Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lazy Pho (Beef Noodle Soup)

Well, the broth is not home made at all, but this is how I make pho when I want that "homemade" taste without all that other work and it still tastes better than your instant noodle in a package. Also, because I have a small family of two adults and a small toddler, it doesn't make sense to make a batch of pho unless of course I plan to freeze the broth or eat pho all week. Besides, this is like making spaghetti from a jar. :) I still need to attempt to make pho from scratch again one of these days. My first time making it years ago was a disaster. It basically tasted like water with boiled beef and fat. The second attempt tasted much better, but I had leftovers for weeks and ingredients were just too much, so I never tried again. I was living by myself at the time.

I usually make my pho with the wide, fat noodles, but for some reason this Asian store didn't carry any (not even the dried kind). I don't know why, but I prefer the wide noodles when I eat pho at home, but don't mind the regular noodles when I'm at the restaurant. I also decided to buy the fresh noodles from the refrigerated section, and I did not like how the extra starch on the noodles diluted my broth. The noodles itself tasted better, but perhaps I should've rinsed the noodles more thoroughly.

Fresh noodles I tried today:

These are the fresh noodles that I would prefer and grew up eating. They make a difference to me:

Or course since I don't see the above fresh, wide noodles available very often, I have settled for the dried wide noodles and they taste fine. I forget the two brands I usually buy, but this is how they look similar to:

This is a great dish to make when you have extra or leftover ingredients laying around and you still want a hearty meal. Since I'm Asian, I usually have all these ingredients available. I just have to buy the broth and sometimes noodles. I usually keep a few cans and an extra package of pho noodles around for those days when I feel lazy to cook everything from scratch.

Serves 2-4
Ingredients - pho is one of those foods that you can easily opt out or add your favorite ingredients. The most important ingredients are the broth, and of course, you need the noodles. Everything else is simply there to complement. Why do you think instant noodle packages just come with noodles and a packet? :p

1 package of wide rice noodles (dried or fresh)
2 cans of beef pho broth (I tried a couple and the one I pictured is the best so far)
Meat of your choice such as thinly sliced beef, meatballs (found in the Asian market freezer section), chicken, and even seafood such as shrimp. (I prefer to eat beef pho with just beef, but I have added chicken to it as well and tastes just as good.)
Fresh herbs such as cilantro, green onions, and basil
Lime wedges
Jalapeno peppers, sliced
Fish sauce
Hot sauce such as sriracha sauce
Hoisin sauce

1. Soak the dried noodles in hot water in a large bowl while you prep the other ingredients.
2. Shop your cilantro and greens onions. Slice jalapeno peppers. Assemble the herbs, peppers and lime wedges onto a plate or serving trays.
3. Prep and cook your preferred meat. I usually just boil all my meat. Pretty simple and easy.
4. I usually heat up two pots. One for the broth and the other to make boiling water to soften the noodles even more. You want your noodles soft, but not too soft that they break easily. When the broth boils, turn down the heat to low to keep warm.
5. Simply assemble a large bowl with the soften noodles, then broth and add your other favorite ingredients.

Hearty, easy and still has that home made taste. Yum.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bulgur Wheat Pilaf

Loved this recipe. And guess what? It's all vegetarian. I found the bulgur wheat at Whole Foods. I forgot the harissa, so I made my own at home. I don't know how harissa is supposed to taste like, but I just quickly made mine by pounding two dried peppers (soaked in warm water until soft) with a pinch of cumin, grounded coriander seeds, and 1/2 a clove of garlic. I then put a little oil in it and let it sit while I prepped the other ingredients. I know that's not entirely the correct way, but I was short on time and I totally forgot about the harissa. I did not follow this recipe exactly. I pretty much only used half the onions since I thought 4 whole onions was a little too much. I used grape tomatoes as well. They turned out great. I didn't make the yogurt as suggested since I didn't realize I was supposed to make it the night before. The dish tasted good without it IMO. I should know better to always read the whole recipe before attempting it, but sometimes I don't. Don't skip any of the other steps though. The surprise was the onions with the cinnamon and lemon juice. That added quite the flavor to the whole dish. So glad I found 101 Cookbooks, because I thought by eating healthier and more veggies meant eating only salads for the most part. Before the baby, I ate salads for a few months, and ever since then the thought of a salad just didn't sound very appetizing anymore.

You may find the recipe at 101 Cookbooks.

Pumpkin Bars

I've been meaning to make my own pumpkin bars since every fall season. I always buy the ones sold at Festival Foods that's made by Taste of Scandinavia. Their bars are so good. I am happy to have tried this recipe from Paula Dean and it's so good. My husband loves it. I put in a little more sugar in the frosting to duplicate the one from ToS and it taste about the same. The hubby said he actually likes this recipe better because the cake portion is not as sweet, just perfect.

