

Clean the livers then add a tablespoon of salt, leaving it to marinate for 5 minutes then rinse it a few times with cold water. Dry well with paper towels.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large frypan over medium heat. Add the livers and fry for 2-3 minutes, until brown on the outside but still pink on the inside. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Next, add 1 tablespoon of butter to the same pan and the pork mince, stir fry for about 2 minutes and add the sugar and fish sauce. Cook until meat is cook through and the juices at the bottom of the pan evaporated. Remove pork from the pan and place with the livers.

Wipe the pan with some kitchen paper and over medium heat add 1 tablespoon of butter and fry the shallots and garlic for 5 minutes, until the onion is softened and lightly caramelized. Increase the heat and return the lives and pork to the pan. Stir together for half a minute and pour in the Cognac at once. Tilt the pan towards the flame to ignite or if you are using an electric stove, light with a match. Let the alcohol to bubble away for 1-2 minutes.

Finally, place the liver mixture, together with the remaining butter and cream, into a food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into a cling wrap lined loaf pan, level the top with the back of your spoon and refrigerate overnight until set. If you are keeping the pâté for longer, spoon melted butter to cover the top before refrigerating.

To unmold the pâté, warm the sides and bottom of the loaf tin over flame or let it sit in a bowl of hot water. Turn over onto a plate and tap slightly on the bottom of the tin to release the pâté. Unwrap the cling wrap and cut into think slices.

Putting the Banh Mi crostini together
2 baguettes, sliced at an angle
2 cucumber, thinly sliced at an angle
A bunch of cilantro
Chicken liver and pork pâté
Daikon, carrot and chillies pickle
1 clove, cut half to rub the surface on the bread

Grill the sliced baguette on a grill pan until is crispy. Rub the garlic on the hot slices. This imparts a mild garlic flavor with having the garlic taste hit you in the face. 

Line a few slices of the toast on a platter, place the slice cucumber, add a slice of the pâté and top with a tablespoon of pickle. Scatter the cilantro leaves on top.

Place the pickle on a serving bowl, serve the remaining cucumber, pâté, toast, and cilantro onto the platter and let your friends make their own on the dinner table. 

If you have left overs, serve them up in a traditional Banh Mi sandwich for tomorrow's work lunch.

- till next post, ss. 

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