Pho - Vietnamese Soup

Pho - Vietnamese Soup
One of our favorite dishes - Pho

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grilled Chicken with Brie and Baby Spinach Salad

I was watching the Food Network and Robin Miller was cooking up this recipe that looked too good to pass up. Everyone in my family absolutely loved it and can't wait until I make it again. One of my daughters even said, "...this might be my new favorite meal..." We like a little more bacon than Robin calls for in her recipe, because we like all the crunchiness it adds. Other than that, this is a slam dunk winner in our book. Thank you Robin!

Cooking spray
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 5 ounces each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
garlic and herb seasoning
4 to 8 slices Brie cheese, about 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 - 3 shallots, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
6 slices bacon, cooked

Heat a stove-top grill pan or griddle with cooking spray and set over medium-high heat to preheat.

Season both sides of chicken with salt, black pepper, and garlic and herb seasoning. Add chicken to hot pan and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, until browned and cooked through. Remove from heat. You can also roast the chicken in the oven if you prefer. Place 1 to 2 slices of Brie on top of chicken, cover with foil and place back on grill pan for another 1 minute, until cheese melts.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and chopped shallots to the pan and saute. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, honey and salt and pepper, to taste. Add the mixture to the skillet and stir to combine. In a large serving bowl arrange the spinach and pour 1/4 of the warm vinaigrette over the spinach and toss to coat. Crumble the bacon strips over the dressed salad. Thinly slice chicken slathered with the brie and place over spinach salad. Coat chicken and salad with the remaining dressing.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Over the weekend a good friend shared with me that very tragically, his 14 year old niece is battling cancer and she's currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Sadly, this is another lesson of impermanence. A wake-up call about just how precious life really is and to not take the time we have here on earth and our good health for granted. In trying to help comfort his family and niece, our friend asked if I ever thought about posting some of my Dad's writings. Thank you, Shawn.

My Dad had many major health struggles during his adult life. After fighting as a fighter pilot in World War II, he was stricken with polio and was in an iron lung for many months, not able to eat or breath on his own. Once he was well enough to go home the doctors told him he would never walk again. Dad wouldn't accept that fate and after many painstakingly months of hard work and rehab, Dad was able to walk with the use of canes. He never believed in the word "can't." Just try and tell him he can't do something and he would totally pull it off. He also battled cancer and is what finally got him in the end. When Dad was diagnosed he was only given a couple of months to live. NOT MY DAD! He refused to accept his early, pending death sentence and lived for 8 YEARS!

Dad was an excellent, motivational writer and speaker. He puts me to shame with his writing abilities and can describe his struggles and triumphs so much more eloquently than I can. There is tremendous wisdom in his words. I'm including some of those links written by my Dad to share with you. These are very powerful, especially if you are facing some sort of crisis. I've found so much peace, love and comfort over the years in reading his words of wisdom. One link I'm including is written by a close family friend, Jim White. The article is written about my Dad and the wonderful man he was. Dad also wrote "Notes to my Grandchildren" which is self-explanatory, he wrote that just after he found out he had cancer. It's a wonderful, little book he had printed up, with words of advice and encouragement for all of his Grandchildren. A special treasure for us all. I haven't figured out the best way to get that posted on here but I'm working on it. Dad finally did get his book published, "The Stone Bruise." That was a project he pursued like all of the rest of his projects, with great passion. It's based on his life experiences, but it's fictional. It's a very captivating story following the life of a young man named, Scott McQuaid. =) Movie producer, Martin Jurow contemplated making it into a movie, but that was not to be. I know I'm biased, but it's definitely a worthy read.

David and I have come so close to losing our daughter, Cassidy, but not without the fight of our lives. I'm here to tell you, from our own personal experiences, these battles can all be won. Cassidy is living proof of that. My Dad was the best example of what a positive attitude can help achieve. Whether the struggles are with physical limitations, depression, cancer, substance abuse...You can come out better and stronger on the other side. What I've learned from my family, it's all in your attitude. Along with the love, support and prayers of a loving family, a positive attitude can truly help overcome the biggest of all obstacles.

