Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

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31-recipe challenge Day 13: Soba Noodles

Well, folks, this is pretty much the halfway point! And what better way to commemorate than soba noodles?

Why soba? Well, because who doesn’t love a steaming hot bowl of noodles?

Soba noodles

These soba noodles from Pickled Plum were probably my most “exotic” recipe yet. I mean that in the sense of the ingredients. I spent more time in the international aisle for this recipe than for any other, and, in the end, some adjustments had to be made. I couldn’t find certain things on the list, like fish cakes (okay, not that I really looked that hard…) and ichimi pepper. But luckily, I found out ichimi is basically just a hot Japanese chili pepper, so I used a little chili powder instead.  I almost couldn’t find the dried fish flake (katsuo bushi) for the sauce, but I found an unfortunately large package of it at the last minute.

I ended up halving the amount of fish flake in the sauce because I was afraid it would impart too much of a fishy flavor, because when I opened that package, whoa baby was it fishy! But I think the full two tablespoons actually would’ve been fine. The flavor seems way milder than the smell.

To be completely honest, I don’t think what I bought were truly soba noodles. I bought rice flour and buckwheat vermicelli (soba are buckwheat), but I don’t think that’s actually the same thing. Close enough though, right? These were great gluten-free noodles, though. I gave the rest to my mom to try because I liked them better than most gluten-free pasta substitutes I’ve tried (like brown rice pasta), and they were cheap. I have a bunch of sauce and toppings left, so I’ll probably go buy actual soba noodles and make it again.

Soba bowls

This dish was an unbridled success. It took only as long as it took to heat up the sauce and boil the noodles, so basically no longer than any other pasta. Plus, it’s warm and cozy and totally customizable–add pretty much whatever you want with as much or as little sauce as you want. You could totally add chicken, pork, shrimp or fish to this and make it a more filling meal. We went with grated ginger, grated daikon (a large, white, Asian radish), chopped scallions and cilantro. I also spent way too much time in the international aisle at Wegmans hunting down nori, found some, and then forgot to add it to the soba. Oops. It’s there for next time. (Confession: I ate this along with pizza. Not traditional and very weird, but it was there and I love pizza. Sue me.)

Truth be told, I’m leaving the wasabi out next time. I thought I just put the smallest bit in, but holy cow! I couldn’t finish my bowl–I gave it to Kevin. It was SO spicy. (To me, anyway, but we all know I’m a spice wimp.) Anyway, next time I’m just saying “no” to wasabi.

Wasabi or no wasabi, soba is a great cold winter day meal or home sick meal, because it’s so cozy and warming and a fun alternative to the usual pasta or soup. And it’s quick! (And if you have a cold or sinus infection, just mix a little extra wasabi in there and BAM! Sinuses cleared.)

So go cozy up with a bowl of soba…what are you waiting for??

Soba noodles 2

31-recipe challenge Day 12: Swedish Meatballs

I promise mine turned out better than that.  They didn’t bounce, for one thing. I’m also pretty sure those aren’t actually Swedish meatballs–regular meatballs made by a Swedish chef don’t count! But he’s a Muppet, so we’ll let it slide!

Anyway, clearly what that guy was trying to tell you is that for my 12th day and 14th recipe of the challenge (almost at the halfway point!), I made Swedish meatballs from Jo Cooks!

All in all, they’re pretty simple (and pretty not-so-good for you…fried meatballs in a butter and sour cream sauce!). I’d certainly make these again, but I think next time I’ll bake the meatballs instead of fry them (save where I can.)

I pretty much followed this recipe exactly, except I used wheat bread instead of white bread (because it’s what I had), and I lost my allspice (seriously, I have NO idea where it went…not happy), so I omitted it.

Meatballs cooking

I had these for lunch the next day along with leftover cauliflower curry.  It was quite the diverse lunch, yet they went together oddly well.

I have a ton of these leftover now, but I have a hunch they will freeze well, and who doesn’t love homemade Swedish meatballs on a whim?

Confession: my first Swedish meatball experience was the frozen, Lean Cuisine version. These are way better than that.  Freeze them in individual portions, and I have my very own homemade version! (Though more cuisine, less lean.)

Swedish meatballs

When I made these and had them for lunch the next day, I ate them on their own, but they would be FANTASTIC over some buttery egg noodles. Granted, anything would be fantastic over buttery egg noodles.

And these are a *tad* more authentic than the Swedish chef’s. Except there’s no possibility that Kermit will come be my sous chef…bummer.

 

31-recipe challenge Day 10: Chicken Rosemary Lasagna

Phew! We’re finally 10 days (and 13 recipes) in. We’re approaching the halfway point! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The current order of business: lasagna. But not just any ol’ lasagna (because traditional lasagna the day after eggplant parm would be a tad redundant.)

No, no, no. This is a whole new kind of lasagna–a white lasagna, if you will (as in, no tomato sauce), and it is the brainchild of Sylvia Fountaine from Feasting At Home.

Lasagna 1

I’ll admit it: I did something a little bad with this lasagna–I used no-boil packaged noodles. No, I didn’t use fresh pasta or even eggroll wrappers like she suggested. I went totally cheat-route and used the no-boil lasagna noodles. It resulted in a few crispy edges, but in the end it worked out.

I actually prepped this lasagna Sunday night and left it wrapped in the fridge, unbaked until Monday evening, when I pulled it out and baked it off. This was a great make-ahead recipe that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the time to pull off on a weeknight.

No news here–I halved this recipe (this is pretty much becoming the norm now.) I also added more chicken in place of the mushrooms, because the thought of handling and eating them still totally grosses me out. (I know I said I’d keep the substitutions to a minimum, but this one’s just too deep-seated.) Because the mushrooms release juice when they cook, which keeps the vegetables moist and helps wilt the spinach, I added a splash of white wine in their place to keep the necessary liquid.

I also used skim milk in place of whole milk in the béchamel sauce because I forgot to buy whole milk. Shhh…if I didn’t tell you, you’d probably never know!

Lasagna 2

At first, I was a little…confounded by this dish. Like I said, there were some crispy noodle edges, which freaked me out at first (I thought it was undercooked), then my initial bites told me it was bland, and I wanted to sprinkle salt over the whole thing, which I never do. But by my second helping, my taste buds changed their mind, and I added no salt. And by the next day, as I was eating leftover lasagna at my desk, I realized between the cheese sauce, the cooked noodles, and the crispy edges, this lasagna was totally reminiscent of a savory noodle kugel. Be still my Jewish heart. That solidified it for me–this was one good lasagna.

(Though, if you ask my mother, it’s not lasagna. “Does it have tomato sauce?” “No.” “Then it’s not lasagna!” I swear, you’d think she’s Italian or something!)

lasagna slice

This was another minor victory by way of Kevin: the actual Italian boy NEVER eats lasagna because he hates ricotta cheese. (Seriously, what kind of Italian is he??) But he ate this! A whole serving, and he even finished it! Granted, he opted to raid my fridge for the rest of his meal rather than have seconds, but I’ll take what I can get.

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