Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pho Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Soup)

Not a quick weeknight meal, but well worth it in the end!

If you've ever ordered pho ga at a restaurant, you've probably found it to be an under-flavored, pale shadow of the classic pho bo (beef). Instead, try making it at home, where you can crank up the flavor and have as much garnish as you want! This is especially good if you are cooking for a crowd. There's a lot of prep, but it's worth it in the end. I recommend using a pressure cooker to speed up the process.

Broth:

1 whole chicken
(optional: add extra chicken backs, feet, or necks for more flavor)
2 2-3" cinnamon sticks (ideally Vietnamese cassia type)
6 pieces star anise
2-3 onions (save 1/2 for the garnish)
4" piece of ginger
6 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. whole black peppercorns
6 whole cloves, separated and slightly crushed
4 Tbsp. fish sauce, divided
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
ground black pepper
salt

Slice the onion into halves and do the same to the ginger root. Place them in the bottom of your stockpot, with no oil. Bring the heat to medium to roast the ginger and onion so they start to turn almost black in places. Meanwhile, roast the cinnamon, anise, cloves, and peppercorns in a small dry pan until they begin to release their aroma--but don't let them burn! Add the chicken, garlic, and roasted spices to the stock pot and cover with cold water. Add 2 Tbsp. of the fish sauce and the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 1.5-2 hrs, or pressure cook for 35 minutes.

Drain the stock off, set the chicken aside to cool, and throw away the used seasonings. Before serving, heat the stock back up to a low boil. Add the remaining fish sauce, some ground black pepper, and adjust the flavor with salt. Make the broth a little stronger than you'd like, since the noodles will need a lot of flavor.

If you are going to serve it all immediately, add in some green onion and cilantro from the garnish (see below). If you are going to freeze some of the stock for later use, do that before adding the fresh herbs.

Serving:

Use whichever fresh ingredients you like. The top items in the list are the most essential.

rice stick noodles (ban pho)
red onion, thinly sliced
green onion, sliced
cilantro, stems removed
mung bean sprouts
Thai basil
jalapeno slices
mint
culantro
Sriracha sauce
Hoisin sauce
fish sauce

When cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the bone and shred it with your fingers.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water for ~5 minutes, until al dente. Drain off the hot water, then add cold water (you may need to repeat the draining and filling) until the noodles are cool enough to handle. Pinch up a scoop of noodles between your thumb and forefinger, and wrap the noodles around your fingers to form a birdsnest shape a little smaller than your fist. Place the noodle bundle in a colander to drain. This way, when the noodles cool down and stick together, they will be in serving-sized bundles instead of a big congealed mess.

Place into each bowl a noodle bundle, sliced onion, green onion, cilantro, and chicken. Add plenty of broth (the noodles will absorb some). Garnish with beansprouts, additional herbs, and sauces until desired flavor is reached. Enjoy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Buttermilk Pie with Raspberry Topping


I baked this at the same time as a loaf of zucchini bread because they both used buttermilk and because if you're heating up the kitchen to bake one thing you may as well go on a baking spree. Buttermilk pie is a traditional Southern dish, basically a custard pie, and it's ideal for when the larder is bare. Since it's the height of summer I decided to add in some seasonal fruit, but this is a perfectly respectable pie without the berries. This pie is literally simple as pie, and there's no fiddly top crust to deal with. I got the basic recipe from the NPR website.

Preheat oven to 350

1 unbaked pie shell
4 eggs
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. melted butter
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
lemon zest (my addition)

Blend together the ingredients, but not so much that they start to foam. Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell. Cover the crust with foil so it doesn't burn. Bake for 1 hour, or until a knife comes out clean. The pie will puff up a bit, and the surface should be golden brown. It will fall as it cools. If you are topping it with raspberries, let it cool some, but it doesn't need to be fully cold if you are in a hurry.

1 pint raspberries
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. cold water + 2 tbsp corn starch

Rinse the raspberries. Place in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Mash with a potato masher and bring to a gentle simmer. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and bring back to a simmer for 5 minutes. Spread across the pie. Cool for at least an hour before slicing.

NOTES: the topped pie and the plain pie are very different experiences. The plain pie is a subtle, but creamy and satisfying affair, perfect with some strong coffee. The fruit topped pie will be more dominated by the fruit flavor, but equally delightful. What I like about the buttermilk base is that it isn't as heavy as a plain custard or cream filling.

Zucchini Bread

How can we have so many recipes, and yet not have a family zucchini bread recipe? Part of the reason may be that it's a fairly modern phenomenon--I can't find a recipe for it in any of our older cookbooks. Another possibility is that the version in The Melting Pot is made entirely with whole wheat flour and honey instead of sugar--yuck! Another reason is that Aunt Etties recipe was ~90% nuts, which is also yuck in my book. Whatever the reason we don't have one yet, here's a good recipe that is unapologetically full of refined carbohydrates:

Preheat oven to 350

1 1/2 c. flour
~2-3 c. grated zucchini (one 12" zuke)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. garam masala

2 eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Sprinkle the zucchini with the salt and place it in a colander in the sink. Sift together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Blend the wet ingredients together in a quart measuring cup. Squeeze the zucchini out very thoroughly. Mix the zucchini into the dry ingredients, tossing it so that it is well distributed and coated with flour. Pour in the wet ingredients and mix together so the batter is just blended.

Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a knife comes out mostly clean. Allow to rest as long as possible. Ideally, let the loaf cool and then wrap in plastic wrap overnight before cutting.

You may notice I haven't included nuts. That's because they are gross. You can get crazy and add nuts, reduce the sugar, use hippie flour, but I am not responsible for the results.