Pho’nomenal Soup

It’s been warm in North Carolina for several weeks, but recently the trees, flowers, and fauna have agreed to come alive and welcome Spring. The collective attitude of this area, the state, probably most of the country is lightened and optimistic, and everything seems fun and exciting. It’s almost hard to sit at home when you see the bright blue skies out of your window and know full well that the sun is warm and the breeze is light and soothing. I’m endlessly thankful that blending into life in Durham has been fluid and inspiring. It’s not without effort that I’ve made this community home, but the effort is easy to succumb when the opportunities are so prevalent. Durham shares features of Chicago that I loved, the primary being that it becomes so vibrant and positive in the warm weather. Everywhere it seems people are out, active, and socializing. Every restaurant and brewery offers the option to dine in the open air, and the myriad trails winding through this area are overflowing with people. It’s so fun to be happy and warm.

The above paragraph does not segue appropriately into the recipe at all. Rather, I’m blogging because I think I’ve exhausted my outdoor experiences for the weekend, and since the sun is setting, I find myself anxious for something new to do besides read quietly or numb to TV. So I’ll use this blog post as a way to believe I’m talking to someone since my dogs insist on napping and not engaging with me at all.

I want to call this recipe pho, because it is, I presume. However, I hesitate to comment on a culinary genre so profoundly outside of my personal experience and, in doing so, cheapen the years of creativity and influence that eventually inspired what is now appreciated as pho. It seems that in becoming a trendy- or at least well-known- food, there are of course a variety of manipulations that may stray egregiously from the original source. But I’ll attempt to throw my recipe into the forum, not to promise authenticity, but to encourage expansion of this beautiful and flavorful dish into even the most benign kitchens. This is truly one of the most straightforward meals I’ve made, with such outrageously delicious results. The ratio of effort to pay-off is trending towards infinity. So I call this soup, with a heavily obvious pun- pho’nomenal-  because it is phenomenal and it, for lack of a better descriptor, is pho!

Vegetarian Pho

Serves 2

(Inspired by this recipe)

Broth

  • 1 onion, cut in half
  • 1 large knob of ginger, cut in half
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix-ins

  • 1/2 block tofu, diced into 0.5 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp. canola, sunflower, safflower, or other high-heat oil
  • 2 bunches bok choy
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 3-5 oz enoki (or other interesting) mushrooms
  • 3 oz rice noodles, prepared according to package directions

Sriracha and soy sauce to serve

To prepare the broth, halve the onion and ginger and place in the broiler. Broil until a dark golden color but not quite burnt. Flip and broil the opposite side. Watch carefully- this takes 2-3 minutes per side.

In a large stock pot, add the broiled onion and ginger, lemongrass, and whole spices. (Buyer’s note: I purchased all of these spices from the bulk bin at whole foods for approximately 25 cents… some were so light they were free! So don’t be discouraged by a long list of potentially expenses cabinet-dwellers… just buy what you need!). Add 6 cups of water to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 90 minutes. I actually prepared the broth entirely ahead of time, cooled it, and stored prior to reheating when I was ready with the mix-ins the following night. But, alternately, prepare mix-ins while the broth is simmering. Once an appropriate amount of time has elapsed, strain the broth. It should be a deep, rich brown color. If needed, add a bit more salt.

Prepare the tofu by cubing, tossing with oil, and placing in the broiler for 5 minutes. Toss and continue to broil for 5-7 minutes longer, until lightly browned and crisped on the edges. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the rice noodles. Most packages ask for them to be added to boiling water then sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the bok choy, mushrooms, and sliced jalapenos to the bowls. Once the tofu is done, add that as well. Top with the rice noodles.

To serve this in a pretty way, present the bowls with mix-ins then pour the steaming broth over the top. (My photos look a little low on broth, and that’s because I split it into 3 servings so I could get more food out of it [still living cheap], but this would be more substantial/ characteristic of massive pho bowls just split into 2 servings). Top with as much sriracha as you dare, as well as a splash of soy sauce. Serve with large spoon and chopsticks!

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Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Maple Cider Glaze

Is there anything more stereotypically fall than pumpkin? And by pumpkin, I of course mean pumpkin spice, because if you asked the opinion of tweens and young adults everywhere what their favorite fall flavor is, it would absolutely be pumpkin spice, but if you presented them with pumpkin puree, most would turn their nose up entirely. In fact, I think pumpkin is notoriously a missing ingredient in the infamous pumpkin spice latte (which isn’t that great, guys? like, it’s pretty good, but try one from a local coffee shop. way, way better). Now, don’t get me wrong: I LOVE PUMPKIN SPICE. I also love pumpkin, but particularly when it’s flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. So you can hate me; I’m predictable. But I would say the best argument for pumpkin spice (outside of the aforementioned, over-popular latte) is pancakes.

