Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth, the star of this Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.

A bowl of Pho Soup garnished with mint, cilantro and lime
…the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.”
                                                         – Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

No riot of color or chilling air, October’s subtlety in LA is lost to anyone not labeled “native.” Feigning Hollywood starlet ennui, tanned summer leaves serenely suicide from weary trees, “Too hot,” they lament, “I cannot stay a moment longer.” Stifling Santa Ana winds unfurl scents of burning sagebrush with feelings of prickly dread and stopped time. “Earthquake weather,” we proclaim. Porch lights flicker awake by 6:00 pm, lighting barefoot children pedaling bikes in dusty cul-de-sacs. LA quietly shifts into autumn, leaving paroxysms of sunset hues to the other coast.

Coincidentally, this soup popped up on my Facebook memories for today – I first made this recipe exactly seven years ago.


Faux Pho Soup

Meaty beef short ribs and beef shank ensure a rich broth in the Pho Soup. Simmering cinnamon and star anise ensure a wonderfully scented house.


Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
  • 1 ½ lbs. beef shank, cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1-inch piece ginger, smashed
  • 1 bunch scallions, white parts smashed and greens chopped and reserved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • Fresh red chili or serrano chili, stemmed and halved
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 oz. dried flat Asian rice noodles
  • Mint sprigs, roughly torn
  • Cilantro leaves, roughly torn
  • Lime wedges
  • salt and white pepper

Directions

  1. Brown meat in batches in a large soup pot with a bit of oil. Set meat aside. Saute onion, ginger, white parts of scallions, garlic cloves, and chili until onion begins to brown.
  2. Add water, soy sauce, star anise, and cinnamon. Return meat and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 ½ hours.
  3. Transfer meat to cutting board. Discard bones and membrane and shred meat into small pieces.
  4. Strain broth through a sieve lined with cheese cloth and skim fat. Add meat back into broth and season with salt and white pepper.
  5. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles according to package directions. Place noodles in individual bowls, add scallion greens, torn mint springs and torn cilantro leaves. Ladle hot soup over noodles and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.

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Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complex flavor.

A bowl of Moroccan Berber Soup

Last Monday, she was surprised to discover a long weekend punctuating the end of her week. Her weekend plans were already set – big plans – plans to simmer soups and trim gangly backyard bushes; plans to kick her blogging back in gear and plans for uninterrupted hours of reading. Plans to nest and regroup, really. Once she realized the calendar was gifting her today as a bonus (Columbus Day, really?), her mind turned instead to great escapes, her grand plans easily slipping away – the simmering, the trimming, the blogging, the nesting. Her mind has been on a roller coaster of late and, even more than her kitchen, miles of asphalt between her and her problems pacify troubled thoughts. Her first idea was a hotel and mineral springs nestled in an oasis of desert palms about 90 minutes from home – tranquility and a lobotomy brought to you by three days of pruney soaks. Sadly, her budget and their rates did not align. Her next solution, further afield, was a rustic riverside cabin sheltered within a shaded grove of pines. Sold out. Disheartened, she resigned herself to stay home, with soup and bushes and blog and books, wishing to be somewhere else entirely.

Flashing back to 2009, I developed this Moroccan-inspired soup as part of my culinary school final. Unique spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric result in an exotically complex flavor that won over Chef as well as the other students.


Moroccan Berber Soup

This highly-flavored soup relies on an exotic mix of spices to provide its complex flavor.


Ingredients

  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. whole canned San Marzano tomatoes with juice, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 7 oz. fideo pasta (found in Hispanic section of well-stocked markets) or capellini
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • Plain yogurt, for garish

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot in a bit of oil until softened. Add the ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper and sauté until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes with juice and chicken stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrot is soft.
  2. Add fideo pasta and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with plain yogurt and serve.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut butter sandwiched between cookies

I’ve been attempting to write this post since this morning. Countless pressing matters have thwarted my endeavors, like the necessity, earlier today, to make a batch of spiced apple butter. Right. That. Minute. Then, of course, it was essential to take a five and a half mile walk, go to Trader Joe’s, and wash a load of laundry. As I grudgingly sit in front of this screen, finally, a million projects swirl through my brain, to-do items that are more critical and more urgent that this post, but I force myself to write.

If I’m completely honest, this post has been languishing in the “unfinished” file since June…June 29th, to be exact.

Despite my excuses, I realize it has nothing to do with being too busy, all these supposed pressing matters, or not having time to arrange 250 words into something coherent. It has everything to do with Fear – fear that I have nothing worthwhile to say, fear that I won’t find the words, fear that my words won’t be good enough. “You dare call yourself a writer,” my inner critic chimes in.