Original Recipe from Food Network:

4 eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13 by 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting. Cut into bars.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Favorite Papaya Salad

Well, one of them. For now. It's from one of my favorite Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities, Cheng Heng Cambodian Restaurant, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Why is Cheng Heng one of my favorite restaurants? Because they have a good variety of food at affordable prices. Depending on what you order, the food usually tastes consistently good and the owners are very nice. They have never let me down. Actually, I have been going there ever since they opened over 10 years ago. I used to go in there and order the usual papaya salad with chicken wings and rice. I often went there to eat by myself, studying for college at times. When I moved into the suburbs and went back a few years later, the owner still recognized me and mentioned that I don't come there anymore. I was pleasantly surprised that she would remember me. I think she is good at remembering her customers. The owners and their family work so hard there. They practically live there. I feel sorry for the owner sometimes because she always looks so stressed out everytime I see her and I have heard her mentioned it a few times as well. It's because they're always so busy. I told my husband that if I ever won the lottery ;), then they would be one of the families that I would help out. Sure they have a successful restaurant, but I would help them make the restaurant look nicer and perhaps give them options so that they wouldn't have to be there day and night every day.

Anyway, back to papaya salad. Sorry, I like to ramble a lot. That's why I blog. ;) Most people that I've seen go to Cheng Heng for their combination noodle soup, but I go for their papaya salad. Yep, I love the papaya salad from Cheng Heng. 99% of the time, they have always made it consistently. It's hard for me to find consistently-good-tasting papaya salad. It has a different taste from other papaya salads out there too. They top it off with basil and mint and it really brings out a unique flavor to the papaya salad. I have ordered their salad for quite a few potlucks now and the majority of people like it. In fact, I ordered a huge batch of their papaya salad for my son's birthday party, and by the time I had any time to get food for myself, it was all gone. I was disappointed that I didn't get to eat my own food that I catered, but glad the guests liked it. :)

Everyone has their own preferences, but I would have to say this is definitely one of my favorite papaya salads for the moment. Actually, for the past decade since they opened.

Double Broccoli Quinoa

Happy new year! One of my new year resolutions is to eat more vegetables. I found a great new blog that focuses on natural and vegetarian foods. I don't think I will ever become a vegetarian, but I like the first recipe that I tried from the website already. I had three more planned last week, but couldn't find all the ingredients. I will try again this week. I had to go to Whole Foods to get the rest of the ingredients. Have you ever been to Whole Foods? I just love it. I've never been in love with a grocery store before. I am usually into clothing or home decorating stores, but a grocery store? Everything at Whole Foods is just so pretty. Except for the narrow aisles, I love how fresh everything looks. Bakery, veggies to meat looks good there. I would buy all my food there if only they were closer to where I live and if only it wasn't so expensive there. The first time I went there I spent around $50 on maybe three items. I think I bought fish oil and other vitamins though. Today, I spent about $25 on 4 items. Still a lot.

Anyway, I have discovered a new food that I like. It's called quinoa and it's really good for you because of its fiber and protein content. I never really bothered to research why white rice is not good for you, but I guess the reason is because a lot of its nutrients have been stripped away. If you were to eat rice in its natural or wild form, then it would be better for you. Oh well, I'm Asian and white rice will always be a part of my diet. It's not like it's going to kill you if you eat it anyway. Quinoa could be a substitute for rice as it has more nutrients and will fill you up more by just eating less of it than a bowl of rice. It kind of has a nutty flavor to it too. Even my one year old likes it. :)

The original recipe is adapted from 101 Cookbooks. I originally made it per the recipe, but found that I liked more cooked broccoli in it instead of the pesto, so this adapted recipe only makes half of the pesto the original recipe would make. The original recipe only calls for half of the pesto anyway, so I wouldn't waste the broccoli to make more pesto unless of course you don't like broccoli.

Serves 4 - 6


3 cups cooked quinoa*
5 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems
1 medium garlic clove
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Optional toppings: fire oil (optional)**, sliced avocado


Heat the quinoa and set aside.

Now barely cook the broccoli by pouring 3/4 cup water into a large pot and bringing it to a simmer. Add a big pinch of salt and stir in the broccoli. Cover and cook for a minute, just long enough to take the raw edge off. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside.

To make the broccoli pesto puree one cup of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, 1/4 cup of the almonds, Parmesan, salt, and lemon juice in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and cream and pulse until smooth.

Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with the broccoli pesto. Taste and adjust if needed, you might want to add bit more salt or an added squeeze of lemon juice. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with the remaining almonds, a drizzle of the chile oil, and some sliced avocado or any of the other optional toppings.

*To cook quinoa: rinse one cup of quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan heat the quinoa, two cups of water (or broth if you like), and a few big pinches of salt until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.

**To make the red chile oil: You'll need 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes. If you can, make the chile oil a day or so ahead of time by heating the olive oil in a small saucepan for a couple minutes - until it is about as hot as you would need it to saute some onions, but not so hot that it smokes or smells acrid or burned. Turn off the heat and stir in the crushed red pepper flakes. Set aside and let cool, then store in refrigerator. Bring to room temp again before using.