Pho Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant is an Unexpected Hidden Gem

Blink at the wrong time and you just may miss Pho Saigon. It’s tucked away just off of International Speedway Boulevard and practically hidden behind a coin shop. But, keep your eyes open, park your car, and venture in.

Inside of this larger-than-it-looks building is friendly and knowledgable staff, a clean environment, and fresh, flavorful, authentic Vietnamese food. I’ve eaten here more than ten times, and, every time, I’m pleased as punch. I ate there with a group of girlfriends this week and got the Pho Hoac Mi Hoang Thanh (egg noodles, wontons, and vegetables in chicken broth). As you can see from the photo, the soup is packed with goodies. This is one of my very favorite dishes at Pho Saigon. The veggies are crisp and beautiful, and the broth is absolutely drinkable!

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They even serve it with the traditional accouterments: tons of fresh bean sprouts, Vietnamese basil, hot pepper rings, and lime. By the way, they even grow the herbs outside!

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And even though their name has “Pho” in it, the menu doesn’t stop there. My boyfriend loves the clay pot meals. Essentially, it’s perfectly fried jasmine rice with any number of additions cooked in a clay pot (duh!). He loves the Com Tay Com Ga (chicken and vegetables with crispy rice) and gets it with curry spice and plenty of heat. The rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot is the best part! I act like I’ve never tried it and ask to “try it” every single time. He’s on to me.

If you’re in the area or I’ve made you hungry enough to fly into our local airport to get some Vietnamese food, you can check out Pho Saigon’s website for their menu.

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Spicy Chipotle Mexican Meatballs with Adobo Sauce

Sometimes I just can’t make up my mind. Sometimes I want Italian. Sometimes I want Mexican. Sometimes I want it all, and, as I’ve said before, necessity is the mother. Well, this wasn’t so much as a necessity thing so much as an I’m-being-indecisive-and-difficult thing. Anyhow, I now present to you (drumroll, please) Spicy Chipotle Meatballs in Adobo Sauce! I swear I can already hear the applause.

OK, so while this is super easy, there are a lot of steps. But thank goodness for photo-heavy food blogs, right?

For this recipe, you’ll need:

Meatballs:
1 cup onion, diced (I used Vidalia because I cry less)
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 cup cubanelle pepper, diced
1 1/2 pounds ground 80/20 beef (you could go leaner if you choose)
1 egg
1 cup plain bread crumbs, fresh or store bought
1 teaspoon garlic power
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sea salt

Sauce:
4 cups beef or pork stock (I made pork carnitas, so I used the stock from that)
1 tablespoon chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I blend the entire can in a blender and use it for a multitude of things. I always have it in the fridge.)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Cornstarch and water slurry
Salt and pepper to taste

Now that that’s settled, here’s how do put this all together. It’s much easier than all the ingredients make it look.

To begin, take the diced pepper, onion, and sliced garlic and sautée it in a nice, heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Use about tablespoon of olive oil for this.

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Add pinch of salt and keep the veggies moving constantly for about 3-4 minutes until they’re completely translucent. Once they’re done, put them in a large mixing bowl to cool.

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Next, make your meatball mixture by putting all of the ingredients from the above list into the mixing bowl with your cooled, sautéed veggies.

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Gently work it through with your hands (your hands are the best tools for this job) until you’ve got a homogenous mixture. It should come together quickly. Now form evenly sized meatballs that are about 1.5″ in diameter. To do this, I gently roll them between both palms.

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Now, in the skillet you’ve already used to sautée the veggies, add another tablespoon of olive oil and turn the heat to medium-high again. Once the surface of the oil starts shimmering, carefully add the meatballs one by one. I use tongs for this because hot, splattering oil is painful. Once all of the meatballs are added to the pan in a single layer, give it another minute.

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With your tongs, carefully start turning them over starting with the ones you first put in the pan because they’ll be the brownest. (NOTE: If you can’t brown the meatballs in a single layer, do two batches. They won’t get all caramelized and yummy if they’re too crowded.)
Feel free to turn them to every side to get each spot, brown, but one turn should do it.

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Once they’re done, transfer them to a plate. Feel free to leave whatever goodies are left in the pan as it’ll just add flavor to the sauce you’re about to make. Add the stock to the pan and bring the heat to medium.

