Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pho Ga (aka Chicken Pho)

NOTHING, nothing beats the flavor of a good chicken pho (must be the saigonese in me). Almost 5 months since we set off on our central american journey and I need a serious fix.

The longest I've ever gone without was back in '97, a semester abroad in Vienna, Austria (almost half a year). Like one of those sci-fi cave man movies, thawed from ice...first words. Mine was "pho"...only minutes from landing into SFO, parents coming to collect. I've been so grateful to savor all the foods on our travels south...but my heart yearns for a taste of home. To me, pho is gathering around our cluttered kitchen table...char roasted onions, ginger and star anise releasing their aroma into soup's sweet cauldron lapping away on winter's long starry night.

the star  for an authentic broth
(image from

Nothing quite satisfies either. The time to release zippers or unbuckle belts...more room for broth and noodles...a generous gift to the soul like mom's harvest apples.

In my quest to make a good bowl, I've had to go "old school". Back to basics: chicken, stock and noodles (ok, on the noodles, couldn't find the traditional "banh pho" I used pad thai noodles instead). No beloved garnishes like cilantro, basil, sprouts. Here in the remote beach town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, depending on the day of the week, depending on the grocery store, fresh herbs are often hard to find. I don't mind...managing some how to score hoisin, sriracha and star anise.

I know there are broth purest who don't like over doing it on the customary red and brown condiments...but lordy help me, I love the stuff.

When I brought the bowls to the table, I garnished them with thin slices of onion, black pepper and a wedge of lime. Old school. The boy and I started to quietly and then loudly slurp away...a sumo eating competiton. It was good. Like bread making, I've learned a couple of things...and I still pine for my fresh herbs...but for now, my heart and belly are happy.

I hope you enjoy the recipe (if ever you're in need of a simple pho fix). Buen provecho amigos!



Simple Old School Chicken Pho
Serves 4 - 6

1 large yellow onion (peeled and cut in half)
1 good knob of ginger (crushed with skin)
4-5 star anise
1 chicken (~ 2lbs, cut in half)
10 c of water for the broth
1 package banh pho or any type of flat rice noodles...pad thai works too
½ onion, sliced thinly (for garnish)
¼ lime (for garnish)
Black pepper
Salt (or fish sauce)

You need 2 pots. #1 pot to parboil the chicken. #2 pot for the broth.

Cut the chicken in half. Clean thoroughly under running water. Trim off access fat. Cut off the butt (parson’s nose) since it will release a lot of fat. In a medium/large pot, fill half with water. Place on high heat until the water comes to a boil. Place the chicken in the boiling water for 5-7 minutes until dark brown foam starts emerging. Remove from heat, throw out the water and do another washing of the chicken under cold water. Set aside.

The reason for parboiling is you’re removing the murky swamp water that comes from the chicken. And there's a LOT of it. By parboiling first, you get rid of the cloudy stuff off the bat, ensuring a clear broth. You can skip this step, cook everything in one pot and skim as you go. But I find this one pot method tedious and I'm rather lazy. Checkout this home video on how the chicken is prepped and parboiled (vids 1, 2, 3, 4). I love how the vietnamese woman uses a toaster oven to roast her aromatics.  It's all in vietnamese but I adore the woman (she reminds me of my moms)!

Place the second pot under med-low heat. Add the onion, ginger and star anise. Let them roast for 5-10 minutes. You will start to smell lovely smoky, molassie…star anise. So intoxicating. I love it. Allow the ingredients to brown. You don’t want to blacken because in this method, you don't have to discard the skin. When ready, add 10 c water. Then the chicken that is now nice and clean. Cook under med-low for 30-40 mins depending on the chicken until it’s cooked. Easy does it. If you've trimmed well...there's very little to skim at this point, if at all (...unless you're anti fat). When I've used this method, I've made a clear broth without lifting a spoon to skim.

You don’t want to over cook the chicken. You don't want it to fall off the bone. Rather, you want the chicken meat to be firm. So after 30-40 mins, you can remove the pot from the heat and allow the broth with chicken to continue their romance in the fridge for maximum flavor magic…(oh, and the broth does smell wonderful to the nose the next day!) On the following day, heat the broth, season to taste and use...