Pumpkin spice pancakes are little soufflés of joy. Cake-like and fluffy from the pumpkin puree, made expertly more delicious by the combination of cinnamon and maple syrup: they are the reason to be excited about breakfast in fall. (I’ll take a step to the side for a moment to say that pumpkin spice waffles are totally amazing as well, I just don’t have a waffle maker. Eh hem, future secret Santa). Instead of maple syrup, I made a maple cider glaze to top these pancakes to switch things up. It is delicious, although I’m usually partial to a traditional version. The glaze is simply outstanding when poured on top of some whipped, melting butter, though, so I’d advise you try it.

Ah, I just love weekend breakfasts. My next job will start after 10 am…

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Don’t worry; coffee makes its way into that mug

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes with Maple Cider Glaze

Serves 2-4

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup all-purpose, mixed)

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. sugar

1 cup organic milk, anything but skim

1 1/2 tbsp. butter, melted

1 egg

1 cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Maple Cider Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. maple syrup

2-3 tbsp. apple cider

 

In a mixing bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, melted butter, egg, pumpkin puree, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk lightly, until the batter is just incorporated. Allow to rest.

Prepare the cider glaze by mixing powdered sugar with warmed maple syrup and cider, adding in intervals to achieve a thin consistency.

Heat a skillet to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or a non-stick pan over medium heat. Lightly butter the skillet or pan surface. Add the batter and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the underside is lightly browned and bubbles appear on the surface. Flip and cook an additional 2-3 minutes until the opposite side has browned and the pancake is cooked through.

Serve immediately, in a photographically-pleasing stack, with maple cider glaze poured over the top. Enjoy with coffee (maybe even a pumpkin spice latte).

 

 

Apple Spice Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s not peak season, but the leaves are changing. The yellows are overtaking previously verdant branches, and maples everywhere have the audacity to already be shouting in bright red hues. Outside of windows you can catch glimpses of autumn, and you can almost breathe the crisp air you know is surrounding the building in which you’re settled, begrudgingly, for the next 8 hours. There is truly nothing more joyful than an afternoon walk, especially when flanked by two peculiar and curious dachshunds, while leaves fall around you as the wind persistently brings in cooler and cooler air. Mornings are darker and definitely chilled, and the afternoons gather sunshine and tempt their way towards 70 degrees. It is, without a doubt, perfect. I don’t mind rain in autumn. I don’t mind wind. I don’t mind darker evenings. I don’t mind fallen leaves. Fall is the perfect sort of melancholy that contributes a wholeness unachievable by other seasons. Sure, summer may have happier moments, drenched in sunshine and warm water. But autumn understands you, fills you up, and makes you calm again. It’s the energy you’ve needed after four long busy months, and it cools you off just pleasantly enough that even winter starts to sound acceptable. I may not be ready for Christmas (even though Target is), but I’ll take the holiday changes if it means the leaves transition also.

So, to celebrate, I offer to you hear a cake synonymous with the fall transition: apple, cinnamon, spice, and… bourbon. This cake was made for my mom on her 51st birthday (in September, actually), and it floored me. Bundt cakes can be dry, crumbly, and under-flavored. But this cake is moist, dense, aptly-spiced, and wonderfully coordinated with glazes and frostings. I know that almost every one is apple picking these past and next few weekends (I wish I will join), so this cake should certainly be added to your list. I may even prefer to it apple pie (and would really hate to offend America).

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Ahh, zucchini and tomatoes: vestiges from the passing summer

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Apple Spice Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves 16-20

Apple Spice Bundt Cake

3 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup of white granulated sugar

1 cup of brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

3 cups and 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground rosemary

1/8 tsp. garam masala

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch pieces

Bourbon Glaze

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

4 tsp. bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark)

1-2 tbsp. water

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tbsp. butter, softened

4 oz. cream cheese, softened (half a block)

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

 

To prepare the cake:

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a stand mixer (or using a large bowl and hand mixer), cream the butter and sugars until lightened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the eggs individually, mixing for about 30 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the all-purpose flour, baking soda, and spices. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the stand mixer and mix together on low until just starting to combine. Add the next 1/3, and repeat with the next 1/3, until there is just trace evidence of dry flour. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Add the diced apples and fold into the batter. The batter will be quite thick.