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Next add the blended chipolte in adobo and the tomato paste.

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Whisk it together to break down all the lumps. (NOTE: Use a silicone whisk if you’re using a non-stick pan.) Bring this to a simmer.

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Now, make a cornstarch and water slurry. This just means that you’ll take a few tablespoons of cornstarch and whisk it together with water. The measurements don’t have to be exact at all. And this is precisely why cornstarch is my favorite thickener. It’s very forgiving and you can add the slurry to hot liquids with little or no danger of clumping or having a funky-tasting final product. For my slurry, I did three tablespoons of water with a half cup of water.

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Whisk it in, little by little, into the simmering sauce. It won’t thicken instantly, so go slowly until you get the thickness you like. I added my whole mixture because I like it thicker. Again, let it simmer for a couple of minutes, and give it a taste. Add salt, pepper, or any other spices (even hot sauce) you like. If you do opt for adding hot sauce, I’d recommend something like the Chipotle Tabasco. The smokiness will work perfectly with this. Once you’re happy with it, add the meatballs back to the pan.

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Let simmer for about ten minutes to let all of the flavors incorporate. Your house will smell incredible.

I served this over yellow rice with some sweet corn. I know that color combo isn’t the best for photographs, but my tummy loves it.

Happy eating, everyone!

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A Delightful Rose Wine from a Local Winery: Did it Save its Kind?

Bring in the troubadours! Sound the alarms! Get me my megaphone! I have found a rose wine that makes my tastebuds do the cha cha! Thank you, San Sebastián Winery in lovely St. Augustine, Florida. I’m a changed foodie because of you. You see, if it weren’t for my family visiting the winery on a recent vacation, I’d have never purchased this on my own. NEVER. Wines that even slightly resemble White Zin scare me. The Kool-Aid quality just doesn’t work for me, and, for years, I’ve equated (admittedly unfairly) pinkish-colored wines with the nightmarish flavor of the first wine I ever tasted. Look I’m not the only one who’s shied away; guilt by association is real.

But the past is the past, and thank goodness. I couldn’t imagine missing out on this amazing rose bursting with peachy deliciousness.

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What a treat for a warm summer evening! What a treat for a cold winter day! What a treat…period! So, I guess the moral of this story with a very happy ending is that although a White Zinfandel may be considered a rose, a rose isn’t at all a Zinfandel. It’s all in the grape, my friends. Cheers! 🙂

Corn and Crab Chowder

I’m laying in bed reading this and find myself strangely hungry.

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With only a few weeks left until the unofficial end of summer, I am in a strange place with my food cravings. I still want to take advantage of the summer bounty at the farmers market, but I’m starting to crave the rich warm soups of late fall and winter. The best way to bridge this gap is with a delicious summer chowder, and in the Chesapeake Bay area, nothing screams summer more than fresh corn and blue crabs.

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This recipe is actually my second attempt at corn chowder. The first version of this corn chowder wasn’t as creamy as I had hoped and the pureed corn created a gritty texture that wasn’t really appetizing. I did learn from this first batch of soup. First, corn stock is necessary for a good corn chowder and is really easy to make. Second, pureeing the mirepoix into the soup is great for…

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Today’s Little Harvest: Cubanelle Peppers and Buff Contender Valentine Beans

Well, a little isn’t as good as a lot, but it’s much better than nothing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but having a productive veggie garden in the Florida summer heat/humidity/rain isn’t the easiest. So, I’ll take what Mother Nature blesses me with and be happy. For today’s harvest, I have 8 ounces of perfectly ripe Cubanelle peppers (from my volunteer plants that have been going since February!) and 3 ounces of Buff Condender Valentine beans.

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I’d like to say that I’ll whip up some fantastic creation for these little guys, but I can’t stop munching the beans, and the peppers are already calling my name. Raw food is in, right? 🙂

Make it an Organic September

This wonderful initiative for the organic movement is absolutely worth doing! Making just one small change is so easy!

This Is Organics

Organic foodsThe Soil Association is launching ‘Organic September – Small Changes, Big Difference’ to show the huge difference consumers can make by switching one household item to organic. Running throughout September, the campaign will be the UK’s biggest celebration of all things organic.

