Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup)

I think my immune system is broken.  I usually only get a little snuffle and headache during sick season, but I've been fighting cold after flu after stomach bug for the last few weeks.  So, it's been soup city here in my kitchen.  One really comforting soup I've been craving is pho ga, chicken pho.  Many people are familiar with pho, which is a beef noodle soup.  It's great, I love it, but sometimes I crave something a little lighter.  Pho bo (beef pho) also takes days to make a good broth, whereas I can cook some pho ga even while I'm fighting TheraFlu drug haze.  This is my sister's pho ga recipe, and it is really delicious!  As she has put it, the keys are 1)smashing the marrow 2)using fresh bouillon and 3)using good nuoc mam (fish sauce)

  • 1 yellow onion plus 1/4 more sliced for serving (can also use red onion for serving)
  • 4 inches of fresh ginger
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 cubes pho ga seasoning*
  • 2 tsp. of 'Better than Bouillon', or 2 cubes chicken bouillon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tbs. nuoc mam (fish sauce), adjust according to taste and fish sauce brand used
  • 1 package rice noodles, banh pho*
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 2 tbs. cilantro, chopped
  • slices of lime, fresh basil, and Thai bird chilies for serving
* available at Asian grocery stores

  1. Char onion and ginger on stove, about 1 minute per side.  Make sure you clean your stove coil before and after doing this.
  2. Add onion and ginger to large (I use an 8 qt) pot.  Fill with water.  Add whole chicken, bouillon, and pho ga seasoning.  Boil for 30 minutes.  Remove chicken and onion; skim and remove foam off top of the broth.
  3. When cool enough to handle, remove chicken meat from bones.  Slice chicken in 1" pieces and set aside.  Crush chicken bones to release marrow (I generally use a combination of smacking it with a meat mallet and a knife).  Return bones to broth and boil for 30 minutes to an hour.  Drain through fine mesh sieve.  Add fish sauce and salt and pepper.  Return to boil.
  4. When ready to serve, prepare rice noddles according to package directions.  Place noodles, chicken meat, sliced yellow onion, green onion, and cilantro in bowls.  Spoon boiling broth over noodles and serve immediately.
  5. Serve with lime, herbs, chilies, hoisin sauce and Sriracha. Enjoy!

Pho Ga seasoning

Before broth
Perfect for a cold on a cold night!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

La Madeleine Tomato Basil Soup

You know that classic tomato basil soup from La Madeline, the casual French dining chain? Well, it's the perfect meal (with Rustic Rosemary Bread) for when you're fighting the flu or cold, which Reid and I had the joy of doing all last week.  It was also a great way to use up some of by fresh basil, which I'm trying to trim down for the winter.  This a copy-cat recipe that I created by combing two tomato soup recipes I really enjoy.  One was found in a cook book my friend Laura's mom gave me in college, called Survival Cooking for Students.  It was a compilation of easy and tasty recipes that she and Laura's dad had printed.  The recipe for La Madeline's Tomato Basil Soup was from the Houston paper.  The second recipe that inspired this was the Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup from William Sonoma's Soup cookbook.  Both recipes have the option of buying fresh tomatoes, roasting or peeling, coring and chopping tomatoes or using canned.  I use canned because it's so much easier and just as good (and cheap!).  I have used fresh before, and I'm not convinced the flavor pay off is worth the work.

  • 4 cans fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 4 c. tomato juice (or equal mixture tomato juice and vegetable or chicken stock)
  • fresh basil, about 1 cup, chopped plus additional for garnish
  • 3/4 c. whipping cream
  • 6 tbs. butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and garlic and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add canned tomatoes and tomato juice and simmer for about 20 minutes or until tomatoes broken down and mixture thickened.  Cool slightly.
  3. In a blender, puree tomato mixture and basil.
  4. Return to pan and stir in cream and butter over low heat.
  5. Add salt and pepper to tasty
  6. Serve garnished with basil and rustic bread.

Rustic Rosemary Bread

Oh man, there is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread wafting through your house.  So warm, comforting, and delicious!  I've been making a lot of soups lately, so needed to make a few loafs of bread to go with that.  This bread recipe is super simple and there's not much, as in no, kneading involved.  Hurrah!  Don't need a fancy bread machine, just an oven, roasting pan, and if you have one, a baking stone.  If you don't have a baking stone, you can easily just use an upside-down cookie sheet.  Make sure everything is pre-heated.  

I generally add rosemary to one half, and bake the other half as regular white bread.  You can also substitute the bread flour with all purpose flour or whole wheat flour.

Rustic Rosemary Bread
  • 6 1/2 c. bread flour
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 package instant yeast
  • 1 tbs. salt
  • 2 tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
  1. In large bowl, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees).
  2. Stir in flour, mixing until dough loose and no longer dry patches.  Cover lightly with kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours.
  3. Divide in half.  You can store the dough in a refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.  I generally bake one half and store one half.
  4. If making rosemary bread: knead in rosemary until combined well into dough.  
  5. To bake: Turn the dough in your hands to lightly stretch the surface, creating a rounded top and lumpy bottom and let the dough rest on parchment paper for at least 1 1/2 hours.
  6. Place a broiler pan on the bottom rack of oven.  Place baking stone (or upturned cookie sheet) on top rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees for at least 20 minutes.
  7. Dust lightly with flour, slash top lightly with serrated knife three times.
  8. Slide the dough (and parchment paper) onto baking stone.  Pour one cup water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam.
  9. Bake until well browned about 20-25 minutes. 
  10. Cool completely on wire rack.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Banh Xeo: Vietnamese savory crepe

Banh Xeo, which literally translates to sizzling cake, is a savory Vietnamese crepe-like meal.  It's one of my favorite southern Vietnamese dishes.  It's made by using a batter of rice flour, tumeric, and water and stuffed with pretty much anything (shrimp, bean sprouts, pork belly).  There is also a similar dish, called banh khoai, which hails from the central region of Vietnam.  I actually prefer banh khoai, because it's cruchier and smaller but my mom is from the southern region so I'm a little more familiar with banh xeo.  

Like pretty much every Vietnamese dish, it's eaten by wrapping some banh xeo in lettuce and herbs (basil and/or mint) and dipping it in dipping fish sauce, nuac cham.  

This was my first attempt at making it, and I don't think it came out as I'd like.  The batter was way too watery, and I didn't get a good enough fry on it.  I did use a shortcut, and used a pre-made batter mixture from the Asian grocery store.  Live and learn and try again!

  • Banh xeo mix, see picture below
  • 1/2 lb peeled, deveined shrimp
  • 1/2 lb pork belly, cut in 1" thin strips
  • 2 c. bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • serve with: Boston or red leaf lettuce, mint, basil and nuoc cham
  1. Prepare the banh xeo batter per directions on bag.
  2. In a large pan over medium-high heat, add 1 tbs vegetable oil.  Saute pork belly until done, about 5-10 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.  
  3. Cook shrimp until no longer translucent, about 3 minutes; set aside.
  4. Steam or pan fry bean sprouts.  Combine bean sprouts, pork, shrimp and green onions in a bowl.
  5. Wipe pan clean and add 1 tbs vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
  6. Layer thin coating of banh xeo batter.  Allow batter to get bubbly and crispy.  After 2-5 minutes, add in pork belly, shrimp and bean sprout mixture.  Fold in half and slide onto a plate. 
  7. Serve with lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham.