Friday, May 12

Szechuan House

11005 Burnet Road, Austin, TX. 
After a three hour drive, we made it into Austin just as the sun began to set. It was dinner time and we wanted to eat somewhere new. Everything about our trip was to try new restaurants.

Recently, we’ve been watching a lot of food channels on Youtube. Mainly Food Ranger and Migrationology. Watching Trevor James eat Chinese food in the streets of Chengdu had us craving Szechuan food. So when Szechuan House popped up on our search and it’s only 3 miles away, we were excited to try it out.
When we got there, we were not disappointed. The place is simple with no fancy decor but that’s not what we’re there for. The menu is largely separated by category. You can also order online and get it to go or delivered. Check out their menu online.
The food is served family communal style. Each dish is meant to share around the table and served alone along with a large plate of rice. Each person is to fill their plate or bowl with the dishes on the table. I grew up eating with this style, rice is a staple part of every meal including breakfast. During every meal, we have 2-3 different dishes to eat with our plate of rice.
What we didn’t anticipate was the size of each dish. They were all big and since it was our first time to eat here, we each ordered something we wanted to try. So here's the breakdown of our meal.


Spicy Cold Noodles (A9) 6.95



For an appetizer, we ordered spicy cold noodles. It’s cold egg noodles served with a sauce made with sesame paste and hot chili oil. It was delish and just enough heat that makes you want to keep eating it. The plate was a big too, that was a meal by itself.


The Twice Cooked Pork on Sizzling Iron Plate (P9) 10.95

Thinly sliced pork belly stir-fried in soy sauce, bell pepper, hot peppers, and leeks then plated on a sizzling iron plate. It’s a simple dish with lots of flavors. My husband ordered this and he ate a lot of it and we still ended up taking some home.


Pork Intestine and Pork Blood in Hot Fire Pot (P10) 12.95

This number is not for the weak stomach. If you are adventurous in trying out different food, this is a good one to try. Just like the title, it is sliced pork intestine and pork blood cooked in hot fire pot. The broth is filled with dried hot chilis, Szechuan peppercorn or prickly ash peppercorn, oil, and napa cabbage. They included some beef tripe along with the pork intestine and pork blood. This bowl is big and it’s is probably made to serve 3-4 people. We took half of it home.


Sweet and Sour Chicken (C10) 9.95


Our son is still into his picky stage when it comes to food. He does not want sauce in anything he eats unless it's soup. So he ordered his Sweet and Sour chicken with the sauce on the side. He eats anything with rice and took what was left home. This plate is made to serve 2-3 people. He ate 10 pieces and barely put a dent on his plate.

$55.00 later, we left the place overly stuffed with 4 take outs with our leftover food. For what we spent, we could have fed 6-8 people. We will definitely go back again and try other food on the menu. It will take a few trips to try everything on the list but we don’t mind. It’s a great place for family meals or with a group.

The service was great. The food came out fast and our waiter was friendly. We realized later that she used to wait on us at a neighborhood buffet restaurant that we used to frequent but it had since closed. The lady at the front desk was an older lady and had a smile the whole time we were there.



What is this?


Now, this is the type of things you want to see at an Asian restaurant. In Asia, you'll find these type of fans on the wall and on the ceiling. You will not see this very often in America and much less in Texas. In fact, it's the first time I saw it here and I was tickled by our discovery. 

Wednesday, May 3

Cooking Vietnamese Pho with Chef Quang Le


Cooking with Chef Quang Le


Researching food and spices is a part of our family's daily routine since we ventured into the food industry. Learning about the different components of food makes us appreciate every dish, snack, and drink that we consume. We take every opportunity that we can to continue learning about the flavors of the world.

This weekend, I organized a class with a local Vietnamese chef who loves to entertain and educate people through food. Chef Quang Le, co-owner of Clay Pot in Waco Texas, had agreed to teach a class on how to cook traditional Vietnamese Pho. 

The class is sponsored by the Association of Asian-American Women in San Angelo, Texas. It was such a refreshing class complete with food history, health benefits, recipe book, and entertainment. 




So What is Vietnamese Pho Soup?

Vietnamese Pho Soup is considered the national dish of Vietnam. It can be seen as a mirror that reflects the heritage of the Vietnamese people and their way of life. Pho soup is a hearty soup made from marrow heavy bone broth and spices. The simplicity of the broth is quite misleading as it disguises a complex flavor of beef, spices, and herbs.
Pho from Clay Pot Restaurant
Calling it a "soup" is also not quite appropriate for it is considered a full meal with thinly slice meat, rice noodles, and fresh vegetable toppings. "soup" is simply a side dish but Pho soup is so much more.
Much like a western beef bone broth, Pho soup starts the same way, with marrow-rich beef bones almost cooked to oblivion. The difference is in the spices and seasonings.

Pho Soup is also considered a healing soup. According to chef Quang Le, this soup can help alleviate flu, fever, hangovers, sinus issues, and migraine etc. Ever wonder why you crave soup when you are not feeling well? Rich in beef essence, spices, and herbs, pho soup is full of vitamins and medicinal benefits that help your body recover from many ailments.