Consumers will be encouraged to make one small change to their shopping habits in order to make a big difference to sustainable food, animal welfare and the environment. This could include eating at least one piece of organic fruit or veg each day, switch one beauty product such as shampoo, sign up for an organic veg box, buy organic tea & coffee, throw an organic dinner party and so on.

Rob Sexton, Chief Executive of Soil Association Certification states: ‘If everyone can make a small change like switching to organic milk or choosing an organic moisturiser we can make a huge difference to our planet’.

You can read…

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Black Bean and Chick Pea Salad: Protein-Packed and Delicious!


20130820-173456.jpgI’ve recently been eating a ton of legumes. I love how versatile they are and how easy they are to have on hand. I keep them dried in my pantry and even a few cans of organic, low-sodium options for when I’m in a rush. And, when it’s this stinking hot outside, a cold bean salad is a fantastic option for a light lunch or BBQ side dish. When I initially began throwing this together, I wasn’t sure I should blog it right away without getting feedback from my brutally honest friends. Well, it passed the test over the weekend, and I’ve even enjoyed toying around with the leftovers. Moral of the story? I’m now confident enough to share it with you today.

For this recipe you’ll need:

  • 4 cups garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 green cubanelle or small green bell peppers, diced or julienned
  • 1 brightly colored bell pepper, diced or julienned (I chose purple)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño or other hot pepper, finely diced (remove ribs and seeds to keep heat down)
  • zest of one organic lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • few grinds black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic infused EVOO (use plain if you don’t have this)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon local honey
  • 1 minced garlic clove (if you haven’t used garlic-infused EVOO)

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl, fold gently, and let marinate for at least an hour before eating. This recipe should serve about 10 small portions.

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Tweaks for cheese and meat lovers:

I added a bit of feta cheese and though it was a perfect addition. My boyfriend had it with feta and grilled chicken and thought it made a perfect lunch on a hot day.

Happy eating!

 

Today’s Impromptu Lunch: The “Not in Public” Turkey Burger

After a morning of running around, I got home, opened the fridge, and realized I had an abnormal amount of leftovers. This could only mean one thing: I wasn’t going to be making anything new until I cleaned out some of the weekend’s goodies. (side note: My grandmother never said “leftovers.” She called them “pre-cooked meals.)

I was in the mood for some sort of sandwich. After all, my honey made delicious Italian herb bread. But I wasn’t in the mood for ham or tuna. Then I spotted the turkey burgers. But I didn’t have buns. Could I? Could I possibly? Could I possibly put the burger patty on bread? I’m a lover of good buns (haha), so eating a patty on bread is nearly sacrilege. But I decided to give it a whirl. I toasted the bread, slathered both sides with full fat Hellmann’s mayo, added the patty, got out the leftover salad, used the lettuce, tomato, and onion, put on some pickled jalapeños, added some ketchup and mustard, and voila! Look, I’m aware this was a sloppy sandwich with maybe far too many condiments, but since i was already using bread, I figured wild accoutrement abandon was in order. And this is why I’ve named this beast the “not in public” turkey burger. If you saw my face after just one bite, the name would make perfect sense. 🙂

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Straight from the City Island Farmer’s Market: Purple Bell Peppers

Yesterday, I scored big time at my local City Island (in Daytona Beach, Florida) Farmer’s Market. I found the most gorgeous, locally-grown purple bell peppers. I got 5 for $2! I used them in a garbanzo and black bean salad that I’ll be posting about later today, but I really thought that these beauties deserved a post all their own. Yummy.

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Growing Organic Heirloom Buff Contender Valentine Beans in a Container

Great success! I harvested the first mini-batch of Buff Contender Valentine beans this morning.

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They’re perfectly firm, evenly colored, and super sweet. They’re the perfect bean for vegans and vegetarian dishes because they have a robust flavor and hearty texture that can really take center stage. And, what’s even better is that they grow amazingly well in a container. For those of us who have smaller-than-ideal yards, this is a major bonus. And for those of us who have absurdly hot and wet summers, these bean plants don’t seem to flinch.

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They don’t need to be supported with stakes, although I used a cage because of how windy it gets beachside. Oh, did I mention that they seem fairly pest and disease resistant?

The excellent flavor and ease of growing makes these a winner. You can get the seeds from Southern Exposure.
Happy gardening!