Butter and flour a bundt pan and pour the cake batter into the pan. Spread it evenly, knocking the pan against the counter to evenly distribute the batter. Bake at 325 for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake is pulling away from the pan and a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake. Remove the pan from the oven once finished and place on a cooling rack. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes. Remove the cake and cool on the cooling rack for at least 30 minutes longer.

Prepare the bourbon glaze by adding bourbon to the powdered sugar and whisking. Add 1-2 tbsp. water as needed to thin to the appropriate consistency (slightly looser than crepe batter). Pour the glaze over the cooled cake evenly.

Prepare the cream cheese cinnamon frosting by creaming in a stand mixture the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and mix until combined. Add the powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing between intervals, until achieving the appropriate consistency. Use the frosting to decorate the cake as you wish- I piped small spirals along the bottom, but, admittedly, this used only about half of this delicious frosting.

Store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If longer storage is needed, wrap tightly, seal in a container, and freeze.

Coconut Banana Bread

I bought an oven thermometer to help me gauge the ineffectiveness of my current oven, but have not yet tried another quick bread (after the zucchini bread fail). I’m determined to make that recipe of zucchini bread again, because it was really delicious. I just had to toast it so as to “cook” thoroughly the bottom layer. So this recipe is definitely not from my new kitchen. I made it the week of moving, for the same reason that everyone makes quick breads: to use up ingredients and to snack on all week. I improvised a bit again, as obviously I was low on pantry stock, but this banana bread turned out amazing. Slightly sweetened, soft, the perfect balance between dense and fluffy. I ate the whole loaf in a few days. I wish I had another right now as I’m still alternating by cooking nice, healthy meals and eating cereal for more than one meal a day. Still in the throws of setting up my apartment and refinishing furniture, I could really go for this snack.

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Coconut Banana Bread

Makes 1 9 in. loaf

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

4 tbsp. melted butter

4 tbsp. melted coconut oil

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 mashed bananas

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan with butter or coconut oil and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, coconut).

In  a large measuring cup, or other microwave safe bowl, melt the butter and coconut oil. Add the sugar and brown sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, eggs, and vanilla, and whisk together.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir lightly and fold, using a rubber spatula. Don’t over-mix the batter; stir until all the flour is moistened (there may be a few dry patches). Add the batter to the greased loaf pan. Eat said batter out of the bowl and off the rubber spatula. Place in the oven and bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick.

As I mentioned, this banana bread isn’t overly sweet, and is nice and subtlely coconutty. It was most delicious with a spread of peanut butter. Sigh. I need to buy flour…

Carrot Cake

Happy Easter! I’m choosing to celebrate today with a delicious breakfast and carrot cake for dessert (which comes sometime in the afternoon, I’m predicting). I’m a little bit (read: very much) jealous of my brothers having fun together in North Carolina without me, and my dog prancing along (read: napping along) with them, but at least it’s a nice day here in the city. I also have a long run to do today, which is somewhat anxiety-producing, making the cake doubly necessary.

Now, per tradition, on Easter my grandma or mom would prepare a bunny cake, which is obviously named based on the appearance rather than the type of cake or flavor. I don’t even remember what kind of cake we usually used, but there was always white frosting, coconut, licorice whiskers, jellybean eyes and nose, and a bowtie of M&Ms. I begrudgingly removed most of these decorations, because licorice and jellybeans are not my candies-of-choice. The cake was good, but there was always too much, and with all of the other food and desserts (and CANDY) available on Easter, I don’t remember too much focus on the bunny cake outside of a few pictures.

As someone who enjoys dabbling in baking, and with the cake tradition arming my resolution, I decided to whip up my favorite carrot cake this weekend. I’ve made this cake once before, several years ago, and my roommate and I devoured it over the course of a week or so. It keeps well in the refrigerator (which is necessary due to the icing), and it tasted fresh and delicious that whole time. I’m not a big frosting person, in that I usually find it too saccharine or heavy or chemically (if that’s a word), but cream cheese frosting is THE BEST. Especially with some coconut. Cream cheese frosting makes carrot cake the divine, wonderfully dense cake it is. And all of the above prepared from scratch, with fresh carrots and walnuts? So good.

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Carrot Cake

Based off of this recipe

Serves about 16-20

9 inch round x 3 inches deep pan or 9×9 square pan

Unsalted butter, for the pan

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or whole wheat flour)

1 cup all-purpuse flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. salt

6 medium carrots, grated

1 1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

3 large eggs

2/3 cup vanilla yogurt (or plain yogurt)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1 cup walnuts

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
  • 1/2 stick of butter (4 tbsp.)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, to top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the bottom and sides of your baking pan, and place parchment paper on the bottom of the pan.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.

