Making Pho – Video Blog

This is my first guest and video blog! I made pho with a friend a couple of months ago – I know, too much slacking off, not enough blogging. But I am back in the blogging world now. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup and one of my favourite dishes of all time. It takes hours to make the broth but if you’re patient enough, the longer it stews, the more flavour you’ll get.
Without further ado, here’s Quynh’s pho recipe!


Pot big enough for 3 kettle full of water
Knives to cut meat
Chopsticks to eat with
spoons for soup tasting

Ingredients for soup:
Beef bones
Pork bones
Star anise
Cinnamon sticks
Pho seasoning packet
salt and sugar
beef stock/chicken stock

Ingredients for Pho:
Beef brisket
veal meaty cut
Beef balls (not the testicles)
Vietnamese basil
Bean sprouts
Onion/spring onion
Hoisin sauce and/or chilli sauce
I attempted to film the entire process of the experience but only wound up getting a short clip of the part where we had to boil the beef and pork bones in order to clean it. I swear I was prepared and my camera was charged! But the battery died anyway and left me astray. Luckily I used Kim’s SLR to shoot the rest 🙂

Lots of ingredients!

Following the video, we combined the meat and the veggies together in that huge pot with lots of water and let it simmer on low – medium heat. Then the other ingredients were added. We adjusted the flavours intermittently after tasting.

Adding spices! Flavour intensification startssss now

Cinnamon sticks

More chicken stock

I have no patience… so I take lots of photos to pass the time

I like being useful! Even if it was just cutting up some onions. Quynh is cutting up thin slices of veal and it will cook in the soup right away once it’s served.

2.5 hours later, the wait is over and we can eat! =D

To serve, we garnished the soup with basil leaves, some lemon juice, veal slices, red onions, no I did not forget the noodles (how embarrassing would that be), bean sprouts and hoisin sauce and chillies for even more flavour! The beef balls are always the first ones to go. Chewy beefy goodness yum.

I accidentally rubbed my eye after touching the chilli and had to wash it out, ice it, repeat it for almost half an hour. First experience ever, that shit burns.

Bon appetite! I’m off to the store to invest in a 20L pot. : )


Coconut Mango Sago Soup

Heads up: this post is not as dramatic as the title. Yeah I know it’s got a dark feel to it… If it’s one thing I learned from being a part-time blogger for 2 months now (whoa. I should be popping a bottle of bubbly), is that the attitude of the title makes an absurdly big difference in whether your post will get read. This is clearly not an all-or-none scenario, because if I changed the title to just “sago”, I’m sure some of you will still peek in pure curiosity from questioning “what the fuck is sago?”. If it was a household word/term like… I dunno.. “Chocolate Pudding”, it’s prooobably going to get the short end of the stick. Making a mental note to edit my “Creme Brulee” post *shifty eyes*. Enough of my scattered, aimless thoughts.

[Side note alert] By the way, I am really enjoying this blogging business. Not only does it give me a place to visually gather my progress and reflections, it has even provided me some level of comfort in writing. The latter, I did not expect going into it. I have read – and enjoyed reading – many superstar articles a.k.a Freshly Pressed. Let’s be honest, and I say this with a chuckle, I’m not planning on quitting my day job. Anyway, like I said, blogging is keeping me interested and I really do appreciate those of you who are reading my food rambles. It means a lot 🙂

OKAY okay, sago, with a long “a” sound. This is where grade school English is coming back to bite me in the ass. You know, I am still iffy on that concept. It’s deceiving in the sense that anyone could have just pronounced sago like “saaaaago”. Is that LONG enough of an ‘a’ sound for you Mr. Insertnamehere!? Instead, what it really means is that sago, is legitimately pronounced as “say-go”. Tomato tomahto.

So! I made mango coconut sago. What are the ingredients? I just told you. Easy, simple, doesn’t beat around the bush. If it were only that way for other desserts, like Chocolate Diane, but that’s a whole different story for another sitting.

Shanghai is a hotspot for sago desserts. I spent 50% of my time seeing family and the other 50% eating that stuff last time. They come in a variety of flavours containing black sesame, tropical fruits, durian, sticky rice, red beans, grass jelly etc.  That’s a lot of trial-and-errors to go through to get the successful mixtures. Interestingly, I did not know that sago and tapioca are essentially the same thing. They are both starches extracted from a family of trees mostly found in SE Asia. Did you make the connection  to the title of the post yet? Sago is pure carbohydrate and extremely scarce in other nutrients. So, if you’re on a low carb diet… Make sure you ask for no “bubbles” in your bubble tea!

In all honesty, my creative juices were just not flowing and I struggled with the title of this post. I actually don’t have a lot to say about low carb diets. Except I tried it once and failed after 2 months hah. One thing I know for sure now: stay away from sago if you want to succeed. There are approximately 5g of carbohydrates in a slice of bread and 94g of carbs in 100g of sago. Yikes..

Sago in its packaged form.

It’s surprisingly tricky to “cook” sago. I find that boiling it for a few minutes and then drowning them in cold water for about a day works wonders. When they’re ready, I submerged them in coconut milk drink and diced a mango.

I apologize for the crappy picture. It wasn’t actually taken until I was half finished. I am probably the most distracted food “photographer”.

