Recipe: Pho Bo! (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

So my first experience with pho was in Burlington, Vermont at Pho Hong, a spectacular authentic Vietnamese no-frills restaurant that had great Yelp reviews. I was in town for some work training. Ray and I met some of his friends there. When I ordered (I got the chicken, rookie error, pho is traditionally a beef broth with beef slices and it’s infinitely better that way), I just got the “normal” portion and not the large. They plonked it down on the table and it was, in classic American style, an utterly enormous vessel of food. It looked so excellent. Slightly opaque, slippery noodles, crunchy bean sprouts and sweet onions, thai basil, bursts of lime juice and pieces of chicken and oh.. what’s this? …. ONLY THE MOST DELICIOUS, FLAVORFUL BROTH-BASED SOUP I’VE EVER TASTED IN MY ACTUAL ENTIRE LIFE. At this point I massively regretted not getting the large.

The bad news is that there’s nowhere to get pho, or any decent Asian food for that matter, in my town. I can’t just be going to Burlington all the darn time to get pho. You know what that means: time to make my own.

A lovely online friend of mine with whom I share a love of dogs and cooking shared this recipe with me because she thinks it’s very authentic and had tested it herself a bunch of times. I’m not going to retype the recipe, more like I’m just going to tell you the basics of how I make it in my kitchen – I don’t have a gas stove or a BBQ (grill) so that changes things a little bit for me.

Here’s the thing about pho: you gotta be committed. Put a whole damn day aside. And I’m not talking starting at 10 or 11 after a leisurely morning of bagels and the Sunday paper. I’m talking about starting at 8am and having dinner on the table around 7pm. Of course, a lot of this is just letting the broth simmer so you can get some stuff done during that time (I did some laundry and shopping, for example) but I also recommend being in the house so you can obsessively breathe in the delicious cooking smells you’ll experience during this time.

If you are the kind of person who looks at this recipe, or looks at the phrase “simmer gently for 8-10 hours” and runs howling into the hills, you won’t like this recipe. I actually love an all-day cooking project. There’s something so deeply satisfying about it to me. The prep, the steps, the measuring, the skimming, the smells… ahhhhh. Still interested? Read on.

Yesterday Ray and I went to an Asian Supermarket in Albany, NY (on Chinese New Year, ugh, we’re morons) and got about 8lb of what was labelled as “beef feet” but is not hoof – it’s shin and fetlock I guess? Anyway, you could also use normal marrow bones or chuck bones, whatever’s good for soup is good for this. The first step for this recipe is to chuck them all in a large pot (really large, at least 16L), cover them with water and bring to the boil.

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Next, the recipe says that you need to use a gas flame, like a bbq (“grill” for Americans) to char the onions and ginger. I don’t have that, nor do I have a rangehood, so I need to use the broiler (“grill”, to Aussies, life is weird sometimes) in my oven. I set it to high, cut the onions in half and set them cut-side-up on a baking sheet with the ginger and set them in the oven with the door a little bit ajar. It takes around half an hour depending on the strength of your grill/broiler. Turn everything at least once. What you’re looking for here is to soften the onion and ginger and to see it blackening a little and smelling sweet. Aw yeah! Let them cool down then get rid of any blackened parts and peel the ginger as directed.

Back to the bones. You want a really hard boil for at least 2-3 minutes. You’ll see a bunch of gross looking foamy scuzz on the top of the water. Tip the bones into a very clean sink, rinse them with warm water. Quickly scrub out the pot and put the bones back in.

From here the recipe is pretty straightforward. Give the bones another quick boil, get rid of the scuzz then bring the boil to a simmer. Add the rest of the broth ingredients.

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From here, apart from getting the piece of steak out after an hour or so and setting it aside, it’s just a waiting game. The broth needs to simmer for at least 8 hours – 10 is better.

It’s all a matter of what timing works for you. After the broth has had time to simmer, it needs to be reduced. For this, you need to strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large bowl to get all the bits out. Careful of the bones – don’t let them splash back into the broth. Once you’ve strained it, return the broth to the pot and bring it back to a simmer.