In a food processor, grate the carrots. Or, alternatively, shred the carrots with a grater. Add the shredded carrots to the bowl with the flour and other ingredients. Mix together until the carrots are evenly coated.

In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream together the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Once smooth and creamy, drizzle in the vegetable oil while on a slow mixing speed. Beat until combined.

Pour the liquid mixture into the carrot-flour mixture. Add 1 cup of walnuts. Stir with a large spoon to just combine.

Pour the carrot cake batter into the prepared baking pan. Place the pan in the 350 degree oven on the middle rack and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, reduce the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake an additional 10-20 minutes, until the cake is cooked through. Test the cake’s doneness by dipping a toothpick in the center and ensuring that it comes out clean. Or use a thermometer to identify when the center of the cake has reached 205-210 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the cake out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely, at least 1hour.

While the cake is cooling, cream together the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixture, until smooth and creamy. Integrate the powdered sugar about 1 cup at a time, beating slowly after each addition, until thoroughly blended. Add the vanilla and beat until blended. Add the shredded coconut and mix until well distributed.

Once the cake has cooled, frost with the coconut cream cheese frosting. Top with shredded coconut. The cake will keep at room temperature for a few hours, but should otherwise be refrigerated between servings. It tastes really quite good straight from the refrigerator, but is slightly more flavorful once allowed to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or so.

*Just FYI, my cake is long a narrow because I actually sliced it in half and frosted each half individually, so I could give half the cake out to others. I can’t eat an entire cake! Awkward frosting due to me not having enough, really, to individually frost several miniature cakes!

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Also, you can feel so healthy, because this cake is really not too sweet, full of carrots and walnuts, and lightly frosted (note: if you want a thicker frosting coating, you may want to 1 1/2 the recipe. I find the thickness (about 1/4-1/2 inch) to be appropriate for the cake). And anyways, you should indulge all you want, it’s Easter! And nice outside! Celebrate.

Brian’s Favorite Snickerdoodles

I didn’t make these snickerdoodles today. I didn’t make them a week ago, or a month ago. I’m actually not sure when I last made snickerdoodles- it may have been near the end of 2013- but when I make them, I use this recipe, every. single. time. They’ve been eaten at office parties, at friend’s homes, as Christmas gifts, for an indulgent snack, and in I’ll-eat-this-entire-recipe-at-once binges, courtesy of this blog’s namesake. Brian loves snickerdoodles, and he especially loves these snickerdoodles, so every time I make them I think of him. Today is a good day to ponder the life of my younger brother, because it’s a good day to be distracted from the stress which bookended my weekend and the many goings-on I have looking ahead for this week. It’s a good day to ponder things you love and care about, because Chicago doesn’t have a lot going for it right now, and I’m actually pretty sure the city itself is trying to break up with me. I haven’t given in yet, but I may be delusional. Really, I wish I could be sitting with Brian, stealing a snickerdoodle or two (as he gobbles down the rest, still warm), with some of his beautiful music playing in the background, losing sight of the fact that my life is very far away and very much more serious than video games and cookies. Every one needs a moment or two to just stop and eat a snickerdoodle. And if you’re going to give yourself the time, go for a good one.

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Brian’s Favorite (Unbelievably Soft and Fluffy) Snickerdoodles

Makes ~15-20 cookies

Based on this recipe

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

2-3 tbsp. milk

1/4 cup sugar & 1 tbsp. cinnamon for rolling

In an electric stand mixer at medium speed, or hand mixer, cream softened/ room-temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Add vanilla and mix again for ~30 seconds.

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients- flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in 3 batches, beating on low until each batch is incorporated. If the last batch makes the dough seem too crumbly or dry, add in 1 tbsp. of milk at a time until cookie-dough consistency is achieved. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a shallow bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon for rolling. Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator. Grab a small chunk of cookie dough, enough to form a golf-ball sized dough ball, and roll in your hand. Drop the rolled cookie dough into the sugar and cinnamon mixture and toss until covered. Place the cookie dough ball on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and repeat the process until all cookies are formed.

Bake the cookies in the oven for 10-12 minutes, erring on the longer side for larger dough balls. The cookies should be juuuust lightly browned on the bottom edges and still appear fairly raw in the middle. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, where they’ll firm up slightly and become delectably soft, fluffy, and chewy, with just the hint of a crackle-crunch when first biting in.

These cookies are the essence of cinnamon-vanilla wonder, absolutely perfect warm, but undeniably delicious at room temperature, even 3 days later. Keep fresh in a covered container for 2-3 days; otherwise, freeze to last longer. I promise you do not need to freeze these.

Brian deserves a batch today. Tell him they’re from me.