Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~ CK Chesterton

Howdy Yall! It's time to lick your lips and drool as we discuss yummy vittles and Texas testaments to taste!

I hope you enjoy your time with us. Please be sure to drop by and leave a message or a hello. We want to know how to better serve you!

~Blue Zebra

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rustic Guacamole - A Purist Approach For a Special Treat

When we were kids, we got three special things for our birthday. Every year it was the same and we looked forward to it. In the early years, with five kids in the house and parents who both worked, we actually had chores. As the youngest, I managed to skate by a lot of them but still, inevitably, was caught and pressed into what I thought of as slave labor. So it was that our birthday treats held real meaning!

We were kings and queens for a day! No toil befell us. Not a finger did we lift nor tire with burdensome buckets and cloths. We had zero, zip, nada, N-O-spells-No - chores! No cleaning, no don’t-forget-to’s, no take so-n-so here or there! We had the day to loaf and tarry and do as we pleased and we got to watch the other kids in the house do what we didn’t have to do that day. It was glorious! Really, I highly recommend it! Take the day off! I will write you a note.

We got to choose our birthday dinner and choice of cake or dessert as another treat. We rarely had desserts so getting to have a homemade pie or cake or shortcake was incredible and Mom or WaWa (my dad’s mom who lived with us) sometimes lost their heads as with the case of my older brother and made a birthday dessert for him alone in addition to the one for the family. Long after the family coconut cream pie was gone, he ate his with relish and glee. He did not share. He in fact ate it bite by bite in front of us. The bastard! ;)

But the main treat on our special day was a treat so great that to this day, I still buy for myself and consume bite by bite, slowly savoring each delicious spoonful, melting in my mouth. We got to have our very own ½ of an avocado. Gasp! I hear you gasping! Yes, we got to have our very own HALF of an avocado!

The avocado. Precious. And limited during the ‘60’s and 70’s and so very expensive in Houston, Texas. Such a wicked indulgence. We all wanted that creamy green goodness. It was laced with true decadence. Even our dachshund, Heidi, was green with envy on our special day for she too was allowed to have avocado on her birthday; she too had learned to love the precious green orb.

I do not know from where our fixation with avocados stemmed. I suspect that Mom and Dad, living in Laguna Beach, California after they were first married may have something to do with it. Dad fought in WWII and also served during the Korean War as a gunnery instructor at Camp Pendleton. Avocados and olives, abalone and seafood were abundant in California and cheap. I think Mom fell in love with the avocado then and passed it down to her children, the sins of the mother coming full circle.

Looking back, I still remember those days with fondness. Nothing makes you want something more than being told you only have a limited opportunity for consuming it. I still carry on the tradition of King and Queen for the day: no chores, special birthday dinner of choice that includes dessert and of course a half of an avocado for your very own. Of course now days, avocados are relatively cheap and plentiful (at least in the land of TexMex) but that does not dim it’s allure one bit.

Avocados are such a good source of vitamins and so called “good fats”, the mono-unsaturated fats. I convince myself that it’s a good fat delivery system if you’re going to eat fat. I use them in many dishes, and salads are heavenly when spiked with a bit of their unctious richness. One of my favorite dishes of all times is guacamole and make no mistake. I make a great one! *blush*

I am purist in my approach. No tomatoes. Only a hint of fresh jalapeno and onion. A touch of tart lime to add mystique. A smidge of Worcestershire to add a smoky secret element of depth. A tad of olive oil to gild the lily. A hit of kosher salt and a pinch of fresh ground pepper. It’s a salute to the Carmen Miranda of the fruit world! The queen of sexy, sultry Hispanic culture saluted by supporting cast members but never upstaged! So here without further ado…I give you, Guacamole.

Anything tasting this good and Tex-Mexy should come with its own band of Mariachis playing Guantanamera in the background!

Guacamole – Rustic Style
By Blue Zebra

Serves 4-6, depending on portion size!


2 Avocados, ripe but firm
3 Tbsp Onion, chopped
1 Jalapeno, Fresh, chopped with seeds
1 Clove Garlic, pressed or minced
½ Lime, fresh
2 Dashes Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Kosher Salt and Pepper, to taste
Fresh Cilantro, to taste (optional)
12 Grape Tomatoes, whole (optional)


Halve avocados lengthwise and remove the seed. Reserve seed. Using a large, thin-edged spoon, scoop pulp out of peel and place in non-reactive bowl.

Add chopped onion, chopped jalapeno, minced garlic, Worcestershire, and olive oil and gently mix to combine. You do not want to break the avocadoes up too much. You still want to retain big chunks of the fruit.