One of my favorite quotes is, "Life isn't about how to survive the storm but how to dance in the rain." =)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pho or Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

This is it! The ULTIMATE comfort food for us. My Mother-In-Law, Sara is hugely responsible for helping us figure this complex recipe out. When we were living in W. Palm Beach we couldn't find a Vietnamese restaurant so we could get a nice, hot bowl of Pho. On one of Sara and Tom's visits we started the process of perfecting this family-favorite recipe. The tweaking process has taken a little bit of time, but I think we finally have mastered this fabulous dish. You can substitute the beef with shrimp and instead of beef broth you use chicken broth for a Shrimp Pho. It's a nice change from the beef from time to time, but being the carnivores we are, the beef is our favorite. Another healthier option is to substitute the meat with cooked chicken breast pieces and substitute the beef broth with chicken broth. We absolutely love Pho any which way! It's a staple dish among the Vietnamese and in our household as well. Enjoy!

4 boxes of beef broth
2 cans vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 thick strip steaks, sliced paper-thin (partially freezing helps) trimmed (save fat for the broth)
3 - 4 carrots, broken into pieces
3 - 4 celery ribs, broken into pieces
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 head of garlic sliced in half
6 - 8 cloves of garlic, mashed
1 - 4 inch piece of fresh ginger
8 whole cloves
12 whole peppercorns
1 stick of cinnamon
3 - 4 bouillon cubes
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire
1/4 cup red wine
fresh basil
fresh cilantro
fresh mint
1 bunch green onions sliced thin
2 large red onion sliced paper thin
8 ounces bean sprouts
3 fresh limes sliced into wedges
1 - 2 fresh jalapeno pepper, sliced thin
1/2 lb. rice stick boiled in water for 4 minutes right before serving
Tuong Ot Sriracha Red Chili Sauce
Hoisin Sauce (optional)

Bring water, broth, excess fat, carrots, celery, chopped onion, whole head of garlic sliced in the middle, half of the ginger, peeled and sliced, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and the zest and juice of 1 lime. Simmer for at least 1 - 2 hours.

Marinate the steak in soy sauce, red wine, Worcestershire, minced garlic, finely grated ginger, sliced red onion and green onions. Set aside in fridge.

Arrange a platter of bean sprouts, all the fresh herbs, sliced jalapenos and lime wedges.

After broth has cooked, strain the broth. Discard veggies, fat, etc... Bring the broth to a boil and skim the foaming fat. Add bouillon, stir well. Add meat, onions and remaining marinade to the broth. Heat though and bring to another boil, then ready to serve.

To assemble and serve soup, distribute noodles in big soup bowls, then pour broth and meat mixture over noodles to cover.

Just before eating tear the fresh herbs into pieces. Add a handful of sprouts and squeeze a lime wedge or two, jalapeno slices to taste. Serve with Sriracha and Hoisin Sauce. Use Sriracha sparingly.

Serve with Spring Rolls. (Recipe to follow)

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

The perfect accompaniment to Pho are these fresh Spring Rolls. We even sometimes make this for a healthy snack. Pure goodness!

2 ounces rice stick
8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
8 large cooked shrimp - peeled, deveined and cut in half
1 - 1/3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 - 3 leaves romaine lettuce, chopped
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts
2 tablespoons peanut butter
4 tablespoons hot tap water
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 green onions, chopped for garnish
1 tablespoon dry roasted peanuts, chopped

Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Boil rice stick 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente, and drain. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of rice stick, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients. 

In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chili sauce. In a 2 cup measuring glass add the peanut butter, then add the hot water. Stir with a fork until it is the consistency of whipping cream. Add the soy sauce, mix well. Garnish with chopped peanuts and green onion. Serve rolled spring rolls with the different fish, hoisin and peanut sauce mixtures.

