North Texas is slowly building up a reputation for being a coffee drinking place. Little coffee shops are popping up like mushrooms, mostly clustered in the city but many good ones can be found in the burbs. This morning I made a trip to meet my friend Alf to talk about graphic designing stuff and we decided to skip Starbucks and opt for some place we both haven’t tried. Enter Life House coffee shop, one of the best coffee shops in Texas!
The first all-organic coffee shop that ever came to DFW and it happens to be so far away from where I live in downtown Dallas.
Finding The Life House coffee shop was such a treat for the following reasons:
-They roast their own coffee beans and their own blend of espresso is pretty darn good
-All coffee syrups are made in-house. None of that artificial stuff we’re used to.
-A bad-ass breakfast menu, made with organic, local ingredients.
-All pastries made in-house every day.
-Lots of indoor and outdoor seating.
-Friendly, accommodating staff. The people who run this place are really pleasant.
I bought a bag of their espresso blend to make at home. I’m so excited!
There’s a local organic movement that is sweeping Dallas off its feet. You can thank local restauranteurs for opting for local produce and baked goods first before buying from wholesale retailers. My favorite burger joint now has gluten-free buns from a local gluten-free bakery, my post office now sells fresh peas and turnips along with local honey and barbecue sauces (score!), I can buy free range eggs at the market near the lake, and get raw almond milk at the farmers market. Dallas has come a long way.
On my way to pick up lunch this week I discovered that an organic raw juice stand had opened in Shed #2. Boom Juice offers fresh pressed, organic juices that can be used as food supplements during cleansing. They also have a special liquid diet for new moms, brides-to-be, and juices for babies when they’re ready to eat solid food. Boom Juice also makes fresh coconut milk and almond milk. If you haven’t been down to the Farmers Market in a while, it’s time to check out all the new stuff. Don’t forget the new gluten-free cheese bread stand Ipanema Cheese Bread run by Hortencia Dunaway. Every weekend Dunaway creates delicious gluten-free lunches from stews to chilies and baked desserts for anyone who want to steer clear from gluten.
On Friday night after work, I put my renegade face on and went on baking Zoey’s 1st birthday cake. Last year, her mother ordered baby shower cupcakes from me with fondant cherry blossoms. This year, her mother opted for a bumble bee theme. I was pleased with how the bumble bees turned out. What fun! If you’re wondering, the cake flavor is pumpkin and cream cheese.
Something neat happened yesterday: I made bún riêu cua in 30 minutes.
When you think about Vietnamese food in the states, Pho comes to mind and it’s good but it’s sort of like saying that barbecue is the national food for all the United States when there are in fact, a distinct type of food for every region. When you venture into south Vietnam, very few people know what pho is. Bún (dried rice stick) is favored over it’s fresh noodle cousin and the same type of noodle which takes longer to cook, gets put into a plethora of soups. My parents are from the southern most tip in Vietnam and you can find a bún riêu stand on every block. The traditional southern version has ground beef or pork short ribs, egg drop, minced crab or prawns, tofu, Roma tomatoes, and *gasp* congealed pork blood if you dare.
The trouble with cooking Vietnamese food is that it takes typically a good 3 hours to create a broth. I’m going to show you a quick way to make it for a quick weeknight meal. 30 minutes. I promise it will be delightful.
Recipe: Serves 2
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 large shallot sliced thinly
- 1 tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil
- 1 small can of bún riêu paste (either crab or shrimp)
- 4 cups of chicken broth (more if you liked more soup)
- 2 roma tomatoes
- 1 package of rice vermicelli
- 4 eggs
- salt and pepper
- 1 bag of puffed tofu
- cilantro and green onion, chopped finely
- In a large boiling pot, bring water to boil and cook rice noodles until softened. Drain and rinse in cold water very thoroughly. Set aside.
- In a medium sauce pan or small stew pot, heat oil at medium heat and fry shallots. Add the crab/shrimp paste, then garlic. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are stewed.
- In a small bowl, whisk eggs together and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle the egg mixture and allow the mixture to cook and float to the top. Add in your green onions and cilantro.
- Separate noodles into large soup bowls and spoon broth over on top.
There it is. 30 minute bún riêu.