OR if you don’t want to wait…add 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons chicken bouillon to the broth to give it more flavor. (Maggi is something that my family has been using as a secret broth enhancer…shhhh!) Season to taste. Salt or if you have it at hand a couple good dashes of fish sauce. Quick broth done. Tip: any chicken pieces I don't use or cut up right away, I leave it in the broth.

For the noodles, follow instructions. Soak. Cook. Strain. (At least with pad thai noodles ---the noodles I had available at the time, I forgot to soak it, just cooked it longer in boiling water. Big mistake. It ended being a just a wee bit chewier, so I definitely recommend the soak bath at least for pad thai noodles to get the maximum softness. You don't want the noodles breaking apart either or al dente. Balance, young grasshopper.

For the chicken, I wait until I'm about to assemble the pho bowls to cut up the meat. You can either chop or I like to use my fingers to tear into bite size pieces. 

To assemble
Place the strained cooked noodles in a bowl. As much or as little depending on what your guests like. Top with chicken (I like to mix a bit of everything: some breast, good piece of thigh, drumstick meat). Add some of the sliced onions. Cover with hot, hot broth. Some pepper and a good wedge of lime. Serve with hoisin and chili sauce. (Even better, a small plate of fresh herbs...basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts if you have them...mmmm)

Foto del Dia

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Patience young grasshopper...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bread Meets Chicken

Twas the day before thanksgiving when all through the house...
not a creature was stirring, not even a chicken louse??!

Okay, doesn't quite work but you get the idea.

My first time hosting a dinner in Costa Rica for a friend and his mother and I wanted to make something with a "wow" factor. Plus being in the spirit of thanksgiving tidings, I wanted to do something comforting and homey. And so the perfect opportunity to try this intriguing recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini, Chicken in Bread Crust. Over the months, I've been enjoying my own yeast experiments with bread why not toss in a chicken while we're add it? I followed the recipe to the letter, but being a newbie, I wanted a foolproof way to knock it out of the park. Here are my tweaks to Mam'selle Clotilde's (love her) recette:

1. I'd read that when the baked chicken comes out of the bread, it looks rather like ugly baby...(the chicken, never seeing the light of the inferno gets a hot blistering steam bath incased in dough instead). Would that be a pasty piece of thigh or breast meat dear? Trick: I seared the chicken in the oven for 10-15 min until the skin was brown (ooops, a tad scorched in my case), allowed it to completely cool (in the freezer - for those impatient like moi) before wrapping it in dough.

2. I was worried that the chicken wouldn't be flavorful enough. Even though I've been cooking since I was a wee lass, I still have salt paranoia. For me, I don't use a lot of salt (must be all that fish sauce growing up) so I'm either under salting things or being seriously heavy handed (usually, when I have a couple glasses of wine). Trick: I brined the chicken overnight with lots of bay leaves and garlic to make sure it was very moist and perfectly seasoned. Now did I  or did I not mention all that lovely chicken juices (ok, I can't help think that I just sounded a lot like John Cleese in the Meaning of Life, when he covers the vagina juices...yes, I just went there.)

3. For the bread crust, I didn't want to just cut it up and serve it along with the chicken. Oliver Twist comes to mind, "please sir, might I have some more...a bit more crust, cough cough." Ok, I exaggerate...who serves just crust?? Not I! Trick: I made my version of the legendary, Zuni Chicken Bread Salad. This bread salad is so close to my heart (living in San Francisco, I adore Zuni Cafe). My twist: I mixed the bread with roasted red peppers and eggplant in garlic (ok, I can't get enough of this stuff), basil and copious amounts of the chicken juices (there I go again). Yummers!

I brined the chicken and prepared the dough the day before so it takes a little more time and planning but it's well worth it...and the meal...oh, lordy so good and delightful. I can't wait to make it again. I hope you enjoy the recipe. Buen provecho amigos!

