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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pho Phun

In my travels, and my gastronomic quest to eat well, within multiple culinary disciplines, there is always soup. Soup is universal in its comfort and appeal. And on a cold winter day, there is nothing that can soothe the soul like soup.  As you know from my post on the wonderful Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup ~ pronounced "fuh") from my former workplace - I simply love the stuff.

With the bones from my holiday standing rib roast, I began the broth. There were some ingredients (like star anise and cardamom pods) that even my Pixie Pantry did not have. However, upon reading the ingredients in a jar of Chinese 5-spice powder, I discovered it contained what was needed! It's all about ingenuity here, folks. So, after broiling some onion and ginger, and beginning the broth with the beef bones, all the vegetables, and the appropriate spices, the Pho broth simmered for three long hours.  Here it is, after becoming proper stock, and being strained.

It was a long road - but the taste was amazing, and very authentic. I then pawed through the pantry, and found a packet of Japanese Somen noodles. It was not the rice noodles called for in proper Pho preparation, but it would do. I took out one bundle from the package. I like how conveniently the noodles are bundled!

I boiled them up for the eight to ten minutes required, and set them aside in a colander to await the soup...

I then placed some of the noodles in a large soup mug...awaiting further goodness....

I then loaded my cup with tiny broccoli florets, cilantro, thinly sliced red onion (I'm out of scallions!), pickled jalapenos, and thinly sliced prime rib.  I brought the broth back up to a boil, and ladled over the vegetation. How did it turn out?

I have to admit, even I was unsure that I would capture the true flavor of an authentic Pho! I was thrilled! My second mug (yes, I admit it) contained more broccoli florets, and thinly sliced green beans, and was just as wonderful.  Even Kitchen Angel was astonished at the soups' spicy kick!


She is a total weenie when it comes to spice, I tell ya!  The moral of today's culinary adventure, is just that ~ be adventurous in your cooking! Especially if you are hesitant about cooking something that you have only eaten in restaurants, or from take out! You never learn anything, if you never try.

What is your favorite ethnic cuisine? Did you replicate it at home?

Eat well and adventurously, my friends. Love and kindness to all......

                                                                         Pixie

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crowd Control....

When I discovered, two days prior to the event, that I was going to a large family supper at Dear Brother-in-laws home, I had to think fast! What was I going to make to bring to such a feast? Well, as luck may have it, I brought my home up to speed after moving in, and laid in a supply of staples in my Pixie Pantry!  See?


I know, right? But....we shopped for a months' worth of supplies! So, within that bunch o' goodies, was a big sack of potatoes, and in the freezer, a couple of ham steaks, and in the fridge of course, cheeses.  The answer became clear! Many years ago, a friend gave me the "Winter" cookbook from Williams Sonoma, and I loved making this ham, cheddar and potato gratin recipe. I decided to double the batch, and make it for the party. First step? Peeling over SIX POUNDS of potatoes! Boy, I had some carpal tunnel  wonderful peeling skills after that!

I placed them in some acidulated (vinegar or lemon juice) water to rest while I prepped the remaining ingredients. I simmered the ham that was now in chunks for around a minute, just to get rid of any fat.

Then, while the ham chunks were draining, I proceeded to shred sharp cheddar (both white and yellow), and smoked cheddar for the cheese sauce. I loves me some cheese.....


I then put the milk on to warm, as that is the basis for the cheese sauce...

Then, the slicing of ALL......THOSE....TATERS! Carumba, that's a lot of taters!

Then, the real fun begins....I got a GIANT foil pan (like you use to roast a turkey in), and began to layer the thin slices of potato with the ham chunks, after oiling the pan to prevent sticking, that is. I try to make sure that people get some ham with every serving of the casserole.


Keep on a-layering until you near the top of the pan, or your potatoes and ham run out...whichever comes first!

Then we melt our butter with flour to make a roux, to begin the cheese-a-licious sauce!


And this is what a regular, not browned roux looks like....





Then, after cooking out the floury taste of the roux, we whisk in our milk that has been keeping warm on the back burner....and add all the glorious cheese!



I then add what I consider to be the secret to the great taste of the dish...brown mustard and cayenne pepper, and whisk until the cheese melts into the sauce...

