Disappearing is sometimes an essential part of regenerating and mustering up the energy and passion to continue on. After speaking with a fellow blogger, Nicola Pearson, she encouraged me to continue writing; only when it feels right and the passion and desire is hot. Nicola is a longtime friend whom with her potter husband saved me and my friend who had broken down on the side of Sauk Mountain. She quickly became quite an inspiration to me; originally from England, she is a playwright and author who stole my heart with her romantic love-story of how she fell in love with her husband, Stephen, and now live in a charming, pottery-filled, wooden house at the foot of Sauk Mountain in the Skagit Valley where both of them make livings off of chasing their true passions.
After reading her newest book, The Gift, I could see how much she had grown in her writing and hear her English accent theatrically speaking every line. If you are a dog-lover it is a MUST read! I read the book in 3 days because I could not put it down. It’s intriguing and beautifully touching story that keeps you turning the pages. What this book also gave me was the strength to continue my own passions; an immense thank you to my friends in the mountains! To learn more about Nicola as an author, her newest play- Women’s Work, or Stephen’s beautiful wood-fired Sauk Mountain Pottery, you can visit: www.howtomakeapotin14easylessons.com.
Well, Hello There!
After a beautiful summer spent on the West Coast of Washington State, we decided to make the travel back to Montana a couple days drive and stop to camp and re-connect with ourselves and nature before it was time for school again. Our time in Washington was filled with family, crabbing, boating, fishing, ocean swimming, jet-skiing, camping and resting. Yet, it was during the time we pulled off I-90 before getting to Missoula to camp in the Lolo National Forest that we found true relaxation and rejuvenation.
Somehow we discovered the best camping spot I have ever laid eyes on. A flat patch in the trees was tucked right next to the mountainside and a trail leading from the camp site siphoned into a rocky beach where it exposed a magnificent river. In the middle of this view was a gorgeous swimming hole where the shallow river dipped down deep and the water had a luring ombré from turquoise to a deep green and the light shimmered through the water exposing tons of trout. You can only imagine my husband’s excitement- we rushed to move our camper into place and he immediately grabbed our fishing poles. I had been reading Time is a River by Mary Alice Monroe, which was about a breast-cancer survivor who was re-defining who she was in a cabin on a river, where she learned to fly fish. The first time I had fly fished… lets just say I didn’t leave happy. I didn’t think I would ever try it again. My line got tangled constantly, the line never fell right on the water, my fly would sink or get stuck in the bushes behind me as I was casting. Every time Joseph told me “you’re using your wrist again,” I just wanted to scream. After reading the book, I felt a certain peace as the book’s main advice was to get comfortable and relax. I could see that my casting would go down-hill every time I was flustered. To my surprise, I actually caught a fish!
It was much more satisfying than fishing with a lure; seeing the brightly colored cut-throat trout jumping out the water, exposing their red-orange bellies, for my tricky fly; it was much more intimate. My casting has gotten better since and I have caught multiple fish (I think my husband is really jealous- he cant seem to land one lately). Swimming, fishing and reading by this spot in absolute privacy gave me more energy than all the relaxing I had done all summer. It was this night that I decided to take a few hours to succumb to my latest craving; pho.
Many people don’t actually know what pho is. It’s magical, that’s what it is. Now, this recipe is not Finnish in anyway, however, this Finn loves it- so that’s what I am rolling with. Another perk- it’s good-pho-you! This soup has made my colds disappear and tummy aches vanish. The collagen in the soup is actually extremely beneficial to your health; skin, nails, hair and digestive system.
Pho is a Vietnamese soup made from the broth of beef bones, exotic spices and vegetables. The bowl of soup consists of rice noodles, broth, meat, cilantro, thinly sliced onion, chopped green onion and bean sprouts all covered by the spritz of a lime wedge. My father married a woman from Cambodia, who in turn when she came to the U.S. showed me how to make this amazing soup from scratch and build a profound flavor. I also have a close friend, Queyen, who is from Vietnam and has given me pointers and well as blessed me with the taste of some of the most amazing food I have ever tried.
Since we were camping, I picked up a cast iron pot and pan so that I could cook over the fire as I was inspired by my newest cook book, Food from the Fire by Niklas Ekstedt. Cast iron can be pretty pricey, especially when looking at something like Lodge cookware or better quality, but, I was able to find a killer deal at Kohl’s. For $50.00, I was able to get a cast iron pot AND pan! I built a fire first to allow the embers to get nice and hot and prepped a grate between the rocks to prop up the pan. Now, you can do this above the fire or set the pot directly on the logs- just be sure to keep an eye on the water level in your pot and keep adding when it gets lower than ¾ full.
Soups are usually quite easy as you throw it all in a pot with some stock and let it sit, but pho requires a bit more prepping and it’s well-worth it! First, bring a pot of water to a hard boil and drop your bones in and allow them to boil for 30 minutes. Then take them out and rinse them off well. This gets all the bacteria and gunk from the butcher saw off and the outer layer so your broth will be nice and clear. If you skip this step, your broth will be extra fatty and cloudy.
Next, peel your onion and cut off the ends and slather it with olive oil or butter all over. Place the onion on the grate over the fire and allow the onion to brown and lightly char until you get that deliciously savory, sweet sautéed onion smell on both sides.
IN THE POT
Place in your pot the bones, any vegetables you might have on hand, spices, and your charred onion.