"scorched" chicken in bread aka poulet en croute de pain. green things = basil


look at that gorgeous crust...out of the oven and resting
half bread, half chicken...who am i???
ready for the knife...although i could have used a spoon
bread salad my way

Chicken in Bread Crust Recipe (serves 4)

For bread:
3 c flour
1 c water (add 1/4 c or more if needed, dough will be slightly wet)
1/2 cup spoolish or 2 tablespoons dried yeast (mix in ½ c warm water)
oil (for coating)

For chicken:
1 chicken (2 kg ~ 4lbs)
1 batch brine

1/2 c salt
1/2 c sugar
10 c water
4 bay leaves
6 cloves of garlic crushed
cracked pepper

Bread Salad
½ of the bread crust
2 red peppers
1 medium sized eggplant (chopped)
½ red onion (sliced)
1 large tomato
4 sprigs fresh basil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt pepper
3 crushed cloves of garlic
½ c chicken juice
lemon juice (optional for brighness)

For the chicken brine (the day before)
Remove the wishbone and truss the chicken. (Believe it or not floss works, could not find twine here in the village). Brine chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day, discard the brine. Sear chicken in the oven. 260 C or 500 F. Remove and let chill in the fridge or zap it in the freezer for 20 mins.

For the bread (the day before)
In a bowl, combine flour, salt, yeast and water. Mix and place in an oiled bowl with a towel and let dough rest for 1 hour. Punch down dough after and hour and allow it to rest and grow over night (ok to place in fridge - remove from fridge 3 hrs before using). 2 hour before using the dough, I stretch and knead it. (Good bread stretching technique, jump to 1:30) Then let it rest.

Assembling & baking
30 mins before baking, flour the surface and your hands, roll out the dough. Remove any access flour. Lay chicken in the center of the dough and wrap. Fold the sides, then top and bottom. Seal the dough with water, place in a roasting pan or a 24 ‘ inch cake pan. In a 360 F oven, bake for 1 ½ hrs depending on the size of the bird. If the bread gets too dark, you can cover with foil.

After 1 ½ hrs, remove the chicken and let it rest for 30 mins before carving. (How to carve video).

For the Bread Salad (Prepare the vegetables ahead of time)
Line a pan with foil. Roast the peppers in the oven for 20 mins at 180 C or 356 F. The skin will be brown, remove and let the peppers rest to room temperature. When cool, peel off the skin. Remove the seeds and chop. Set aside.

For the eggplant, cut into cubes and salt liberally. Let it sit for 30 minutes until water comes from the eggplant. On medium heat, add oil and crushed garlic to a frying pan. Add the eggplant and sautee for 15 minutes or until brown. Set aside.

In a salad bowl, make the vinaigrette with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add the chicken juices from the pan or deglaze with water if there isn't enough juices (will be pretty salty). Add the sliced onions. With half the crust, cut into cubes. Add to the bowl. Add the peppers, eggplants with garlic, sliced basil and tomato. Toss and season to taste. Add more juice or water. The bread should be moist but still have texture. If you need some brightness, squeeze some half a lemon.

Like a Pillow But Furrier

The effects of traveling south on Manly and Biela...

san francisco, us
lake atitlan, guatemala

Friday, November 25, 2011

Foto del Dia

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Manly getting his daily fungus treatment (yep, moisture=fungus, one of the prevalent things here in the tropics)...the remedy? Antibiotics and athlete's foot cream. Life is hard.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

100. What Makes Me Grateful

in no particular order:

6 Mi amigos: Manly and Biela, protection, kindness and divinity in furry form
7 My lovable and bigger than life, vietnamese family. Cousins, nieces, nephews, aunties and uncles
8 My in-laws and extended family - Granny, Daddy the entire Brehaut clan
9 Friendz. Relationships and future acquaintances
10 My eye surgery - Dr Goodman
11 My gum surgery - Dr Panaite, Meridith
12 My dentist - Dr Bridges, Emily, Jan
13 Kickass realtor extraordinare - Karen Yu
14 The Writing Salon - teacher, Kathleen and all the incredible budding writers
15 SF Solo Performance Workshop - teacher, Martha and fellow performers: Beth, David, Deirdre, LeTeigra, Heather
16 Music - singing teacher Marianna. Blue Bear School
19 Travel - Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica (Pura Vida, Baby!!)
20 My traveling deities: Saraswati, Ganesh and Wombie
21 San Carlos, Mexico - Mark
24 San Miguel De Allende, Mexico - Suzanne, Sashi, Mica. Spanglish
25 Agua de Jamaica
28 Oaxaca - PoopenstanceSeason’s of My Heart. Susana Trilling
30 Lake Atitlan - Joyce, Tim, Miguel, Mateo, Pedro, Maya, Ines (Artista De Flores)
33 Apples
34 The beautiful and godly Tzutujil men, women, children and babies
39 Our 4X4 Mitsubishi aka Boris
40 Playa El Cuco, El Salvador. La Tortuga Verde - Mike and all the staff. The man who drew us a map on sand. The delicious fish head soup (El Savadorean cooking some of the best eats!)
43 Granada, Nicaragua. Heart lessons: Just not that into you
46 Samara, Costa Rica - Sherry and Larry
47 Punta Coyote, Costa Rica - Wayne’s World!
48 Montezuma, Costa Rica - Mike, Alice and Cristos
53 Santa Teresa and her community - Canaihma Chill House - Juan Carlos, Alexia, Avi, Adi, Andy, Deanne - Dog the Cat
54 Lee Bierman
57 Empanadas - Gracias Ms Julia!
59 A comfortable bed to sleep in
60 Clean water, clean clothes
61 An oven 
62 To breaking glasses. L’chaim!
63 Nature and beauty
64 Fungus. Green mold
65 Green grasshoppers and geckos
66 The sound of water flowing
67 The sound of Manly and Biela’s burp after breakfast
68 A nice long embrace
69 Rain and the sun right after
71 Sleep and rest
73 The ol' heart opening and cracking
74 Writing. Wifi
75 Expressing myself honestly - speaking my truth
77 My throat chakra
78 Dreaming
80 The full moon
81 Surprises
84 Flour and butter
85 Honey
86 Coffee and lipton tea
88 Cinnamon Ginger Bay Leaf Chilies
89 Books that have found me this year - Me Talk Pretty - Traveling Mercies - The Shipping News - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - The Kite Runner
90 Manly finding his bark
91 Biela’s soft kisses on my finger
92 The freedom to choose
94 Retelling my grandfather’s stories
95 Listening and asking. Intimacy
97 A stranger’s smile
98 My master wound
99 The creator in us all
100 And if you've made it through this long ass list...grateful for you for reading this!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fried Apple Pop Tarts

In my quest to elevate the toaster, I attempted to bake apple pastries aka chausson aux pommes....

frozen apple tarts in homemade puff pastry
into the toaster

the outcome...

gooey madness mixed with mysterious black bits

What to do??? What to do? Say no more...say no more...

Some with a darker tan...

But the taste...fried apple goodness...mmmmm

boy approved

Recipe Fried Apple Pop Tarts (makes 12-16)
1 sheet puff pastry or homemade (reference pains aux rains)
2 c apple sauce (for the filling) or homemade

Apple filling
4 medium green apples
4 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoon butter

For the filling
Core the apples and cut in a small dice (peel and all). In a sauce pan, melt butter add sugar and apples. Cook on medium-low heat for 35 mins. Mix well as the apples will start to brown after they release their water. Then low for 15 mins. You're looking for a golden brown, thick applesauce consistency. Add a little bit of water if mixture gets too dry. Let it cool completely in the pan and transfer to fridge before using.

The method
You can use any size or shape to make your apple pies. Circle, triangle, square. One easy way is to get a large glass and cut out circles, fill and fry. For pop tart size pictured here, the length is 4 inch, diameter, 3 inch (shape for the toaster). Roll out and cut puff pastry into a 8 inch length (you will fold the dough). Space each pastry dough to cut out into 3 inch diameters. Use 2 tsp of filling (in the center). Fold and crimp the sides with a floured fork. Let the individual pies proof in a warm place for another hour. Then place in the fridge for 1-2 hours until firm (or you can even freeze).