Let me give you fair warning...you will want to DRINK the sauce...it is that good. Once you pour it over the casserole, do yourself a favor, and lick the bowl, the spoon, the whisk....whatever you used in making the sauce. I should have kept some aside to drink cook with later on...but I never remember to do that! Strangely enough, however...I remembered to save some sharp and smoked cheddar for later snack-age...

My Mom did not raise any dumb puppies, that's for sure! Where was I? OH YEAH, time to pop that bad boy into the oven!

As you can see...I placed the pan on to a large cookie sheet lined with foil...so this Pixie does not have to clean up any stuck on cheese sauce that might go wonky and fly over the top of the pan!  The verdict?


I know, right? It even looks like the photo in the cookbook!  Even the Kitchen Angel was impressed...

And she is not easily moved, I can tell you. It was, and is, simply delicious.

What is your go-to dish for bringing to holiday events? Is it something sweet, or a main course?

Eat and entertain well, my friends, and stay tuned for my re-creation of the Pho soup I miss from my workplace in Alaska!  You remember now, dontcha? From this post! Love and kindness to all,
                                                                          Pixie

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Noodling Around

When faced with an impossible overwhelming task, I usually do what my inner chef tells me. Which is to say, ignore the task completely, and go cook something! HAHAHA! Alright, I'm kidding...I have been single-handedly unpacking from our move, as Dear Husband is hard at work in his new position, and it is an exhausting project, to say the least. So, with energy levels in mind, I decided I needed to carb-load and make one of my quick and easy noodle salads. I don't have a catchy name for this one, in my head I just call it Asian Noodle Salad....and for me, that's just fine.

The bonus round to this recipe is that even new cooks will be able to throw this together - you literally only have to be able to boil water to make this dish. So....boil ye up some water, and throw in some pasta! I like using spaghetti or linguine for this, but any kind of pasta will do.

Drain your pasta, letting it cool just a tad...then throw it into your serving dish...like so...

Then, grab your box grater, and grate up the better part of a carrot, and throw it in...

Then, add in two scallions, sliced on the diagonal..

And, for the last of the vegetation, add in some chopped cilantro...


Then, add 1/2 Tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 Tablespoon sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste, and red wine or rice wine vinegar to taste. Toss to combine, and garnish with some more cilantro, and some black or white sesame seeds. Plate it up for a nice color contrast and......

This is a quick, inexpensive, easy lunch with lots of great, Asian flavors in it. Now for young cooks in Pixie land, I know sesame oil is not cheap ~ however, a little goes a long way in your Asian-style cooking, so invest in a bottle, keep it sealed and in the fridge so that it does not go rancid quickly, and you will be rewarded with it's intense sesame flavor. Oh, and the other wonderful thing about this salad?


It is just as delicious the next day, and travels well to school or office!

What is your quick-lunch idea? Which recipe do you make over and over because of how it tastes, or how easy it is to make?

Eat well my friends, and take the time to make yourself something healthy and tasty to take with you. Keep your money for better things than fast food. Love and kindness to all,

                                                                          Pixie

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chocolate-Dipped Almond Biscotti ~ A Tutorial

Those who know me will tell you that I despise baking. I love COOKING! Not baking. The strange thing is....I'm pretty good at it, too. I also dislike working with chocolate...a lot. It's messy, temperamental, and generally not what I like to mess around with.

However....Dear Husband announced that we were going to his families' home...for Christmas...IN TWO DAYS! With no presents. I have not even unpacked the gazillion boxes strewn about the house, and we're doing what? What to do? Of course! Food-based gifts! That involve BAKING....and CHOCOLATE. Oh BOY!  Seriously, though, I recently made some sugar cookies and was totally underwhelmed - I must have something better....something fancier...something like chocolate dipped almond biscotti!  I searched recipes to match the ingredients I had on hand, and this is how it goes....

First, like all good cooks, I get my items ready to roll....



Then, we cream the butter until it is light and fluffy...and slowly add in the sugar and vanilla extract...

The next step is to add the flour and baking powder mixture..a little at a time, with the mixer on a slow speed..

This picture shows the dough before mixing in the last of the flour...and adding in the chopped almonds...at this point you are stirring with a wooden spoon, as the dough is too firm for a mixer...the dough with all the almonds incorporated...

You then form the dough into two logs, approximately 8 to 10 inches long...for the first bake..


Then, brush them with an egg yolk beaten with water...to help form a nice, golden exterior...here mine are, ready for the first 40 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees...




After the initial 40 minutes in the oven, you let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack...like so....