Now starts the, IMO, trickiest part. Or at least the most tedious. It’s time for The Skimmening.

The fat will rise to the top obviously, and you just need to skim it off. I use a 1/3 cup measurer (though there are special implements for this!) and just press the edge of the cup under the surface of the fat, letting it flow into the cup. The key is to just try not to get too much of the actual broth in the cup, so as not to waste it. Tip the fat into another receptacle and dispose of it appropriately. If you’re not sure that you’re doing it right, check out the color of the stuff you’re skimming. If it’s yellow, it’s fat. If it’s brownish, it might be broth. Fat will also “feel” oily like fat if you smoosh it in your fingertips! It takes a bit of practice but it’s really worth it for a clear, clean broth! Trust me!

From here it’s just about letting the broth reduce a little. It’s a good time to taste the broth and see if it needs more salt (or fish sauce) or a little extra rock sugar. It’s better if it’s a tiny bit too salty because noodles, bean shoots etc are all unsalted and they’ll mellow it out a tad. Yesterday, I left the lid on while it simmered which did leave me with more liquid than normal, however, I had to boil the heck out of it to get it to reduce. But I think I’d do it that way again because lemme tell you, I really nailed it this time, the flavor was perfect.

You can add a little more fish sauce, salt or rock sugar if you don’t think the flavors are balanced enough, but don’t add anything that won’t completely dissolve.

I usually prep the bowl assembly ingredients while this is happening. If you have dry noodles it’s time to start soaking them in warm water. If you have fresh noodles, just untangle them and run them under cool water. Slice your sweet/yellow onion as thinly as you humanly and safely can and put them in cold water to soak. Slice up the green parts of scallions on the bias (it looks nicer, you will note I forgot to do this).  Put your steak in the freezer to get a little more firm so it’s easier to slice thinly. Rinse your bean shoots. Slice your limes. Tear up some nice looking coriander and thai basil leaves. Thinly slice a red chilli if you have some. You will think it’s silly, but I really do take such joy in getting all the garnishes ready!

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Look at all that beautifulness! Yesssssssssssss ahhh ok ok ok I’m fine. *deep breaths*

So are you ready to go? Let’s do this, in point form.

  • Using fresh noodles? Untangle them in a colander while rinsing with cold water, then blanch them, a batch at a time, for like 30 seconds tops in a pot of boiling water.
  • If you’re using dry noodles, take them out of the water they’ve been soaking in and blanch them in boiling water (again in batches) until tender (each brand will have different instructions).
  • Put the noodles in the bowls. They should take up about 1/3 of each bowl. Place strips of beef over the hot noodles, then add your garnishes (sliced onion, bean sprouts, scallions, coriander, thai basil and chilli if you’re having it).

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  • Bring the broth to a rolling, hard boil then ladle the boiling broth over the noodles and garnishes, ensuring that the thinly sliced beef is cooked as you do so.
  • Squeeze lime into the broth to taste. Ray only likes a wedge or two, I use about four. He adds some sriracha sometimes too.
  • EAT IT Hhhhnnnnggggghh

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 So there you have it. Beef pho (pho bo). Is it as good as you have at a Vietnamese restaurant? Hell no. But it’s pretty damned close. And, I am told, a lot of Vietnamese people feel the same way (it’s a restaurant dish, not an everyday dish to make at home).

If you enjoy settling into a warm, steamy kitchen with a few episodes of House on Netflix and happily puddling around doing not-very-much for the most part, then you’ll love this. It’s a great winter dish without the stodgy richness of most traditionally winter dishes. It’s a great combo of warm, tasty broth with fresh flavors, slurpy, thin, delicate noodles, chewy tender beef and crunch bean shoots! So it’s fine for summer too. If you’re up for a day of cooking, with only short bursts of actually doing anything, I really urge you to give this lady’s recipe a try  (link in first paragraph).

Enjoy!

