Pho - Vietnamese Soup

Pho - Vietnamese Soup
One of our favorite dishes - Pho

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Crystal Egg Geodes

This is a fun craft for Easter that Cassidy made this year that I wanted to share and to have for future reference.  I saw this on Martha Stewart's website and couldn't wait to try this, knowing it would be something Cassidy especially would enjoy doing.  Although a bit time consuming with the drying and sitting times it's absolutely worth all of the effort.  Much to our delight these turned out beautifully.  It does require a lot of egg dye and especially A LOT of Alum powder.  The Alum powder is a pickling salt and can be found in the spice aisle at your grocery store.  For the best results, you need one individual container with each color of egg dye for each egg shell half and 3/4 cup of Alum powder per egg shell half and dye container.

As stated on Martha's website, "...this Easter craft from TV crafter Jim "Figgy" Noonan doubles as a science project, offering an opportunity to show kids the crystallization process at work. To make a fluorescent variation for Halloween, substitute the water and egg dye solution with Glow Water."

Tools and Materials:
Blown-out eggshell (Get the How-To)
Alum powder
White glue
Small paintbrush
Plastic or glass container
Egg dye (neon works great)
Hot water
Craft stick or spoon
Latex gloves
Drying rack or newspaper

Crystal Egg Geode How-To
1. Start by blowing out a large white chicken egg (Get the How-To) and splitting it in half, lengthwise. The egg can be cracked by striking it against a surface or cut with a small pair of scissors. Make sure the inside of the eggshell is clean and dry.

2. With a small paintbrush, apply white glue to the inside and cracked edges of each half of the eggshell and sprinkle with alum powder until completely coated. Set eggshell halves aside to dry overnight.

3. The next day, prepare your growing solution in a glass or plastic container by using a craft stick or spoon to mix 2 cups of very hot water (almost boiling) with an entire packet of powdered egg dye. Be sure to wear latex gloves to protect your hands from the dye. (Tip: Liquid food coloring can also be used to dye the geode -- 30 to 40 drops will adequately saturate the solution.)

4. Add 3/4 cup of alum powder to the hot dye bath and stir until completely dissolved. If there are remaining crystals in the bottom of the container, place the solution in the microwave for a few minutes to dissolve them. This will prevent alum from being drawn away from the geode.

5. Once the alum is completely dissolved, let the solution cool slightly (for about 30 minutes) and then submerge one of the dried, alum-coated eggshells in the growing solution, allowing it to rest on the bottom of the container with the inside of the shell facing up.

6. Set the container aside in a safe place overnight to allow the crystals to grow undisturbed. (Tip: The longer the eggshell is in the solution, the larger the crystals in the geode will be. Twelve to 15 hours will usually result in a perfect geode.)

7. The next day, remove the geode from the growing solution very carefully (as wet crystals are quite fragile), being sure to wear latex gloves to prevent the dye from staining your hands. (Tip: If you are not satisfied with the size of your geode crystals, return the geode to the growing solution and wait a day or two. As water evaporates from the solution, more alum will be deposited in your geode, increasing the size of the crystals.)

8. Place your geode on a drying rack or newspaper and allow to dry completely before handling.

9. To grow a second geode in the other half of the eggshell, simply re-dissolve the crystals remaining at the bottom of the growing solution in the microwave and follow the instructions above starting at step 5.

Additional Tips:
Geodes can be grown without using egg dye. The resulting crystals are clear to milky white, like quartz.

While large chicken eggshells are suggested in this process, larger eggshells can be used. Simply increase the size of the plastic or glass container and double or triple the amounts of dye (1 packet), alum (3/4 part), and water (2 parts) used to create the growing solution.

If you don't want to blow your own egg or would like to try a larger eggshell, pre-blown shells are available from The Eggery Place. Alum is available at most grocery or drug stores but can also be purchased online from Talas. Powdered egg dye is available from Surma: The Ukranian Shop.

Ready-made Crystal Egg Geode kits available from Professor Figgy's Fabulous Science Kits at

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lamb Ragu on Fettuccine

I was trying to come up with a recipe that I could use lamb and pancetta because we cooked up gyros the night before and had an excess amount of the meat leftover.  I wanted to create a completely different dish and I found this recipe online on the Food Network....This is adapted from Emeril Lagesse's and was exactly what I had in mind.  

Don't let the word "ragu" throw you off.  When I told David I was going to make a ragu he was not too thrilled about the idea.  I asked him if he had ever eaten it before and he admitted that he hadn't and that it was the name that was so unappealing to him.  I convinced him to have an open mind and we were all pleasantly pleased with the outcome of this meal and highly recommend it.  Easy to find ingredients, easy prep and no complicated techniques.  This dish turned out very flavorful, rich and just spicy enough.  Flavors intensify after being refrigerated and make fabulous leftovers.  This would also be good served over mashed potatoes instead of fettuccine.  Serve with a salad, some good, crusty bread and pair with a nice glass of red wine and you have yourself a satisfying, hearty meal.

