Sometimes You Just Gotta Say, “What the Pho!”

Pho: Yeah!

Today has been super busy. Lunch time came and went before I knew it. My stomach grumbled at me, reminding me that I had not yet eaten.

“What IS there to eat?” I asked myself.

Eerily enough, I answered back, “I don’t really give a damn, but eat SOMETHING!”

To which I then replied, “Pho kit!”

I rummaged through my pantry for rice noodles and chicken broth. The fridge yielded scallions, a lone Fresno pepper, bean sprouts, cilantro, garlic and chili paste. Oh, and some rotisserie chicken remnants and shrimp for tonight’s dinner.

I was good to go!

I put some water on to boil while I heated the broth in the microwave. Once they were hot I added them to a bowl with my noodles, letting the noodles cook while I chopped the veggies. This all went into the bowl with the noodles, along with the chili paste. I threw in the chicken and [already cooked] shrimp at the end, and voila…Pho!

Delicious AP (As Pho)!

In less than 10 minutes I had a healthy, delicious meal. It took me longer to write this post than to make the Pho. You can add your own favorites to tailor it to your specific tastes. I had some cherry tomatoes I would have tossed in had I remembered them…and there is Thai basil growing in my yard that would have been a nice flavor addition. I guess the hunger pangs were to loud for me to think straight. Next time for sure.

One final note: the secret to great Pho is the broth. You can use beef, chicken, vegetable…homemade….whatever you like. Just make sure it is the best you can get. I will often use my own, but in a pinch I have found this brand by Kettle and Fire (see below). It sure speeds up prep time.

Buon appetito!

 

Great Friday…and a Little Whiskey Business!!

IMG_7262Great Friday!!

Years ago I used to hold an all-women cocktail party for my girlfriends on the Friday following Good Friday. I called it Great Friday. Why? Because while Good Friday is, well, good and all that, Great Friday…is GREAT! I think the last one I hosted was back in 2006. Not sure why I stopped. I was reminiscing about it all last night, and decided it was time for another Great Friday.

I believe I may have mentioned I am a Whiskey Girl…I love my bourbon…and sometimes a wee bit of Scotch…and I’m working on developing my taste for Rye Whiskey (it’s coming along nicely, thank you very much!). I decided to keep tonight’s Great Friday small and low-key. So Instead of fancy cocktails I’m serving up whiskey, specifically the Irish variety. I have a couple of girlfriends who are also whiskey drinkers, and we are gathering tonight to sample several in my collection.

Irish Whiskey – A Few Favorites

As a writer, I am particularly fond of an Irish Whiskey called Writer’s Tears. According to their site, “Many Irish writers suffered from ‘Writer’s Block’ and it was said that when they cried they cried tears of Whiskey. Most, if not all of them, sought comfort and inspiration from “The Water of Life” (Whiskey). The relaxing characteristics of Whiskey helped many of them overcome writers block and produce inspired works of poetry, prose and plays.”

Any writer who is also a whiskey drinker is calling out a loud, “Hell yeah!” right about now. (Or is that only me?)

One of my last visits to Ireland I found myself in a pub (as all of ye should be when in Ireland! No better place to find yerself…), and that’s where I first discovered this whiskey. For some reason I didn’t bring a bottle back with me to the States. Upon arriving back home I decided I needed to add it to my collection. This was a bit of an issue since it seems it is not sold here, or at least it is not sold near me. But I was determined. And obsessed. After a hearty online search I finally found a distributer in Germany who was able to ship it to me. Tonight I will sit here happily enjoying a wee bit o’ th’ stuff w/ me lassies. Life is good, eh?

This is not the only Irish Whiskey in my collection. In fact, there are a couple I prefer over this one, namely “Redbreast” and “Green Spot.” I’ve been known to take a nip of either on a chilly night by the fire. Not that I limit myself solely to those times; however, there is something about a crackling fire that seems especially fitting when partaking of a dram (or two) of whiskey.

