Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beef Noodles Soup (Phở Bò Việt Nam)

Beef noodles soup or "Phở Bò Việt Nam" is a most special dish in Vietnam. Phở has many famous Vietnamese authors writing about it. So, perhaps I do not need to describe  how to make or eat  Phở, at least not the traditional Vietnamese Noodle Soup. Previously, I had introduced Chicken Phở, because this is a dish that I usually eat and is also another way to cook Phở that does require precise ingredients and preparation like" Phở Bò". Last week, my niece, Quyen, and her close Canadian friend, Trinh, visited me. When Trinh told me that in Canada, meats are very expensive, I decided to treat them with " Phở Bò" instead of imposing my usual healthy habit of preparing fish, chicken, and vegetable dishes. Their visit also provided me an opportunity for me to prepare this dish in memory of my father. I want to contribute a recipe of  beef noodle soup from my own family. Back then in Vietnam, my parents owned a noodle shop, named "Phuoc Thuy".  Although at that time I was very young, the image of my dad sitting on the kitchen floor cleaning the beef shin bones, tripe, and the beef flanks have always been fresh in my mind for many years. According the procedure followed by my Dad, the beef shin bones must be soaked in salted water and vinegar overnight, and then the bones had to cook in boiling water at least 5 to 10 minutes so that all the impurities in the bones are reduced. After the initial boiling, the bones then have to be cleaned thoroughly again with lime juice before they went into another clean pot.  My father took another step to separate the bone marrow because when cooked, bone marrow tends to opaque the broth. If this happened, the broth would not be saved because my dad said the water was muddy and would not produce a tasty Phở. Because "Phở Bò Việt Nam" is one of the Vietnamese signature dishes, I believe that each Vietnamese family will have its own specific recipe to make this dish with beef or chicken. I am a person who likes to cook simple, healthy, but delicious food. Cooking techniques should not be so complicated, so I try to stay away from making this beef noodle soup and is not something that I would recommend for daily meals unless a big pot of the beef broth is made and then the broth is frozen for later use because the broth is complicated, not the spices, to turn the broth into Phở. Making Phở for my niece and her friend brought back memories from Vietnam where the noodle soup, "Phuoc Thuy", was the main source of income for my parents to raise their 10 children. Through the efforts of my father, who struggled every day to wash many beef shin bones and spent many sleepless overnights caring not to excessively boil the broth so that the beef noodles soup would retain the clear broth which always had a yellow sheen from the bone marrow , the fat adding in the last minutes of cooking. If my dad was still alive and prepared this soup with American beef bones, he would not have to work as hard because encrusted bones and meat in the American grocery markets are very clean. However, this is my family's recipe, but I will not be too fussy when preparing this dish, so I use the beef bones from the ribs of a cow, which are from one of my friends who owns a cattle farm. It is much easier for me to walk down memory lane here and also to reduce some of the steps of cooking Phở Bò. My niece is very fastidious in food issues, but it looks like she approved and complimented my beef noodle soup. Therefore, I will share this recipe in my blog once again just to appreciate the hard work of and my indebtedness to my parents.

Broth ingredients:
5 lbs of beef bones, short ribs, or shin bones with marrow
2 lbs flank steak 
2 lbs oxtails 
2 large white onions
4 oz. fresh ginger
4 shallots,
1 lb. daikon, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
2 oz. rock sugar
Salt to taste 
Spices bag ingredients:
10 star anise
10 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 lb. beef sirloin, thinly sliced
2 to 3 beef balls for each person 
1 lb. rice noodles or Banh Phở Tuoi (serves 4 to 5 people)
1 large white onion, very thinly sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups bean sprouts (serves 4 to 5 people)
1 or 2 hot chili peppers, Jalapeno or Thai hot chili, sliced
1/4 cup hot chili sauce (Tuong Ot)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 lime, cut into wedges
Fresh herbs, such as Thai basil, regular basil, or mints, separated into leaves

Fish sauce on the side for dipping

To make beef broth:
If using shin bones with marrow, then soak the night before the bones in a pot with salt and vinegar. I soak the short ribs with salt and vinegar for a few hours. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the bones, oxtails, if using, and flank steak. Cook for 10 minutes. Drain and wash very well the bones and meats under running cold water. Clean the pot very well, too.

Add 10 quarts of water to the pot. Add bones, flank steak, and bring to boil. Turn the heat down before the broth boils over. Start skimming the water’s surface to remove the foam and some of the fat. Continue to skim off the impurities that rise to the surface. Add daikon, parsnip, and rock sugar and season the broth with quite a lot of salt.