F&V

PS. You’ll note that I didn’t talk about calories in this dish. It’s because I don’t really care. You can do the math if that’s something that’s important to you. I wouldn’t think it’d be super high, plus you have nutritious veges and all that jazz.

Summer Essentials: Easy Cold Brew Coffee

Something a bit different from me today in the leadup to July Favorites which I am hoping to post on Saturday.

It’s sooo hot in Vermont at the moment, we’ve had a really nice mild summer so far but it’s now hitting the 90s every day so it’s pretty uncomfortable and it’s so nice to skip the hot coffee and have a cold one instead. I find that every American coffee place likes to add tonnes of disgusting sugar and sweeteners and flavorings and grossness to their coffee but I’m not about that life so I’m just going to give you the basics – if you want to add that stuff that’s fine you HUGE WEIRDO okay I’m fine, ahem.

When I first wanted to start making this, I was convinced it was a really difficult process like maybe a distillery process or something, evaporation, extraction, I don’t know but I thought it would be really difficult. I asked my friend online who I knew drank cold brew to tell me how to make it and when he said “put grounds in a jug with water, brew for 24 hours done” I thought he was messing with me. But essentially it is that easy! Let’s talk about that. Here’s what you’ll need to complete the whole process (coffee grinder not pictured: you don’t need one if the place you get your beans will grind at whatever coarseness you want!):

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You want to start off with quite a coarse grind of coffee. I’m talking, you should be able to identify chunks of coffee bean individually. I’m still learning how to use my cute little Krups coffee grinder but this grind took me less than 5 seconds of wazzing to create so take it super easy. Don’t worry though, you’ll know if you make it too fine, and you can always adjust next time!

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So you want to do about a 1:8 coffee:water ratio, sometimes I do a little more (like today) because I was right at the end of a pre-ground bag. I use Mason jars (quart sized) because I think they’re the best size for a one-person coffee drinking household but if there are more than one of you in your house that drinks coffee then you might want to use a large measuring jug or something. You do you boo!

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Then just add cold water til it’s almost completely full – you want to leave a little room for shakeability if you’re using a jar.

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Put it in a cold part of the fridge for up to 24 hours (any more and you risk the coffee being a little bitter). The reason it brews for so long is thus: hot water or steam speeds up the extraction process a LOT. So think of this as a slow-brew. I think that brewing coffee cold and slow really creates a smoother taste, it really takes the edge off the bitterness that can come with fast extraction methods.

You want to give your coffee 2-3 good shakeups in that 24 hour period. I usually try to shake it really thoroughly at the 2 hour mark, then about halfway if the time is appropriate, then NO LESS THAN 2 hours before I am going to filter it. You want as much silt on the bottom of the jar or jug for the filtering process.

IT IS TIME!

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For that, grab a piece of kitchen towel (or cheesecloth if you have it spare) and double it over then place that into a funnel. I usually just grab another Mason jar (they were $10 for 12 at Walmart!) and put the funnel into that, like so:

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Then carefully pour the brew into the funnel, a bit at a time, not letting the funnel get too full. You’ll end up with paper towel full of yucky silty groceness which you should throw in the trash, and a delightful jar full of LIQUID LIFE.

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Then all you need is an amazing mug from which to drink it, or a fancy glass if you are a fancy person which I can get behind but currently I do not own any fancy glasses for drinking cold beverages from.. well.. I do.. but they are wine glasses. I need some of those hexagonal glass ones you know? Anyway.

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Nailed it.

Add some milk if that’s how you like your coffee, I do, but it’s by no means necessary as it’s a delicious smooth beverage all by itself.

I hope you all enjoy your coffee in whatever way you prefer, as often as you want. That is my wish for all humankind. ❤

Love+++
F&V

PS. Guess what just happened to me…

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Greatest day of my life.. will review the welcome pack when I get it! I’m going to my first VIB Rouge event on Sunday as well 😀

Life Stuff: What I’ve Been Up to Lately

I feel like I’ve morphed from the stage of needing to title these posts under “Moving to the USA” to just being a part of my life now. I’m settling in I guess!