The baking has always been the easier part for me. Not that I don’t utterly fail at that endeavor on occasion, not that I don’t pick apart every dish I produce, not that I don’t make apologies to the recipients – I do, I DO, but without the paralyzing fear that grips my writing attempts. I accept culinary failure and move on.

I wrote a marketing piece for work this week. It’s not my day-to-day job, but a new role I’m taking on. I was petrified inspiration wouldn’t hit, terrified I would bumble my big chance. I wrote, I played on the page, I didn’t permit fear to hinder me (once I started) – and my audience loved it. The kudos made my week.

However, the baking side of it, like the recipe below, will always be easier.


Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
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Ingredients

    Cookies
  • 1 ½ cups old-fashion rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • Filling
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon corn syrup
  • ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of food processor, pulse oats until the texture of meal. Add flour, sugar, baking soda and salt and process to combine. Add very cold butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and process until dough just begins to come together. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Roll into 1” balls and transfer to baking sheets. Press balls flat with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Refrigerate again for 10 minutes.
  4. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the edges are just beginning to turn golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Beat together peanut butter, corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Pipe on ½ cookies and top with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun Recipe

Giant Brioche Recipe
When he first came to her with the project, she was hesitant. Would her baking skills hold up under pressure? He was the “meat guy,” contributing a 12-inch, six pound burger to the project. He needed a brioche bun to match. Having never made hamburger buns – let alone a giant bun – she was daunted.

A cake pan wouldn’t be large enough – her largest, a springform, was a mere 10-inches across. She settled on a 12-inch sauté pan and found a working recipe to build from. Three test buns, plenty of jokes about her giant, fluffy, white buns and a few tweaks later, her contribution was perfected.

Their giant burger raised over $250 for charity.


Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun

  • Servings: One 12-inch Bun
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If your culinary adventures ever call for a giant 12-inch bun, I have the ideal recipe for you.


Ingredients

    Starter
  • 2/3 cup milk (heated to 107⁰ F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (3 ¼ oz.)
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • Dough
  • 3 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (14 oz.)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • Egg Wash
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Line the sides and bottom of a 12” sauté pan (with straight sides and oven-safe handle) with parchment paper. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine ¾ cup all-purpose flour and sugar and stir in yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes (the mixture should appear fluffy and covered with bubbles).
  3. With the dough hook, mix in the remaining flour, salt, and eggs. Once fully combined, continue kneading for 4-5 minutes.
  4. With the machine running, slowly add the softened butter, two tablespoons at a time, and knead for an additional 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (The dough will be very soft and sticky).
  5. Oil a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm area (proofing drawer or near a cooling stove) for 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Punch the dough down and scrape onto a lightly-floured surface. Fold over a few times and shape into a round disk. Transfer to prepared pan, flattening the dough until it touches the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for 45 minutes until dough is slightly domed.
  7. Heat oven to 400⁰ F. Whisk together remaining egg and water. Bush the egg gently over the bun and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes at 400⁰ F. Reduce oven to 350⁰ F. and bake for 20 minutes longer until golden brown and internal temperature reads 200⁰ F. Cover with foil if browning too quickly.
  9. Cool, slice and enjoy!

* adapted from The Spruce Eats Buttery Brioche Hamburger Buns

Giant Brioche Bun

Chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

A plate of chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

From L.A. to Costa Rica to Hawaii to Huntington Beach to Napa to San Francisco to The Bahamas. I’ve been missing my own bed – and my kitchen – these past two months. Now that I’m back, I’m content to sleep under a duvet I know, putter in my familiar kitchen and lazily read a book curled up on a fur-covered couch with the kitties. This is home.

These macaroons, baked this morning, are a relatively straightforward recipe for me – not my usual over-complication. They travel well and, with special recipients in mind, I thought they would survive the journey unscathed.


Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons

Chewy coconut kisses dipped in dark chocolate.


Ingredients

  • 1 ⅓ cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons almond flour, toasted**
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 oz. dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine coconut, sugar, toasted almond flour, all-purpose flour and salt. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg whites with vanilla and stir into coconut mixture until combined.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Measure rounded 1-Tablespoon mounds of coconut mixture onto sheet pan and bake about 20 minutes, or until macaroons are golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet pan slightly. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  3. Melt ¾ of the chocolate in a small bowl placed in the microwave in 30-second bursts, ideally heating the chocolate to 122⁰ F. Add the remaining ¼ chocolate and stir until slightly thickened, ideally cooling to 90⁰ F. (This process is called tempering and should ensure shiny chocolate that sets quickly). Dip the bottom of each macaroon in the chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Flip upside down and let set until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes.
  4. ** The almond flour is optional. If you don’t have any on hand, omit and increase flour to 2 Tablespoons. I toast my almond flour to bring out the flavor by cooking it in a small pan over a medium-low heat until fragrant.