The fish sauce, rice stick, chili garlic sauce, hoisin sauce and rice wrappers can be found at Asian food markets.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easy Homemade Pizza

We had a very busy day yesterday and before I knew it it was dinner time and I had nothing planned. I threw together a very easy pizza and it turned out great. You can use any combinations of toppings you like. I've also used lightly toasted English muffins for the crust for a quick snack for the kids.

Easy Pizza

1 large Boboli Pizza Pie Crust
1/4 - 1/2 cup pizza sauce (we like Cento's fully prepared Pizza Sauce)
2 tsp dried basil
Spinach leaves, enough to add a thin layering
1 - 1 - 1/2 cups mozzarella, shredded
1/2 container of Jimmy Dean's Spicy sausage, browned and drained
1 fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced

Layer the sauce on the crust. Lightly top with basil. Add a thin layering of spinach. Top spinach layer with cheese, then the browned sausage. Add jalapeno slices to the pizza if you like it spicy. Bake at 450 degrees. Bake on baking sheet or for a crispier crust bake directly on oven rack for 8 - 10 minutes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Asian Crispy Pork Fried Rice

While shopping at the grocery store the other day I saw these beautifully thick, bone-in pork chops and I had to have them. David grilled them on the grill with our favorite Kuby's dry rub and we served these tasty chops up with apple sauce, wild rice and steamed broccoli. We had plenty of leftover pork and while I was trying to figure out last night's dinner, I saw this recipe being prepared on the Food Network. I've tweaked it a bit, but it was the perfect use for our leftover pork. Everyone gave their seal of approval and agreed this recipe was worthy of posting. It had all kinds of wonderful crunchiness and spices working. The sesame oil is a really nice hit of flavor that you don't usually get from fried rice. The cilantro adds a nice freshness to the dish as well. I know some people don't like cilantro so use parsley or basil instead. I saw some recipes called for frozen peas instead of sugar snap peas, so add whatever you like, be creative. There are all kinds of wonderful variations you can do with this dish.

Asian Crispy Pork Fried Rice

1/4 cup peanut oil
3 cups cooked white rice
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
2 cups cooked pork chops, sliced into bite-size pieces
2 cups stir-fry vegetables - I used 1/2 cup matchstick cut carrots and 8 oz sugar snap peas
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh ginger, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 TBSP sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 crushed peanuts (optional)

Heat the oil in the wok. Toss in the rice until hot and golden. Toss in the green onions, stir fry vegetables and pork, cook for about a minute. Stir in the garlic, ginger, eggs, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Transfer to a serving plate and top with chopped peanuts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fajitas Served with Homemade Pico de Gallo, Guacamole, Red, Green and Habanero Salsas

One of our favorite kinds of food is Mexican food. In this post, I will also include some recipes of various zesty and flavorful salsas, dips and crispy, homemade tortilla chips. We prepare various assortments of the dips to go with our Mexican meals....they all are great accompaniments to fajitas. This is a great dish to serve in the Spring and Summer when it's prime grilling weather, but you can cook this on a grill-ridged pan inside instead. Here's a fresh tasting recipe I found for a fajita marinade that the family enjoyed. You can substitute chicken breast for the beef. As side dishes we serve with Mexican rice and refried beans. For your beverages, serve with a nice, cold cerveza with lime or frozen margarita and you're all set.

1 orange, juiced
2 limes, juiced
4 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 chipotle chiles, in adobo sauce
3 tbsp roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
2 - 1/4 lb skirt or flank steak, trimmed of fat cut into thirds or 8" pieces
salt and pepper
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Lime juice, olive oil, optional
12 flour tortillas, warm
cheddar cheese, shredded
pico de gallo