Usually in pho, you use fresh spices such as star anise, ginger, cinnamon sticks, coriander and cloves. These are best when they are toasted in a hot pan over fire or a burner and then added to the broth in the beginning. However, as I was camping, I picked up a cheat-packet from the local Asian market (not as amazing as using fresh real ingredients).
Fill the pot with water until it is about ¾ full. Put on your oven mitts and set the pot over or on the fire. Check the pot about every 30 minutes to continuously add water to ensure that the water level is at ¾ full. Allow the broth to boil for about 2-3 hours (the longer it boils, the better it tastes. Since the fishing hole was a short walk away, it allowed me to fish and swim while dinner simmered.
IN THE FIRE
While the broth is cooking and with only 20 minutes to go, chop your green onion, cilantro and lime wedges. Always rinse your bean sprouts and set them on a paper towel to dry. Of course all of these toppings are optional. One of my favorite proteins to use in this soup is Asian beef meatballs, but you can also use tofu, chicken, fish, shrimp or thinly sliced beef and allow it to cook in the broth once you pour it into the bowl; the heat will quickly cook through the think beef and keep it tender. I put the meat balls in 30 minutes before the soup is done as they are pre-cooked.
Finally, the best part- the noodles! Traditionally, pho uses thin rice noodles, but I decided to switch things up and use vermicelli noodles (also called bean-thread noodles). These noodles are quite different as they become translucent as you cook them and they soak up the flavor and coloring of whatever flavors you have built up in your pot or pan. You can also use these in a stir-fry and they are phenomenal. This being said, if you are using traditional rice noodles that have been soaking in water for an hour, you can boil a separate pot of water and boil them for about 2 minutes or until soft (do not overcook or they will become mushy). If you are going the vermicelli route, you can drop the dry noodles straight into the pho broth while it is still boiling until they are soft and translucent.
Once the broth has reached it’s time and you can’t take the delicious aroma any longer, remove your pot from the fire and place it in a safe place that will not melt or ruin the surface. With tongs, remove the bone, spices, bay leaf and if you do not want chunks of your vegetables, strain the remaining broth so it is clear in a separate bowl. You can now begin to construct your bowl. I always add the noodles first, meat, broth and then my bean sprouts, cilantro, onion, green onion and lime juice toppings. The final touch to this soup is a sauce topping called Hoisin sauce (a sweet plum sauce), which sounds odd but trust me it’s the best. If you like spice, you can also top it with chili sauce or siracha; all of which can be found at most Asian markets.
Then, either with chopsticks or a fork and spoon… devour it! Fair warning, pho becomes an addiction; once you try it you can’t live without it.
Vietnamese Noodle Pho Soup Recipe
Prep-Time: 45min Serves: 5 Cook Time: 3-4hrs
***You can find all of these ingredients in Asian markets and most local markets.***
- Large Cast Iron Pot
- 1-2 Packages of thin Rice Noodles or Vermicelli Noodles
- 2-4 Cut Marrow Bones from Butcher/ Meat Section (usually frozen)
- Veggies (carrot, celery, cabbage, etc.)
- 2 Limes
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 bundles of Green Onion
- 2 Large Sweet or White Onions
- 1 Large package of Bean Sprouts (use quickly as they spoil fast)
- Seasoning packet of choice flavor or fresh whole spices:
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Star Anise
- 2 Bay Leaves
- Hoisin Sauce *optional
- Siracha *optional
- Boil bones in a separate pot on a high rapid boil for 30 minutes.
- While the bones are boiling, Peel an onion and cut off both ends. Lather with olive oil and place over the fire grate until it is charred on both sides.
- Remove the bones and rinse thoroughly.
- In a cast iron pot, add the bones, garlic, vegetables, bay leaf, charred onion and spices if you are not using a flavor packet.
- Cover the ingredients with water until the pot is ¾ of the way full.
- Place lid on the pot and set on the fire grate or directly on the fire wood.
- Allow broth to boil for 2-3 hours, checking about every 30 minutes and refilling the pot with water so it remains ¾ full.
- With 1 hour remaining, if you are using thin rice noodles, allow them to soak in warm water for the remaining of the broth’s cooking time.
- With 20 minutes remaining, add the frozen meatballs if you decide these as your protein and begin prepping your toppings.
- Chop the cilantro to desired size
- Slice limes into quarters
- Slice green onion into ¼ inch slices
- Rinse and dry bean sprouts in strainer under cold water
- Cut thin slices of a quarter of a fresh onion
- If you are using rice noodles, boil a pot of clean water and drop desired amount of noodles in for about 2 minutes using a handheld strainer. Do not over-cook or they will become mushy.
- If you are using Vermicelli noodles, add the desired amount into the boiling pho in a handheld strainer until they are soft and translucent.
- Once the 2-3 hours of boiling are done, using oven mitts, remove the pot from the fire onto a heat-proof surface.
- Remove the bones, spices and bay leaf from the soup as well as any undesired vegetables (you may strain so it is a clear broth if desired).
- Add the desired amount of noodles per serving to a single served bowl, followed by the meat of choice (if electing for thinly sliced beef, arrange on top of noodles and pour broth over to cook while the broth is still very hot).
- Ladle the desired amount of broth over the noodles and top with favorite toppings (bean sprouts, cilantro, green onion, fresh onion, hoisin sauce, siracha, and squeezed fresh lime).
- Enjoy your bowl of delicious soup!
I hope you enjoy this recipe, and please feel free to comment new cast-iron recipes- they more than welcome since it is a new fun hobby of mine!
Cheers! Or rather… chúc mừng!