When ready to fry, fill half a pan with vegetable oil. Heat for 15 mins on medium until hot. Best to fry one at a time or in sets depending on the pot size. Fry 2 mins on each side. Drain on used paper for 5 mins. Serve warm. Enjoy dusted with sugar, with ice cream or "au naturel".

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Bread From Toaster? Naan-sense!

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In my case, it was the empty gas tank.

Imagine. The sun is setting on Motezuma, Costa Rica. The red yolk is casting its last light on wavering lines. The sounds of howling monkey bellies from close by branches...leaves float freefall. Inside the kitchen, a cast iron skillet sits on stove. Inside the black canvas, white naan dough, the face of the full moon....Biela stations next to shoeless feet, her customary place when her human cooks.

It's only been a couple of minutes, not a scent of bread yet when...the gas light dies.

Flashlights go searching for the spare gas tank. Fruitless.

Then panic. What to do? The naan isn't ready. Do you throw it out? Store it in the fridge? What to do? There's a microwave. But it won't brown if you zap it?

And then you see from the corner, the familiar form, the old faithful, the gentle king of kitchen appliances...the toaster. Is it ready for the challenge? Ready to finally make bread history?

The partially cooked bread is sliced in half and tucked into the tiny tandoor.

One small feat, one giant leap for toasterkind...we have naan!

Recipe below. Enjoy and I'd love to hear from you on your naanaventure.

Love, mb

pop goes the naan. 2-4 minutes depending on the toaster

The method...

with salt, butter  and cilantro

Naan Made in a Toaster Recipe (makes 6) 
adapted from manjula's kitchen

2 c flour
1 teaspoon dry yeast (or 1/4 c poolish)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons of oil (+ oil to coat dough and bowl)
2 1/2 tablespoons yogurt
3/4 cup warm water (for poolish add ½ c water)
Melted butter or ghee (for serving) 

The dough
Dissolve dry yeast in warm water for 10 minutes. Mix dry ingredients (sugar, salt and baking powder to the flour and mix well). Add the wet ingredients (oil, yogurt, water, yeast). 
Form and knead for a couple minutes to incorporate into a ball. Cover dough with some oil and place in an oiled bowl. Place somewhere warm (ie oven with the light on) for 3-4 hours or until the dough has almost doubled in size.

Punch the dough and knead a second time until the dough is elastic for several minutes. The dough will be very sticky. Generously oil your hands and divide the dough into six equal parts. Rest for 30 minutes.

To form the naan, flour the surface. Take a piece of the dough and roll into an oval shape (8 inches). Brush any excess flour off of the dough. (Tip. Best to make the naan one at a time vs in a batch. When I’ve rolled out my naan a head of time, when it was ready to cook, as I moved it, the dough sagged and lost it’s elasticity. You want a fairly firm dough that will have a slight bounce when you press on it. So forming the last minute is a good thing).

"Pre-heat" in pan
Heat a 9-inch skillet on low. Place the naan in the skillet and cover. Cook gently for only 2-3 minutes depending on the stove (too much time and you will completely cook the dough which you want to avoid). You are not looking to fully cook or brown the bottom, rather you are taking out the wetness (dehydrating), gently allowing the heat to set through and dry out the surface of the dough. When ready, the top will be slightly dry/set and the inside still moist but not wet. It will look like a pre-cooked pizza dough. Only heat on one side, don’t flip.

Remove from the pan and set aside. At this point you can "pre-cook" the rest of the naan one by one or in a larger pan and refrigerate for toasting later.

Toaster tandoor
Once you have your pre-cooked naan ready, take a piece and cut it in half. Place the round edge face down in the toaster.

Cook on high for 2-4 minutes depending on the toaster. The naan will puff inside. Keep a watchful eye. You might need to reposition the naan a couple times for it to brown evenly.

The naan is ready when you smell a wonderful bread smell. It will be golden brown, not too dark and moist in the inside. If too hard, lessen the pre-cook time. Helps to experiment to find the right balance. Brush with butter and enjoy warm.

Tip trick:

for the ideal shape, form like a pizza. thin inside and more puffy on the edges


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