My favorite recipes are the ones where I can prep and then slow cook in the oven for hours without tending to. Ergo, beef bourguignon and pot roast are my ideal recipes. I can start the vegetables and meat and then still watch my favorite tv marathons. I made pot roast and served it with whipped potatoes, gravy, and carrots. It was so darn good. A tip on selecting the beef cut: use Prime or Choice meats and the more marbled the meat is, the fattier. Fat=Flavor. Heck yeah!
This recipe will serve 4.
Ingredients for Roast
- 5 pounds of beef chuck
- salt and pepper
- 2 large onions cut into quarters with skin peeled
- 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 4 cups of beef broth
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
- 3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- olive oil
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a large dutch oven pot on high heat, brown onions then add carrots. Remove and set aside.
- Season beef chuck generously with salt and pepper. Add to hot pan and sear beef chuck until all sides are very brown. Remove and set aside.
- Deglaze the pan by whisking in beef broth until all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan are dissolved.
- Add fresh herbs (with stem), parsley, then browned beef chuck, garlic, and finally carrots and vegetables.
- Cook in oven for 4 hours. When time is over, allow beef to rest so all the juices in the meat can redistribute for about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, pull the beef or sliced into cubes. Serve with remaining carrots and add a side of mashed potatoes.
Ingredients for Gravy
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour
- 2 cups of leftover broth from cooked pot roast
- salt and pepper
In a small sauce pan over medium high heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk. Slowly whisk in pot roast broth. Whisk until there are no more lumps. Season with salt and pepper and spoon over pot roast and your version of mashed potatoes.
It rained almost every day this week. I forgot to mention that I’ve somehow found myself in a position at work to cook for 5 app developers. They’re working on a super important project and I am now a chef at a small start up company. Who would’ve thought that I would be cooking at my job. I was shocked when our CEO asked me 2 weeks ago if I was up for preparing breakfast and lunch every day while doing my normal tech work. The past couple of weeks have been very fun. One of the meals I prepared was stuffed pasta shells with browned ground beef, sauteed onions and garlic, and herbs in a tomato sauce. The casserole dish makes a beautiful presentation. I hope you get to make this at some point.
Stuffed Pasta Shells
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 (26 ounce) jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 18 jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup dry red wine
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil water for pasta.
2 Meanwhile, in a large skillet, brown ground beef, onion and garlic; drain and cool.
3. Cook pasta in water, drain.
Meanwhile pasta is cooking, combine meat, mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs, egg and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Mix spaghetti sauce with tomato sauce; cover bottom of a large casserole dish with 1/4 of the sauce.
Stuff cooked, drained shells with the meat mixture and place on top of sauce in dish in a row.
Add red wine to remaining sauce and mix well; cover shells with sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and browned.
Fashion is a little off topic for this food blog but I took a break from culinary excursions today to indulge in some local debauchery at Dallas’ Mercy Wine Bar to sample flights of wine and watch Mila Hoffman debut her new collection “Dream a Little.” The Korean-Russian designer’s collection features whimsical gowns that sparkled with gems, feathers, rhinestone, and more lace and chiffon than the breadth of Lance Armstrong’s feat in Tour DuPont. If you’d like to find out more about this collection, go to http://www.milahoffman.com/
Once in a while I get the craving for a veggie or black bean burger. When you get the veggie patties at the market they’re either bland or overwhelmed by herbs that don’t taste appetizing. You can make your own black bean patties and control what you put in them. The consistency of these patties are just right; they’re not too soft nor dry; just perfect. I add sauteed red onions, garlic, salt, a little flour and the surprise ingredient? Ground oatmeal flour. The flours holds the patty together and when baked, the patties are slightly crispy on the outside. Sometimes I add cumin and paprika which go so so good with avocado. The recipe is easily adjustable. I can’t wait for my Vegetarian friends to try this!
This recipe makes 5 servings
- 30 ounce can of black beans no salt, drained
- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup of ground oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- small red onion, diced finely
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Heat olive oil on medium heat and saute diced onions until softened and brown.
- Add garlic and cook for another minute. Set aside and cool.
- In a mixing bowl, add beans and mash with fork. Add the onion and garlic mixture, salt, and both flours.
- Form into patties and arrange on baking sheet.