Life has been SUPER BUSY lately, sorry for the radio silence, I’m sure you’ve all been incredibly upset and devastated without my rambling posts!

Today I just thought I’d do a bit of a combo post. Things I’ve been doing, eating, buying and wearing will all be talked about here, but I will try not to ramble too much!

We moved into our TINY (~300 square footage) apartment in Rutland, Vermont. It is actually great. The big drawback of it is that it does not have a guest room, or any appreciable room for a guest at all. So anytime people come to visit, we will need to find them other accommodation. This is really the only thing that makes this apartment not a long-term solution. The rooms (all 2 of them) are large, the kitchen has a large fridge and a good oven. The bathroom is tiny and the shower cubicle is … prison-like, but that’s okay. I wish we had a bath but what can you do. So furniture shopping at IKEA in Boston happened! We bought a bed (Brimnes in black with storage) and bed linen, a dressing table (Malm), a set of Alex drawers and some other small bits and pieces like a mirror and shoe rack. My parents-in-law so kindly donated us a little kitchen table and some chairs, and bought us a set of drawers and a hanging clothes rack. That’s really the max we could fit into the apartment before it got too crowded. A lot of you (who are my IRL friends) have already seen the vanity setup but here it is in all its amazing and beautiful glory:

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Alex 5 drawer in the foreground, Malm dressing table. 

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Drawer contents! Wheeeeee I have a (fabulous) problem.

If anyone would like to see more of our apartment or furniture let me know. It’s not that exciting to anyone apart from us; we have been doing the living with parents thing for quite a long time now (for me, 5 years, for Ray, since he moved to Australia which was March 2014) so it’s just so awesome to have our own space! Moving on…

One of the things that has been keeping me very busy is that I got a job. It’s with Planned Parenthood as a Health Care Associate which is mostly an admin/clerical position but also has some clinical work which I’m EXTREMELY excited about. That will come with time and as I master the front desk work which is my first area of focus. I love PP as an organization and I’m really excited to be a part of it.

Part of starting my job involved going to Burlington, “the city” in Vermont, for four days of training. First of all, what a beautiful city! It’s stunning especially in spring, though all of Vermont is just so beautiful and alive at the moment. We ate some good food – I re-discovered the amazingness of American bagels (last time I had one was in NYC with my friend Chris). I mean, look at this divine creation:

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Lox & cream cheese on an “everything” bagel. Just stop.

We also went to a really cool old-school diner called Al’s French Frys for burgers, fries and shakes. I had incredible, unbelievable pho which really scratched an itch that had been bothering me since I arrived. It was.. a revelation. Usually I never finish huge bowls of soup but this time I scarfed it all and wished I had more! We went to Buffalo Wild Wings which was a pretty cool experience but all the wings we ordered were a smidge too spicy for me! I’m such a pansy.

Anyway, while I was at training and since I’ve been working, I’ve really been trying to get my neutral, natural makeup on point. I’ve been posting a lot on my Instagram about it and getting some good feedback so here’s some examples:

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Different light but you get the point.

I’ve been using and enjoying the Maybelline Infallible Pro-Matte foundation, it’s VERY good for a drugstore foundation. It’s obviously very matte so if you like something a bit glowy you will want to either skip it completely or add some glow back in, perhaps with something like one of the Hourglass Ambient Light powders.

Here are some less neutral looks I’ve been rocking as well. I haven’t been going crazy on eye makeup lately really, it just hasn’t suited the outings we’ve been on really! But I’ve been wearing a bold lip a lot, as usual.