I’ll leave you with some whiskey quotes:

  • Love makes the world go round? Not at all. Whiskey makes it go round twice as fast.” ~Compton MacKenzie (I have verified this on a few occasions!)
  • Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.” ~W.C. Fields
  • Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” ~Mark Twain
  • I’m on a whisky diet. I’ve lost three days already.” ~Tommy Cooper

I’m off to prepare for tonight! Slainte (y’all)!

Which Cookbooks Are Best? Some of my Favorites

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!!

As a writer, books are a passion. As a writer AND a food geek, cookbooks are an even bigger passion. I have an entire section of my kitchen devoted to cookbooks. At last count I own over 150. I often read a cookbook cover-to-cover, as I would a novel. And just as in some books when the plot takes a sudden twist and you think, “No, that can’t be happening!” I have read recipes and thought, “That could not possibly work.” Or “Wow, that sounds amazing! I never thought of trying those flavors together!!”

You might see why I label myself a food geek…

I use the internet as a source for many of my recipes, and it often inspires my creations. But there is nothing like holding a [cook] book in hand, scrolling through recipe after recipe and  drooling over colorful, well-staged photos, to get me in the mood for cooking.

*Note: I don’t drool ON the photos, just over them. 🙂

How did I get so MANY??

Yes, I have a lot. More than most I suspect. Some were given to me. Many have been written by favorite chefs, signed if I’ve had the chance to meet them in person (and many I have). I have a coveted copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” autographed shorty before her death in August 2004. And I have several signed books by my favorite local celebrity chef, Stephan Pyles.

One of my treasures is this signed edition of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child. I bought it 2 days before her death. I am honored to have this in my collection.

Most of my cookbooks I bought myself. In fact, I recently acquired two new cookbooks so I might, ideally, perfect a dish or two for my new daughter-in-law. She is from China, and it is a goal of mine to offer her a meal that in some way brings her homeland here to her. She has become a loved and treasured addition to our family!

Two new editions. As of this posting I have not yet attempted any of the recipes, but I have read that the author, Fuchsia Dunlop, uses authentic recipes based on her extensive training in China. I hope to recreate a few of these for my daughter-in-law.

Admittedly, many of my cookbooks are no more than eye candy that sit idle on my shelf or are rarely opened. Then there are others I do use on a regular basis, my go-to cookbooks that help me out in a pinch.

The Sweet…

Rose Levy Beranbaum is one of my cooking idols. I began with “The Cake Bible” and now own most of her cookbooks (not all in my collection are pictured). The brownie recipe in “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” is my go-to recipe, and is one of my most requested. Amazing!

For many of my pies, I use Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Pie and Pastry Bible”. I love her books. She takes time to explain not only the “how” of a recipe, but also the “why.” I use a scale to measure ingredients, so I appreciate that she includes measurements both in volume AND weight. This book in particular details the various crusts you might want to use and with which pies. While the recipes may appear complicated, if you follow carefully they provide a step-by-step method to achieve the best crusts. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to up their pie-baking skills.

Rose’s “The Cake Bible” was on my wish list way back in 1988. I was a mere college student at the time, not yet realizing the depth of my culinary passion. But I should have known from the reaction I had to the cover. I was instantly drawn to its luscious cake draped in a sheet of chocolate(a sheet, I say!) …sigh! Leafing through the bookstore copy had me dreaming of possibilities. I don’t know if I thought I would ever attempt any of the recipes, but they entranced me. Thankfully, I received a copy that Christmas. The pages began falling out from so much use, so I recently acquired a second copy.

…The Savory

Of course I don’t only bake. Some of my favorite savory regulars include Molly Stevens’ “All About Braising,” Adam Perry Lang’s “Serious Barbecue,” and Cook’s Illustrated’s “The Best Recipe.” When I was first learning to cook, I found Irma Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking” to be invaluable. It provides basic information and hundreds of recipes. As my skills expanded and I grew more comfortable, I experimented with modifications to suit our family’s tastes, branching out to more complicated cookbooks and techniques over time. Practice, practice, practice!!