4 TBSP olive oil

1/4 lb pancetta or bacon, cut into small dice
1 1/2 lbs lamb (may substitute wild boar shoulder, venison or pork), cut into 1/2" cubes
2 TBSP Essence, recipe follows
1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 lb portobello mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean, and chopped
1 TBSP minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes and their juices
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 cup dark chicken stock, or chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 TBSP chopped fresh sage leaves
1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 lb dry fettuccine
Minced fresh parsley, garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan, topping

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and saute, stirring often, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is light brown and crispy, 2 minutes. Season the boar with the Essence, and add to the pan. Cook, stirring, until browned on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until very soft and starting to caramelize, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and reduce until nearly evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock, salt, pepper, sage and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thick and fragrant, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, and cover to keep warm while preparing the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain in a colander and place in a large serving bowl. Pour the ragu over top the pasta, sprinkle with the parsley and grated cheese, and serve immediately.

Essence (Emeril's Creole Seasoning):

2 1/2 TBSP paprika
2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP garlic powder
1 TBSP black pepper
1 TBSP onion powder
1 TBSP cayenne pepper
1 TBSP dried leaf oregano
1 TBSP dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container.

Yield: about 2/3 cup

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rebel's Prime Rib

This recipe is courtesy of a friend that I went to elementary school with.  Thanks Rebel for sharing...our rib roast turned out amazingly juicy, tender and perfectly cooked.  

We began our feast with my Mother-In-Law, Sara's classic caesar salad.  We served our prime rib with yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes and brown gravy.  I always am sure to make plenty of gravy because everyone in our family loves to smother our meat, yorkshire and potatoes with the gravy.  This is a perfect dish for any special occasion and holiday.

Start with a bone-in rib roast 1 1/2 to 2 lbs per person if you want leftovers.  Which, by the way makes for yummy soup or sandwiches.  Bring roast to room temperature for 3 hours at least.  Rub entire roast with butter; cover with pepper, garlic powder, thyme and Kosher salt.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees; roast the prime rib on a rack for 15 minutes, then drop oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook another 15 minutes per pound for medium rare, basting frequently.  The thermometer should read 120 - 125 degrees.  It's always a good idea to check the temperature 30 minutes prior to taking out of the oven, as each oven varies.  Let the roast sit covered with foil for 20 - 30 minutes on the counter before slicing.  It's a perfect roast every time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Seafood and Chorizo Paella

I've always been intrigued by Spanish cuisine like tapas, but we especially love paella.  It's so versatile too, you can combine all kinds of different combinations of fabulous flavors.  Originally paella was made with chicken and rabbit and was made with a variety of garden vegetables. Today, there are thousands of varieties of paella.  Typically we make our paella with a cut-up roasted chicken, chorizo slices, shrimp and mussels.  This version we went heavier on the seafood and left out the chicken.  David combined a few recipes and he came up with this amazing dish.  A true seafood extravaganza with great, authentic flavors. 

1 1/4 cups of Spanish Bomba rice
4 cups of chicken stock (or fish stock)
1 cup of white wine for the paella
3/4 cup of white wine for the mussels and clams
1 TBSP saffron threads
30 mussels*
20 clams*
15 large prawns or shrimp
3 large lobster tails, steamed or boiled
1 onion
3 stalks of celery
6 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups Spanish chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
olive oil
lemon wedges

Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic. Scrub the mussel shells, and de-beard*.  Scrub the clam shells.  Peel the shrimp, and de-vein if required.  Discard any mussels or clams that have broken shells, or are open and don’t close up tight when you scrub them.

In a small pan warm the stock over a low heat.

Put the saffron threads in the cup of white wine, and let it infuse for at least 10 minutes.

Heat the paella pan over medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is hot add in the onion and celery.  Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add in garlic, and cook for another minute.  Stir in the rice, and let it absorb some of the oil.  Add in the chorizo.  Turn up the heat and pour in the white wine.  Let this boil for a minute, and then add in most of the stock, stirring well.

Let this boil gently for 5 minutes.  Add in the prawns, and cook for a further 15 minutes.  You will want to gently stir this from time to time, to make sure everything is heating evenly.  If it looks like the rice is absorbing all the stock too early, before the 15 minutes is up then add a little more in.  Stir in the peas.

For authentic paella you want to stop yourself from stirring the dish during the last half of cooking.  Authentically the best paella has a crust on the bottom of the rice, where the rice is in contact with the pan.  This is only achieved through not stirring.