In a small 2 cup measuring cup, or something similar in size and shape, combine orange juice, lime juice, olive oil, garlic, chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, cilantro, cumin and salt. Using an immersion blender puree the marinade until smooth. Transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag and add the steak, seal and shake to coat. Refrigerate the beef for 2 - 4 hours to tenderize and flavor the beef. Preheat a ridged grill pan on high heat. Drain and reserve the marinade from the beef. Lightly oil the grill or grill pan. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Grill the steak over medium-high heat and cook for 4 minutes on each side and then transfer to a cutting board and let rest. If grilling indoors and depending on the size of your grill pan you may need to cook in batches. Once the beef is off the grill and resting, add the bell peppers and onions in a skillet and toss with a little reserved marinade, lime juice and olive oil. Saute' the mixture 5 - 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are just barely limp. While the peppers and onions are cooking heat the tortillas in the microwave by lightly dampening a paper towel, wrap the tortillas in the damp towel and heat in the microwave for 1 minute. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa and sliced jalapenos.


One of the great treats to eat is guacamole! Plus, it’s fun to say! Try it…say…GUACAMOLE! Truly, one of the great words! We like to see who can say GUACAMOLE with the greatest gusto…great family fun! And if you can make your whole body quiver while saying it…all the better! I know, we're weird, but what can I say, we have fun! =) Here’s a quick and easy recipe for GUACAMOLE!

4 - 5 avocados
Approximately 1/4 - 1/2 cup of sour cream
1 diced tomato (seeded and de-pulped)
½ minced red onion
3 - 4 cloves of crushed garlic
Little bit of your favorite picante sauce
1 - 2 seeded serrano chiles
1 lime juice and zest
3 - 4 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
Course salt and pepper

Cut the avocados in half, remove the seed and put in a large bowl. Save the seed to place in the guacamole after preparing so the avocados don't turn brown. Mash the avocados with a fork, then add the onion, tomato, cilantro, garlic salt & pepper. Since the hotness of Serrano chiles can vary, start with ½ of a Serrano and add more to taste. Spoon in a little sour cream and mix until it’s a light green consistency. Then, add a little picante sauce and squeeze the juice of the lime into the guacamole and chill for 30 minutes before serving with fresh tortilla chips.

Pico de Gallo

1 - 1/2 cups seeded, diced tomatoes
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon diced jalapenos (optional)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 limes, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional cilantro.


This is a recipe I found online that's similar to El Fenix's Hot Sauce, which we love. I tried to find Javier's but to no avail.

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped and drained
2 - 1/2 cups onions, chopped
1 - 1/2 cups green peppers
1 cup jalapeno peppers, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons pepper
1/8 cup canning salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (12 ounce) can tomato paste

Mix all together and bring to a slow boil for 10 min.
Seal in jars and cook in hot water bath for 10 min.

Javier's Salsa Verde

4 lbs tomatillos
1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped
6 serrano peppers roughly chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 tsp Mexican Oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 oz Worcestershire
1 tsp salt
2 tsp chicken bouillon
1 oz corn oil

Remove the husks on the tomatillos. Boil tomatillos, onion and serrano peppers until the tomatillos change color. Drain the water. Put the mixture in a blender or food processor with the rest of the ingredients except the corn oil and blend well. Pour into a sauce pan and mix in the corn oil and bring to a light boil. Remove foam and serve warm with room temperature butter and tortilla chips.

Javier's Habanero Salsa

Rumor has it this recipe originated with the guys in the kitchen, who like a very spicy salsa and he now has this on the menu. It's definitely spicy. You'll love the beautiful orange color the Habanero gives it. This is great served with grilled steak.

5 medium tomatoes
1 - 1/2 lbs of tomatillos
6 Habanero peppers
1/2 medium white onion
1 dried guajilo pepper
1 bunch cilantro, approximately 1 cup
2 clove of garlic, chopped
2 tsp salt
1 oz corn oil

Boil tomatoes, tomatillos, Habanero peppers, onion and guajilo pepper until tomatillos change color. Drain water and discard. Put boiled ingredients in blender. Add cilantro, garlic and salt and blend until smooth. Pour into saucepan with corn oil. Bring to a light boil. Remove foam and serve warm. Serve with tortilla chips and some room temperature butter.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

If you’re going to go to the effort of making homemade salsas, you ought to go the extra mile and make homemade tortilla chips. It’s not that difficult, and they taste so good you’ll be glad you did.

