Friday, December 7, 2007

Pho-n Times...

By a wide margin, pho is our most frequently eaten dish. We've been thinking about making pho for some time and recently got ourselves motivated enough to try making it ourselves.

Pen in hand, Bug busily scribbled a list of ingredients, comparing between two Vietnamese cookbooks that we have. We looked at each other and boggled at the parsnips. Being motivated, but not 3-hour soup base motivated, we substituted beef broth for the ox tails, flank steak, and beef bones with marrow. Since I hate onions, he listed just enough for the soup base and garnish for 1 serving.

Since we had a late start, we headed to Lemongrass for a quick late afternoon meal/dinner. Cool! The OPEN sign was lit. To be safe, we paid for 2 hours on the parking meter, even though we're usually in and out in 45 minutes; waddled across the gusty and snowy parking lot; and as Bug pulled the door open - resistance. It was locked.

They are closed between ~2:30 - 5:00 p.m. ARGH!!!

On the drive over, I was salivating over my favorite dish there -- the Thai Mango Curry (extra spicy) -- large chunks of warm mango, tender chicken, and aromatic Thai basil, smothered in a rich, slightly sweet but not overpowering coconut curry, with galangal and kaffir lime leaves. It has so many layers of flavor, I won't do it justice describing the subtlety of each bite! The jasmine rice is a heavenly complement to this work of perfection.

Bug usually orders the spicy beef basil dish, which has a dark, beefy flavor, served with onions, red and green peppers, Thai basil, and kaffir leaves. Its flavor is a lot more straightforward than my dish. I love the flavor of beef!! The infusion of Thai basil into the tender slices beef just makes a good thing...uhh, gooder!

We trucked over to Corky & Lenny's, one of our favorite delis, since it was on the way to Trader Joe's, the only place in town that I trust to have fresh(er) wafered beef.

Corky & Lenny's pickles and green tomatoes are the bestest...very fresh and not sour! I have yet to eat a pickle better than theirs, and its complimentary! I ordered the New Yorker, an epic corned beef sandwich, stacked so high with extremely lean corned beef you could feed 2 large families. :) The sandwich comes spread with cole slaw and Thousand Island dressing on toasted rye bread, along with a tiny cup of potato salad. Their potato salad is great - no onions, yay! It has a slightly tart flavor, but isn't a mustard potato salad. I'm not certain, but it appears to have pimentos.

Bug had the reuben, epic in similar proportion to mine, except spread with sauerkraut, instead of cole slaw, and melted swiss cheese. Good schtuff! We were offered another dish of pickles and green tomatoes, and emphatically accepted! YUM!

We then rushed over to Trader Joe's, grabbed the meat, and sped over to Good Harvest before they closed to get the pho seasoning packet, which consisted of a few dried star anise, cinnamon sticks, some green pods, and cloves. We looked for a list of ingredients to find out what the green pods were and found, "Ingredients: Spices."

Oh well.

Bug couldn't find cilantro or coriander cheaply at the regular grocery store, just the organic kind that has 3 sprigs for $4. So that was skipped.

While pouring the beef broth in the pot, we find out that we didn't get a cheesecloth to put the spices in. All the spices were thrown in to the broth, including the mysterious green pods. Onions, parsnips, and ginger were chopped and thrown in. At this point, the broth smells kind of like pho, but not quite there. Maybe it just needs a few hours to simmer.

Two hours later, Bug pours the soup into another pot through a strainer. The steam rolls up and my nose wrinkles. It smells like medicine. Totally unlike what I'd expected. He offers me a spoonful. It's edible, but it tastes a lot like medicine. :(

A little shoyu and nuoc mam were added, which made it taste like shoyu medicine. It was also the last of our shoyu.


Bug poured the pot of soup down the drain.

I picked up the can of broth and noticed all the added ingredients, and let out a sigh. Next time, we're going to follow the recipe directions exactly. I know the recipe I have works because I've had its soup before with wonderful results.

The fresh rice noodles, Thai basil, jalapenos, wafered beef, and lime didn't go to waste. We bought a $0.49 box of pho cubes and used that. It was ok. We might use it to augment the soup the next time around. The rest of the beef was used to make butter yaki, which came out too gamey, so I added a Thai holy basil mixture and coconut milk to tone it down. Guess the beef was going bad. The outcome was edible.

Despite the defeat, this was still a fun experiment and a great learning experience.

I saw a sole green pod stuck in the strainer and squished it open. It was cardamom.

- Cassaendra

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