When cooking pho, don't expect to get the same flavor each time you cook it. Each time, it will have a slightly differently taste from the time before. So each pho bowl you eat will have its own unique taste of deliciousness. Traditionally, Pho is made with beef but you can also make it with other meats such as chicken, pork, or seafood.


So before I get in too deep about pho history, Let's get started on the recipe courtesy of Chef Quang Le's.

We will do this in stages: Broth, Noodles, Toppings, and How to put it together.



Vietnamese Pho Bac (Beef Herbal Soup)
Serving: 6-8 Servings


The Beef Herbal Broth


Meat


4 lbs Beef Bones ( marrow and knuckle bones)
1 lbs Oxtails or Short Ribs (Optional)


Spices and Seasoning:


1 stalk lemon grass
1 Medium Potato
1 Medium Apple
1 Medium Sweet Onion


1 ginger root (5oz)
2 Nutmeg ( Crushed)
Shitake Mushroom Sea
7-10 pcs of whole cloves




(includes Chamomile, citrus peels, lemongrass, rose hips, hibiscus, and mint)
1/2 Cup of Veggie Powder
1/2 Cup of Yellow Rock Sugar or Raw Sugar




INSTRUCTIONS:

STEP 1

1. In a large stockpot, place beef bones with water. Cover and bring to a boil.
2. Cook for 10 minutes.
3. Drain the fluid using a large strainer.
4. Rinse pot and the bones.
5. Return the bones to the pot and add 6 quarts of water and bring to a boil.
Cooking Class Asia with AAAW
6. Skim the surface and remove any foam or fat. Occasionally stir the bottom of the pot and continue skimming until the broth becomes free of impurities.
7. Add 3 quarts of water and let it boil. Skim any residues. 
8. Lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 4-5 hours. Make sure to keep the water level over the bones, add water as necessary.

Short Ribs Option

*If you decide to use short ribs, remove the short rib plates. Save the meat after the 1st initial boiling. Return the bones back into the pot to boil and simmer uncovered for 4-5 hours.

STEP 2

1. While the broth is simmering, Char the onions and ginger over a gas burner or under the broiler until the fragrant smells are released. 
2. Pan toast or slightly grill the star anise, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks until the oils and fragrance are released.
3. Using a damp cheesecloth, wrap the charred onions, ginger, and toasted spices and tie it into a pouch and drop it into the broth.
4. Also add the chamomile citrus tea, apple, potato, lemongrass, veggie powder, and sugar into the simmering pot.
5. Let simmer for 30 minutes
6. When the broth is ready, strain the broth through a strainer lined with double layer of damp cheesecloth into a pot. Add fish sauce and bring to a boil then let it simmer.



The Rice Noodles




Rice Noodles. I prefer to use fresh frozen noodles. I think they have a better texture than the dried noodles after it's cook. This brand is Sincerely Orient Food Co. 1 bag is 16 oz and serves 4-6 bowls. You can buy fresh frozen or even fresh pho noodles at your local Asian market.
Of course, if you live nowhere near an Asian market, you can purchase dry rice noodles from HEB or Walmart, look for Three Ladies Brand if they have it. You can also order them on Amazon if you absolutely cannot find it in your area.

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Boil 4 quarts of water in another pot.
2. Drop the noodles intro the boiling water. Much like cooking pasta only much quicker.
3. Once it's soft, drain immediately. 
4. Divide soup bowls into a soup bowl. Keep extra noodles in a bowl covered with damp cloth to keep it moist.

NOTES:
* Go ahead and take the frozen noodles out of the freezer so that it can thaw out. 
* Dry noodles need to soak in cold water to hydrate.
* Frozen noodles will cook faster than the packaged dry noodles.



The Meat and Veggie Toppings 

Meat

Photo Courtesy of Justonecookbook.com.
Check out Nami's How to Slice Meat Paper Thin Tutorial.
During our class, we used thinly cut sirloin steak. The trick is to freeze the meat just until it's firm but not hard. Freeze for approximately 15 minutes. At this stage, the steak is easier to cut and you can slice it into thinner strips.


OR...


You can go see your local butcher and request your meat to be cut very thinly like sandwich meat. They will gladly do it for you.

* Traditionally, the Meat serve raw in your bowl. Once you pour the hot simmering soup over the meat, it will then cook the meat to a nice juicy tender.




The Veggies 





Bean Sprouts (Soy beans or Mung Beans)
Lime wedges
Fresh Thai Basil
Fresh Cilantro
Sliced Chili Peppers or Jalapenos

1 Sliced Medium Red Onion
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Condiments:

Chili Garlic / Sriracha Sauce
Hoisin Sauce
Fish Sauce
Ground Pepper



Now to put it together

1. Bowl
2.Noodle
3.Meat
4. Broth
5.Veggie Toppings
6.Condiments

Pho Soup Courtesy of Clay Pot Restaurant

"Now Go Pho It!"

If you are in Waco, Texas, try their only Vietnamese restaurant, Clay Pot Restaurant. I have to admit, I haven't been yet but I've had Chef Quang Le's pho soup and it is delicious! So if you've been there, leave me a comment about your favorite dish.