- Bake patties at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. The slow cooking will reduce the moisture in the patty.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. If you’re storing them for later, allow to cool completely before freezing in zip lock bags.
cinnamon dolce syrup
Cinnamon dolce, next to caramel syrup is my favorite coffee sweetener. You can get your own bottle of coffee syrup from the market for $9-15 OR you can make your own in minutes. All you need is regular granulated sugar, cinnamon, water, and an empty syrup dispenser bottle.
- 2 cups of water
- 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- empty syrup dispenser or a large mason jar with lid
- We’ll begin by making a simple syrup. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar granules dissolve.
- Add cinnamon. Allow to steep for 5 minutes. Take off heat and wait for 3 minutes.
- At this point the cinnamon will float to the top. Skim the cinnamon with a ladle and discard and allow syrup to cool completely before using. The syrup should be clear of any traces of cinnamon before using.
- Don’t forget to allow syrup to read room temperature before storing them away in the empty bottle or jar.
What is Phở? Pronounced [fəh] not [foh].
It’s a concoction of stewed beef bones or ox tails, flank, shank, simmered in a redolent broth made with roasted herbs and spices, some of which are very familiar to our American palate like cinnamon sticks, cloves, others maybe not too common like star anise, black cardamom, coriander and fennel seeds (unless you’re Italian, I take that back). Other necessary aromatics include fresh ginger and charred onion. All of the listed ingredients forming a broth on a low flame for at least 3.5 hours to days.
It really is a labor of love.
Every ingredient is an essential component. The cloves are earthy, the star anise, fennel, and cinnamon are sweet, the coriander and cardamom almost floral. Together they form a bouquet of complex flavors with the potential of being a mild base for Jägermeister. *cheers*
All these herbs are roasted for a few minutes and then tied into a cheesecloth and added the broth about an hour before finishing. If the herbs are steeped in the broth too long, it overpowers the broth and makes it too herbal-y. So brace yourselves people. Mama’s about to get serious.
This recipe will serve 6-8 generous portions.
- 4 pounds of beef bones or oxtails
- 3″ nub of ginger cut into rough slices of 3
- 5 quarts of water
- 1 large yellow onion with skin on
- 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 package of Phở spices (they come with all ingredients required + mesh bag so you won’t have to measure anything)
- 2 pounds of fresh rice noodles
- 1/2 pound of flank or shank
- 1 pound of beef eye of round, sliced almost paper thin (ask the butcher to do this for you
- 1 pound of fresh bean sprouts
- 2 limes sliced in wedges
- hoisin sauce
- thinly sliced green onions
- Thai basil
- Bring oven to 400 degrees. On a small baking sheet, roast onion for 15 minutes or until aromatic.
- In an extra large boiling pot 12-15 quart capacity, add cold water and bring to boil. Add bones, shank or flank to the water and add charred onion and ginger slices. Bring to a high boil and discard any foam that may rise to the top. Keep straining until there is no residue that floats to the top.
- Lower heat to a medium with a lid covered halfway for 2 hours
- Roast herbs on a baking sheet for 5 minutes at 400 degrees. Allow to cool completely before adding to mesh bag and secure tightly to make sure bag will not open. Add the spice bag, salt and sugar to the broth and continue cooking for 1.5 hours
- When time is up, remove shank and flank from the broth and set aside. Once meats are cool, slice thinly.
- In another boiling pot, add fresh rice noodles to boiling water for 15 seconds and drain. Assemble noodles in bowls.
- Assemble raw slices of eye of round on each bowl along with some sliced flank or shank. Top with green onion and cilantro then ladle the soup to the top of each bowl.
- Serve with the rest of the garnish on the side.
Homemade fries remind me of my mom. When I was 7 my parents took my younger brother Thomas (then 5) and I to visit Viet Nam for the first time. When Thomas and I grew homesick for American food, my mom decided to make us fries and they were delicious but they would never crisp up. Well it turns out there are some must-dos to get that crispy golden potato.
There are two steps to making homemade fries. First, you have to soak your potatoes in cold water to rinse off the starch. The starch is what makes the potatoes burn quickly and go dark on the outside while leaving them raw inside. That is definitely not tasty. If you take at least 2 hours to soak the taters in cold water, this will rid most of the starch. Then you dry them and cook them on low heat at 200 degrees fahrenheit in canola or peanut oil for 5 minutes, just enough to cook them through but not browning them at all. Strain them and set aside on paper towels. Crank up the heat to 400 degrees and fry the potatoes until golden brown.
That, dear friends, is the secret to great fries.