So many cookbooks, so little time

I’d like to use more of my collection; therefore, I will pick one cookbook to feature in my kitchen each week. One night that week would be devoted to creating a menu from the chosen cookbook, fulfilling a couple of purposes. One, my cookbooks  get more use, collecting food stains and post-it notes to mark favorite recipes rather than merely collecting dust. Two, my repertoire of menu offerings increases as I no doubt branch out into new territory. Sounds like a win-win!

A Few More…

*If you click on the highlighted titles in this post they link to where you can buy them on Amazon.com. I get zero (nada, zilch, none) profit from any links. The links are to help you find them should you so desire. 

This list is a sampling of the more used volumes in my collection. Stay tuned as I work through some of my lesser used cookbooks!!

Okay, I’ve shared some of my favorites. What are yours?

Royal Irish Soda Bread – My Favorite!

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

I look forward to this Irish Soda Bread every St. Patrick’s Day as much as I do my cheesecake and Irish coffee. It is that good. To be fair, it is not authentic Irish Soda Bread. It has butter in it. And a touch of sugar. And raisins. Not something the Irish of old had ready in their pantries back in the day.

The Recipe (a link)

My recipe comes from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible.” I am going to link to the recipe posted on Reddit [click here] because, well, I’m feeling a bit lazy after spending all day cooking Irish Stew…and Stout Cheddar Cheese Cheesecake…and Guinness Bread (a new recipe this year!)…and Chocolate Stout Ice Cream (also new this year)…and Whiskey Butter…and finally, these lovely Royal Soda Breads…

All I need to do tomorrow (which it almost is as I write this…) is to prepare the mashed potatoes to go with the Irish Stew, make sure the Guinness is cold, and if I’m not too tired, make a smoked fish appetizer to start it all off. I did smoke the fish for that earlier today, so we are ready to go!

Happy St. Patrick’s to everyone out there. Hope you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow before that sneaky little leprechaun gets it first!

Sláinte!

 

 

 

A Proper Irish Coffee: A Classic For St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee…[sigh]

It got cold here again in Texas. At least for today. Who knows? Tomorrow may be all sunshine and short sleeves again. But today is overcast and back to sweaters. I even have a fire going with the last of the wood in the fireplace. It feels cozy. All that’s missing is some Irish Coffee.

It is morning as I write this, so perhaps Irish Coffee wouldn’t be the most prudent idea. Though, as they say, it’s 5:00 somewhere! Alas, for now I will dream of it’s comforting wiles, the warmth which comes from both the heat and a generous shot of Irish whiskey. For I am, after all, a whiskey gal. And Irish whiskey is some of the best to be had…and I’ve had plenty!

Jameson Distillery and the Perfect Irish Coffee

My first trip to Ireland was back in July 2011. It was magical. A week in the lush greenness that is this beautiful country was all it took for me to fall in love. To embrace my Irish [by marriage] heritage. I had been traveling with my family, and we were on the final week of a five-week Europe vacation. One of our first stops in Ireland was to the Jameson Distillery in Middleton.

It was here that I had my first “proper” Irish Coffee. Not only did I drink one – or even two perhaps, I also learned how to make one [properly of course]. Oh, sure, it looks easy. Just add a bit of whiskey to some hot coffee and top it off with some whipped cream, right?

Hah! While that may be tasty, there are a few refined techniques which will greatly improve the experience. Part of the goal is to have the cream stay with the coffee as it is drunk. Meaning, it doesn’t get mixed into the coffee, yet you also don’t drink it off the top within the first few sips. That would leave your coffee exposed to get cold, and who wants that? No, done properly, each taste should have a bit of cold whipped cream paired with hot coffee. A nice yin/yang effect. Dark vs. Light. Hot vs. Cold. Smooth vs. Creamy. Delicious.