Squeeze the juice of ½ of a lime over the guacamole and fold to combine.

Season with kosher salt and pepper and add cilantro if desired.

Again, fold to combine and taste.

Adjust seasoning and lime juice as necessary.

Serve with a bowl of grape tomatoes on the side and crunchy tortilla chips.

If you are not serving immediately, you may add the seeds back to the guac and place a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of it, smoothing out as many air bubbles as possible. This helps keep the avocado from going black with oxidation. Serve as soon as possible but in a pinch, this method will hold it with only minor darkening for about 12 hours.

Blue Zebra NOTE:
I like to serve guacamole as a feature attraction of Tex-Mex Tapas. I hear you asking! What are Tex-Mex Tapas?? I serve accompanying bowls of Tex-Mex treats, just little nibbles like nachos, bowls of grape tomatoes with lime and sea salt, bowls of fresh jalapenos, red and green salsas, sour cream, marinated shrimp, bowls of refried beans, succulent bites of spicy albondigas (meatballs), spicy cayenne toasted pecans, marinated onions, marinated carrots, watermelon fire and ice salad cruda, hot bowls of crispy tortilla chips. It’s a great summer feast. Great with tangy margharitas or festive sangria served over mountains of ice. Equally decadent with a full bodied Zinfandel or one of the spicy Chilean cabs. Ole’!
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Monday, August 6, 2007

Phee, Phi, Pho, Phum-Mmmmm!

Spicy Faux Pho, The Cure For What Ails Ya

Our usual Friday Pizza Club was called this week due to illness. It’s been postponed until this coming Friday, so be prepared to show up and act saucy, cuz this week it’s all about the sauce!

I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick with chest or nose stuff the only thing that sounds good to me is spicy soup, as hot as I can stand. It can’t be just any type of soup, either. It must have a clear broth infused with gorgeous ginger and garlic overtones that merge with a hint of onion and maybe a little taste of anise. The broth must be bold, so I can taste it against all odds, and it needs to drink like a tea.

What do I mean by broth “drinking like tea?” Well, it means the broth must be a stand-alone. It must taste as wonderful by itself as it acts as a foil or perfect backdrop for crisp veggies cooked “to the tooth” or al dente, chewy noodles and moist bits of meat sprinkled here and there only support the satisfying warmth of the broth. I must feel confident that simple straining would produce a clear tea that tastes better and more comforting than any camellia leaves from any virgin tea plant in all the world.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two soups that meet this criteria; matzoh ball soup, almost considered a Jewish institution and the Vietnamese equivalent to soupy goodness, just-like-Mom-made, pho. Most people want to pronounce it pho as in “foe”. But it’s actually more of a Fa, pronounced “fuh”, rhyming with “duh.” So maybe the title should read Fee, Fi, Fo, Fuh-Mmmmmm! Anyway, we’ll save matzoh balls for later this fall. Today we’re going to focus of Pho and however you decide to pronounce the name, it will still drink like a tea and eat like a nourishing bowl of comfort.

Houston has a burgeoning Vietnamese community, the second largest in the United States, according to the Houston Institute for Culture. There are noodle houses or Pho shops all over. The little mom and pop places seem to beckon and one thing is certain. You will not find a national chain, food mill among them, at least not yet.

Pho is a relative newcomer to the evolutionary soup world. Its origins are as mysterious and varied as its condiments. Some say it began in Hanoi around the turn of the century, late 1880’s, as a result of the French occupation of Vietnam. The French loved beef steak and beef began appearing in markets and shops. Prior to the French invasion, Vietnamese mostly ate pork, chicken and seafood by preference.

With the slaughter of beef for steak, there was also a need to use lesser cuts and bones left over from the prime cuts. The Vietnamese being a thrifty culture, believe in using every last bit of an animal and wasted nothing. So the French pot au feu, literally meaning pot on the fire became popular. Pot au feu is a traditional boiled dinner of beef, marrow or oxtail, veggies, broth and starch of some kind. Others, however, claim that Pho derived from the Chinese occupation because of the noodle and anise influences of the dish.

Either way, the Vietnamese put their stamp on the hearty soup and consumption of the dish spread from the North into the South, each area putting their own telling spin on it. From the North we get a simple dish of hearty noodles, warm, nourishing broth and beef, well-cooked or rare and sometimes both. From the South, we get a soup that has many more garnishes and vegetables, additions of hot sauces and bean pastes. There are even versions that include chicken and pork based broths and meats. In some houses money did not stretch to include the meats, only bones.