This is one of the simplest dishes among a million other varieties of sago soupy desserts. I encourage you to branch out and give this a shot sometime. It’s a very refreshing and light palate cleanser. Not too sugary or dense. The most challenging part is knowing where to purchase sago. As I got mine from Shanghai, you will most definitely not be able to spot it on a shelf at your regular supermarket. Try T & T, or other Asian grocery stores-for all you Canadian readers. For my Australian friends, try this place about 10 minutes away from CBD near the corner of McLoughlin and Ma-I’m just playing with ya I have no clue where to get sago in Brisbane. 😉


Cooking with mussels; story of a big fail

I’ve never been a huge fan of mussels. My dad used to use them in congee amongst other pungent ingredients that I won’t (don’t want to) get into. Despite my admiration for his culinary creativity, it also turned me away from even the slightest smell of mussels for several years.

For those of you who are not familiar with congee. (Courtesy of google images)

Very long side note: Congee is a very common savoury asian dish. Basically, it is a bowl of watery white rice that’s comparable to porridge. Personally, the BEST type of congee needs to have pork, pidan (preserved quail eggs), and spring onions (no mussels! Sorry dad); not just rice. Of course, there are other varieties of congee too, but if you want to try it for the first time, take my recommendation. I wouldn’t lie to ya 😉
It typically goes well with a side dish such as preserved tofu, zhacai (pickled vegetable), or salted duck eggs (my grandmother used to scold me for neglecting the egg whites. The yolk is the key boys and girls. No matter what you do to eggs). I’ve had a few friends in the past who asked me what Chinese people eat for breakfast. At first, I was kind of stumped. Having moved to Canada 15 years ago, I am now so accustomed to having toast and cereal that I couldn’t remember what I ate for breakfast everyday as a kid!? Embarrassing. Well, if you’re still wondering, congee is a very popular food we eat for breakfast. In fact, we can have it at any time of the day during any meal. Now, try ordering french toast for dinner at a local restaurant without the waiter giving you weird looks.

Let’s get back to my mussels experiment.

It wasn’t until just a few days ago that I have had my first VERY tasty mussel experience at a local restaurant that left me aching to go home and recreate the dish. What’s even more impressive was the fact that this place is primarily known as a café. The sauce was a tomato base infused in garlic oil. Sounds simple enough right? The taste was much more complex. It had just the right amount of tanginess and heat at the perfect consistency in a pool of flavours. When I was finished scraping out the last piece of meat in that shell, oh no it did not end there! I had half a bowl of leftover sauce to dip my bread in.

Heaven in my mouth.

I hurried home to google the closest (or what sounded like) top rated recipe, and got the gist of how to do this. At this point I am super pumped to try it myself!

Venturing back from the grocery store couple of days later, I emptied about 1lb of mussels into a large bowl and rinsed it under water. Each one was scrubbed and de-bearded with a knife.

I sautéed some chopped onions and 5 cloves of garlic in a spoonful of butter on medium heat.  Added about a tablespoon of olive oil once the butter had completely melted in order to prevent it from burning. After about 2 minutes or so, I threw in a handful of chopped parsley and a touch of salt and pepper. This is what I really enjoy about cooking as opposed to baking; eye-balling ingredients, having temperature control from beginning to end, and knowing that sometimes, it can be reversed/fixed should I screw up. It is the one place I can count on where I do not need to follow things to the T.

Steaming up my camera! I did not take this one from google, as you can probably tell.

Here comes my favourite part. I dump about a third of my carton (man, “carton” just does not sound as sophisticated as “bottle”) of white wine into the pot and mix everything around on medium low heat. A pinch of dry red chilli powder and about a third of my chopped hot green pepper goes into the concoction.

I taste the broth and there is not enough of a “kick”. I grab my chilli powder and tried to carefully shake a little bit of it into the pot. Unfortunately, there was a clump about the size of a dime (10 cents for you Aussies) that I did not see and in that goes too! Now it is way too spicy and my mouth was on the verge of flames! I tried to reverse the damage by dumping two ladlefuls of broth down the sink and diluted it with more wine. At this point, I added the mussels and popped the lid on. Mussels only take 3-5 minutes to open up and although tempting, it is not recommended to cook them longer.

Waiting for the shells to open miraculously

One rule for mussels: Chuck the opened ones before cooking and chuck the unopened ones after cooking. I know it’s common sense, but just thought I had to throw it out there in case somebody tries to bust out a hammer on the ones that refused to open.

The End!……..?

Once I had served the mussels, a crucial realization punched me in the face. My garlic tomato mussels did not have any tomatoes! What a huge fail! 😦 Annnnnd of course there are none in the fridge. Fortunately the mussels turned out delicious with the broth I just created mistakenly. It was a hairline too spicy for my taste… But wait a second… *lighbulb!* I can use this broth to bake a seafood pasta dish the next day!

Again, I return from the grocery store the following day with cream, spinach and tomatoes.

I reheat the broth on the stove, added chopped tomatoes, then spinach and watched it wilt to one tenth of its original size.

Looks messy but it’s really starting to become a pasta sauce!

I pour in the cream in increments until the desired creaminess has been reached. This also reduced the intensity of the spice. I grated some cheddar to give it more flavour and texture. Once I have finally established the perfect taste (for me anyway), I sifted all-purpose flour to thicken the sauce.

Everything else beyond this point is self-explanatory (also, I forgot to take a picture of the pasta. Fail #2). I grated more cheese on top of the pasta and shoved it in the oven at 350F for about half an hour or until you get that fantastic golden cheesy crust on the sides. There we have it, seafood pasta bake. Failure of one thing leads to the success of another. This is not to say that I will not give the mussels another go one day. But for now, bon appetite!