Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Do Pho

Morning, October 7th

This month, the Daring Cooks are visiting Vietnam via a bowl of steaming noodle soup. I love Vietnamese food and flavors. I dream of bahn mi chay with double tofu from Banh Mi So No. 1 in St. Louis on a frequent basis. This was a dangerous dream while I actually lived in St. Louis because it was literally just around the corner from my house and I ate there or got take away too often for the good of my pocketbook. It's cheap, but it's not cheap enough that getting banh mi chay three or four times a week after most of our kitchen tools were on their way to Alaska was a prudent financial move. But it was a very delicious move.

Toasted coriander seed, cloves, and star anise.

And now, my kitchen is full of wonderful Vietnamese restaurant smells as my stock for this month's challenge pho simmers gently on the stove. Shrimp, toasted spices, charred onion and ginger, dried shitakes and fresh cilantro stems are playing nicely with the sugar and fish sauce in the water. Or, at least they smell like they're playing nicely with each other.

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

We had a choice of a quick or long version and I went for the long, substituting shrimp and dried shitake mushrooms for the whole chicken required for the long version of pho ga.

Charred onion and ginger. The ginger required more time under the broiler.

Before I go any further, it's confession time. While I have my small addiction to Vietnamese food, I've never actually eaten any version of pho. Why, you ask? Well, I've been either a vegetarian or an infrequent fish eater for almost 25 years. And 25 years ago, Vietnamese restaurants were not exactly a dime a dozen in my neck of the (fairly rural) woods. So by the time I was properly introduced to this lovely cuisine, pho was not on my personal menu. I've only seen a vegetarian or seafood pho once, at a wonderful vegan Vietnamese restaurant near LA. I can't remember what I ordered that time, but it wasn't soup. So I'm anxiously awaiting my first bowl later today when everything's ready to eat.

Prepped ingredients for the broth.

Evening, October 7th

Ah, the flavors! The flavors! I am full of pho.

Unfortunately, as I almost always do, I just could not get my noodles cooked all the way through. I don't entirely understand it, but I follow the directions and they're always just a little bit harder than I'd like them, even with extra soaking time.

But never mind that, the soup was quite delicious. Hard to eat, but delicious. We slurped, we sipped, we added herbs. We both added a little too much sriracha, but again, never mind that -- the soup was delicious.

Mint, cilantro, onion, and lime for the soup, and a little sliced cucumber for eating.

The test of a recipe, of course, is, "Would I make it again?" And the answer for me is, probably not. The soup was delicious, but all I could think about while I was eating it, while the cilantro and mint and fish sauce and sweetness and spice were dancing in my mouth, what I was thinking was, "Hey, this is really similar to the broth in three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner!!! I could recreate the three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner!"

The finished pho broth with shrimp, herbs, and red onion.

I've already raved about one Vietnamese restaurant in St. Louis, but let me talk about another one that I could walk to from my house. I tried to look it up, but maybe it's gone out of business. Too bad, because it was delicious! Three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner consisted of vermicelli-type noodles, lots of fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, and basil at the very least), a few different kinds of leafy green or thinly sliced green veggies, and tofu, all in a small amount of very light broth. We first started ordering it because it was one of the only vegetarian choices, but after trying a few other things, we ordered only three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner because it was so dang good. I'm guessing you know how much it cost.

The flavors in tonight's pho reminded me so much of that delicious meal and I am going to be on a quest until I manage to recreate it perfectly. When I do, you can be sure that I will share it with you.

Now, Husband and I have a small fiction that the reason it took so long for us to become a couple instead of virtually inseparable friends is that I played hard to get. The truth might be a little different. But there came a time, about a year and a half after we first met, that Husband asked me on an official date. Two weeks in advance. Yes, sweet Husband asked me if, when the semester was completely over (we met in grad school), I would go on a date with him to try a Mexican restaurant that had been getting great reviews. I said yes, assuming that this meant I wouldn't see much of him outside of school until then because he'd be crazy with work.

But the very next night, he called to ask if I wanted to go out for three-and-a-half-dollar-dinner. I said that I didn't have any cash (which was true and the restaurant didn't take anything else). He said that he could pay for my dinner. I said, "Ok, I'll meet you there in ten minutes." He said, "No, I'll pick you up." He lived north of restaurant, I lived south. So. He picked me up at my house, paid for dinner, drove me home.

But it wasn't a date.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Blog Changes

I've made a big change with my blog: I've separated it completely from my other, less anonymous blog so that I can do more things with both of them without worrying about losing my (moderate) anonymity on this one. So my profile and such are works in progress while I establish this new Blogger account/identity for Isolated Foodie to live on.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Says Good-Bye

I haven't been very blog-y recently. Getting ready for a move will do that to me. But I just saw this news in the NYTimes and thought I'd give a quick comment.

Gourmet
is closing up shop as a cost-cutting measure for Conde Nast. A lot of the comments are from people who are shocked and sad that such a long-standing magazine is getting the ax. I am a little surprised, but I'm glad it will be Gourmet and not Bon Appetit. Several years ago, a friend gave me subscriptions to both, so I was able to compare them side by side every month and Gourmet had an astonishing amount of filler (or what felt like filler to me). I do like a little content about food travel and restaurants, but I don't want it to dominate in a food magazine and that's what I saw in Gourmet. Still, I'll miss browsing through it at libraries and seeing the drool-inducing covers at the check out counter.