Then, take a sharp knife, and cut into the traditional half-inch biscotti cookie. Bake again, at a lower temperature of 300 degrees for ten minutes on each side. Here are mine, ready for the last bake...



Finally, once they were baked and cooled, I dipped into a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted with some vegetable shortening.  The results?

It's beginning to look at lot like the holidays up in Pixie land! The point here is that elegant baked gifts need not be difficult, or take all day. They are scrumptious as well. Pretty to look at, but way better to eat!

What do you make for the holidays that looks difficult, but is actually easy?

Well a nice hot cup of coffee for dunking awaits me. Hey, I did not say I was giving them ALL away! Eat well, and be merry, my friends. Love and kindness to all,

                                                                     Pixie

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Movin' on up!

We have finally arrived in our new home. I am thrilled, exhausted, but ..... mostly thrilled. I present to you, my new Pixie-paradise, the kitchen of our home. I have not decorated yet..but could not wait to show it off a little bit...

Another shot, showing where the fridge is...

I cannot even put into words both my gratitude for having such a lovely, spacious place to stretch my culinary muscles, and to Dear Husband, for being the wonderful, loving and dedicated man that he is. My heart belongs to him forever. It always has, you know....but this kitchen kind of sealed the deal!

So, adventures in Pixie Paradise are going to be just delicious, I'm sure...but the cruel reality of such items as;

1. Unpacking items other than kitchenware

2. Having to repair a burst pipe on the first night in Pixie Paradise

3. Waking up with a head cold at 02:30 this morning

have kept me from showing you the photos of the new kitchen!  Well, with a stuffy nose, but a happy heart, I must show you what it looks like outside my front door right now...by way of explaining what I made today...

Yes, it is beautiful...a winter wonderland. As in "I wonder how I'm going to find the driveway for Dear Husband later". Anyhoo, I digress (so, what else is new?).  Between a bona fide snow day, and a cold that has left me feeling a little dragged out (as though a move from Alaska to West Virginia was not enough), I knew there was only one answer to my problem: Canja. Canja is Portuguese chicken soup, a familiar and much-loved dish in my family, and like many cultures, there"s almost nothing that this soup cannot make "all better".

I differ from other family members in that I forego the traditional two-pot method, and have whittled it down to a one-pot, speedier version. I also stray from what some may view as a more traditional lemon-mint Portuguese Canja, and stick with the tomato based version that I cut my teeth on. I know my Nana is no longer with us, but I bet she'd smile big-time, if she knew that even MENTIONING that you are making Canja to a member of my family, starts an out-of-control cascade of all of us making it! It is also one of those soups that you must eat until you need a nap, or keel over.  It is comforting and tasty, without being too rich. Here's how I make my version....

I place one to two inches of water in a pot (this portion is small, as it is for me, and my cold, only)...and add a small onion, sliced thin. This soup is easy to modify based on how many you are serving, simply double or triple the amounts of everything. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down and simmer, until the onion begins to get tender...the start looks like this

Then, since I know you are all borderline OCD well-organized cooks..have on hand the following ingredients...

Clockwise from left to right - lemon for the finished soup, salt and pepper, ketchup (I KNOW, RIGHT?), chicken bouillon, tomato sauce, cooked leftover rice, and chicken. I used only two small thighs, because it's all about me today!

Once your onions have started to get a little tender, place the chicken in the pot, cover and cook until no longer pink on the exterior...like so...


You may cover the pot during this five to ten minutes, to hasten the process. Then, add the following to the pot; one small can of tomato sauce, one quarter cup of ketchup, four teaspoons of chicken bouillon, and four cups of water. Add a little salt and pepper to taste, and crank up the heat...here is what it looks like once the tomato products are added....


Cook for forty five minutes to an hour, on a gentle simmer.  Now I know all you chefs out there in Pixie-land have been practicing clean-as-you go, and have put away your ketchup, thrown away the tomato sauce can, and only have remaining what you need to finish the soup, right? OK...I thought so....me too!


Just the cooked rice, the lemon to finish, and a spoon to stir. I think the last thing I need two days after moving in is, a giant mess in my kitchen!  When the chicken is completely cooked, take two forks and shred it and return it to the pot.


Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, just long enough to keep the chicken flavor flowing into the tomato broth. Serve over rice in a mug or bowl.  The results?