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The pic on the top right is at Al’s French Frys – that decor! I LOV IT

I did some shopping in Burlington too, probably more than I should have, my poor husband was pouring sweat for most of the time. Bless him. So here are some haul pics from MAC and Sephora:

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Some of these products have been rocking my world. I regret holding out on buying the Primed and Poreless primer by Too Faced for so long because honestly it is phenomenal, I’ve never used a primer that worked so well. I am going to do a comparison between it and the Make Up For Ever primer that I got in a Sephora order in a future post, they’re meant to do a similar thing. I went to MAC and asked them for a bit of a bronzer tutorial and the lady who served me had gorgeous pale skin and she really was picking up what I was putting down – that a lot of bronzers seem orange on me or muddy. She said what I should do is pick a cool toned powder foundation and use that to warm up my face. She chose the MAC Mineralize SkinFinish Natural powder in “Medium/Deep” for me and hoooly crap, I just loved the effect SO MUCH. I also found that they’re doing mini products at their counters now so I grabbed a much coveted product, the pigment in Old Gold, in a mini version. Their pigments last forever so the larger jar has always seemed so pointless to me. I also got the 239 brush because I have a lot of blending brushes and not enough flat/dense application/shader brushes. It’s meant to be one of the best so I am looking forward to giving that one a red hot go. As you can see I also grabbed Charlotte in the NARS Audacious lipstick range, I actually wouldn’t have swatched this on my hand but for my husband pointing it out and saying “what about that one?” – a dangerous tactic for him I feel! I swatched it and was really impressed, it was more of a berry, dark red than the purple I thought it’d be so naturally I bought it. I’m wearing it, and the bronzer, in the third pic of the last set of selfies. NOICE.

When I got home, I had an order from Sephora waiting for me. I recently got bumped up to VIB level so I got some little sampley type things and, excitingly, a new Sephora Cream Lip Stain in 10 – Mandarin Muse. This is a very orange red which I am SO INTO so I’m keen as heck to try that!

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I’m also very excited about trying the Besame brightening vanilla powder, I’ve heard such good things from quite a few of the makeup gurus on YouTube that I religiously follow plus the packaging is ADORBS. Check it!

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You guys know how I feel about packaging!

So the last thing I want to mention is that I got a fabulous package from one of my favorite indie makeup brands, Baroque Cosmetics. Andi, brand / product creator, sent me a couple of samples (because she rocks and also because I guessed the name of a shade in the pressing process that she posted on Instagram!) as well as the products that I wanted so that was super exciting and I can’t wait to try them – I have a lot of the brighter and more bold colors from her range/s so I got some of the staple neutrals.

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I love rose golds at the moment so Compass Rose (on its side) is SUPER exciting in particular. I think I will wear it to work tomorrow.

This brings me to my next point, and that is that I feel like I have a pretty significant collection of Baroque Cosmetics eyeshadows now so I’m going to do a mega-review on them. I have been wanting to do this for AGES but each time I feel like I was waiting on an order, so I have held off. I’m gonna do it though. I have opinions.

I’m also going to do a bit of a post about foundations. I’m a little nervous about this because I haven’t tried heaps and heaps of them but I do have a fair collection now, I have 8 so I will do a bit of a post about them and talk through the pros and cons of each one.

If there’s anything else you guys would love me to do a post about, please let me know, I love hearing your amazing suggestions!

Here are some random pics to finish off with. Spring in Vermont is beautiful as HECK!

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My “0.58 year anniversary” present from Ray – that man knows what I like!

Until next time – which I promise won’t be too far away!

Love+++

F&V

Moving to the USA: Some Stuff I’ve Done!

Well, those of you who know me personally will know that the last section of my visa process did not go smoothly. I’m not going to go into detail here, suffice to say that it was absolutely no fault of our own and related purely to the lack of knowledge (regarding the department’s own processes) had by the person who interviewed me.

I still managed to leave on time, JUST, and the port of entry experience at LAX was actually delightful. Thank goodness. My official greencard has not yet arrived but my social security number has so that’s a really great thing, it opens a lot of doors in terms of things I can do and apply for etc.

Since I got here, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my husband and his parents obviously but we’ve also done some travelling in the local area, shopping, eating and all that fun stuff.

We went for a drive to Nashua, where I dropped into Old Navy and got some very ugly and comfortable fleecy trackpants for hanging around the house (I have barely taken them off to be honest). On the way there were all these awesome cliff mini glacier things which I thought were super cool looking, check them out:

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Frozen waterfall?!