The soup took Vietnam without a single shot being fired and it’s no surprise the dish followed immigrants to the new world after the fall of Saigon. In only a few short years, Pho just as easily, captured the imagination and palates of Americans far and wide. Any doubts about this can be summed up in two words, Ramen Noodles, a staple of any American college student’s diet.

Although Ramen is NOT pho, it has the same concept of piping hot broth, chewy noodles and rich Asian spices, conveniently mass-produced, packaged and available 10 for the dollar at almost any super market. But Pho, with very little extra work, can be practically as simple to prepare with the added bonuses of less salt, better nutritional value, and veggies and let’s not forget the protein!

I call my soup Faux Pho because if I’m out of homemade broth in the freezer, I don't let that stop me! I make it quickly and easily using the popular broths-in-a-box as substitution. While not the preferred base for the soup, it will certainly do in a pinch. I also add more veggies and treat the ginger a bit differently. I will include two recipes for you. One is for my quick variation of Faux Pho On The Fly and uses my secret phlegm fighting ingredients! The other is an authentic Pho recipe originating from Mai Pham, chef/owner of Lemon Grass Restaurant and CafĂ© in Sacramento. She wrote the book, The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking. Email her at maiphamibm.net.

Whichever one you choose to make, don’t forget to park your face over the bowl and let the steamy goodness permeate your senses and relax you. The soothing warmth will surely convince you to move mountains or at least leap tall buildings in a single bound. Enjoy!

Faux Pho On The Fly

by Blue Zebra
Makes 4-6 servings

Aromatics and Ingredients for Broth:
2 Boxes (2 Qts) Natural Goodness Chicken Stock (or Organics Brand), Homemade preferred

Onion, seared and sliced thinly
4-6” Ginger, fresh, seared with the skin on (I use a lot!)
5 Cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 Sprigs Thyme, fresh (1/4 tsp dried leaves)
4 Sprigs Parsley, fresh (1/4 tsp dried leaves)
½ tsp Sugar
1/8 tsp Coriander, ground
1/8 tsp Red Pepper Flakes (or 1-2 Dried Thai Chilis)
1 pinch Five Spice Powder, ground
1 pinch of Black Pepper
1/8 -1/4 c. Fish Sauce (Noc Mam) – optional
½ c. Baby Carrots or ½ Large Carrot, peeled, julienne
½ c. Water
Salt to taste

Veggies & Noodles for Broth:
½ Medium Zucchini, ribbons
1c Mushrooms, sliced thinly
4 Green Onions
½ c Snow Pea Pods, sliced on bias or Frozen Green Peas
½ lb Flat Rice Noodles – thin or 1/8” wide

Condiments for Broth (these are all optional, add to your taste a little at a time as you eat the pho):
½ c Meat Leftovers
Lime wedges
Mung Bean Sprouts, fresh
Mint, fresh
Thai Basil or Regular Basil, fresh
Cilantro, fresh
Green chilis (Serrano, Thai, Jalapeno), thinly sliced with the seeds
Srirachi Rooster Sauce
Sambal Oelek
Black Bean Sauce
Hoisin Sauce

Making Stock (This can be made ahead and kept in fridge!):
Heat broth in dutch oven or very 3qt saucepan over medium heat.

As the broth or stock is heating, brown the outer sides of an onion and a peel 4-5” finger of ginger over high heat in a heavy saute pan. (I use cast iron). Do not use any oil. You are trying to char it a little. You can also do this outside or over a gas flame on your stove but I only have electric and I’m usually feeling too bad to do this.

Remove the charred onion and ginger and when they are cool enough to touch, cut the onion in half lengthwise, then slice thinly to make “matchstick slices of onion.

For the ginger, slice in 1/8” thick pieces along the length to make flat discs. Take each disc and slice it very thinly into matchsticks as well, cutting along the length. You can cut the julienne of ginger to 2” lengths.

Repeat this technique for the carrots.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves. If I have the fresh herbs available, remove the leaves and lightly chop the thyme and parsley. If not, simply use dried. No big deal at this point, remember we’re making a tea.

Add all other broth ingredients and let the broth steep or gently simmer for about an hour. Stock will reduce slightly. You don’t want it to come to a rolling boil. This is about infusing flavor and keeping as many nutrients alive as possible. I use low heat to do this.

At this point you have the Blue Zebra home remedy for the common cold or sinus problem! I will make this by the pot full and sip on it all day as hot as I can stand it, just like I would use tea. The ingredients are almost all mucalytics, which means they loosen congestion and allow you to get rid of the nasties.

Making the Soup:
But if I’m making this for a meal, I will continue on - if the body is willing!

Using a vegetable peeler, make thin slices down the length of the zucchini, stopping when you reach the seeds in the middle. Rotate the zucchini as you do this to keep the slices about ¼ to ½ wide. Add these to the broth and cook.