You simply would not believe the taste of such as simple, homey soup like this. There are many ways of finishing the soup, all of which are good. I use one or more of the following finishing touches in mine...

A squeeze of fresh lemon (none of that bottled stuff - Off with their heads!)
A shot of good Port
Hot sauce
Shredded fresh Parmesan (none of that barf-a-roni in a can, please)

I'm sure that it is more than just a simple tomato-rice-chicken soup to me....it is my Nana! Laughing and talking to my Mother in rapid Portuguese in the kitchen (they stopped when my precocious little self started understanding what they were talking about!), giving us treats and kisses, and generally being the best female role models a young Portuguese-American Princess like myself could hope for. More on THAT nickname later..

What dish takes you right back to your childhood? What memories does it bring you?

Eat well my friends, and cherish family memories right along with the recipes that became part and parcel of who you are.  Love and kindness to all,

                                                                    Pixie

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Catching the wave

The microwave, that is. As a pretty accomplished (I'm a legend in my own mind) self-taught chef, I view the microwave as a device that is for the following tasks...

  • Defrosting items that I forgot to take out for supper
  • melting or softening butter
  • bringing a cup of water to boil for tea
  • hiding candy in
So, that brings me to our current "chef-in-transit" mode, which means that I am still attempting to "cook" with a hotel mini fridge, microwave, and tiny sink.  Here is a picture of my current "kitchen".

And yes, having fresh fruit around is important when you are in moving limbo - it's good for you! I also regularly get a banana from the complimentary breakfast bar, and a nice apple from time to time. You know the drill - it is important to keep intestinal apocalypse at bay.

So, frustrated chef that I am, I of course decided that a frozen pizza, or Chinese take-out was NOT a supper choice. What does someone like me do? Make something that typically takes two to four hours in a low oven...but Dear Husband loves...Swiss Steak!  Of course I know that I'm insane....it is going to be a lot of work, in a tiny space, and probably won't taste as good as the real deal, right? Well, them there's fightin' words, my friend. I can do it...I know I can! <----this statement is what I usually say right before myself and my grandiose plans both go down in one giant, screaming, burning ball o' flames, just so you know.  BUT...being me, I just had to try. First, I purchased cube steaks, and seasoned them with a well-known brand of steak seasoning.  I would tell you the brand, but hey, I'm tired of giving everyone free publicity, ya know? Here they are, ready for microwave "searing"

After putting these in a little olive oil and microwaving them about two minutes, I flipped them and microwaved for another two minutes. I then cut up the rest of a green bell pepper I had in the hotel fridge, and some red onion that I bought for salads. I used the underside of the little tray that holds the coffee maker in the hotel kitchen, as my cutting board, after sterilizing it.




I added them to the steaks, and microwaved for another three minutes...just long enough to get them started on softening. I then added a can of mushrooms, some finely chopped tomato, salt and pepper, and enough water to begin a gravy.  Here it all is, ready to begin it's twirl in the microwave.

I microwaved a couple of potatoes while the Swiss steak was going, to serve it on ~ and sliced cucumbers to marinate in red wine vinegar, sugar (just a pinch) salt and pepper.

I have discovered that plastic storage containers are essential equipment for making and serving micro-mini hotel meals...in a micro-mini kitchen.  After the potatoes had cooked through, I mashed each one on our plates, and continued to cook the Swiss steak another twelve minutes or so, until the vegetables were tender, and the steaks completely cooked through. I took a packet of mushroom gravy mix, stirred it into the container, and microwaved for another two minutes, until it thickened and became gravy. I wanted a tomato-based gravy, but there were no such options in the spice section of the local market. The result?

Pretty amazing, if I do say so myself! The photo does not do it justice, as the lighting in our hotel room is less than bright.  The microwaving  achieved the tenderizing of the cube steaks without the two to four hour baking time, the potatoes were a nice, buttery foil for the gravy and vegetables, and the cucumbers were a refreshing and tangy counterpoint to the richness of the dish.  Delicious ~ and I could not believe it!

The moral of this story?  Well, the total cost of this supper for two was under six dollars! We also did not have to suffer through tiny frozen meal portions, over packaged and preservative-laden foods, or greasy take-out!

How do you save money on simple meals? What are your little tricks?

Eat well, my friends, and stay tuned for new adventures in microwave-land, and best of all.....a new pixie land for us to call home! Love and kindness to all,

                                                               Pixie