In the meantime, char the onions, ginger, and shallots directly over the burner or under the broiler until they release their fragrance. Clean them off a little and add into the broth.

To make the spices bag:
Place all the spice ingredients onto a saute pan without oil and fry until fragrant (I put all these spices into a tool that I have and works perfectly for me with this Phở recipe, but you can use a piece of cheesecloth to create a bag for all these spices). Add the spices bag into the broth in the last hour of cooking.

Check doneness of the oxtails and meats after 1 to 1 1/2 hrs. of cooking (they should be tender). Remove meats and slice thinly. If cooking the beef broth with bones, it takes 4 hours to finish (the bones that I use here do not take long).
Drain the broth and place these spices bag into the broth and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the spices bag and drain the broth through a fine sieve or through cheesecloth. Now the Phở is ready to serve. At this point, you can add fish sauce to the broth, if needed. Put enough of the broth back into the pot to serve for 4 to 5 people and then bring the broth to a rolling boil. Freeze the rest of the broth for later use, if any is left over
Bring another 4 cords of water to boil. If using fresh noodles, it should take a few seconds in the hot water or just follow the instructions if using dry noodles.

Assembling a bowl of Phở:
Divide the noodles among 4 to 5 soup bowls. Top noodles with a few slices of flank, sirloin, and beef balls. Ladle the broth directly over the meat (beef sirloin will cook instantly). Garnish with chopped scallions and cilantro. Serve with hoisin sauce, hot sauce, fresh herbs, and fresh jalapeno or hot chili
On the side, thinly place onions on a plate. Add white vinegar and mix well (optional).


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Braised Tofu with Daikon and Mushrooms

I just finished a few days of cooking with meats because I had guests in my house. Today, I will prepare a vegetarian dish. Anyway, this is an easy vegan dish, and most of the ingredients are readily available. I put this dish together with ingredients that are immediately available to me, but the addition of other veggies, such as chayote or winter melon is also great in this dish. However, ground chicken, pork, or shrimp can be added for meat eaters as well to make it a one-pot meal.

4 oz. firm tofu, cut into cubes
3 inches of daikon, peeled. cut into cubes
1 carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
4 button mushrooms, quartered
1 tbs fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tbs soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 green onions, sliced
2 tsp peanut oil
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbs water

Combine the thickener and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, shallot, and mushrooms and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).

Add carrots, daikon, and vegetable broth. Season with soy sauce, salt, and pepper.

. Bring to boil and add tofu.

Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until carrot and daikon are tender. Stir in green onions and thickener and bring to boil for 1 minute.

 It is ready when the sauce has lightly thickened. Sprinkle about two tbsp of Japanese furrikake
(optional)and serve.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Knowledge vs.Wisdom

There are two people arguing with each other.
The first one said, “4×4 = 16.” The second person argued back, “4×4 = 17.”
Both people were stubborn and refused to accept the other's position. Then both decided to seek treatment from a judge. After hearing both sides of the argument, the judge said,
”The first one is right that 4 x 4 = 16; however, the second person can go home, but the first man must remain here to be beaten with dozens of sticks.”
After the second man leaves and the first man is beaten, the first man weeps and asks the judge "If I am correct, why am I being beaten for that?
The judge explained, “You know you're right because it is the truth. So why did you continue wanting to improve this idiot? Therefore, you were beaten for your stupidity, because you wasted my and other people's time. I let the idiot go so he can go straight back to society whose responsibility it is to teach him. He is so stupid that no matter how well you have explained it, still he will not understand.”


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Yellow Corn Muffins

I have worked through most types of sweet muffins, but particularly savory muffins I have never tried. This morning, when I went outside and walked around my herbs garden, it caught my eyes that the chives were doing so well. It gave me an idea that I should start making savory muffins from now on. Also, all the fresh herbs such as rosemary, parsley, oregano, and thyme would enhance the flavor for the savory muffins. Other ingredients that can add to this kind of muffins are cheese, nuts, ham, bacon, leftover meat, etc. This is my first batch of savory muffins, so I did not intend to write the recipe in my blog; however, after they came out from the oven, they looked to seductive, and when tasted, were quite delicious. So I want to share this simple recipe with anyone who wants to start making savory muffins.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal flour
1 tbs baking powder
3 tbs grated parmesan cheese (or any cheese of your choice)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of black pepper
1 tsp (or more, your choice) jalapeno pickle, chopped
2 tbs fresh chives, chopped
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup skim milk
1 cup frozen corn kernels 

Preheat oven to 375°. Line 12 a muffin tin with muffin tin liners.

Stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, parmesan cheese, black pepper, and mix well.
With a handheld mixer, beat eggs, milk, and oil.

 Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the egg mixture and corn, jalapeno, and chives.

Mix gently until just combined. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin liners 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until light golden brown.

Serve warm.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Stir-Fried Tuna with Ginger & Lemon Sauce

After many studies, scientists have proven that lemons are a source of diversity in our house. From cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, lemons also provide great benefits to the human body, such as colon cleansing.  Japanese people use lemons every day to detox their bodies by drinking a glass of lemon juice in the morning. I enjoy the aroma of lemon zest and lemon juice in pastries or making lemon sauce for basic stir-fried dishes. When used in cooking, lemons have seen many advantages, such as improving the quality of meats for  barbecuing, which will be softer and more tender if acid of lemon is used in marinating. A very unique, fast, and tasty dish is stir-fried tuna with green beans and ginger & lemon sauce. Again, my cooking blog has a very simple formula that offers a full range of nutrients that are needed daily.

Two 6 to 8 oz. tuna fillets, cut into cubes
4 oz green beans
2 mushrooms, quartered
1/3 red onion, wedged
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 green onions, cut into 3 inch lengths
1 tbs peanut oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Lemon Sauce:
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sake
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

In a bowl, whisk lemon sauce well.
In another bowl, toss tuna with sesame oil and 1 tsp soy sauce.
Cook green beans in a pot of boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a wok, add the remaining oil. Heat until smoking. Add fish and cook just until nearly opaque (about one or two minutes). Move tuna to a side of the wok.

Add garlic and ginger and mash into wok until fragrant.

Add mushrooms , red onions and mix well.

Stir tuna back with the mushrooms. Stir cooked green beans into wok and add lemon sauce.

While stirring constantly, cook until fish are opaque and sauce has thickened (about 1 minute). Add scallion and make a final stir and then serve. Slide ginger-lemon

Monday, June 22, 2015

Baked Chicken with Fresh Tarragon

Tarragon is a popular herb used often in the French cuisine. I planted this herb first by a little curiosity only. Then this herb had a particular beauty, was very easy to grow, and tastes good too. The good thing about tarragon is that it does not need much care, such as basil or dill. I have tried to prepare several dishes with tarragon. One of the dishes that I have prepared satisfactorily is baked chicken with tarragon. Chicken can easily go with any kinds of herbs, but I will change palate instead always using other common herbs. The results have made me very happy. So, today I will share this recipe on my blog and hope this will help to speed dinner preparation with a good, simple, and healthy meal.

2 chicken breasts, halved
2 tbs coconut oil or butter
1/4 tsp paprika
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 carrot, julienned
2 button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbs fresh tarragon, minced

Heat one tablespoon of coconut oil in a skillet.  Add chicken. Sprinkle chicken with paprika and garlic. Brown chicken until just halfway cooked.

Place carrots and mushrooms on the bottom of a baking dish and top with chicken and zest.

 In the same skillet, add the other half of coconut oil, tarragon, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir for 30 seconds and pour over chicken. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven set to 350° for 20 to 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. When finished, remove baking dish from oven, remove foil cover, and serve baked chicken on plates.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tomato Eggplant Salmon Soup

I got this idea from the book, "Heart Smart Chinese Cooking", even though it is Chinese cooking, but it is more for the Westerner taste that I like to prepare daily. The book is written by Stephen Wong, who is a Hong Kong chef now living in Vancouver. His ideas of cooking are quite simple and healthy, which are some of my priorities as a cook. We are living in a fast society but still can make cooking an important part of our lives without taking too much of our time. This recipe will support this statement.

4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 fresh large tomatoes, seeded and cut into cubes
1 small onion, diced
1 knob of ginger, sliced
1/2 large eggplant or 1/2 lb. of Chinese eggplant, cut into cubes
2 cups fresh spinach, torn
1 potato, cut into cubes
1 salmon fillet, cut into 1 inch cubes
Fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, and white pepper

In a medium pot, combine stock, tomatoes, onion, and ginger and bring to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add potatoes and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add eggplant and then cover and cook until potato and eggplant are soft but tender. Season with fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, and white pepper.
Add fish and spinach. Cover and turn heat off for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.