Just buy some fresh corn tortillas (the thinner the better) at your local Mexican market and cut them into quarters and lightly fry them in vegetable oil for approximately 5 minutes, turning as necessary to get them to a light crispy brown. Once you take them out of the oil, place them on some newspaper with a little paper towel on it and let them drain of excess oil. As soon as you put them on the paper towels, salt them to taste.

Mexican Rice

3 tbsp bacon drippings
1 cup uncooked rice
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup minced raw carrots
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes or freshly stewed
2 -4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 can condensed beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat drippings in a large iron skillet, add rice and brown well. Add remaining ingredients, cover, reduce heat and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. You may add 2 tbsp green pepper or a chopped green chile to this.

Serves 4 - 5

Refritos or Refried Beans

2 thick slices bacon
2 cups cooked pinto beans mashed or 1 - 17 oz can refried beans
1 small onion, chopped
2 - 3 tbsp salsa
4 - 6 cloves of garlic, pressed
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)

In a skillet fry bacon until crisp. Remove from pan. Add onions to bacon drippings. Saute until tender and light brown. Add refried beans. Break the bacon into small pieces and add to beans. Warm over low heat. Add seasonings, garlic and salsa. Add cheese when served .


It was kind of a grey and cloudy day here in Dallas on Sunday. We typically would be grilling something for dinner on a Sunday night, but because of the threat of rain, I made homemade lasagna instead. You can lighten up this recipe by substituting ground turkey for the ground beef and pork sausage. Also, you can use cottage cheese instead of ricotta and use a fat free or lighter mozzarella if you're so inclined. Serve with your favorite Italian salad and a crusty, french bread. This makes tasty leftovers. It also freezes well.

BTW, the reason the pictures aren't as good is because I was the photographer instead of my very talented husband. I will switch out pictures the next time I make this.


1 - 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 pound ground Italian sausage
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp ground basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 - 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 (5-ounce) package grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
9 - 12 lasagna noodles, prepared as directed on the box
2 (8-ounce) packages shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large saucepan, combine ground chuck, sausage onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat until meat is browned and crumbled; drain. Return meat to pan and add oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes. In a small bowl, combine ricotta cheese, Parmesan, parsley, and eggs. Spoon 1/4 of the tomato sauce into bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan. Place 3 lasagna noodles on top of sauce. Do not overlap noodles. Spread 1/3 of ricotta cheese mixture over noodles, top with 1/4 of sauce and 1/3 mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers, ending with sauce, reserving 1/3 of mozzarella cheese. Bake 45 minutes. Top with remaining cheese and bake 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Marinade for Shish-Kabobs

We love to grill and shish-kabobs are another favorite, especially when we're at the lake. To make it super easy, you can usually buy them already prepared and seasoned from the butcher at your supermarket. To me, the fresher the better, so I assemble my own using both cubed chicken breast and New York strip steaks. For the vegetables I use, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion and mushrooms.  Keep in mind the chicken will take longer to grill. If using wood skewers, soak the skewers in some water prior to use, so they don't catch on fire while on the grill. We like to serve our kabobs with couscous and pita bread.

Check out the short video clip of David playing his guitar at the lake. It's following the recipe. What a cuteness is he! =)

Marinade for Shish-Kabobs

1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup chili sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp prepared mustard
Pita bread

Saute onion in oil until soft. In a sauce pan add the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes. Cool. Pour 1/2 of sauce mixture over meat cubes in a bowl. Cover and marinate in fridge for at least 1 hour. Better if marinated overnight. Fix kabobs alternating meat with desired vegetables on skewer. Grill; brush frequently with sauce. Serve with pita bread.