With a few minutes to go in the cooking process, put a large pan over a high heat.  Add in the 3/4 cup of white wine and get it boiling.  When it has reduced by about half, toss in the mussels and clams.  Cover with a tight fitting lid and turn the heat down to medium-high.  These will take about 3 minutes to steam open.  You should be able to hear them pop open.  Discard any mussels or clams that haven’t opened.

Arrange the lobster, mussels and clams in the paella, sprinkle with the basil and parsley.  Let everything sit for a few minutes to heat through and to let the flavors meld together.  Serve with the lemon wedges.

*A few notes on buying and cleaning mussels and clams:

A lot of fishmongers really don’t store mussels and clams well.  Mussels should be kept in lots of ice, not just sitting on a bed of them.  Take a good look at them...they should be closed.  If they're open, they're not good and should be discarded.

Clams can bet kept on ice for a little bit, but should ideally be kept in moving water, at a specific salt level.

To clean a mussel...first inspect the shell for any visible damage.  If it is cracked, or is open and doesn’t close when you tap it discard those as well.  Gently scrub the shell removing anything that is crusted on.  With a firm yank pull off the beard of the mussel, the hairlike bit sticking out of the shell, if one is still attached.

To clean a clam simply scrub the shell.  Again discard any that are open or damaged.  Clams have much thicker shells than mussels and the likelihood of damage is minimal.

It's best to buy mussels and clams on the same day you wish to eat them.  As soon as you get them home, take them out of their bags and put them in a bowl with lots of crushed ice.  Put in the fridge and drain the bowl of any melted ice every few hours.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chicken Piccata

This is an Italian classic, so easy but looks and tastes so elegant.  A perfect dish to serve company.  You can substitute veal for the chicken...Either way this dish is sure to please.  I did do a little tweaking, instead of butterflying the chicken, I pound the chicken thin with a mallet. I find this way much easier and just as effective.  I added several whole, smashed garlic cloves to the oil/butter saute. I removed the cloves before they turned golden brown, then returned them to the pan with the liquids. After simmering in the sauce a bit, the cloves are easy to smash up and stir into the silky sauce.  Also, I doubled the sauce than what's called for here and added about 1/4 cup white wine. A word of caution, do not overdo the lemon juice or it can ruin the sauce and make it way too sour.  I served this with pasta and made an additional sauce for the pasta consisting of olive oil, garlic, basil, parsley, a touch of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and some red pepper flakes...I also topped it off with a little of the cooking liquid.  The perfect salad to serve with this would be slices of tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese topped with basil leaves.  Other good sides would be some steamed, fresh asparagus, wild mushroom matter what sides you serve you gotta have some good, crusty bread to dip into the sauce.  Yet another fabulous dish that will become a permanent addition to our repertoire.  Grazie Giada!   

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentis.  

2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
6 TBSP unsalted butter
5 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate.

Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley and capers.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bolsa Mercado

I've mentioned Bolsa, one of our favorite restaurants, many times and am thrilled to tell you about their new, high-end grocery store and deli...Bolsa Mercado in Oak Cliff is just a few doors down from the popular restaurant.  Being the foodies we are we love stopping in to see what kinds of goodies they have every time we're in the area.  They serve breakfast, lunch and our favorite is their chef-prepared "Dinners for Two," which changes daily. The space is very unique and cool with all kinds of sitting areas inside and out to enjoy the day's specials.  They have comfy couches and chairs where you can sip a latte and read a book or they host all kinds of private parties as well.  The last time we were in we bought a "Dinner for Two" for $25 that included pork ribs, mixed green salad, honey whole wheat bread, potato salad and hericot vert*.  Dinner was fabulous and the portions were very generous feeding four of us.  I highly recommend you stopping by Bolsa Mercado next time you're in the OC and make dinner easy on yourself with a gourmet-cooked meal.  I promise you'll be glad you did!  =)

*Haricot vert is indeed French for green beans. Haricot meaning beans and vert meaning green. French green beans are longer and thinner than most American varieties. They are also more tender and have a more complex flavor.  If your recipe specifies haricot vert and you are unable to find them, substitute with the thinnest young green beans you can find. 

Banana Bread French Toast

Happy New that it's already March.  I've taken a bit of a blogging break, but I'm back ready to get cooking and experimenting with all kinds of new recipes.

I've had the idea of making French bread with banana bread for awhile now, although, I'm sure it's been done before.  Use any kind of breakfast bread, strawberry or zucchini bread would work well also.

1/2 loaf banana bread, sliced into 1" slices
2 eggs
1 TBSP whole milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
Maple syrup
Powdered sugar 

Beat eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla together in a bowl large enough to accommodate dredging bread slices.  In a large skillet melt a pad of butter; add slices of dredged banana bread and fry both sides until golden in color.  Place a slice or two on a plate.  Top with a pad of butter, warmed maple syrup and a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Serve warm.