This recipe makes 4-5 servings
- 4 large russet pototoes
- 4 cups of canola oil
- 1 teaspoon of salt & pepper
- Wash and scrub the potatoes thoroughly. If you do not like the skin, you can peel them. I don’t mind them so I leave ‘em on.
- Slice the potatoes in 1/4 inch thick strips and soak in cold water for at least 2 hours. The longer the better. The longer the crispier!
- Rinse the potatoes and pat them dry.
- Heat the oil in a heavy bottom pot to 325 degrees.
- When the oil is hot enough, add the dried potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Strain and place on paper towels.
- Increase the heat by 400 degrees and add the potatoes. Cook until golden brown and crispy. Strain and place on paper towels to drain excess oil. Add salt and pepper. Serve with ketchup!
When I was 19 I met a Vietnamese elder through our family restaurant who taught me 75% of what I know about Vietnamese food. Her name was cô Mai (literally auntie Mai) and she was like the Vietnamese Julia Child I’ve been waiting to meet. For patê ground this. Don’t forget to roast the fennel seeds. Exactly 3 hours. Of course it’s authentic. Where do you think I learned how to cook? She would say these things with fervor and she cooked with confidence, never apologized in the kitchen, and she had a way of reciting a recipe once and you’d remember it forever. And I loved the way she lowered her voice when she listed out a secret ingredient in a recipe as if the recipe would dissipate into the air and escape her. On one occasion she whispered the recipe for her secret springroll [gõi cuôn'] dipping sauce. I remember listening intently, resisting the urge to laugh at her unobtrusiveness. Over the years I’ve tweaked the original recipe and added my own version which I think made the sauce more palatable for people who like a spicy kick.
Friends from school would come over and Vietnamese springrolls filled with mint, cilantro, sometimes Thai basil, steamed shrimp or pork belly, rice vermicelli, lettuce, rolled in a thin tapioca sheet, would be the go-to snack or light meal. Everyone asked for the sauce recipe. It became a shared recipe amongst friends and family and eventually it found it’s way into our family restaurant.
Top Secret Secret Peanut Sauce
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili oil (with seeds)
- dash of sesame oil
- fresh roasted peanuts, chopped finely (optional)
- Sambal chili sauce (optional)
In a small sauce pan, bring water to a boil and dissolve the peanut butter. Whisk in the garlic and onion powders, then remaining ingredients. Bring to a medium boil and whisk for 5 minutes. You have the right consistency if the sauce coats the back of a spoon evenly. Now, cool completely before serving with fresh springrolls. Add roasted peanuts and dash of Sambal chili sauce if desired.
It won’t be Summer yet until a couple weeks but it’s already begun to feel like it in North Texas. Temperatures are creeping up to the 90′s and it’s been raining off and on today. The humidity of North Texas in late May early June reminds me of what little I remember about Vietnam. It makes me want to sit at an open street cafe and drink something really cold and eat something sweet.
After moving to downtown Dallas 2 months ago, the 1920s property that I moved into has slowly revealed its quirks to me. The original wooden floors creak and every sound the appliances make at night wake me up. One evening when it stormed, I thought that one of the giant oak branches was going to poke straight through the window. In exchange to the loud firetrucks and ambulance trucks passing throughout the night and the obnoxious neighbor and his incessant heavy metal music, I think the apartment is a deal for the space that I’m getting. It is so SWEET working 5 minutes away from work.
When it’s cloudy like it is today, it puts me in the mood to bake. After lunch I whipped up a very simple brownie recipe which I adapted from Alton Brown’s cocoa brownie recipe. The only twist I added was a cheesecake topping.
- Soft butter, for greasing the pan
- Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar, sifted
- 1 cup brown sugar, sifted
- 8 ounces melted butter
- 11/4 cups cocoa, sifted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 package of cream cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter your 8 inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper on the bottom and sides.
In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch round pan.
In another mixing bowl, whipped the cream cheese frosting until fluffy. Add the 1 egg and sugar. Mix until combined and pour on top of the brownie mixture. Bake for 40 minutes then increase temperature to 350 and bake for 5 more minutes.
Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it’s done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it’s mostly cool.
Here’s a 2 tier vanilla chiffon fruit cake I made for my brother’s 16th birthday. Hooray for successfully making 2 tiers! *cheers*