Thinly slice mushrooms of your preference. Add these to the broth and cook.

Clean and slice green onions on the diagonal into ½” pieces. Add these to the broth in the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

Wash and string snow pea pods or frozen peas. Slice on the diagonal into ½” pieces.

Add these to the broth in the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.

Add any leftover meat into your broth and allow it to be brought to temperature. (Pulled pork or brisket is great here. Also, leftover rare steak or meat is yummy!)

In a separate pan, cook rice noodles until just starting to become flexible. Take out and partially cool with running water, then drain well. They will finish cooking
when they are placed into the hot broth. Do not add to broth until ready to eat or else the noodles will become soft and mushy.

Eating the Soup:
Assemble all of your condiments in small bowls.

Ladle the piping hot broth into a bowl, about 2 cups or more. I like to add some of the julienne aromatics from the main broth and eat them (ginger, garlic, carrots, etc.).
Add some of the noodles and bits and pieces of your favorite condiment(s) a little at a time, as you eat the soup. The idea is that you are only adding a bite here and there in order to keep the broth as hot as possible! Don’t feel as though you have to add all of them! Also, you can easily substitute or omit ingredients as you have or don’t have them. Sometimes I completely omit the extra veggies!

Use chopsticks or a fork and spoon. Chunky doesn’t have a monopoly on the soup that eats like a meal! Sip as much of the broth as you desire. Anything goes with this oh so filling pho!

Houston Institute for Culture
San Francisco Chronicle
Viet World Kitchen


Now for the authentic stuff! Enjoy!

By Mai Pham (chef/owner of Lemon Grass Restaurant and Cafe in Sacramento)
Serves 6 to 8.

Note: You can prepare the beef broth in advance and assemble just before serving.


The Broth –
5 pounds beef marrow bones
3-pound chuck roast
2 (4-inch) pieces fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 large yellow onion, peeled
1/3 cup Asian fish sauce
5 tablespoons sugar
8 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

Noodles & Assembly -
½ pound beef sirloin steak, slightly frozen, then sliced paper thin
1 ½ pounds fresh or dried flat rice stick noodles (about 1/8 inch wide)
1 yellow onion, sliced paper thin
4 green onions, chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 pound bean sprouts
20 sprigs Asian basil
20 leaves saw-leaf herb (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai bird chiles, or thinly sliced serrano chiles
2 limes, cut into thin wedges
Pepper to taste

Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large stockpot.

Place the bones and chuck roast in a separate pot with water to cover; bring to a boil and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Using tongs, remove the bones and meat and add to the first pot of boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

Using metal tongs, hold the ginger and onion over a gas burner until slightly blackened and aromatic. (If you have an electric stove, dry-roast the ginger and onion in a skillet.) Rinse the ginger and onion and add them to the pot with the meat and bones.

Add the fish sauce and sugar to the pot. Simmer, skimming off the foam, until the meat is tender, about 1 ½ hours.

Remove the chuck roast and submerge in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes. This prevents the meat from darkening and drying out.

Place the star anise and cloves in a dampened spice bag and add to the broth. Add 2 cups water to the pot. Simmer for 1 hour, then remove and discard the spice bag and onion. (Cooking the spices too long makes the broth dark and pungent.)

Add the salt to the broth and keep at a low simmer while preparing the noodles.
The broth should be rich enough to serve after 2 ½ hours total cooking time. It will taste salty, but will balance once the noodles and accompaniments are added.

Noodles and Assembly:
Cut half of the roast into thin slices; reserve the remaining roast for another use.

Cut the partially frozen sirloin into thin slices. Place the sliced chuck and sirloin on separate plates and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a handful of fresh noodles (enough for 1 serving) in a sieve and lower into the boiling water. Using a fork or chopsticks, stir for 15 seconds, then lift and shake off excess water. (If using dried noodles, soak them in warm water for 20 minutes. Cook them all at once until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse extremely well in warm water.) Divide the noodles among heated serving bowls.

Arrange a few slices of roast and sirloin on the noodles in each bowl.

Bring the beef broth to a rolling boil.

Season with salt (if necessary) and pepper.

Ladle 2 to 3 cups into each bowl.

Sprinkle each serving with 1 tablespoon sliced yellow onion, 1 tablespoon green onions, 1 tablespoon cilantro and pepper to taste.

Let diners garnish their bowls with bean sprouts, Asian basil, saw- leaf herb, chiles and squeeze of lime as desired.

PER SERVING: 390 calories, 28 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (2 g saturated), 66 mg cholesterol, 1592 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
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