Coffee…the Base

It should be obvious to begin with good coffee. Now I am not going to judge and tell you to use a certain coffee. I’ll just recommend using your favorite; something you love. This is the base of the drink after all. And with so few ingredients it’s important to use the best ones you can find. My preferences tend to be a stronger brew. We are currently using a locally roasted Brazilian espresso bean. It has chocolatey notes, adding to the depth of flavor.

At Jameson’s they used a French press to make the coffee. I do love French press coffee, but I enjoy the coffee from our machine just as much. And it’s faster. So that’s what I use. Again, no judgement from me on your favorite way to brew or drink your coffee. Go with what works for you; just make it tasty.

The Whiskey

There are four ingredients in a proper Irish Coffee. I’ll take you through each one and then you can watch a video I found online [see below] showing how to put them all together. Let’s begin with the whiskey…

Obviously, the whiskey used at the distillery was Jameson’s. But if you have a personal preference for another brand, use that. It does not need to be a super premium whiskey; however, I don’t like to go too cheap here either. As I said before, there are only a few ingredients. Make them count. My preference is Jameson’s for this. I have also used Bushmill’s and Tullamore Dew. All were good. Great even.

What I don’t use: I do NOT use my Writer’s Tears [not available in the US as of this writing]. Nor do I use my Green Spot or Redbreast. These are for drinking straight, or maybe with a touch of water and/or an ice cube. Their finer qualities will get lost in this drink. Having said that, if all you have on hand is “the good stuff” and you are willing to use such fine spirits in your coffee, I say go for it. Either that or just drink the whiskey and coffee separately. Or perhaps leave out the coffee altogether…

Final Ingredients: Sugar and Cream

Brown sugar was used in Jameson’s demo. It gives a bit of depth to the drink. You can use light or dark brown sugars. Have I mentioned “preference”? Raw sugar can also be used. Or in a pinch [gasp] plain white sugar works. Experiment. Come on, it’s only a drink. Try it different ways and see which way works best for you. There are no mistakes here. Only subtle taste nuances. Go for it! I do recommend dissolving the sugar in either some of the hot coffee or the whisky ahead of time to help it mix in better.

Now for the tricky part. The cream. First, make sure you are using heavy whipping cream. If you can find low pasteurized, or even no-pasteurized, that is ideal. It whips better. But if not, go for what you can find. At the distillery they shook the cream in a cocktail shaker. If you prefer you can use a whisk or, if you are careful, a hand mixer. The important thing to remember is to not over whip the cream.

Let me repeat that: DO NOT OVER WHIP THE CREAM!

Here’s why: if you whip it too much it is going to just sit on top. You will not get that perfect integration with the coffee when sipping. Likewise, if you under whip the cream it will not float on top at all and will instead mix right into the coffee. What you want is something somewhere in between. Thick enough to stay suspended on top of the coffee, thin enough that you are able to get a little bit with each sip of the coffee below. Hot coffee coming through cold cream…a sensory delight!

The Basic Ingredients

As I mentioned, there are only a few ingredients: your favorite coffee, Irish whiskey, brown sugar and heavy whipping cream. That’s it. Four items. I always have at least three of those items on hand at all times, heavy whipping cream being the exception.

The proper vessel is important and should be warmed up ahead of time by filling it with hot water. It doesn’t need to be a designated Irish Coffee mug (though that looks nice) but it must be able to hold a hot drink. I do have a set of Irish Coffee mugs just for the occasion.

A Video on Making Irish Coffee

Rather than describe how to make a proper Irish Coffee, I came across a video from Jamie Oliver’s DrinksTube which does the job for me. Not only does it show you the process and walk you through it step-by-step, there is a bit of history behind the drink offered as well.

So there you have it, a lesson on how to make a proper Irish Coffee. Now it’s time for me to gather my ingredients and get to it…

Sláinte