I also went to Sephora (I swear to god I can’t help myself but they had some things I wanted, and a very knowledgeable salesperson who talked to me about contour in a very sensible manner which I enjoyed) and picked up a few things, then to Lush which is why I was really there. I needed some Ro’s Argan Body Conditioner – I swear by this stuff as I have previously stated. It’s wonderful for those of us who are super slack with putting on body lotion when getting out of the shower. I mean, who really has time!? Not I.

After that we drove to Keene where I went to Ulta. Ohhhh my god, that place is HUGE and magical! It’s like a massive explosion of beauty, there’s high end and drugstore brands all in the one place. I loved it, and the staff there seems a little bit less snooty than the Sephora team. Sorry Sephora! But Ulta won out so far for me. A lovely lady helped match me with the new Urban Decay concealer (wait for my April faves for a full report on this one) and I definitely wouldn’t have picked the one she matched me with so that was a relief. Anyway, here’s a picture of my haul from that day:

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Combined Sephora, Lush & Ulta haul

A couple of the above will also be featured in April favourites. I was particularly excited to see the Real Techniques bold metals range of brushes, I was proud of myself for choosing just one. The hype is right: it’s great and the handle is so well balanced. As you can see, I also grabbed another couple of the Kat von D Everlasting Liquid Lipsticks and the IT Cosmetics Tightline mascara sample which is SURPRISINGLY awesome, you guys! I heard the team member who ended up helping me raving about it to another customer so I had to pick up the mini version to try it out. I’m a sucker for a teeny little brush and this one is so small you can hardly see the “bristles”. Full review in April favourites for that one too.

After that we went to a for-realsies American diner, called Lindy’s. It was great, I mean, look at this!

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Oh Lindy’s. You’re adorable.

We got incredible mocha java concoctions, which we are still talking about, and I got a delicious breakfast including pancakes (it was 4pm). Ray got oyster chowder and macaroni and cheese.

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Hnggg

The next day was WINGS NIGHT at the local pub (we also went there for trivia on Sunday night and games night on Monday!) so I decided to go with a very smokey eye because hell it’s still basically winter here!

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Also featuring L’Oreal True Match foundation, it’s good shit.

And speaking of winter it snowed out the WAZOO Wednesday afternoon / evening, well it was like 3 inches of snow which isn’t anything that amazing to New Englanders but I was totally fucking enchanted you guys! It was amazing and beautiful! On the way home Ray was pretty nervous about driving and we had to stop halfway so he could brush some snow off the back window. Wowsers it was serious business. I took some pictures the next day of the yard:

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Snow! Icicles! Magical!

Unfortunately I still had to take this monster outside to wee:

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… but I only went as far as needed for her to make a lil patch of yellow in the snow.

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Yesterday we went to Rutland, where we are actually going to live. It was a gorgeous drive along the Ottauqueechee River. We checked out a few apartments, some better than others, and we checked out an amazing gym. That was the find of the day. It has a Crossfit box but allows use of it by non-Crossfitters which is kinda rare so we were so thrilled. It’s a small but well equipped box, the best kind. The Crossfit box we went to earlier in the week was huge and well equipped as well but a lot more serious. One of Ray’s friends is a coach there and is actually going to Regionals so that’s super exciting! I PRed my front squat at 90.7kg (200lb wiew) there but the price for a short membership or even a casual visit was cost-prohibitive so we probably won’t go back.

Today at the co-op we grabbed some coffee and eggs and stuff so I can start eating a real adult breakfast (Ray insists on eating Lucky Charms ugh!) and I found some Vegemite – check out this price, I nearly DIED:

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Pls don’t call it yeast extract ugh it’s so much more than that!

Tonight we are going to a supposedly-amazing burger bar and I think I’m going to try out the new Urban Decay palette I bought in LA. I will report back if it’s not a total disaster – I’m sure it won’t be. Burger pictures will also be forthcoming. Yay!

Thanks for reading.

Love+++